Come Swear At Me! In Defence Of Rhetorical Brutalism

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Once again, this blog has proven to be ahead of the curve. It was over a year ago now that I discussed, in some detail, the ethics and usefulness of what I termed “rhetorical brutalism”.

My basic point was this: wind turbines are modern examples of brutalist (or at least post-brutalist) architecture. Although not as blocky and concrete in their appearance as traditional brutalist structures, wind turbines are nonetheless firmly rooted in the brutalist principles of creating “socially progressive” (allegedly), “statement-making” architecture that stands out in stark contrast to its background. Essentially, brutalism means capturing people’s attention via means of an aggressive assault on the senses, deliberately and for a specific purpose.

The difference between brutalism and simple brutality is this:

Brutalism = Brutality + Brains

Not that wind turbine designers are the sharpest tools in the shed, but it’s fair to assume even they recognise the brutal appearance of the machines they make. Given that the basic shape and colour of wind turbines hasn’t changed much for a couple of decades now (only their size has gotten bigger, which is the opposite direction of travel for most improving technology), one would have to assume that their brutal impact on the countryside is at least semi-deliberate. After all, if it was acknowledged by the designers that they had made a terrible misjudgment, they would at least put in place some steps to ameliorate the horrendous impact they have had on nature.

But they don’t, so one can only assume the wind turbine designers have been practising deliberate brutalism rather than accidental brutality.

Occasionally, we learn to love brutalism and find ways of slightly softening its impact with the use of bright colours (eg the famous Park View flats in Sheffield), so there can be a time and place for it. But, more often than not, brutalism simply breeds a brutal counter-reaction, leading to local opposition that can last years or even decades. Eventually, most brutalist 1960s car parks or tower blocks end up getting demolished.

So that’s brutalism in terms of architecture. Now let’s look at it in terms of discourse. Rhetorical brutalism itself became the subject under discussion earlier this week in Parliament (apparently the word “humbug” qualifies as unacceptably brutal…), as tempers become frayed and language became coarser on all sides. There was even a book published entitled: “My Little Book Of All The Brexiteers I’d Like To Stab”, which unsurprisingly generated an equally brutal response.

What forces did we unleash on ourselves as a society when, about 10-15 years ago now, we decided to apply a policy of brutalism towards our natural green spaces by allowing wind developers to puncture the lungs of our countryside?

Still, we are where we are, and if rhetorical brutalism is what it takes to force a recalibration of this imbalance, then I have to say: “Bring it on!”

That said, we must understand the nature of brutalism before wielding it as an intellectual tool for political or societal change. We must realise there will be a backlash if we are too aggressive in our tone (just ask Greta!), so if one starts down the road towards rhetorical brutalism, one must be prepared for the Mother of all counter-reactions.

Does that make it bad or morally wrong? No, not necessarily, and this is the point I’d like to make:

The ethics of rhetorical brutalism derive entirely from the point being made, not the way in which it’s made. If the point has validity and is genuine, then honestly who gives a fuck about a couple of swear words? To attempt to invalidate a point of view because of some intemperate language is frankly passive-aggressive, selfish and covertly hostile.

For God’s sake, let people rant! Indulge them! Let people call you all the names under the sun. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. You can have a much better, closer and more mutually beneficial conversation with someone if you start things off with a freestyle swear-off. I’ll swear at you for a few minutes, then you swear at me. Eventually we’ll both calm down and be grateful for the opportunity to vent. You never know, we might even end up agreeing!

Whereas if I shut you down because in your anger you had a perfectly normal, natural amygdala hijack and said something you didn’t mean, and I take that excessive bad language as a reason to censor you, well it’s me that’d be morally wrong, ignorant of human nature and opportunistic in the extreme.

The fact is, we as a society are largely sick of “polite” conversation covering up an inner kernel of pure BS. That kind of repressed, fake and unnatural politically correct slipperiness is what leads to people like Jimmy Savile not getting caught, because nobody wanted to speak out. Cobblers! If you see something wrong, call it out! Raise merry hell. That’s fine! It’s NATURAL 🙂

Equally naturally, brutality breeds brutality, so if you dish it out you need to be able to take it. And, of course, in an ideal world there would be no brutality at all. We’d all rather spend our days in loving prose than a miasma of hate speech, but emotional honesty and resonance are everything. If you feel angry, let it out! Find the right target and give them both (rhetorical) barrels!

The main thing is to apply brains to your brutality, to get the right message targeted in the right direction, in order to transform it into actual functional brutalism, rather than just raw, destructive rage.

It just so happens we are going through a rhetorically brutal period at the moment. I’d way rather have that than yet more fake, stilted, dishonest spin that says one thing and does precisely the opposite!

So if I make you angry, come swear at me! Give me your best shot, I’ll give you mine, we can slug it out in the comments section and then end it all by shaking hands over a beer.

Isn’t that a nicer, more compassionate and empathetic way of dealing with our opponents, than simply refusing to engage with those who have used slightly aggressive words in their upset emotional state?

What rhetorical brutalism does is to bring people’s real thoughts and feelings out of the shadows and into the light. This is great for mental health! Sometimes in polite conversation we deceive others, or sometimes we simply deceive ourselves. Sometimes we don’t even realise there’s any deception going on, despite inadvertently promulgating fake news and/or flawed thinking. We all have the capacity to do this, me included! Rhetorical brutalism simply fast-tracks the return of any faulty logic back to its source. I never have a problem with having my arguments forcibly logic-chopped, should it be proven with rhetorical brutalism that any of my theses require a rethink.

All in all, we can only end up learning new information from letting those with opposing points of view have a good old rant!

Now I mentioned above that a few swear words don’t invalidate an entire argument, so could it not be similarly argued that the brutal appearance of wind turbines doesn’t negate their environmental benefit? Well, my answer to that is this:

I reject the fundamental thesis that the promotion of wind energy is more beneficial to the future of the Earth than the conservation of its unspoilt natural landscapes.