Whenever people complain about the use of slurs, the typical response from those using the slurs is to whine about how those words are useful to insult people with. That they serve a purpose, and without them there’d be no way to communicate their distaste of other humans. For whatever reason, I’ve never actually seen anyone mention, as a response to this idea, that maybe we could just not insult other people at all. So I’ll say it: We should stop insulting people.
Now, I know this is a radical idea. I can already imagine the arguments my detractors will use: “But if we can’t insult people, we’ll have to treat them as human beings! We won’t just be able to call them names as a way to win debates, we’ll actually have to *gasp* engage with their arguments, and reason, and think! Besides, if I can’t insult people, then how am I supposed to put down others while making myself feel superior?!”
But stay with me here. When we’re angry with other people, for whatever reason, hopefully what we’re angry with is the ideas being expressed, not the people themselves. Or perhaps, that we’re angry at the person for expressing the idea, but not because of some irrelevant trait of the person doing the expressing. In that case, we should direct our anger at the idea, and the expressing of it, but not at the person in some misguided attempt to hurt them.
Because that’s what insulting does. That’s what slurs do. When people argue for their right to use slurs* what they’re really arguing for is the right to hurt other people that they don’t like. They like having the power that the use of slurs confers on them, and they resent losing that power. When people argue for their right to use slurs, the subtext (whether they’re aware of it or not) is that their right to hurt people with their words is greater than the right of their targets to not be hurt.
Maybe it’s just me, but I believe that hurting other people is wrong. I find that, while I may hate their ideology, hating the person who holds it is counterproductive and mean. It’s counterproductive because it redirects my anger from what should be the focus (the person’s views), confuses my message, and hampers its effectiveness. It’s mean because my target ends up not being what the person does or says, but who they are, and veers far too close to bigotry for my liking. Sometimes the other person takes any criticism of their position as a personal attack and declares it bigotry anyway, but that’s on them, not on me.
Frankly, I don’t see why people feel they need to insult other people, as though it’s such a vital activity. I would rather eliminate slurs from the language entirely than preserve them in pursuit of some vague desire for “free speech” or the right to make others feel bad. Maybe I’m just weird like that.
*I should add that this applies to people insulting other groups of people that the person using the slur (the slurer?) doesn’t belong to. Reclaiming a slur that has historically been used to target you and people like you is different. In that case, using the slur is not about insulting people, but taking power back from an oppressive majority.