Forbidden Speech

The ability to end a conversation is the finest measure of communicative power. One who can deny a conversation controls the very existence of ideas. Indeed the very birth and death of thought rests with these figures whose personal perspectives decide what can be spoken and considered.

Disgust is often utilized as weapon of choice for those with this control. Some offensive feature of a topic is presented and used to justify the end of its consideration. A topic is discarded and no matter how keen the insight, the speaker’s perspective left ignored.

Political correctness broadly categorizes this process of topic consideration. Certain ideas deemed “beyond the pale” simply go without discussion. Ironically by the very act of denying their existence we often perpetuate them and multiply their power. The comedian Louis C.K. considers this process in a joke about racial vulgarity. In essence, he suggests that by using abbreviations for these words we force the listener to speak the unspeakable in their minds. The joke seems to ask that if we’re so offended why do we insist the other person think the word? Might a better tactic be to use the word constantly as a means to desensitize its content and make it stale?

Unfortunately we latch on to certain powerful words and use them as a means to control conversation. These verboten terms function less for their actual meaning and more as weapons to control discourse. We know who is aware of our cultural norms by the words they use. Speak the wrong word and reveal yourself as an outsider.

Communicative power stems both from speaking and not speaking. To control a conversation is to decide the existence of ideas. Is this power ever beneficial? Often groups in power use this ability to discard the discussion of certain topics as a means to perpetuate their existence. If we never speak of Topic X does it even exist? Never can we register our disgust if we’re not allowed to discuss the topic. Keep it silent and it forever will exist: ever hidden in plain sight.

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