Random ramblings of a mind damaged by years of disuse and abuse. Also a place to go to be bored to tears.
The Random Comic Strip
Words to live by...
"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."
(The right to looseness has been officially given)
"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I spit on your shadow
What is an insult when the recipient is either unaware of its significance or oblivious to its existence? Yesterday, I wrote about the "shoe man" who tossed a couple of loafers at President Bush and created a firestorm of support and amusement. Today, I want to examine the concept, or maybe the art, of insult.
A number of years ago, I was working at a drapery and window dressings company as a "jack of all trades". I cut material for wooden shades, I built valances, I painted, stained, moved carpet with a forklift, occasionally assisted in installations and repairs of window treatments, and discussed the deeper meanings of life under Richard Nixon with my co-workers.
One co-worker was a young man about my own age (at the time). He had been hired to replace me as janitor (the job for which I was first hired). For some reason, he didn't seem to like me. I never found out why. Even though his English was very good, every now and then he would say a few words in Spanish while talking to me. I didn't know a lot of Spanish, still don't, so I had no idea what he was saying.
At some point, a woman who worked with me told me he was calling me names and otherwise insulting me in Spanish. She thought I might want to be aware of that. The next time I saw him, we had a little exchange. I asked him a simple question...
"What do you accomplish by calling me names in a language I don't understand?"
He seemed a little embarrassed, a little awkward. He had been caught in his little game. He said nothing, a grin that managed to be both sheepish and smug on his face.
I smiled and said, "Seems to me that it doesn't take much in the way of courage to insult someone who doesn't know he has been insulted."
And I walked away. He never did it again and, while we didn't become friends, we got along well enough from then on.
That incident was recalled when I started reading all the various reports surrounding the shoe throwing incident. It is a great insult in the Arab world to be hit with a shoe or to be called a dog. Here, the insult is more important if someone's foot is in the shoe at the time it hits you, tossing it at you reflects badly on the thrower. And women here call men "dogs" as a matter of course. In some cases, it's almost a compliment. Like when a friend is commenting on your ability to juggle two girlfriends without getting caught
Our culture regards insult as an art form. We praise those who can do it in a witty manner. We savor quotes that were intended to degrade the subject. We make comics rich whose stock in trade is the embarrassment of members of their audience. We engage is something called "Roasts" when the guest of honor is routinely, and unmercifally, insulted by his friends. Growing up, we enage in something called "Dirty Dozens" where we happily insult each other, and our mothers, for hours.
Bush found the incident mildly amusing. Most of the western world did. In a sense, we were insulting the Arab world by dismissing the impact of Mr. al-Zaidi's act. I wonder if they are aware of that subtlety?
Laughing at insults is possibly the best insult of all.
As the old Chinese curse goes... May you live in interesting times. I say, enjoy them.