People vs Garbage March 2, 2018 11:33 AM   Subscribe

The phrase "garbage people" or the habit of describing people as "garbage" or as "trash" seems to be making a resurgence on my social media lately. I've seen it on metafilter, too, recently, and... can we not do that here, please?

Previously used in expressions such as "white trash", "trailer trash", "ghetto trash", etc. (where the modifier varies a bit depending on race and context), the practice of calling people garbage or trash has a very classist and discriminatory/oppressive history. It's been used specifically to dehumanize groups of people to enable direct or structural violence against them. Many of the recent usages I've seen apply the term to folks in the Trump camp who have engaged in very little that I would consider pro-social or in any way redeeming or worthwhile during their lives. They are people who I would agree are pretty terrible human beings. But, much like there have been many problems with valid critiques of Hilary Clinton's policy positions straying into some pretty terrible sexism; there is an unfortunate recent history of valid critiques of the behavior of Trump and his supporters straying into a fair amount of unnecessary classism. Can we please not do that?

This is absolutely not to argue that we should cater to the needs or whims of the mythical white working class Trump voter, as is claimed in NTY/Atlantic think pieces on white working class voters in the Rust Belt / Appalachia / Flyover Country that have become so common that it is now a trope. (I recall reading last year that the median income of Trump voters was higher than the median income of all voters, so the idea that Trump voters are largely working class white rednecks is not even necessarily very accurate. The articles I've read that argue that we should all pay more attention to the needs, biases, and whims of these mythical white working class Trump voters also seem to make some assertions about the needs and wants of this group that I am not convinced are completely accurate either. However, even for the Trump voter who is working class,) as competent adults, they can and should be held responsible for the horribly racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted views they promote - but on the basis that those views are horribly racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted, not on the basis that the people espousing them are working class.

As for the upper middle class or wealthy Trump voters, Thiel and other Silicon Valley tech elite, Trump himself, his family, and other immediate advisors - that is, definitely not working class folks - who I've seen referred to as "garbage people" recently: yup, they are bad. The problem is not their new money tackiness or their loony techno-libertarian cultishness per se, however (though those are easy to make fun of). The problem is their policies that actively harm the rest of us, their blatant lying and corruption, their attempts to disassemble our democracy and our sense of care for the social welfare of others that forms the basis of our social cohesion, their complete lack of empathy and dehumanization of a significant proportion of the rest of humanity, and their violence. It is one thing to call their opinions and policies garbage (though I try to use more precise words, myself). We do definitely need to make racism et cetera unacceptable (again plus more so than before), and there is a role for making fun of as well as being outright dismissive of such harmful ideas as part of that goal - these can both be tools to deny a platform to ideologies of hate. It is another thing entirely to rhetorically concede the claim that some people are less than human and that it would be valid to perfunctorily dispose of them, even when we have experienced harm or dehumanization ourselves. That way lies Philippine President Duterte's campaign of extrajudicial murders of alleged drug dealers and violent criminals, or the Israeli governments' mass deportations of African immigrants or policy of collective punishment for Palestinian resistance.

It's also unnecessary - Trump policies are terrible enough that there is absolutely no need to exaggerate their terribleness in order to justify strong opposition to them. He enables fascism and white supremacy, seems perfectly comfortable with what has historically been a genocidal foreign policy toward Haiti (among other "shithole" countries), actively promotes disenfranchisement of and violence against Black and Latinx Americans, and lends vocal support to violence against both liberal and left-wing opposition. He's hopelessly corrupt, allegedly a serial sexual assaulter as well as a serial sexual harasser, allegedly was physically abusive toward his sons according to a thing I read during the tail end of the presidential campaign, and potentially mentally unfit for public office. Trump is a human being with few to no redeeming qualities, neither in his public life nor in his private life. And those around him are no better. That's bad enough to stand on its own.

But if you're looking for a name for purposes of shorthand name calling, and accurate descriptors like "fascist", "crypto-fascist" (for those who whistle all the dog whistles but deny direct support of fascists or neo-Nazis), "rapist", or "corrupt wanna-be tinpot dictator" aren't doing it for you, please find something ("douchiest douchebag that ever douched"?) that doesn't have a problematic history of use in enabling classist violence against poor people. Thank you.
posted by eviemath to Etiquette/Policy at 11:33 AM (173 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I've definitely noticed the higher profile of "garbage person" in particular the last couple years, yeah. Haven't noticed it much on MetaFilter though I haven't been surveying for it either. I tend to share your general sentiment that there's usually more specific, purpose-built ways to describe how an awful person is being awful and tend to prefer folks go in that direction with the language they choose.

One thing about the specific usages you're mentioning here is that I'm guessing for a lot of people the valance between "garbage as in very bad person" and "garbage/trash as in resembling the poor or working class" isn't necessarily very strong at all: that is, for a lot of people throwing "garbage person" around, they're not using it to link to the negative sentiments of e.g. "trailer trash" but as its own notionally neutral negative descriptor. So it may not even really be on their radar that that semantic/rhetorical baggage is part of the situation and is making it more problematic than it might otherwise be just in isolation.

Which is totally a thing worth thinking about, so I think it's worth broaching in MetaTalk like this.

In general I think there's a tendency whenever folks get mad or get worn down to end up sorta...doing a poor job of targeting their words, basically, which this'd be a specific subset of. Justifiable anger at bad actor x or systemic problem y can lead to folks sorta losing their patience with careful language and opting for crappy/lazy rhetoric that does needless collateral damage. And good god is this a time rife with sources of justifiable anger, so it feels like it happens a lot the last couple years. Being mindful of that, and reminding ourselves to slow down a minute and make sure our language matches up with our goals, is I think always a good thing and something that requires active and ongoing maintenance.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:43 AM on March 2 [23 favorites]


I have noticed it more lately in the megapolitics threads. Thank you for bringing this up, eviemath.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:47 AM on March 2 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I never would have made the connection between "garbage" and "trash" if nobody had pointed it out.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:56 AM on March 2 [6 favorites]


"Garbage Person" or "Garbage Monster" are sort of my go-to non-cursing insults. I'll try and curb it around here.
posted by French Fry at 12:17 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


Can we still call them "deplorables"?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:30 PM on March 2 [18 favorites]


I haven't seen a connection between the use of "garbage" and wealth.
posted by bongo_x at 12:37 PM on March 2 [14 favorites]


A long time ago, probably around 10 or 15 years, I struck the terms "white trash" and (especially) "trailer trash" from my vocabulary because, as you note, people aren't trash and classism is as wrong as any other type of ism. I don't allow anyone to use those terms in my presence, either (by which I mean I say that I don't like the terms and explain why, and ask them not to use it anymore).

But you know, people like 45, or Paul Ryan, or Stephen Miller, or whichever one of the cesspit of racist, corrupt, immoral bastards you choose -- I don't have any problem at all referring to them as "garbage people." And nope, I'm not inclined to stop calling them so. If they want to assume the mantle of a monster, they're certainly welcome to do that, but no one gets to cry foul when I point it out.
posted by holborne at 12:38 PM on March 2 [33 favorites]


It's a term I use with some frequency to describe problematic groups (primarily men, white people, and the straights) which I feel like is very different? I'm obviously comfortable with that use or I wouldn't do it and at this point many of my colleagues are comfortable with the phrase "men are trash" because they're used to me saying it a lot (NB almost all of my colleagues are men) but if it feels like a problem for people I can reconsider.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:40 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


Also, "garbage person" is an epithet which could be construed as reflecting poorly on Oscar The Grouch, someone who, all things considered, I still think of quite fondly.

"Burning dumpster fire" and "flaming trash receptacle" have to stay, however.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:55 PM on March 2 [6 favorites]


I submit we start using the term "bastard people" as a tribute to Corky St. Clair.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:56 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


no one gets to cry foul when I point it out.

If you think you can control the outcome of your words, you may be mistaken.
posted by scruss at 1:01 PM on March 2 [9 favorites]


If you think you can control the outcome of your words, you may be mistaken.

You're right, my phrasing was poor. I'll restate it: I accept that not everyone will approve of my using the phrase "garbage person," but I'm comfortable governing myself according to my conscience in this circumstance.
posted by holborne at 1:10 PM on March 2 [10 favorites]


Although I'm not convinced that garbage in this specific context shares the same connotations as trash in this specific context, I'll make an effort to avoid using it. I always mean that the person to whom I am referring needs to be thrown into a dumpster, never to return, as a result of their bad personal behavior.

I also recognize that I've heard other people say something similar when using what seems like, to me, a totally obvious dog-whistle, and if it seems like "garbage person" is typically perceived this way, then I'll stop using it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:14 PM on March 2


In other words, I'm interested to see whether people frequently draw the connection that the OP draws.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:16 PM on March 2


Phrases like this are like raindrops. One or two barely muss your hair. Enough of them will flood your house.

I'm working on reminding myself not to use the phrase "cancer" or "gangrene" in political contexts. If you let yourself agree that people are something that should be cleaned up and placed in an incinerator, then you are in terrible danger yourself, no matter what those individuals may have done to deserve it. Let's not think of watching this kind of language usage for their sakes, but for our own.

I mean, I don't know about y'all, but my soul hurts. I'm tired of being this angry. I'm tired.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:27 PM on March 2 [36 favorites]


Eh, the synergy between "garbage person" and "white trash" here strikes me as akin to when that guy got fired for using the perfectly fine word "niggardly". It's a completely different etymology and the similarity is coincidental. But the stakes are a lot lower here so it's not like I'm wedded to the term and gonna die on the Garbage Person hill.

Also, googling suggest the first documented use of "garbage person" is from Charles Manson so that's not all that good in and of itself I guess.
posted by Justinian at 1:32 PM on March 2 [23 favorites]


You're right, my phrasing was poor. I'll restate it: I accept that not everyone will approve of my using the phrase "garbage person," but I'm comfortable governing myself according to my conscience in this circumstance.

I mean. If your conscience is fine with having some folks who grew up working class or members of other groups that have been referred to as "garbage" or "trash" in the past and who are definitely absolutely not a part of the group you are currently calling "garbage" be made uncomfortable with your language choices based on their life experiences with other ways it has been used about them and people like them, then I guess I'm comfortable making a negative moral judgement about you based on that.
posted by eviemath at 1:44 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


Eh, the synergy between "garbage person" and "white trash" here strikes me as akin to when that guy got fired for using the perfectly fine word "niggardly". It's a completely different etymology and the similarity is coincidental. But the stakes are a lot lower here so it's not like I'm wedded to the term and gonna die on the Garbage Person hill.

Also, googling suggest the first documented use of "garbage person" is from Charles Manson so that's not all that good in and of itself I guess.


Yeah, my specific examples used the term "trash" because those were a little clearer and easier to explain, but I've found that "garbage person", in a significant proportion of the uses I've encountered both recent and (more so) from longer ago, also has classist or also sometimes racist overtones. Likely related to that etymology - I didn't know about that, but it kind of makes sense.
posted by eviemath at 1:48 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


I have never read "garbage people" as "white trash." Garbage person seems to get used mostly to avoid much stronger language when referring to somebody who in many cases, completely deserves the stronger language.
posted by COD at 1:53 PM on March 2 [52 favorites]


See also the monologue from the film "Taxi Driver".
posted by eviemath at 1:55 PM on March 2


> But you know, people like 45, or Paul Ryan, or Stephen Miller, or whichever one of the cesspit of racist, corrupt, immoral bastards you choose -- I don't have any problem at all referring to them as "garbage people."

Reminds me of the time a MeFite who prided himself on his feminism used a vile sexist expression to refer to Ann Coulter and said it was OK because Ann Coulter was so awful. Nope, sorry, it's still shitty, but of course if you insist on being shitty I can't stop you.

Thanks for this callout, eviemath. People are not garbage and they are not trash.
posted by languagehat at 1:55 PM on March 2 [41 favorites]


It's a term I use with some frequency to describe problematic groups (primarily men, white people, and the straights) which I feel like is very different?

As a straight, white man I've sort of learned to take it in stride, but nobody really likes being called trash. I'm reluctant to even mention it, because I understand the politics behind it, but it's still kind of a downer to be called trash. Maybe that's the point? I'll be the first to admit that I have an extraordinarily fragile ego, so if everyone agrees that it's OK to call people trash, I'll accept that the problem is me, and never mention it again.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:02 PM on March 2 [11 favorites]


One thing about the specific usages you're mentioning here is that I'm guessing for a lot of people the valance between "garbage as in very bad person" and "garbage/trash as in resembling the poor or working class" isn't necessarily very strong at all: that is, for a lot of people throwing "garbage person" around, they're not using it to link to the negative sentiments of e.g. "trailer trash" but as its own notionally neutral negative descriptor. So it may not even really be on their radar that that semantic/rhetorical baggage is part of the situation and is making it more problematic than it might otherwise be just in isolation.

Yeah. I think the term "gypsy" is also like this. Most people who use it probably associate the term just with bohemian or hippie. But for the group of people (Roma and related groups) for whom it was originally applied as a racial slur, the cultural appropriation of "gypsy" stuff in bohemian/hippie culture in combination with a lack of acknowledgement of the ongoing racism they face (in some cases, a lack of acknowledgement that Roma still exist and aren't just some historical curiosity) is definitely still bad and not flattering. That is, even though, say, young folks shopping at Urban Outfitters wouldn't consciously or intentionally link the term "gypsy" to the negative sentiments of racism against Roma people, and they, personally, think they are using it as a neutral to positive descriptor, the word still has its history.
posted by eviemath at 2:06 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


Charles Manson, as it happened, was considered garbage for his entire young life. He was unwanted and treated that way from his conception. I am not here to Blame Society for what he did, but it is possible that he would have grown up to not be, you know, Charles Manson if he hadn't been treated like human trash. Not a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, I'm sure, but also not an accreting disc of human hatred.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:06 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


I don't think "garbage person" implies the same thing as "white trash". However, I have stopped using it because I have a friend who uses it often and I've found that even when used in well-meaning ways by a socially conscious person, it sometimes leads to degrading some large swath of people.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:10 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


I hate this particular epithet with a firey passion, for basically the same reasons as Countess Elena.
posted by quaking fajita at 2:24 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


I found myself thinking it a lot, and using it somewhat often, and then I realised it really wasn't helping me live in the world. I just felt like less of a human being after using it, and the thought pattern was an ugly part of my head.
posted by ambrosen at 2:31 PM on March 2 [7 favorites]


"Where but in the very asshole of comedown is redemption: as where but brought low, where but in the grief of failure, loss, error do we discern the savage afflictions that turn us around: where but in the arrangements love crawls us through"

A.R. Ammons, 'Garbage'

Thanks for this callout, eviemath. People are not garbage and they are not trash.

Yeah. Second this. Besides dohyathink the very adjective is dull and somehow banal, like smalI strip club callow, hollow and T-shirtish. As to Mefi I..., ya dohn likeit. I got a feeling aloooonggg while ago from a mefi about This subject, indirectly, so I just challenged thier PHD thesis without reading it. And I was winning. I'm a bit more careful because I'm sorta blow-upish. Not so much and usually its a combination of multiple life aspects that converge. what's important is to recogize that and improve, I'm fairly sure its what ya all call being human.
posted by clavdivs at 2:44 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


I don’t like the idea of taking an epithet tjat may be construed as racist as or classist and replacing it with “douche,” which IS absolutely gendered and sexist. I’d certainly love to never see douche as an insult again. As a person with female genitals, I’m tired of the “joke” that they’re so dirty and disgusting.

I do agree that calling someone garbage dehumanizes them. I try not to do that, fwiw.
posted by greermahoney at 2:50 PM on March 2 [22 favorites]


I always figure the insult with "douche" is that the person so named is unhealthy and unnecessary, and generally to be avoided.
posted by asperity at 2:57 PM on March 2 [7 favorites]


I always figure the insult with "douche" is that the person so named is unhealthy and unnecessary, and generally to be avoided

That's how it's been "reclaimed" in recent years, but it's not where it came from and I'll never get used to it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:08 PM on March 2 [12 favorites]


I think it's wrong to call people garbage, though I had to check to be sure I hadn't done it here myself.

And if your politics are typical mefite, evoking that kind of disgust in your readers is probably undermining your larger goals:
In two large samples (combined N = 31,045), we found a positive relationship between disgust sensitivity and political conservatism. This relationship held when controlling for a number of demographic variables as well as the “Big Five” personality traits. Disgust sensitivity was also associated with more conservative voting in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. In Study 2, we replicated the disgust sensitivity–conservatism relationship in an international sample of respondents from 121 different countries. Across both samples, contamination disgust, which reflects a heightened concern with interpersonally transmitted disease and pathogens, was most strongly associated with conservatism.
posted by jamjam at 3:09 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


Yes, we had a prior metatalk go-round a few years ago about how "douchebag" was not a great insult because of its genderedness and its history of being used in sexist ways and its insultingness coming from its association with dirty female genitalia.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:15 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


The phrase "garbage person" does not bother me. Some people are quite bad. If you are going to use it to dehumanize huge swaths of people that is probably bad. If you are going to use it to describe someone who is quite bad, have at it.

People's personal moralities about what does and doesn't make them feel good to say are fine. However, "my personal morality disagrees with this word use" is very very different from a word being an actual slur. People should really work hard to avoid equating the two issues.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:17 PM on March 2 [14 favorites]


I have to admit, I'm a little confused by the link you're drawing to Duterte and collective punishment. Is the idea that we need to stay vigilant because after the revolution comes, extremists will start pogroms against rich Silicon Valley libertarians and Republicans in Congress unless we lay the rhetorical groundwork to prevent it now? Or is it just that this is something bad, like these other things that are bad?
posted by Copronymus at 3:18 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


I don't think you have to conclude that this is an objectively bad word, and that by using it you're a bad person. Different people are always going to have different standards about that stuff. This site is a shared space, though, and there have been some contentious arguments over how we talk about, say, the South. When it comes to defending an epithet, it doesn't seem like it's ever really worth it in the long run. We always want to imagine that only the bad people will be hurt, but of course who the bad people are is pretty subjective. The goal here isn't to issue a final ruling on whether "garbage people" is morally OK, it's to avoid alienating site users, and it sounds like some people are uncomfortable with some of the language here.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:38 PM on March 2 [7 favorites]


Two things.
Garbage and trash don’t have the same vibe at all in non American English. I’m in Australia but went to school in four countries as a kiddo.

Trash people is pretty damn classist. Garbage person is disparaging their humanity. I’m kinda ok with disparaging the humanity of some individuals. But not groups.

And just to EbMcG’s point, douches are not gendered. Plenty of men have vaginas and may well douche them. I sincerely hope they don’t, but we can’t call a vagina, or it’s accessories gendered any more. We never should have. But we can’t do that in 2018. Xx
posted by taff at 3:47 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


And just to EbMcG’s point, douches are not gendered. Plenty of men have vaginas and may well douche them. I sincerely hope they don’t, but we can’t call a vagina, or it’s accessories gendered any more. We never should have. But we can’t do that in 2018.

Please don't use people like me to excuse misogynist language. I am not your prop.
posted by hoyland at 4:11 PM on March 2 [26 favorites]


"Garbage person" makes me super-uncomfortable, and I'm glad to see this being brought up. I would be happier if that were not used on MetaFilter.
posted by Slinga at 4:42 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


I don’t like the idea of taking an epithet tjat may be construed as racist as or classist and replacing it with “douche,” which IS absolutely gendered and sexist. I’d certainly love to never see douche as an insult again. As a person with female genitals, I’m tired of the “joke” that they’re so dirty and disgusting.

Yes, we had a prior metatalk go-round a few years ago about how "douchebag" was not a great insult because of its genderedness and its history of being used in sexist ways and its insultingness coming from its association with dirty female genitalia.

Apologies. After years of not liking the term, I heard what to me was a convincing explanation along the lines of what asperity said. Will go back to avoiding it again for clarity. :)
posted by eviemath at 5:09 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


I have to admit, I'm a little confused by the link you're drawing to Duterte and collective punishment.

There is no link between Duterte and collective punishment. There is a link between dehumanizing groups of people and engaging in mass violence. Having been a victim of some members of the groups being dehumanized does not, to me, excuse the mass violence part. For example, violent criminals are bad. Duterte's "solution" of mass extrajudicial killings is not an improvement. For a different example, the Holocaust was a terrible genocide and antisemitism is still widespread and very real. In my opinion, that does not give the current Israeli government ethical cover for engaging in collective punishment against a group of people who were displaced to enable the creation of the state of Israel, nor cancel out the racism displayed in their treatment of African migrants. Those were both examples trying to make the same point - that engaging in dehumanization is a dangerous tactic even when we've been more often on the more oppressed end of the scale; but not otherwise the examples are not related to each other.
posted by eviemath at 5:17 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


> The phrase "garbage person" does not bother me.

Doesn't affect you, so it's OK. Got it.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


It's a term I use with some frequency to describe problematic groups (primarily men, white people, and the straights) which I feel like is very different?

It’s not as different as you think. I’ve been called human garbage when I lived as straight man, and again as a bisexual trans woman. It’s just as painful in both contexts. Just stop doing it
posted by saltbush and olive at 5:30 PM on March 2 [16 favorites]


I'm someone who has drawn a line in their brain between calling someone trash (which I've stopped doing) and calling people garbage (which I still call people). Thanks for making this MeTa to draw the connection between those two terms- I think it's something that a lot of people would not have even considered without reading your MeTa.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:05 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


then I guess I'm comfortable making a negative moral judgement about you based on that.

Cool with me, Boo!
posted by holborne at 6:21 PM on March 2


douches are not gendered. Plenty of men have vaginas and may well douche them. I sincerely hope they don’t, but we can’t call a vagina, or it’s accessories gendered any more.

At the same time, the entire marketing industry surrounding douches makes a lot of unwarranted and untrue assumptions about vaginas generally that reflect fairly terribly about what sexist things this industry thinks about women. The fact that men can douche does not change this.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 6:45 PM on March 2 [36 favorites]


Callout heartily endorsed. I find this phrase absolutely chilling. Garbage, trash, rubbish, whatever you want - the idea is still that it reasonable to characterize someone as literally waste because you dislike them or their views. This rhetoric sounds extreme to me. It might be the Quaker in me, but as reprehensible as an individual can definitely be, as unworthy of regard, the idea that it's humorous or clever to call people literally refuse is something I associate with gross and frightening mindsets that support violence.

So, I'm in favor of the callout. I don't think you even need the discussion of 45 and his supporters. The history of equating humans with trash has taken many targets depending on who was doing the attacking: a cursory plow through Google books shows a history of calling people "trash" or "garbage" going at least back to the 1850s, since which time it has been applied to women aplenty, poor whites, poor blacks, the new rich, sex workers, immigrants ("the wretched refuse" or "human garbage" being "dumped in our cities"), prisoners, the homeless, the unemployed, Jewish targets of and refugees from the Holocaust, people with mental illness, disabled people, gays, hippies, Yuppies - it goes on. There's something profoundly disturbing about relegating any human being to the category of literal trash, waste, to be dispatched and discarded. The metaphor reeks too strongly of death and silencing for it to seem clever or enjoyable. It is getting hoary already and the sooner its current vogue passes, the better. The overtones of dehumanization are strong and concerning.

When it comes right down to it, I don't want to be one of the people comparing other people to waste products and treated the way we treat waste. It would be awesome not to see people here doing that, though of course people will make their own decisions about it.
posted by Miko at 6:57 PM on March 2 [30 favorites]


What about calling someone a "shit" or a "shithead", though?

People asking others not to use "garbage" because it's been directed toward them in the past seems like good enough reason to stop using it. The broader principle of denouncing the use of any epithet that equates a person to waste seems less tenable to me, though.
posted by XMLicious at 7:44 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


I agree we shouldn't do it. Use, as they say, your words.

No: as we say.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:44 PM on March 2


I'm not garbage.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:46 PM on March 2


I mean if the term is hurting people here, who are generally good folks, then I don't see why we can't agree to knock it off. I say *we* but of course I've never used the term before this post. This place is an oasis in a toxic wasteland and I'd hate to see it become more toxified as the (online and offline) world careens into the gutter. So I think that harm reduction is the name of the game here and I'm all for it. I'd hate to come here and find people trashing (for lack of a better word) people of my class, race, gender, etc... so I totally get the need to call attention to the terribleness of the Republican party, neo-nazis, POTUS #45, and related individuals; but I'd absolutely like it to not be in such a way that alienates or harms the community members or even part-timers/lurkers here/hatereaders of Metafilter.


Now, with regards to people like the 45th POTUS, maybe instead of garbage person we can just go back to the old days of comparing them to Hitler directly? "Hitler-like" "Hitler-adjacent" "Hitler-loving" etc... ?

No?

Yeah i mean that's problematic in it's own way, cuz like, nazis and hitler really don't need anymore free advertising in this day and age. *sigh*

alright it was just a thought. Hitler was an ungood person too. what did folks call him back in the day that wasn't racist, classist, or sexist that we could apply to today?

Nothing probably? right?

Well I dunno then, I'm just spitballing here (I hope that terms not problematic but I'm sure someone will chime in if it is... so no point in me googling it, I'm not looking to write it up after.)

I suppose "evil" is too religiously charged... Atheists you know. (Many of us apparently think it's a reference to the supernatural?)

Maybe we could invent a new word? Schwifty? No that's taken already.

Welcome to the future I guess.

I suppose a technical solution involving a blacklist of terms that is automagically replaced with better words is an old-and-busted idea, otherwise somewhere there'd be a site that's still doing that. But then your website is editing people's posts automatically and that's a whole other can of worms. Shit's complicated.
posted by some loser at 7:46 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


That's kind of why I like "asshat." Nobody really wears a hat on their ass (outside of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, anyway) and if they did it would just be a further sign of their own poor judgement and flouting of common decency. But I'm not trying to say asshat is the answer to everything. Nobody ever caused world peace by throwing "asshat" around.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:59 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


I had thought I never used the term, but checking shows that I've used it once here; it makes me wonder if it's become part of my vocabulary without noticing. It's something I'll watch for now.

>>It's a term I use with some frequency to describe problematic groups (primarily men, white people, and the straights) which I feel like is very different?

>As a straight, white man I've sort of learned to take it in stride, but nobody really likes being called trash. I'm reluctant to even mention it, because I understand the politics behind it, but it's still kind of a downer to be called trash. Maybe that's the point?


That's pretty much been my reaction. I've been called way worse and I totally get the "ha ha we are all on the same page" aspect that can be a part of it, so it's not a big deal, but at the same time it's never something that makes anyone's day better. I usually see it as a small power play, someone showing that they can say it without consequences; I have a surplus of privilege so it's easy to give them their moment rather than call them on it.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:03 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


I think it comes from Brooklyn Nine-Nine's use of the phrase as spoken by Captain Holt; at least, that's when I heard it first and what made it sound like a kind-of-funny, kind-of-real-enough-to-feel-good way of expressing profound frustration with and dismissal of someone. While the fictional Captain Holt is written to be compassionate enough that he could always change his mind about someone, unfortunately, most non-fictional people don't have the kind of time and energy necessary to properly consider un-dismissing a person, so when they express this kind of contempt, it pretty much seems to stick.
posted by amtho at 8:10 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


What about calling someone a "shit" or a "shithead", though?

At a certain point dicing the nuances of connotations becomes a silly exercise, but I do see these as different. No one actually excretes a human being as bodily waste, and human beings are not made of excrement. It's a metaphor and can never be anything other than that (barring cannibalism, I guess...).

But there are people who actually have and do advocate various ways of totally getting rid of various humans in the manner of "garbage," by whatever means: banishing, discarding, destroying, eliminating, containing - It's the link between the word and the actual history of attempting to dispose of people in the same ways as we do trash that makes that so very distasteful to me.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


What about calling someone a "shit" or a "shithead", though?

From the last paragraph in the MeTa: "please find something... that doesn't have a problematic history of use in enabling classist violence against poor people." I mean, if you want to make the case that "shit" or "shithead" have a history of being classist (or some other -ist) slurs (and not just general insults), then make a new MeTa.

Hitler was an ungood person too. what did folks call him back in the day that wasn't racist, classist, or sexist that we could apply to today?

Nothing probably? right?


No, back in the day they insulted Hitler by calling him a Nazi. The last paragraph of the MeTa suggests using true descriptors as insults.

Could the contrarians read the whole MeTa at least? This MeTa is not just a general call to stop using any insulting language.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:22 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


Honesty I never made the connection of "garbage person" to "white trash" - but rather equated it to "Oscar the grouch".

I need to get out more.
posted by Toddles at 8:28 PM on March 2


I never saw Oscar as a person. He's a lovable curmudgeon monster.
posted by Miko at 8:33 PM on March 2


I would never have thought 'garbage person' was an unacceptable thing to say (except if you were the one it was being directed at, and that's kind of the point. It's an insult) but I hate it when people call other people 'filth' so I can see how it's a problem. I'll add it to the list.
posted by h00py at 8:58 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


White trash is economic and thus problematic, but I'll still use it sometimes. Garbage people are essentially nonfunctional or harmful, regardless of economic status.
posted by rhizome at 9:24 PM on March 2


A link to 'trailer trash' and its variations had never occurred to me but I have always been made extremely uncomfortable by the term 'garbage people'. It's profoundly dehumanising. It reminds me of the reports of Rwandan radio calling Tutsis 'cockroaches' at the time of the genocide, propagates the stark monochrome Us vs Them mentality that seems to be engulfing online and political discourse the world over and that people I agree with otherwise are not immune to.
posted by tavegyl at 11:45 PM on March 2 [10 favorites]


Interesting; I'd never thought of this phrase this way. I've always heard it as garbage-in-garbage-out... but not calling the person a piece of trash, like a disposable thing. I will now. Yeah, that's pretty gross.
posted by heyho at 2:28 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Always was kind of fond of ‘garbage person’ because it seemed like saying it was a person made of all bad parts and then you have this robot like thing that staggers around absolutely not succeeding at being human.
The image was always funny enough that the association to ‘white trash’ or the historical use never gained any purchase. I find the image it conjures funny and thus less brutal than ‘white trash’ or ‘filth.’ It’s specific and precise (to me - importantly because I’m only me and just cause I see something some way don’t make it universally so) and applies to that one person and what they have become - a failure, refuse.
What to call a person like the 45th President is kind of tough because the effect he has is so basic and yet various - he makes you angry at his apparent ignorance, appalled at his lack of compassion insight and any of a handful of other qualities we would hope the President would possess, he evokes disgust and contempt. Such a stew of negative emotions! To find the right word to sum that up is kind of hard. ‘Orange dumpster fire’ is a pretty good one as it is specific enough to make clear the insult is not general to all old white guys who inherited them squandered a fortune and were canny enough to leverage their ‘Reality TV’ persona and money-laundering donors and connections into public office. Actually I guess there is only the one. But still a dumpster fire (and I image the biggish, construction site dumpster here, on fire - stupid potentially hazardous futile contained but still the fire department has to be called)
Around the house when the kids aren’t there and we have the misfortune of hearing his blathery smarmy voice I tend to blurt out, “that fucking shithead!”

There is power in truth - “use true descriptors”

“This horrible subversion of democracy” “Tool of Putin’s ire.”

I’ll give up ‘garbage person’ but only because you make more sense than I find the epithet appropriate.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:44 AM on March 3


I have a long tradition of immediately thinking "oh, come on" when somebody points out that a phrase I use that I've never used with ill intent and don't make the same associations about may not be super great. And then 48 hours later realizing I'm wrong.

I've never mentally constructed "garbage person" in a way that relates to "white trash", and I don't parse "garbage person" as anything other than "this is a bad human that ultimately has a negative effect on the world; all their person components have been replaced by waste."

But it doesn't cost me anything to not use 'garbage person,' and if some people find it hurtful, I'll stop.

It's good to know about these things. I never would have drawn that line by myself.
posted by Shepherd at 3:52 AM on March 3 [17 favorites]


Thank you for this.
posted by kimberussell at 4:52 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


I've been continuing to think about this and why I use the phrase and a big part of the answer, which I think responds to some of the "use your words" or "make substantive criticisms" points, is that I am extremely exhausted. We talk a lot about emotional labor and how that falls disproportionately on women and other marginalized groups and, for me at least, the shorthand of "men are trash" to explain how I'm feeling about a class of people to whom I am expected to defer in the white supremacist patriarchy in which we find ourselves is both a relief and empowering. I'm sick of explaining in detail why the bad things men as a class do are bad. I do it a lot and it's so tiring! It's so tiring! And I spend a lot of my time feeling uncomfortable and I am sort of okay with shifting that discomfort from women to men. Let them do the processing for a change. Because of decades of successful emotional labor by women, many men I know don't even realize that the discomfort exists and won't acknowledge that unless they are forced to do so. Many men have no idea, as a woman who has policed my language my entire life, how liberating it feels to say something that isn't qualified to hell and back and isn't focused on making sure men hearing it feel soothed. It is genuinely a revelation. Yes, it sucks to be part of a group that someone is calling trash, but I also think the answer is more "men should stop being being part of the system that oppresses women and demands apologies from them for it which could perhaps be said more succinctly as 'men should stop being trash'" and less "women should continue to coddle the feelings of men e.g. stop telling men they as a bloc are trash".

Of course if we make a site decision to stop using words like "trash" or "garbage" to refer to people (even, LBR, genuinely garbage people like Paul Ryan) I will endeavor to comply but I actually do think something of value would be lost because it puts the onus on people who are already tired and doing a lot of work constantly to police their language in an additional way. I have spent so long being polite and deferential and I am sick of it. I am sick of making myself uncomfortable to support the comfort of people who don't care about me and saying something that centers my need to express my pain over their desire not to have face discomfort feels really good to me as someone who is constantly policing myself.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:03 AM on March 3 [53 favorites]


I usually see it as a small power play, someone showing that they can say it without consequences; I have a surplus of privilege so it's easy to give them their moment rather than call them on it.

I think you're right about it being a power play, but this has inadvertently clarified some of what bothers me about both "garbage person" and "dumpster fire" (which is the one that really bothers me). And, paradoxically, I think it's about the ability to dismiss people and institutions in such a way is an exercise of privilege. I always read it as "I can't be bothered thinking about how to deal with this, so I'm just going to dismiss it" and, well, good for you, but that's not helping people who don't have that option. I think sometimes people do say it as a defense mechanism--they don't have spoons to think about dealing with it--but in the middle of a political megathread on Metafilter? No, I think you're trying to score cheap points.
posted by hoyland at 5:12 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


So, what we need is another way to deal with being exhausted. Something easy, cathartic, that releases tension, but that doesn't push people into categories (I'm now thinking that this impulse is probably common to many groups with even a tiny bit of privilege, and may be causing issues from a lot of directions).

Humor comes to mind; and "garbage person" is perhaps attractive partly because it is kind of funny to say. Maybe something that focuses on an underlying / root cause of these kinds of disonnects? A funny phrase that has to do with the exhaustion or the huge gaps between us without making it personal to the other person?

Maybe I'll try saying "He needs too many spoons!" or "He's a spoonhole!" or "Time to rob Oneida" or "I can't save all the feral cats" or something like that...
posted by amtho at 5:56 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Feral cats are awesome.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:03 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Thank you for the thoughtful MeTa. I suspect there’s a generational component here. I also suspect (based on where and when I started encountering it en masse — YMMV) that “garbage person” as epithet seems to have been popularized on Tumblr and spread from there. I’m always in favor of avoiding cliches in cursing. Again, thank you for giving me/us something to think about.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 6:21 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


I also really dislike terms like "garbage people", which I find ugly and dehumanising (though not, IMO, racist and classist in the manner of "white trash"). So, I don't use them. I have no desire for other people to do the same, at all. I guess this is just a part of Metafilter culture, but to be honest it's one I don't like or understand -- this ongoing community project of making a long list of words some people feel are bad which we all then try to see as bad. I'm happy for there to be a list, but I'm also happy for it to be a very short one, even as there are many ways of talking that don't feel right to me personally. I suppose this is how the community wants it to work, but I just don't understand what is so unsatisfactory about governing your own language, and leaving it mostly at that.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:35 AM on March 3 [16 favorites]


It's the ripple effect. Someone makes a post about a problematic term, I have a realisation about its impact that was new to me, I don't just stop using it here but in real life. I'm not spreading it and people aren't hearing it from me and in a tiny way the world is a less hateful place. I'm ok with that.

Thanks for the thoughtful and well-written post. It's not something I use - just linguistically it's not a thing that's said where I live; the local equivalent is "scumbag" which I've avoided for a long time for the same reasons. I appreciate when people strive to make this little corner of the world a kinder place.
posted by billiebee at 7:06 AM on March 3 [5 favorites]


I've never mentally constructed "garbage person" in a way that relates to "white trash", and I don't parse "garbage person" as anything other than "this is a bad human that ultimately has a negative effect on the world; all their person components have been replaced by waste."

But it doesn't cost me anything to not use 'garbage person,' and if some people find it hurtful, I'll stop.

It's good to know about these things. I never would have drawn that line by myself.


This was basically me as well. My primary mental association with the phrase is Anita Sarkeesian using it onstage to describe Carl Benjamin (which occurrence I only know of from reading about it on MetaFilter); I'm pretty sure that was the first time I encountered the term. As such, in my brain it's associated more with pushing back against hateful behavior than it is with campaigns of de-humanization. Thank you, eviemath (and other commenters), for making the link for me. I'm not sure I've ever used the term, but I can certainly avoid it easily enough.
posted by nickmark at 7:31 AM on March 3 [5 favorites]


I guess this is just a part of Metafilter culture, but to be honest it's one I don't like or understand -- this ongoing community project of making a long list of words some people feel are bad which we all then try to see as bad.

I don't see it like that at all- to me, it's more like an ongoing project of making a list of veryveryveryfew words that some people have shown to have damaging effects, and then people are encouraged to not use those words. That seems really commonplace and normal to me, like something that just happens in life as people with different vocabularies and experiences interact.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:48 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]


> White trash is economic and thus problematic, but I'll still use it sometimes.

Why? Because it's not your ox being gored?
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on March 3 [6 favorites]


this ongoing community project of making a long list of words some people feel are bad which we all then try to see as bad

That seems maybe a little caricatured - we're not really "making a long list"; I'm not aware of any list you can reference that we maintain. And is it really that awful to "try to see [insert rhetorical meme here]" the way someone else sees it? Just to try, to think about it? I mean, all people are doing is asking folks to examine something from another perspective - and politely at that. As far as I'm aware there are very few words and phrases that are incendiary enough to be seen here as a "bright line," in mod parlance. I tend to see such considerations as discussions of community preferences that highlight varying perspectives on words and phrases many of us may have picked up and brought here, with requests for thoughtfulness about their use, rather than lists of banned words.
posted by Miko at 9:37 AM on March 3 [7 favorites]


[I should clarify my point about douches earlier. I hate the insult and all the associated misogyny but I also hate the casual cis normativity/trans erasure. I assumed we were all on the same page with that misogyny so didn’t bother tapping a response to that part on my phone. To be clear (now) I denounce it completely.

But I also want us not to allow trans people to be erased ever. And not by a mod. Even a lovely one. Gendered statements about genitals and bodies in general are harmful to everyone and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen.

I sincerely apologise for not making myself clearer and for any hurt I caused. Phones are terrible devices for lazy contributors and I should not have been such a lazy contributor. Sincere apologies to hoyland and all others for my laziness and for causing hurt.]
posted by taff at 9:38 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]


I agree with Miko and basically read "X is a garbage person" as "X deserves to die". Regardless of how I feel about X, I recoil from the thought of becoming an executioner.
posted by aws17576 at 10:06 AM on March 3 [6 favorites]


It reminds me of the reports of Rwandan radio calling Tutsis 'cockroaches' at the time of the genocide, propagates the stark monochrome Us vs Them mentality that seems to be engulfing online and political discourse the world over and that people I agree with otherwise are not immune to.

There is an us vs them war going on right now. That war is not created by our rhetoric. That war is created by serious, substantial, violent oppression. Starvation of the poor & the theft of their children as punishment for the poverty created and enabled by violent economic policies. Denial of medical care to the vulnerable. Exploitation of workers. Arrest and violent oppression of immigrants, especially those who dare to speak publicly against ICE. The Supreme Court OK'ing indefinite detention of people who have been here propping up our economy with their unprotected and exploited labor.

THAT IS A WAR. It is a real war. Someone typing something that makes you uncomfortable because it doesn't fall within the faux-polite parameters of civil discussion is not the "us vs them" mentality that is causing the problem here.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:29 AM on March 3 [12 favorites]


I recall reading last year that the median income of Trump voters was higher than the median income of all voters,

Someone possibly pointed this out, but it is more likely that any condescending to Trump voters mostly refers to their sociopathic stupidity, not their income. This includes their anti-science and anti-environmentalism, their pro-theocracy and opposition to health care, and the way they force shame and poverty on the victims of their forced breeding demands. Relative to the hypocrisy and self-harm, racism is only a public relations problem for them. The bottom line is that they feel the most economic insecurity as white males and they are in denial about their own class exploitation, far more than women and minorities are. And they probably pay themselves the most as a cultural rule, only to be credited with doing better. Some may recall the recent Las Vegas mass shooter, who erased his hard drive and whose family hid the fact he was a Trump voter, though his girlfriend said he was. He also told many people he was doing well financially when he was nearly bankrupt. Then he suddenly tried to murder as many people as possible. The point is, they tend to believe in the point system as a replacement for character, because it also charms people, and they think it redeems them somehow, whether lying or not. It is best to never call someone a piece of trash, but any such rudeness in this case is not mistaken about Trump voters being posers.
posted by Brian B. at 11:41 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: "I'm sick of explaining in detail why the bad things men as a class do are bad. I do it a lot and it's so tiring! It's so tiring! And I spend a lot of my time feeling uncomfortable and I am sort of okay with shifting that discomfort from women to men. Let them do the processing for a change. Because of decades of successful emotional labor by women, many men I know don't even realize that the discomfort exists and won't acknowledge that unless they are forced to do so. Many men have no idea, as a woman who has policed my language my entire life, how liberating it feels to say something that isn't qualified to hell and back and isn't focused on making sure men hearing it feel soothed. It is genuinely a revelation"

Cis women are trash.

Are you okay with me saying that rather than explaining what I mean? Because you're right about the gender hierarchy, and trans women are pretty much at the bottom of the heap. I too have spent decades soothing the hurt feelings of people higher than me in "the hierarchy", and I too would like the opportunity to refer to people as trash rather than use my words. I don't have that opportunity. I have to be nice to cis women, because the few rights that trans women have are almost entirely contingent on us saying things that make cis women comfortable. We're acceptable to feminists so long as we criticise cis men, and only cis men. Yet my personal experience has been that ostensibly feminist cis women are some of the most vehement opponents to trans women's rights. I'm so tired of pretending that cis women are any less of a threat than cis men, but I have to do so because of your hurt feelings.

So yeah, cis women are trash.

From now on should I just say that instead of patiently trying to explain myself? Or is the ability to be cruel to people who have frustrated you in the past a liberation that is accorded only to cis women?
posted by saltbush and olive at 11:52 AM on March 3 [17 favorites]


> THAT IS A WAR. It is a real war. Someone typing something that makes you uncomfortable because it doesn't fall within the faux-polite parameters of civil discussion is not the "us vs them" mentality that is causing the problem here.

And it is exactly that kind of overheated false equivalence that leads to actual people dying actual deaths because some hothead decided that there was a REAL WAR going on. One of my least favorite things about progressives in general and MeFites in particular (because, let's face it, MeFi is now a progressive venue) is the defining down of deviance: we all want to fight Nazis, but there aren't enough actual real Nazis around to make that satisfying, so we define anyone who sounds enough like a Nazi as a Nazi, and then anyone who votes for anyone who sounds enough like a Nazi is a Nazi, and pretty soon anyone who doesn't sign off on every single element of the Progressive Manifesto is a Nazi, and we're surrounded by Nazis, and it's time to put on the red armbands and pick up guns. You think I'm exaggerating for rhetorical effect, but I saw this play out in the late '60s (Weathermen, Black Panthers), and it's played out many times in the past (see every revolution ever), and you should really stop and think before indulging in that (deeply satisfying) revolutionary rhetoric. Real people can wind up dying real deaths.
posted by languagehat at 12:18 PM on March 3 [29 favorites]


And yes, I know that people are dying because of Trump's policies. Don't start with the "Billy did it first!" arguments. Killing people is bad, whatever side they're on.
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


There are already political killings going on, and it's not the progressive left with their radical "manifesto" including stuff like, "Hey, maybe treat PoC like people."
posted by ODiV at 12:35 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


This'll go better if we can avoid escalating the rhetoric of this discussion about rhetoric.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:36 PM on March 3 [10 favorites]


I’d just like a place where I’m not going to be directly or indirectly called garbage for an aspect of my identity I have no control over. I don’t care about the language people use elsewhere, but it would be nice if this were a site where we at least drew the line at calling people trash or garbage.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:46 PM on March 3 [10 favorites]


There are accurate terms you can use. Garbage Congress can be Spineless 115th Congress. Garbage President? Corrupt, Lying 45th President. Garbage Voters? It's hard. Just today I saw a match between a progressive friend and Righty who was all worked up about Obama not going to Graham's funeral. The Righty is not garbage, but I don't understand his very shitty, belligerent, attitude. Name-calling isn't going to fix it, and it obscures what's really going on.

> the term "gypsy" In Europe, the word gypsy is unambiguously derogatory. You can use Roma, which isn't really accurate, for Reasons, or Tzigane, which is rarely used, so not widely understood. Many free-spirited/ Bohemian people like to call themselves gypsies, but it is bigoted, so please do not use it.
posted by theora55 at 12:49 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


Oh, just to expand on my last comment slightly. In case it's not obvious, I don't think cis women are trash. Cis women are lovely. I don't think cis men are trash either. No human is trash, and I would deeply prefer to participate in a community that doesn't sanction the idea of calling people trash on the basis of their group memberships. I phrased my comment the way I did in an attempt to highlight the fact that - as things currently stand on this site - we have a very selective use of the "it's okay to be cruel because I'm punching up" justification, where it's okay for women to call men trash as a group but not okay for trans women to call cis women trash as a group. I'm not arguing that it should be okay to call cis women trash, because I honestly think it's not okay. I'm arguing that it shouldn't be okay for us to call anyone trash.
posted by saltbush and olive at 1:21 PM on March 3 [19 favorites]


As classes, white people, men, women, cis people, straight people, have things to answer for. Go further. Able-bodied people, Members of X religion, people of X nationality. I'm pretty pissy about age discrimination, myself.
Metafilter is, at least to some extent, a community. In a community, we try to be civil.
posted by theora55 at 2:13 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


Cis women are trash.

Are you okay with me saying that rather than explaining what I mean?


I actually would be fine with that? If a trans woman said that to me I would hear it as "there are lots of problematic ways in which cis women behave towards trans women and I dislike that and feel too tired/frustrated/whatever to expand further but I'd like to vent" which I think is very different than "you personally are trash" which I don't think is okay to say to the vast majority of people (although, again, if someone wants to say it to Paul Ryan or almost anyone in the Trump administration I'm not going to get winded in my rush to stop them).

I guess to me it kind of works out the same as punching up vs. punching down and there are a LOT of insults that are incredibly problematic (especially ableist or misogynistic) and this one isn't so I'm okay with using it. Again, if we as a site decide this isn't what we want to do it's not going to kill me or anything but I'm feeling a little surprised at all the pushback against this particular thing.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:34 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


I’d just like a place where I’m not going to be directly or indirectly called garbage for an aspect of my identity I have no control over.

We should aim higher than that, because they way I hear it used, lots of people use "garbage person" to refer to people who are awful for aspects of their identity that they can control, like their words/thoughts/ideas/actions/etc. Mefites (as a whole) could internalize "Don't call people garbage for aspects of their identity they cannot control" and we could still see the phrase used with the same frequency, just instead of people saying things like "[Some whole group] are garbage people", you'd get "[This specific person] is a garbage person for the following reasons: [list of aspects of their personality that they have control over]".
posted by 23skidoo at 2:34 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: " I'm feeling a little surprised at all the pushback against this particular thing."

Would it help you understand why it's so frustrating to me if I pointed out that I've had 40 years of cis women telling me to stfu about gender because "you're a man" and "men are garbage", and this precise pattern of behaviour terrified me to the point that I never reported my rape (by a cis woman - which I hate having to mention, but I have to because cis women keep forgetting that they too can be rapists), and delayed transitioning by about 15 years because of my fear of cis women? This kind of behaviour - and this one phrase specifically - has had a hugely negative impact on my life in the real world.

I don't want to make this thread about me (obviously!) but I think the point I'm making here is a bit more general. I get the impression that people love the "haha men are trash!!!" bomb throwing style, because they assume that they're punching up when they vent their frustrations. I get that, and I kind of feel the same urge. But I think that the "punching" metaphor is pretty inappropriate here -- in a fistfight you know who you're fighting, and you have some sense of who it is you're attacking and why. Online conversation doesn't work like that. When you start calling an entire class of human beings "garbage" you're not really throwing a punch at a known target, you're throwing a grenade into a crowded room. Some of the people you're targeting might very well be privileged. Others aren't.

Arguing for politeness isn't about letting privileged people off the hook; it's asking you to take more care in how you talk because you don't know who is in the room with you.
posted by saltbush and olive at 2:48 PM on March 3 [26 favorites]


We talk a lot about emotional labor and how that falls disproportionately on women and other marginalized groups and, for me at least, the shorthand of "men are trash" to explain how I'm feeling about a class of people to whom I am expected to defer in the white supremacist patriarchy in which we find ourselves is both a relief and empowering. I'm sick of explaining in detail why the bad things men as a class do are bad. I do it a lot and it's so tiring! It's so tiring! And I spend a lot of my time feeling uncomfortable and I am sort of okay with shifting that discomfort from women to men. Let them do the processing for a change.

As a man who was raised by a feminist mother to be thoughtful and careful with the words I choose, and as a person who suffers from social anxiety and therefore constantly second-guesses my own words and actions, I'm pretty well acquainted with doing the processing. I try not to let it bother me, and to read it in the sense you've just described, but I have to admit that when I encounter things like "men are trash" on Metafilter, it does hurt. I can't help but think that for the person writing it, it doesn't matter what I do, or how hard I try to listen and understand, or how much I work to advance the interests of my female colleagues and students: my very male-ness will always make me morally less-than.

I wouldn't ask you not to say it, because I can't know what emotional relief it grants you to say. But it does hurt to read "men are trash" on Metafilter, and to me the idea of calling an entire class of people trash or garbage seems much more clearly problematic than the idea of calling an individual a "garbage person." (To be clear: I don't think this is a phrase I have ever used, though it's possible. I personally just find it mildly annoying. I'm not sure I see the strong connection between "garbage person" and phrases like "poor white trash" that eviemath and others see, but it seems reasonable for them to ask others not to use it.) I've also learned that expressing on Metafilter that blanket attacks on men as a group makes me feel uncomfortable will inevitably lead to accusations that I am making a misogynistic "what about the men" or "#NotAllMen" style argument, so there are some conversations on Metafilter that I realize I'm simply not welcome in. Navigating that certainly does wonders for my social anxiety. I realize also, of course, that the anxiety and discomfort I feel from this is fundamentally not that different from how many women feel in any number of social contexts, and perhaps that gives you some measure of comfort in a "turnabout's fair play" sort of sense. In which case, so be it, I and my anxiety will survive with no permanent damage.

At any rate, I fully recognize that I am a member of a privileged group, and I have neither the right nor the interest in policing how you talk about me. But I thought you should know that, as someone who really does try his best not to be trash, it does hurt to read fellow Mefites saying "men are trash." I know it bothers my wife as well. It's not crippling or anything, but it's there. If that's the price of discourse on this site, I'm willing to pay it, but I thought you should know.
posted by biogeo at 2:48 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


Seeing "men are trash" sentiments on MetaFilter bothers me too. I'm a woman, I get it, I really do, and I don't think this needs to be a bright-line rule or anything, but I flinch when I see it. I think because, as theora55 says, this is a community and it makes me feel icky and bad to see that type of rhetoric directed towards a group of people in our community.

Circling back, this has been an interesting post and conversation; thanks eviemath for bringing this to our attention.
posted by lalex at 3:01 PM on March 3 [18 favorites]


Miko: we're not really "making a long list"; I'm not aware of any list you can reference that we maintain.

For me as a non-native speaker of English, that makes it harder, not easier. I don't generally want to hurt people when it can be avoided. But I'm already doing this thing backwards and in high heels, using a foreign language in conversations about difficult subjects. And now I'm apparently also supposed to know which newly learned insults can and cannot be used, or risk being thought of as rude/uncool/what have you. And there's not even a list so I can't even look it up!

If you've not grown up speaking (US) English, all these rules/requests (pretty much the same thing in this case) come across as pretty random. And random things are so much harder to remember than things that make sense to you because they're rooted in a familiar culture.

In other words, requests like this one make me feel totally at sea and make me wonder whether or not I belong here in any sense of the word. This is probably a tiny little culture clash that I'm experiencing here. It's not much fun.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:16 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


Garbage voters are actually hate-voters, and surely we can try to label the bad action as much as possible, rather than the bad character. Even better, label the bad motive (hate, laziness, complacency, greed, contempt, etc).
posted by ambrosen at 4:23 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


God, this is so freaking fraught. On one hand, as a cis, hetero, atheist, lefty, white woman, I can understand the instinct and desire to say that men or white people or Evangelicals or Republicans or neo-nazis are garbage people. I'm sure I've said things to that effect about many of those groups right here on MeFi. But this sort of language has started to give me pause as of late. For example, I've recently decided to try to specifically identify "Russian state actors" or the "North Korean regime" as the terrible force and keep "Russians" and "North Koreans" out of it.

So, overgeneralization is lazy, but it's REALLY HARD to walk the fishing line that divides the ridiculous #notallmen MRA soundbyte and the people who cosmetically fit into the oppressive group but are nonetheless trying to be allies with varying levels of success. It's even harder to acknowledge that there are people like, say, my dad, who won impressive union victories for women oppressed in the workplace but is nevertheless a misogynist. That's because people are complex, right?

So I'm trying to be more careful about what I say and reduce this type of shorthand in ways that I find useful and more intellectually rigorous without trying to tone police other people. I recognize that it sucks to grow up hearing the message that you're biologically inferior your entire life and to finally be in a position where you feel free to punch back with words only to have someone else swoop in and tell you that this is no longer allowed.
posted by xyzzy at 4:36 PM on March 3 [18 favorites]


counterpoint: neo-nazis are garbage people

this is true even though it's probably relevant/important to distinguish between literally every russian and the russians you are especially mad at

overgeneralization is lazy

right, and lumping neo-nazis in with categories like "white" and "male" is one of those overgeneralizations
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:43 PM on March 3


> I wouldn't ask you not to say it, because I can't know what emotional relief it grants you to say.

But that emotional relief can be kept to oneself, or to one's nearest and dearest who know where one is coming from, it doesn't have to be broadcast to everyone in shouting distance, where you don't know who might be hurt. My wife and I say all kinds of things to each other we'd never say on MeFi or in another public venue, and that's fine, that's what freedom is all about. Say all the shit you like! Be politically incorrect! But do it in private, the same way you go around without pants or fart or whatever you wouldn't do in town. Is it really that hard to avoid spraying random insults on a website?

> this is true even though it's probably relevant/important to distinguish between literally every russian and the russians you are especially mad at

WTF
posted by languagehat at 5:23 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


WTF

Use your words, dude
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:28 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


And now I'm apparently also supposed to know which newly learned insults can and cannot be used, or risk being thought of as rude/uncool/what have you.

This concern can be obviated by simply not making negative generalisations about groups of people.

I dunno, I feel like references to 'long lists of words' is pretty overblown. They're aren't that many words and you don't need to pay attention to any of them if you just follow the simple rules of being mostly nice, and avoiding negative sweeping statements and hyperbole.

Though some mefites seem to get a lot of pleasure from it, I find increasing the temperature in mefi generally pretty unedifying, and uninteresting.

I think we should avoid thinking about any group of people as garbage. The world doesn't need more dehumanisation.
posted by smoke at 6:01 PM on March 3 [18 favorites]


The OP suggests "douchebag" as a less offensive alternative to "garbage person" which is hilarious. Likewise the commenter who suggests "spineless" as an acceptable insult, as if that weren't ableist. In any event, while the reasoning that attempts to link "garbage person" with "white trash" is specious, once someone asks you to stop using a word, there is no point in arguing about it. I will banish the phrase from my Metafilter lexicon.

But there's a lot more going on in this thread than merely asking people to stop using a phrase. The OP says it's wrong to wish someone dead "even when we have experienced harm or dehumanization ourselves." Another comments "No human is trash". Theora55 takes great care to say "shitty attitude" instead of "shitty person" and seems to wonder if we need to understand these people and their attitudes. Languagehat allows that it's fine to get your hate on in private but not in public.

It doesn't surprise me to see this kind of thinking here. There is a pretty vocal portion of the site who thinks obit threads should be respectful. And many here who don't find the NYT nazi human interest stories upsetting or problematic. I'm not hoping to change anyone's mind about those things. And honestly I think people like this are very kind, even if their moral high ground isn't quite as moral or high as they think it is.

I however am not a kind person. I do hate some people. I do think some people are trash. I do think the world would be a much better place if various people had died young or not been born at all. If you want me to stop saying "garbage person", I will comply. If you want me to stop thinking "garbage person", I'm afraid that won't be possible.
posted by great_radio at 7:15 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


No one can control what anyone thinks, so that is not an actual risk we face.
posted by Miko at 7:44 PM on March 3 [13 favorites]


I guess to me it kind of works out the same as punching up vs. punching down and there are a LOT of insults that are incredibly problematic (especially ableist or misogynistic) and this one isn't so I'm okay with using it. Again, if we as a site decide this isn't what we want to do it's not going to kill me or anything but I'm feeling a little surprised at all the pushback against this particular thing.

Genuinely punching up would involve saying it directly to the specific men who are "trash." Saying it to friends and coworkers is at best punching sideways, and in some cases may have a component of punching down.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:01 PM on March 3 [8 favorites]


I've been thinking about this thread all day, trying to get a handle on why I have such strong feelings about this. In part, it's the words. To me, the words "trash" or "garbage" are creepy and carry an implication of disposability, especially when applied to an entire demographic category. Okay, so when someone in this thread wants to say "men are garbage" maybe they don't intend it to include me in that category, but just in this other tab I have twitter open where a TERF is saying exactly that - that not only am I a man, but I am the most garbage variety of man, the most disposable of men. This isn't just any random woman saying it either, this is a proud second wave feminist. So maybe you (hypothetical cis woman on this site) aren't saying that I'm a vile person, but I can't tell that. Cis feminists have a long history of being gross to trans women, and you'll pardon me for being pretty suspicious of anyone who starts up with the "men are garbage" crap, because historically that rhetoric is far more likely to be weaponised against someone like me than against someone like Donald Trump.

One way to solve this problem, I suppose, would be to work out the proper structure of the privilege hierarchy and perfectly calibrate our intersectionality instincts, so that we can determine who is entitled to be cruel to whom and under what circumstances. But that seems awfully hard, and in my experience this just takes us down the terrible path of playing the olympics of suffering game every time a difficult conversation begins. It seems to me the better path is to emphasise our common humanity. Yes, some groups of people can be problematic in the aggregate, but I honestly think there's very little to be gained by dehumanising the group as a whole by calling them "garbage". Maybe I'm in a minority here. But I really do think that (almost) no-one is worthless, that everyone deserves a cookie if they're trying to be a better person, and that everyone needs that hug promised at the bottom of the page. I guess that's what I see this MeTa as being about?
posted by saltbush and olive at 9:22 PM on March 3 [16 favorites]


smoke: This concern can be obviated by simply not making negative generalisations about groups of people.

That's not how I read the post. I read it as 'please don't call people garbage', not 'please don't call whole groups of people garbage'.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:37 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Here is a useful list and, hopefully, helpful perspective.
It's especially interesting now that parts of the lists have flipped, which obviates the advice several people in this thread have given to not make negative generalisations about people. (note that "people" is a group)

"A nastier, harsher atmosphere everywhere" by a very famous actor and comedian.
posted by fraula at 4:52 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Is it really that hard to avoid spraying random insults on a website?

Regardless of whether it's hard or not, I'm not going to stop using insults on Metafilter. However, when someone makes a MeTa pointing out how certain insults are historically harmful to specific undeserving people, I can get behind not using those phrases.

Other insults, though? I'm just going to keep on using those insults. Nazis are dogshit. People who go to an alt-right rally are monsters. I'm never going to understand why insulting specific people who choose to be awful is so upsetting to some Mefites.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:18 AM on March 4 [10 favorites]


> Use your words, dude

I used my words. I don't understand what the fuck you meant by "it's probably relevant/important to distinguish between literally every russian and the russians you are especially mad at"; that sounds to me like you're saying all Russians are shitty but you should still separate out the ones you are especially mad at, but since your comment was borderline incoherent that may not be what you meant. Feel free to use your words to clarify.

> Other insults, though? I'm just going to keep on using those insults.

You do what you have to do, but I'm not sure what you think is added to the world or the site by your calling people dogshit and monsters.
posted by languagehat at 7:26 AM on March 4


You do what you have to do, but I'm not sure what you think is added to the world or the site by your calling people dogshit and monsters.

What's added to the world and the site is the normalization of calling Nazis dogshit, and calling people who go to alt-right rallies monsters. Personally, I'm not sure what's added to the world or the site by deciding not never use insults ever. Like, I think making the decision to never use insults ever makes it easier for Nazis (or people who might become Nazis) to feel like their point of view is acceptable. I think making the decision to never use insults ever makes it easier for people to make the decision to go to an alt-right rally. That's why I think this discussion should be about self-reflection on how and when we use insults, not whether we should use them at all. That position seems very extreme to me.

This seems like a derail, though, as the original MeTa even suggested replacing "garbage" and "trash" with other insults (ones that don't have a problematic history of use in enabling classist violence against poor people).
posted by 23skidoo at 8:01 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


I also prefer not to call neo-Nazis monsters, not because I want to protect neo-Nazis from bad feelings—I want neo-Nazis to feel as uncomfortable as possible—but because I think that kind of rhetorical strategy lets too many other people, who should also be made uncomfortable, off the hook. Nice people who are non-confrontationally nice to their racist uncles and alt-right cousins are not monsters, but they are morally wrong for basically the same reasons that neo-Nazis are morally wrong (ie refusing to take the humanity of others seriously). That to me is the advantage of criticising ideas, rather than (or as well as) swearing at people; the letting-off-steam value of swearing at people who act despicably is important, but it’s important to also name what is despicable about their behaviour and to identify how many things they have in common with ordinary respectable non-monstrous people who would never go to a KKK rally or whatever.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:04 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


So, I now find myself in a position I never really expected to be in, which is to defend the use of people to use "garbage" as an insult. By the way, I also think it's a fine choice not to use "garbage person" an insult, which I guess is easy enough for me to say as I don't think it's a way that I've enter insulted someone; I'm not advocating here that people should use it, just that I don't think it's problematic if they do.

I'd like to push back on a couple of fronts here, echoing some thoughts upthread.

First, when it comes to the word "garbage" in particular, I'm just not identifying this as a term that's used to justify violence in a classist sense or any other sense. It's notably different than its synonym "trash" which is easily identified with classist rhetoric. And I think the distinction between them makes a difference here, because when I think of people using the term "garbage person" I'm not understanding them to be making a class-based argument or attempting to invoke class-based rhetoric in any way.

As a second and somewhat related point, I think if folks who hear the use of the term "garbage people" understand it to mean that the user is saying that the people are not human beings and therefore deserve to die, then I understand why they don't want to use that term themselves. But I think it's unfair to ascribe that intention to it. In short, if that's what you mean when you use it, I'd agree that you probably shouldn't use it. But if that's what you hear when someone else is using it, I don't think that's really on the user.

Next, in the context where the term "garbage person" seems to come up the most often, it seems to me that it's a criticism of someone's actions and/or beliefs. And this seems to be a completely okay thing to insult! A common way to think of humans is as being made up of their actions and their beliefs, and if their actions and beliefs are garbage, then that's what they are. I think it's absolutely fair game to describe people's actions and beliefs--things that they have control over--in ways that highlight how awful those actions and beliefs are. In other words, there is an appropriate place for insults, so long as they're launched at actions/beliefs rather than identity aspects divorced from a person's actions and beliefs.

Lastly, I'm uncomfortable with the implication that we must be mindful of civility when we discuss the abhorrent actions of the person in charge of our government and his vile enablers and supporters. This just feels too much 'Won't someone think of the Trump voters!" to me, and I'm not on board with policing our tone here. (I'm less enthusiastic, though, about endorsing "garbage person" or any insult when it's used personally against other users on the site; I really do think that when we're interacting with other site members personally, we can and should be more mindful of being civil. When we are describing politicians and their supporters, not so much).
posted by MoonOrb at 9:22 AM on March 4 [23 favorites]


While my position is actually closer to "insults are not generally useful and we should generally avoid them" than I thought it was before reading this (excellent) MeTa, I'm not going to argue against calling fascists names on MeFi. (I'm actually completely comfortable with insults in the case of Nazis.) But, if we're going to justify insulting Nazis (rather than just doing it, within the parameters imposed by not using problematic terms we wouldn't use in other contexts), can we do so a bit more realistically than by claiming that using epithets like "monster/dogshit" (in a room full of people who are almost universally aware that Nazis's ideology/behaviour is monstrous) is going to measurably "normalize" anti-fascism or affect anyone's "decision to go to an alt-right rally"?

There's all sorts of serious/effective anti-fascist activity one can get involved in, but calling Nazis "dogshit" on MeFi (even if there's nothing wrong with that) is not actually one of those things.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:30 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


No one can control what anyone thinks, so that is not an actual risk we face.

This is very true and we must try to approach brainwashed people with this in mind. But knowing they allow themselves to be used and abused presents a dilemma. They often correctly see politeness as fakery and something to avoid or disrespect. The dilemma is that being "the better person" is not just seen as unspoken contempt, it also teaches condescension. Liberals use it to establish respectability among themselves, but it doesn't work on those who reject respectability. The only open door some people have for strangers is direct honesty. Even their political poisoning and trolling by elites uses this fact like downloaded software uses cell phone features. They trust those who don't judge their manners and negative mindset. Any approach that contradicts what the sponsored trolls in alternative media told them is helping to curb their anti-government thought reform and strong-man indoctrination. The irony is that it offends everyone else but them.
posted by Brian B. at 9:35 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


But, if we're going to justify insulting Nazis (rather than just doing it, within the parameters imposed by not using problematic terms we wouldn't use in other contexts), can we do so a bit more realistically than by claiming that using epithets like "monster/dogshit" (in a room full of people who are almost universally aware that Nazis's ideology/behaviour is monstrous) is going to measurably "normalize" anti-fascism or affect anyone's "decision to go to an alt-right rally"?

*shrug* "We're" not doing that, that was just me. That's my justification, and I don't find it unrealistic.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:49 AM on March 4


Plus: I never once mentioned anti-fascism, so I think at best you're reading all sorts of things into what I wrote that aren't the words I wrote, like at all.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:00 AM on March 4


In short, if that's what you mean when you use it, I'd agree that you probably shouldn't use it. But if that's what you hear when someone else is using it, I don't think that's really on the user.

That's at the heart of a lot of these discussions.

two or three cars parked under the stars said what I would have said, had I been able to state it so clearly.
posted by bongo_x at 10:05 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


But if that's what you hear when someone else is using it, I don't think that's really on the user.

Once a user has been made aware that to some people at least, a given word carries a certain set of accommodations, whose decision is it whether to continue using it, in light of the new information?
posted by Miko at 2:32 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Plus: I never once mentioned anti-fascism, so I think at best you're reading all sorts of things into what I wrote that aren't the words I wrote, like at all.

The insulting-Nazis thing is mostly a derail, and I apologise if I read a stronger claim into your comment than you were actually making.

That said, you did assert that (1) whether or not we insult Nazis affects whether "they feel like their point of view is acceptable", and (2) whether or not we insult Nazis might enter into someone's decision to "go to an alt-right rally". It seems pretty reasonable to infer from what you said that you think that insulting Nazis has some effect on the prevalence of their bullshit large enough to overcome other arguments against using insults. I find that implausible, and I find it even more implausible if we're talking specifically about insulting Nazis on MetaFilter. (If you insult a Nazi on a community weblog and there are no Nazis there to hear it, does it have any meaningful effect on Nazism?)

In fact, here's a not-much-more plausible argument against insulting Nazis: a worryingly large subset of the news media and public buy into a ridiculous false-equivalence narrative relating Nazis/fascists and people who are part of antifascist efforts. This subset presumably has large intersection with the subset of the population who place a higher value on a kind of superficial civility than they do on combating actual oppression (you know, the type of person who will exhibit e.g. casual racism/sexism but get totally precious if someone drops an f-bomb). Were such people to overhear someone calling Nazis "dogshit", they will find that their "both sides" bullshit has been vindicated by (what they see as) your uncouth aggressiveness or whatever, and this will reinforce their unreasonably charitable (hence dangerous) attitude toward Nazi types.

In fact, that's also a weak argument, this time against insulting Nazis. I'm sure we could come up with more bad arguments in both directions. My point is that even adopting a categorical no-insults stance that includes Nazis is unlikely to have any effect on the Nazi problem, and conversely, specifically insulting Nazis is unlikely to have any effect on the problem.

A claim to the contrary would seem to require some evidence. Is the attendance at alt-right rallies really lower than it would otherwise be because on-the-fence maybe-Nazis are hearing people call Nazis "monsters"?

It seems more likely that on-the-fence maybe-Nazis are well aware of widespread, longstanding social disapproval of Nazism, and are either making their shitty decisions independently of that disapproval, or in spite of it. You're very right to be worried about erosion of that disapproval. I just don't understand how insulting Nazis in a space where everyone agrees with you is supposed to measurably shore up that disapproval.

Given the very frightening resurgence of far-right shit all over the world, it's important not to conflate (perfectly valid) expressions of disgust/fear/contempt with meaningful action. There are plenty of other reasons to be okay with insulting Nazis that don't rely on claiming that the insults actually influence the Nazi problem, which is what it sounded to me like you were claiming.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:46 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Damm bro. Please drop this. This ain't what this MeTa is about.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:57 PM on March 4


I'm just gonna back up that I feel like the particular use of "garbage" (and "trash" to an extent though obviously that one is harder to separate entirely from its older connotations) that has arisen lately is much more often than not from a pro-social-justice standpoint. That doesn't mean it has to be considered appropriate for MeFi but I think if it is to be discouraged it should be discouraged gently, so as to avoid being too tone-police-y.
posted by atoxyl at 3:11 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


If you've not grown up speaking (US) English, all these rules/requests (pretty much the same thing in this case) come across as pretty random. And random things are so much harder to remember than things that make sense to you because they're rooted in a familiar culture.

I'd hope limited linguistic/cultural familiarity would be treated as a perfectly valid excuse for not being totally on top of these things. There's probably a small list of words that are "never use" here - and which are well enough known as slurs that it would be hard to argue ignorance - but I don't think something like this request is likely to be taken as a hard rule. At least it ought not to be.
posted by atoxyl at 3:17 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Once a user has been made aware that to some people at least, a given word carries a certain set of accommodations, whose decision is it whether to continue using it, in light of the new information?

I think I understand your question, even though in this context, I don't see how the decision can belong to anyone other than the user--the request here is not that the word should be banned, just that people not use it.

But more broadly, it looks to me what you're getting at depends on the extent the term is one that is (a) commonly understood to be offensive or one that is felt as offensive to a particular person and (b) whether the conversation is private between those two people or public, like on MetaFilter.

So you can imagine basically four quadrants here: (1) Commonly offensive, private conversation; (2) Commonly offensive, public conversation; (3) individually felt to be offensive, private conversation; (4) individually felt to be offensive, public conversation.

The part of my comment that you responded to was referring to (4). In those situations, I'd argue that in a public forum, even if people are made aware that some members of the public have a less common interpretation of a term and that they're offended when they hear it, the onus is really still on the person with the less common interpretation. In my mind, this tends to shift when in a private conversation with someone (at least, I'm much more likely to stop using a word if someone says to me when I'm talking to them, "hey that really bothers me when you say that" even if I don't agree at all with their interpretation of the word); it also shifts when there's a consensus that the term is actually really offensive in a public setting.

Otherwise, you have a sort of heckler's veto, where as soon as someone steps up publicly and says "hey I associate the use of this term with ____ so stop using it," the public is compelled to stop using it. That doesn't make sense to me to the extent the complainant's interpretation of the term is fairly idiosyncratic. If it turns out that it's not actually idiosyncratic and there's much more of a broadly held view, then it makes sense to stop using the term.

It could be that some thought will coalesce around the term "garbage people" and it will be thought of less as an attack on the reprehensible beliefs and actions of people like our current president and more like a classist slur. If that happens, I'd be happy to see the term disappear from use on MetaFilter.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:21 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I don’t agree with the base assumption in the call out. Calling someone garbage isn’t the same thing as calling them trash. If you’ve connected those dots, then maybe un-connect them? Or don’t! They’re your dots. But I’m not on board with it.
posted by um at 4:23 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


First, when it comes to the word "garbage" in particular, I'm just not identifying this as a term that's used to justify violence in a classist sense or any other sense. It's notably different than its synonym "trash" which is easily identified with classist rhetoric. And I think the distinction between them makes a difference here, because when I think of people using the term "garbage person" I'm not understanding them to be making a class-based argument or attempting to invoke class-based rhetoric in any way.

As a second and somewhat related point, I think if folks who hear the use of the term "garbage people" understand it to mean that the user is saying that the people are not human beings and therefore deserve to die, then I understand why they don't want to use that term themselves. But I think it's unfair to ascribe that intention to it. In short, if that's what you mean when you use it, I'd agree that you probably shouldn't use it. But if that's what you hear when someone else is using it, I don't think that's really on the user.


The later is a bit closer to my request for the Metafilter community, though still not quite accurate. I probably could have phrased the post better, but my point is that I don't want to normalize the idea that people are disposable. The variants of "x trash" are what came to mind most easily as examples that I thought we could all agree were problematic. My point is not so much that "garbage person" is classist in exactly the same way or is a synonym for any of the various trash phrases; rather, my point is that it, too, has been used to dehumanize vulnerable groups in the past (all of my examples were from more personal experience that didn't lend themselves to shorthand as well; the clip I posted from the film Taxi Driver up above gives a brief illustration of this historic usage however), so I'd like us to be more careful in how we use it. The uses I've been increasingly seeing do remind me of these past experiences where people in less powerful groups were the ones being called garbage (as well as trash), leading to my discomfort with the term "garbage people" which impelled me to make this post. Based on the discussion so far, it sounds like my request and my reasoning were not as clear as they could have been, however. So let me try to add more context or explanation.

Consider this: What is so bad about Trump? The "I'm tired of all this shit" answer is that he causes a great deal of harm and I'm too exhausted dealing with the effects to philosophize. That's fair. But if we do then ask how or why does he cause so much harm, the answer seems to be that he considers almost all people other than himself as disposable.

If I look at ring wing folks who seem to elicit the most visceral hatred or upsetness from those they harm or onlookers, it seems to me to be correlated with the degree to which they treat others as disposable, and do not show any warmth or care for even people on their own side, as it were. It's not exactly or directly correlated with the amount of actual harm done. There are a few people, Paul Ryan for example, around Trump who are both enabling the harm he causes, and who are using him to push their own agendas that harm many of us. The difference in our levels of visceral negative reaction stems from the fact that some of these other people have learned to hide the fact that they see and treat many of us as disposable a little better than Trump himself. Our ability to sort out sometimes rather complex or hidden cause and effect in politics aside, I think our instincts behind these visceral responses are quite reasonable. People who view lots of other people as disposable can cause a significant amount of damage and we are right to be wary of that attitude.

When it comes to someone like Trump who has no apparent redeeming human qualities, neither in his public nor his private life, it can be very tempting and satisfying to give him a taste of his own medicine in this respect - to assert that, no, no, he's the puppet. ... er, I mean, the garbage, the trash, the disposable human. Despite Trump's lack of any sort of redeeming qualities, I think it is a strategically poor choice to give in to this, however. It concedes the argument to him. It's not just a matter of "taking the higher ground" - Trump is basically the pure personification of the idea that other people can be treated as disposable. That is so fundamentally tied up with what is wrong and bad about Trump that if we concede that point, what do we have left in arguing against Trump? Then we're getting into arguing about who meets the bar for being a garbage person or not, and the goalposts become dangerously movable. That is: to me the struggle against Trump, fascists, etc. is about specifically harmful and bad aspects of their ideology and behavior. Yet, Trump, the fascists who marched on Charlottesville, etc. see the world as a power struggle between equally valid "tribes" in some sense - their goal is to win all the power for their group by any means necessary, and they think that other tribes should and do have the same goal. Part of the underlying philosophies that many on the far right follow consider Blacks and Jews, for example, bad in part because they are the Other, because they see them as competitors in the power struggle that they see as forming the grand narrative of history. A system of discriminatory beliefs about the ethical failings or sub-human nature of other "tribes" is then highly useful in enabling members of their group to overcome basic human pro-social tendencies that a large proportion of people have in order to engage in this power struggle. You can see the explicit fostering of such prejudices in the writing of some of the leaders of European colonialism, for example. Those systems of prejudice become entrenched and add a layer of ethical judgement about the Other (based on false prejudices and thus, in my opinion, not of equal validity to my ethical judgement of the worldview that some people are disposable; but similar in that it is an ethical judgement), of course. But a significant and important background component in enabling people to be horrible bigots who enact violence on other humans is the rationalization that the other humans would do the same to them if given the chance.

So what I am saying is that this issue of whether or not human beings can be justly considered disposable is one of the core, fundamental differences between a progressive world view and a Trumpian or similar world view. Who was it who gets quoted on Facebook a bunch advising Americans to keep a list of small changes to combat creeping fascism and authoritarianism? The normalization of language that enables us to view other humans as disposable is one of these creeping changes. I'm asking that we push back on this particular norm creep.

In other words, I don't care if you refer to your sanitation worker as a garbage person, like you refer to your tech support person as a computer person. I don't care if you refer to ideas as garbage ideas. I think some of the ideas on the far right are indeed disposable and should be disposed of. I find the arguments for no-platforming people like Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopolous entirely convincing and support actions that prevent them from publicly broadcasting their hatred and harming the rest of us. As I mentioned above, I think that ridicule, used properly, can be an important tool in fighting that sort of extremist hatred. I also, myself, need forums to vent where I don't have to self-censor my anger, fear and anxiety, or occasional exhaustion in the fight against everyday bigotry as well as the extreme end of fascism and Trumpism. Metafilter is large enough, diverse enough, and comprised of enough other people who don't know me personally and thus can't put my venting in context of an understanding of my overall worldview, so I don't do that venting on Metafilter. I don't care about the term "garbage person" per se - on some level, like any other name calling, it's just words. Eg., when one kindergartner calls another kindergartner a poopyhead, most of us would recognize that the harm involved is in the combination of the intent behind the language in that specific usage and the general climate in which the name callee or other observers may interpret the meaning of the language. My point is that the increased frequency of usage and overall usage cases of the phrase "garbage person" seem to me to be reinforcing the idea that some humans are disposable. And that makes me sufficiently uncomfortable with the phrase itself to ask of you, my Metafilter community members, to please consider your usage much more carefully.
posted by eviemath at 4:47 PM on March 4 [15 favorites]


On further reflection, however, Peter Thiel seems to view (young) people as consumable more than disposable, so may not have been a good example to include in my original post. :P
posted by eviemath at 5:13 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I stay out of the politics threads but I've noticed this a bunch on AskMe and I really dislike it there, too. It implies that nothing the "garbage person" does could ever in any way be valuable, and I agree with others above that it contributes to black-and-white thinking and othering of universal problematic habits.
posted by lazuli at 5:49 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I guess I’m coming from the following perspective:

There are some people in the world (specific people, not classes!) who are basically scum.

If you don’t agree with that, that’s ok. Admirable, even. But it would take a lot to persuade me that I’m wrong.

Donald Trump isn’t a garbage person because of the things he thinks, he’s a garbage person because of the things he does. I don’t know why he does what he does, and trying to figure it out strikes me as a pointless academic exercise. It’s fundamentally un-knowable. Fun to think about if you have enough time on your hands.

Garbage people aren’t disposable. They’re still people! This is acknowledged in the expression! But, like garbage, they are beneath consideration or sympathy. Anita Sarkeesian called one of her abusers a garbage person, and I think the sense is the same; beyond a certain point the shit that garbage people do renders consideration their of motivations counter- productive.
posted by um at 5:58 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


People who use the term "garbage" are shitty and gross.
posted by uosuaq at 6:20 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


That's definitely an opinion, but since multiple Mefites in this thread have already admitted to using the word (and agreed to stop using it here), maybe that can be the last opinion that calls Mefites shitty and gross.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:35 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


It's close to 10pm Eastern time, so with luck, it might be a few hours before a Mefite calls another Mefite shitty and/or gross (both of which are among my current pet peeves, since they have the same intellectual content as "boo!"). I'm not ready to bet on it, though.
posted by uosuaq at 6:46 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


More blunt: Can we not insult other Mefites in this thread?
posted by 23skidoo at 6:54 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I was only trying to say that it would be nice not to insult other Mefites on *other* threads as well, especially with empty words. (And also that I don't really expect that to happen....but perhaps over time we'll improve?)
posted by uosuaq at 7:00 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


23skidoo: "More blunt: Can we not insult other Mefites in this thread?"
uosuaq: "I was only trying to say that it would be nice not to insult other Mefites on *other* threads as well,"

I would be very much in favour of both these proposals!

One of my frustrations in this thread has been this feeling that we're talking at cross purposes. On the one hand, I feel like a lot of people are forcefully arguing that it should be okay to insult neo-nazis and the like... and almost everyone seems to agree. As much as I personally come down on the side of preferring to avoid insults, I've got no interest in defending neo-nazis. If they want to come into this thread and explain why we shouldn't insult them, they're welcome to do so I suppose.

On the other hand, I feel like a lot of people are arguing the case that MeFites shouldn't call each other garbage. That's certainly the point I've been arguing. My frustration with "broad brush" insults like "men are garbage" or "cis people are trash" doesn't come from a denial that there are problematic aspects to these groups in the aggregate, it comes from that fact that saying these things is extremely painful to many lovely MeFites who are part of our community, who are in the room at the time, and who genuinely don't deserve to be called trash. I want to believe that no-one is arguing that it should be okay to call each other garbage, but I'm not sure? There seem to be a lot of heated threads on the blue where people seem very insistent on their right to say terrible things about groups of people who are in the room at the time, and I find it pretty distressing. It's certainly the main reason I don't comment much anymore.
posted by saltbush and olive at 12:15 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]


uosuaq: I was only trying to say that it would be nice not to insult other Mefites on *other* threads as well, especially with empty words.

And you did that by... insulting other MeFites on this thread? I don't quite follow...
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:07 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Well I think it’s great that we’re finally talking about garbage humans!

We so often forget that most human beings who have existed on this Earth did so before the invention of clothes - and thus at a time when humanity had absolutely NOTHING to garb itself in.

In that context, and given the amazing technological (and, through fashion, artistic) advance that clothing represents ... well, it is only natural that we divide our species’ history into two major periods: the time of those ancient, “nude-age” humans, and the years of we modern, “garb-age” folk.

Thus whenever I see a significant number - say, twelve dozen - persons of the modern clothed period gathered together, I can’t help but think that such a gross of garb-age persons really are “the shit”.

Just thinking about such a shitty gross of garb-age people really does make me feel proud of our human species - as I’m sure you all completely agree!

I mean: how could you not? Could one even imagine that anyone could possibly think differently to me about this issue? What an absurdly humorous thought! It really does make one smile! :-)
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:02 AM on March 5 [30 favorites]


I'm afraid that's incorrect: it made me smile too, so the number of smiles is two at the very least.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:00 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]


I find it enormously pleasurable to refer to certain people as "garbage humans," out of the pure mean satisfaction of rhetorically obliterating a person I find offensive. But I do think it's lazy and essentially meaningless, and I've resolved to stop using it both publicly and privately.

I stopped calling people "stupid" or "idiots" for much the same reason. Have you ever seen a deeply stupid person deride someone who is demonstrably enormously more intelligent as "an idiot"? Does that suddenly make you think, "wait, maybe it's the author of this exhaustively researched volume of articulate, painstakingly reasoned arguments who is the moron, not the guy whose Internet comment advised her to have a stroke and die"? As someone who's been called an "idiot" more than once in his life, I know that insults like that mean absolutely nothing to me. (On the other hand, someone referred to me on his blog as "fatuous" in the autumn of 2000, and it haunts me to this day.)

The problem with these sweeping condemnations is that when anyone can use them to attack anybody for any reason, they lose any real force. It takes more effort to come up with a more specific, personalized insult, but they're much more effective, because they zero in on a wrong that is particular to that person, making them less easily dismissable, and they tend to really get under the target's skin in a way that some popular one-size-fits-all catch phrase doesn't.

The late great Spy magazine really had this down to an art. I doubt that "garbage person" affects Donald Trump more than "short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump" has for decades, and "socialite war criminal Henry Kissinger" says so much more than simply "garbage person." I never even knew exactly who Liz Smith was as a kid, but every time I saw her name mentioned I immediately recalled her as a "grizzled celebrity stenographer."
posted by Enemy of Joy at 8:38 AM on March 5 [15 favorites]


I hearby declare that the quidnunc kid wins the thread!
posted by eviemath at 9:26 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


#1 in our hearts, if not the final vote count :p
posted by Barack Spinoza at 9:41 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


"Garbage Person" or "Garbage Monster" are sort of my go-to non-cursing insults.

If they want to assume the mantle of a monster

People who go to an alt-right rally are monsters.


Can we please not use the word "monster" to refer to horrible, awful human beings? Thank you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:47 AM on March 5


Can we please not use the word "monster" to refer to horrible, awful human beings? Thank you.

no, lol
posted by 23skidoo at 9:58 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Can we please not use the word "monster" to refer to horrible, awful human beings? Thank you.

I mean if your rationale is that it's unfair to Grover and the Snuffalupagus, I might be persuaded.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:13 AM on March 5 [8 favorites]


I love monsters and care deeply about them. It pains me to see them abused by comparisons to Nazis.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:14 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Sorry for your pain. Still not going to happen. Is your joke over yet?
posted by 23skidoo at 10:20 AM on March 5


One of the curses that comes with the blessings of language is that we all have the power within us to deeply hurt one another with our words, intentionally and unintentionally. One of the things that I am trying hardest to internalize is that sometimes being harmful to others is baked into the structures of our world, and as someone with a great deal of privilege, it is hard for me to see where and how those microaggressions occur.

Threads like this are very helpful to me, not because I know that by not using the words and phrases that are called out in them that I will never hurt anyone, but because they remind me that I will never know all the ways that I can and do hurt people in small and large ways on a daily basis. They make me think more carefully about what I say and how I say it -- something I almost never used to do, and something many people do daily as a matter of life and death. Just today, in another forum, I used a gendered pronoun to refer to a generic ice hockey player when the singular they would have been just as easy. Luckily it is a forum that allows comment editing, and I was able to change the word as soon as I realized my error.

I almost certainly have used the phrase "garbage person" on MeFi, and my forgetfulness and my privilege combine to make me unable to promise I will never use it again. I almost certainly will continue to use it in settings where I know my audience better and I know what does and does not cause offense. What I can do -- and I do -- is apologize if my use of it in the past was harmful to anyone, and I can thank you for this reminder to think carefully about how I go about in the world.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:36 AM on March 5 [7 favorites]


#1 in our hearts, if not the final vote count :p

Or indeed, both.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:11 AM on March 5


Carefully watching this thread to see it turn into another "humanizing Nazis" discussion.

OK, TBH, I don't read MeFi that much and probably won't see this again. But thread participants, please think about whether or not you reach first to make sure that Nazis, et al are OK, and think about whether you've ever done this for POC before.
posted by ignignokt at 11:18 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Also, calling white supremacists "fascists" makes them feel powerful.
posted by ignignokt at 11:19 AM on March 5


So?
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:45 AM on March 5


This site is so frustrating. It’s not enough for a handful of people on the site to say that a turn of phrase bothers them. Should we say “OK, I’ll keep that in mind?” No, the stakes have to keep getting raised until we’re talking about the morality of our language use, and rehashing a discussion of the ethics humanizing Nazis. Things get more and more heated as every nuance is explored in painful detail.

Look, most of the people on this site aren’t even going to see this thread. This doesn’t have to be the final word on anything. What we have learned is that some people object to a certain turn of phrase. It is up to you whether to take that seriously or not, but the information is out there.

I am going to walk away angrily muttering to myself now.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:59 AM on March 5 [16 favorites]


I will add, however, that one exception to my grumbling is the issue of being a non-native English speaker. That’s not raising the stakes, and it’s a good reminder that people may be coming from very different places with regards to how they communicate. There is always that risk of overstepping an invisible line for both native and non-native speakers alike, and a thread like this is where someone can draw attention to where that line may be (fuzzy and subjective as it will always be). If this sort of thing were always self-evident, no one would ever need to bring it up.

OK, now I’ll resume my angry muttering.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:00 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Thank you eviemath for posting this. I agree with lazuli who said,

I stay out of the politics threads but I've noticed this a bunch on AskMe and I really dislike it there, too. It implies that nothing the "garbage person" does could ever in any way be valuable, and I agree with others above that it contributes to black-and-white thinking and othering of universal problematic habits.
posted by brainwane at 1:11 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Also, calling white supremacists "fascists" makes them feel powerful.

Not everyone is in the USA, and, terrifyingly, numerous people are actual fascists, or close enough that the term applies.

In case you were referring to my comments, I'm also not interested in talking about "humanising Nazis". I was interested in countering what I saw as a conflation of insulting Nazis/far-right types with actually doing something about them. There are perfectly good reasons to insult them. It's less good to insinuate that insulting them is a real way of doing something about them, or that avoiding insulting them somehow helps them. Absent some evidence, those things are orthogonal. The comment to which I was responding emitted an internet-tough-guy vibe incommensurate with the gravity of the actual far-right/alt-right/fascist problem, and I was trying to push back against that.
posted by busted_crayons at 1:39 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


talking about the morality of our language use

Isn't thinking about the morality of one's language use every so often an extremely good idea?
posted by busted_crayons at 1:41 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


quidnunc kid, I am very okay with you calling me a garb-age person, and I'm glad you brought this to our attention. In fact, my 5yo daughter has just come out to me as a nude-age person and I am currently discussing with her teacher how this will be reflected in the school uniform policy. Will report back
posted by saltbush and olive at 1:46 PM on March 5 [9 favorites]


The comment to which I was responding emitted an internet-tough-guy vibe incommensurate with the gravity of the actual far-right/alt-right/fascist problem, and I was trying to push back against that.

Again: daaaaamn bro, please drop this. Please. You're really off base in your read of what I wrote, and you keep circling back to it.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:51 PM on March 5


Again: daaaaamn bro, please drop this. Please. You're really off base in your read of what I wrote, and you keep circling back to it.

If you don't want people reading into your comments that certain actions will have certain effects, or that refraining from certain actions will have certain other effects, then don't make those claims. Also, don't call me "bro". That's fucking obnoxious.
posted by busted_crayons at 5:50 PM on March 5


Again: please drop this. It's not the point of this MeTa, like at all. You're soooooo very wrong about everything you've written, bro.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:06 PM on March 5


Cut it out please, you've both said your bit and this isn't going anywhere.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:07 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


I just think dehumanizing insults aren't very effective. They let off steam, sure, but they also categorize the world in ways that are tempting for the pattern-loving human brain but also not really accurate when it comes to the full picture.

Once someone is castigated to the "garbage person" pile, it feels to me like we've admitted that they're unfightable, that they aren't capable of doing better, that we can't push them to do better, etc. Like why even engage with them - if we can't get them out of the narrative completely, then I guess we just leave them the hell alone. And I really hope that we don't leave that sort of person to fester (and use their platform) unmolested.

Calling someone "wrong", or "a liar," or "disingenuous," or "immoral," or "someone who'd ask for the directions to put together an IKEA LACK" gives us something we can actually work with. Plus, it allows us to paint other people who partially display those same beliefs or have committed those same actions with that same brush, even if they're people that others would hesitate to write off as complete pieces of shit.

As an example - many would call those who were perfectly happy using CHIP as a pawn "dogshit." And, yep, that's an abhorrent stance. But I also want to communicate that those that enable-but-don't-lead those pawn-users, like those that would speak in support of CHIP but ultimately write off theoretically losing some funding as the cost of politics, even if those enablers are simultaneously fighting for admirable objectives - that viewpoint is still abhorrent from them. It doesn't cancel out their other actions; they may be people I'd admire in other domain. But allowing CHIP to fail at its mission is wrong. I want that whooole spectrum to be implicit in my condemnation of the strongest of the terrible-thought-leaders.
posted by mosst at 1:11 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Seeing "men are trash" sentiments on MetaFilter bothers me too.

I think it's hard, because there really isn't a good way to talk about how men tend to embody super problematic behavior without some dude jumping in to say 'Not All Men, Definitely Not Me, I'm Totes A Feminist', and it is exhausting to have to explain that yes, every single man, yes even the feminist ones, yes a lot of the people talking have never met the man who is completely exempt from sexist behavior and socialization and has been so all his life, yes even on Metafilter.

So 'men are trash' is shorthand for 'men have breathed in this scummy society and spit it back out again, yes, even the good ones, and I am sorry that they are breaking your heart right now as they break my heart and have broken my heart a million times other, I am here with you sister" without having to hide that conversation so men don't ruin that conversation.

I agree that calling people who are in the minority trash is not okay, but men are half of the planet and kind of run the place.
posted by corb at 4:17 PM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Yeah, there's a valid point in saying that insults are 'not effective strategy' (to echo a couple of remarks in this thread). But I think what hasn't been said is that that itself contains an element of class difference. The reason is that when people here say they use insults, they're explicitly or implicitly saying they're doing it as a survival or coping mechanism, and I believe that. With that background condition, if you merely request that people please put that away, that doesn't seem effective either. The class difference comes in because many of us can afford to not use these behaviors, and that's a difference that interacts with personal situation and socioeconomic status, such as having the resources a.k.a. emotional labor to use our energies differently.

I'm inclined to feel that insulting remarks add to a toxic and contagious dynamic, period. And part of normalization is that this often becomes made invisible. Like, AFAIK the NYTimes rules officially prohibits all comments that use any name-calling, because that's against their idea of what's 'good'/'acceptable' discourse. However, that MetaFilter doesn't isn't necessarily a negative: maybe it's that this community happens to be more tolerant of vulnerable minorities, in this regard.

So it's not just that it's poor strategy; it's also different strategy that some of us don't resonate with, due to life experiences and so on. Maybe, you do have to fight fire with fire, or give em a taste of their medicine, like polemic. But maybe, it is internalized oppression by a person who was harmed by illegitimate domination, and that internalization creates tensions and contradictions. So maybe, if you transform the narrative from 'some members are being ineffective', or 'some members are missing the point of Trump's intolerant ideology', to 'the reason some of us are being this way is directly because of the toxicity and perniciousness of intolerance', that can be more understandable as to what members are saying.

Maybe it's not the arguments but the very action of raising it that will cause people to reconsider their approach? Also, constructive discussion is hard because of internet distancing, a factor that makes the required psychological engagement to be extremely difficult. Gotta be patient. Above all, I think the best point was that 'garbage' and 'trash' words are triggering, because they of the classist, casteist, and postcolonialist connotations that they bring. Please consider that.
posted by polymodus at 4:47 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


"douchiest douchebag that ever douched"?) that doesn't have a problematic history of use in enabling classist violence against poor people

If the medical world and corporations creating the douche product and urging women to use it which CREATED infections isn’t one of the biggest examples of all time of classist and sexist violence against poor, rich and otherwise vagina-having people of all time .... sheesh.

This douche word is so loaded. Please stop using it.
posted by littlewater at 9:55 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


saltbush and olive: Oh, just to expand on my last comment slightly. In case it's not obvious...

No, it wasn’t obvious.

...I phrased my comment the way I did in an attempt to highlight the fact that - as things currently stand on this site - we have a very selective use of the "it's okay to be cruel because I'm punching up" justification, where it's okay for women to call men trash as a group but not okay for trans women to call cis women trash as a group. I'm not arguing that it should be okay to call cis women trash, because I honestly think it's not okay. I'm arguing that it shouldn't be okay for us to call anyone trash.

You used deliberately inflammatory words purely to make the point that using those words would coarsen the discourse & thereby coarsened the discourse. Well done.

Please don’t do that: You can’t 'ironically' use a phrase or form of words & not have your audience hear the phrase itself whether they notice the irony or not.
posted by pharm at 2:34 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I come from a geographic and social background that most users on this site would likely consider (if not verbalize, because that particular phrase is problematic) 'white trash' or at least of similar nature.

I personally see little to no stereotyping basis in the 'garbage people' term as a potential relative to 'white trash'. Maybe some people do, and I can get behind differentiating them if that's the case but the very distinct color marker in 'white trash' and the corresponding usage against poor or uneducated populations compared to the, at least as far as I have seen, color neutral use of 'garbage people' to refer to terrible people from all walks of life or income amounts means I just don't see the tie.

Not to mention what was said above so well about folks being tired, so tired, and I am more than happy to make it as easy as reasonably possible for them/us to vent and disagree with the folks that qualify as the worst that humanity has to offer.

If the garbage people hat fits, I hope those folks get to wear it, because they are the ones getting said hat tailored for them at the world's shittiest department store with the well-being of the rest of the planet as raw materials.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:38 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I mean, my mom, wonderful upper class (/s) lady that she is, has been know to identify some people as 'so lazy they'd shit in bed and kick it out with their feet' and I'd never consider this witty aphorism problematic because, ya'know, there are also actual people who are bedridden due to medical or psychological problems.

This seems, while not identical of course, not altogether unlike the above. Plus, yeah, that's how classy we keep it in the Eld family.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:45 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]


overheated false equivalence

If someone else's outrage at injustice doesn't make sense to me, I probably haven't seen things from their perspective well enough to understand it.

Thousands of people die every day so that a very small number of families can remain extraordinarily wealthy. Averaging the outrage favors the status quo, which always benefits those in power. Those of us at the bottom argue over the use of the phrase amongst ourselves while those at the top of the heap ignore the discussion completely.

Class warfare is real, and the trash we need to take out is at the top.
posted by Revvy at 8:50 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


In marginally related news, dumpster fire is now in the Merriam Webster Dictionary.
posted by COD at 8:55 AM on March 7 [6 favorites]


I appreciate the perspective of the OP and it is clear that this is something they have thought about and communicated honestly.

I disagree with the premises and the conclusion, and will continue to refer to Trump et al as 'garbage people' from time to time. I don't know that I have ever actually done that here on MeFi, but I certainly have in real life. It might happen on the Blue. Who knows, I'm trying to reduce my online media diet generally.

Again - respect to OP, we just disagree.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:00 AM on March 7 [7 favorites]


From another thread but relevant here
posted by eviemath at 8:08 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


At Yale, we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals. The results say a lot about our political divisions.
This is why it makes sense that liberal politicians intuitively portray danger as manageable — recall FDR’s famous Great Depression era reassurance of “nothing to fear but fear itself,” echoed decades later in Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address — and why President Trump and other Republican politicians are instead likely to emphasize the dangers of terrorism and immigration, relying on fear as a motivator to gain votes.

In fact, anti-immigration attitudes are also linked directly to the underlying basic drive for physical safety. For centuries, arch-conservative leaders have often referred to scapegoated minority groups as “germs” or “bacteria” that seek to invade and destroy their country from within. President Trump is an acknowledged germaphobe, and he has a penchant for describing people — not only immigrants but political opponents and former Miss Universe contestants — as “disgusting.”

“Immigrants are like viruses” is a powerful metaphor, because in comparing immigrants entering a country to germs entering a human body, it speaks directly to our powerful innate motivation to avoid contamination and disease. Until very recently in human history, not only did we not have antibiotics, we did not even know how infections occurred or diseases transmitted, and cuts and open wounds were quite dangerous. (In the American Civil War, for example, 60 out of every 1,000 soldiers died not by bullets or bayonets, but by infections.)
posted by eviemath at 10:14 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Not sure if this came up already, but there was an AskMe on the phrase origin a couple years ago.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on March 11


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