Saturday, April 12, 2008

Whining and complaining

What's the difference between a complaint and a whine? Why is objecting to "nappy-headed ho's" a legitimate complaint, but objecting to "Take out the garbage" a loser's whine?

It seems prima facie ridiculous to condemn all complaints as whining. Why should trash-talk, insults and demeaning speech be socially protected*, but objections to such talk socially condemned and dismissed as "playing the 'victim' card?" (Except, of course, objecting to objections to which the social protection hypocritically remains.)

*I'm not talking about legal protections; all (almost all) speech, regardless of how insulting or hateful, is and should be legally protected.

There are some useful substantive distinctions we can draw, though, to make a sensible distinction.

Of course, any criticism of speech should be directed at the speaker. This criterion is one reason why Badtux is either being intellectually dishonest for condemning Hillary Clinton for her supporter's speech or he is really directing his criticism against women for complaining about sexism.

If what you're complaining about isn't a problem in the first place, it's a whine, not a complaint. In this sense, one must infer that if Badtux is not being intellectually dishonest, he doesn't consider the anti-Clinton sexism in the media problematic. One must likewise infer that Violent Acres does not consider religion to be a problem, despite pedophile priests, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science fundamentalists. (Well, it's well-known that V is dumber than a box of hammers, so she can be excused on Hanlon's Razor.)

On the other hand, to say that that religious people whining about being discriminated against because they can't proselytize in public schools means that excluding religion proselytization in public schools is not a problem, a position I have no problem explicitly endorsing.

Secondly, a complaint has to specify or imply corrective action; without some sort of correction, it's just a whine. To just say, "black people have to choose between segregation (bad) or living in a white-majority society (bad)" is a whine because — even though someone might legitimately feel bad about either or both options — there's no possibility of correction; the alternatives are (mostly) exhaustive. (The speaker might really advocate that most white people should commit suicide, but I think it's more charitable to interpret such statements as whining rather than genocidal.)

On the other hand, it doesn't seem very objectionable to make the social (not legal) demand that people not make gratuitously insulting statements.

To call a statement a whine, you have to show that the speech lacks at least one of these elements.


  1. My point is that playing the victim card when you are running against a black male is a losing game. Every statistic shows that black males are discriminated against more heavily than women in our society. Whether you are talking about the number of Fortune 500 CEO's, access to education, state-sanctioned violence, or violence in general, black males lose on every statistic compared to women. On a statistical basis, a far larger percentage of black males have been subjected to violence as compared to women. Even talking about rape, black males are subject to rape (on a statistical basis) more often than women due to the high prevalence of prison rape and the large number of black males in our nation's prisons. Etc.

    Face facts: This just is not a winning topic to talk about when you're a woman running against a black male. And believe me, there's been incidents of people showing up at Obama rallies with a noose or yelling "Go back to Africa, nigger!". It's just that the Obama campaign doesn't make a huge deal over that because Obama is running as a winner, not a victim. (Various Obama supporters make a big deal over it, but Obama cannot control what his supporters say -- his campaign staff, on the other hand, is disciplined and on-message on this topic).

    - Badtux the Statistics Penguin

  2. My point is that playing the victim card when you are running against a black male is a losing game.

    That's a lie. If that were your point, you would have said that Clinton is whining about sexism (which she isn't, apart from a little snark). But you didn't say that, you said that Clinton's supporters were whining about sexism.

  3. This silly. Neither Barack Obama nor Hilary Clinton are proxies for all the historical and present-day ills that befall women or black men.

    Barack Obama hasn't been arrested, strung up from a tree, or sent to jail by a predominantly white jury. Hilary Clinton hasn't, to the best of our knowledge, been forced to sit in the kitchen and make pies.


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