My brothers and I had a great upbringing. Our parents were attentive and authoritative without being authoritarian, if that makes any sense. For example, they taught us not to call people idiots, and they explained that it could hurt their feelings.
Then I went to school. There, I discovered that words mean things, and that sometimes a specific word is called for. That led to my adopting one of my favourite old sayings, this one from ancient China: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”
So we’re going to talk about idiots. Anything less would be dishonest.
The most recent case of international idiocy, at least as of press time, is the recent debacle conducted by Gillette. You can look it up on the internet. The marketing geniuses at Procter and Gamble decided to portray men, a main portion of their market, as buffoons infected with a verbal construct we have been introduced to as “toxic masculinity.”
Toxic masculinity had no meaning until a few years ago. None. Toxic and masculine were two common adjectives, floating around in space, just waiting for people in search of a good word to use as a descriptor. And some idiot decided to conjoin the two, call it a noun, and back-form its definition to border on criminality.
This is, I have to say, idiotic. That is not name-calling. It is a diagnosis. I suggest there is no such thing as toxic masculinity and that its inventor is an idiot.
I don’t want to overreach and say that the architect of toxic masculinity is a feminist. However, I once knew a feminist that was fond of talking about men, and she spoke very similarly to somebody that would come up with the idea of toxic masculinity. At the time, she simply identified men as “gamey.” Being a man, I took the observation to heart, assuming it was directed, indirectly, at me, and I have used scented soap and deodorant religiously since.
I have also intermittently been a shaver. Coincidentally, Gillette and I parted company over a year ago on a sort-of unrelated issue. They tried to start selling me razor blade refills for $35 for five. Seven bucks apiece for razor blades! So I started buying from the Dollar Shave Club (www.dollarshaveclub.ca). Their top-rung blades are $9.50 for four, and they are delivered to my house.
To be clear, I started this column when the Gillette commercial launched, but before the massive public backlash (and subsequent endorsements of Dollar Shave Club by media personalities), and I was going to predict the effect, but it has already happened. It is a public-relations debacle of the very first order. In fact, I predict that when the next generation of public relations books are published, this one will rate as one of the all-time most idiotic PR stunts ever envisioned. It may even beat Ford and the Pinto travesty.
Gillette will be famous because some marketing idiot decided to use a social slang fad (toxic masculinity) to brand a product, missing the fact that the currency of the slang fad was with a group that is antagonistic to the target market.
The same thing is happenings with the words “racism,” “homophobia” and dozens of others. Racism is not listed in my 1971 printing of the Oxford English Dictionary. That means it’s a made-up word with a back-formed definition to border on criminality. Same with homophobia. Taken in its parts, homophobia means fear of mankind. It does not mean hatred of anybody.
In fact, the whole idea of “hate speech” is an idiocy. Speech cannot hate. Speech was so revered in antiquity as to be given a special privilege in every free society. In fact, freedom of speech is what defines freedom. Therefore, to hate speech is to hate freedom. And these idiots want to define hundreds of words into weapons to be feared.
And they backfire, have backfired and will backfire. Finally, it will come to a head when somebody whose life has been trashed files and wins a comprehensive defamation suit.
My first job was on a diversified farm, and one of my first tasks was to neuter boars. This was not done recreationally. Boars develop a scent and flavour called “boar taint” that makes them unsuitable for human consumption, so they get castrated.
The thing is, the boar taint is not toxic, and boars are not unsuitable because they are toxic until castrated. They are just gamey.