I’m thinking back to the leaked emails from the Sony hacking scandal. I think in most cases what people say in their private communication, especially if it is in the form of a joke, even if it is a tasteless one, should not be used against them. In a free society people need the freedom to express themselves in private, even if it is in a way that you might not like.
I worked at Panera Bread for the extensive period of one week. I had gotten the job through a friend. Our manager at the time was gay. My friend and this manager got along great and would take the piss out of each other in a friendly way. I remember at one smoke break the following lines being spoken:
Gay Manager: Star Wars is a gay themed movie with many gay overtones.
My friend: No it’s not. They killed all of the homos before they went into space.
Now my right hand up to God, this was just two friends busting balls, as is so common in the North East where I’m from. Everyone takes the piss out of everyone else. The show Entourage had a funny season or two before it quickly descended into stupidity. One thing they did get right though, was how people from the North East verbally fuck with each other all of the time. It’s always with love, because you wouldn’t say those kinds of things to people you didn’t know. Only with your friends would you be that openly cruel, unless you really did want to fight someone.
Now if you took my friend’s line out of context, it would be easy to misconstrue, especially if it was in writing. So if you get part of a private conversation, and it is taken out of context, and again it is clearly in the form of a joke, even if it is bad taste, you just can’t possibly know the intention. If the context is readily available that is a different matter, but that is really a much higher bar to clear.
Plus, if you make people afraid to express themselves or use certain kinds of language, then language becomes coded. People start using euphemisms, which hides the intent of the language and makes it even harder to ascertain what is really going on. I would much rather hear someone say we are going to bomb the shit out of men, women, and children, than hear the phrase tactical strike. Regarding the first one, there is no illusion as to what is being done. You can recognize it and deal with it however you see fit. The second term is bureaucratic language that hides the cruelty of the act in meaningless safe sounding words. Sure, many of us will know what they mean, but it will make it easier for some people to ignore what is going on. Even if you do know what is going on it is not going to make as much of a visceral impact on those that are listening. Words do matter. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.”
Politicians use euphemisms to hide their intent all of the time, to get away with things without lying. It muddies the water. Isn’t there already enough of that going on?