My impression is that it is more acceptable or at least commonplace in philosophy blog discussions to deploy derisive and often, dare I say it, vulgar name-calling than to call someone rude. This is *only* an impression – part of the purpose of this post is to see if others share it. If it’s right though, I wonder why.
At issue in this is how we choose to frame disapproval of others’ poor social behavior. It may well be the case that there is a kind of informal taxonomy of disapproval, such that “asshole” or “dickhead” picks out something richer and more psychologically elaborate than “rude” would. I suspect I would often find common ground with those who despair of assholes and dickheads in the profession, yet I also despair of words such as “asshole” and “dickhead” being the mode of disapproval.
One reason for this is that using “asshole” and “dickhead” distances the problematic conduct from breaches of ordinary manners, rendering those so labeled some especially objectionable species worthy of its own name and thus diverting attention away from how we all could do better at avoiding impolite gestures and slights. Assholes and dickheads often are just people who have done (or habitually do) rude things (or especially rude things). They breach ordinary good manners, but calling them by a special name elides the ways they do what we all sometimes do: behave rudely (or uncollegially, uncivilly, etc.).
I think the reason we eschew “rude” in favor of “dickhead” or “asshole” may be that rude has lost its cache as a term of disapprobation. It simply doesn’t say anything anyone is likely to care about. Being called a dickhead or asshole is, if not worse, then something to care about (or, in certain benighted circles perhaps, to brag about). But being called rude….? Meh. That is, perhaps part of why being called rude has little force is because manners themselves have little force or, worse, are counted deeply problematic. Call someone rude and you may be associated with pernicious deployments of civility standards; call someone an asshole or dickhead and you’re happily free of all that, simultaneously enforcing a judgment regarding appropriate conduct while also disavowing any association with more formal shared, conventional social standards for such. That seems to me part of what is lost by using “dickhead” and “asshole” – but is anything gained? Is it better (read: more effective, more useful, more…?) to call someone a dickhead or asshole than to call them rude?
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