Friday, 14 October 2016

Trump: Civilisation in the Salon & Locker Room

Escaping Derogatory References and Membership Characterisation Devices!

DONALD J. Trump described his words spoken over a decade ago about women as 'locker room banter'.  When Kenneth Clarke in his book and later TV program 'Civilisation' said about the historical rise of the French salon in the 18th century, was that the nature of the saloon by a social mixing of the sexes, was that it had a moderating effect on the behaviour and conversation of the people involved in so far as the saloon restrained vulgarity, obnoxious and other uncouth conduct by both men and women.  I suppose the 20th century tap-room in the average public house by separating the sexes and allowing the unrestrained free flow of talk, jokes, banter and gesticulations would have had the opposite effect.

Nigel Farage, according to the current Private Eye, has justified Donald Trump's remarks  about 'feeling-up' women as follows:  'It's the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do.  They sit around and have a drink  and they talk like this.'

Any collectivity of either sex be it a 'Hen Party' or 'Bachelor Do' or even an ordinary workplace on the shop-floor is likely to produce conversation and conduct which in another context would raise eyebrows.  In the same way that an academic community of scholars has its own 'interpretive community' and special forms of talk so the average shop-floor setting often has tribal language which would be distinct from from other social engagements with people.  In the foundry at Holcroft Castings & Forging in Rochdale, where I worked  as a maintenance electrician in the 1980s, the terms 'split-arses', and other derogatory expressions were often used to refer to women in general or more specifically in referring to lasses in the machine departments. 

In the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts writes:  'No one talks like that in the locker room of the gym I use.'

That's surprising, because when |I was about 12-years-of-age I had a job as a scorer for the Tweedales & Smalley factory second eleven cricket team, and it was there in the pavilion changing-room that I first began to encounter how grown working-class men talk in groups on occasions when women are not present.  Before that as an eldest child I also heard how women when they think they alone with their own sex talk together about men:  I often heard how my grandmother and mother in private discussed men judgementally, not with foul language of course, but with comments that judgementally loaded blame and curses on male members of the family.  In a way it sometimes amounted to objectifying men by stereo-typing them.

In this circumstances to pretend shock or surprise at what Donald Trump has had to say in the setting in which he was recorded, is a little over-the-top or even naieve. 

Whenever we talk about the meaning of words, rather than reaching for some lazy feminist or a tin-pot politically correct interpretation. perhaps we should consider what Ludwig Wittgenstein had to say in his 'Philosophical Investigations': 

'Think of tools in a tool-box: there is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screw-driver, a rule, a glue-pot, glue, nails and screws.  -- The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects.  (And in both cases there similarities.)'

The meaning of a word is in its use; just as the significance of a tool is in its use.  When I was an apprentice electrician in the late 1950s it was a common trick of leg-pulling tradesmen to send young apprentices to the stores to get a 'rubber hammer'.  The absurdity of the 'rubber hammer' is that it is unlikely to accomplish any utility of persuading anything it hit to move or do the job for which a hammer is normally intended.  Wittgenstein asks in 'Philosophical Investigations':

'Imagine someone's saying:  “All tools serve to modify something.  Thus the hammer modifies the position of the nail, the saw the shape of the board, and so on.”  And what is modified by the rule, the glue-pot, the nails?- “Our knowledge of a thing's length, the temperature of the glue, and the solidity of the box.”-- Would anything be gained by this assimilation of expressions?--'

When a wheelwright at Holcroft Castings uses the term 'split arses' to refer to a women or all women, the words would modify our idea of women perhaps in the sense of the picture theory of language; just as a hammer hitting a nail will modify the position of the nail or a screw-driver may transform the position of a screw and if its a wood-screw it may also modify a piece of wood. 

Words are becoming ever more dangerous things use in a world of surveillance were privacy is in short supply, perhaps we should join Wittgenstein and resort to whistling or sign language.

I've no room to talk because besides doing journalism now I have, in the past, been involved in anthropological investigations and conversational analysis in which I used tape-recorders to surreptitiously record everyday talk by union officials, and others, for the purpose of research.  In a sense we are a bit hypocritical.

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