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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chef Gordon Ramsay, No Kantian

Kant famously told us to will only what we could conceive as positing as a universal moral law. A famous example of someone violating this precept is the thief: He wants to be able to grab others' property as he wishes, but only because he then hopes to be secure in his possession of it. If everyone behaved as he did, there would be no property to grab!

It occurred to me tonight, while watching my bedtime program, which is about Chef Ramsay traveling in India, cooking and eating, that he violates Kant's dictum in the same way as the thief does: He tries to make himself appear... what? Macho? Transgressive? Cool?... by making either "f*&k" or "s^%t" be about every fifth word he says.

Of course, if everyone did that (and everyone young is damned well near starting to!), then those words would entirely lose the effect he wants them to have. Their impact entirely depends upon their not becoming commonplace. Once everyone inserts "f@#k" between every other syllable, it will be no different than a Valley girl peppering every sentence with three or four "like"s: it will be just a meaningless noise every English speaker makes as he talks.

6 comments:

  1. Like any good economist, I tried to force this square peg into a round whole. I quickly jumped to think about positional goods in Robert Frank's sense. Does the categorical imperative demand that we never purchase any positional goods?

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  2. I have never thought about it, Ryan, but it just might!

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  3. As you know, I spent 4 years in the Navy. As you can imagine, the use of the word "f__k" is about as common as any other word in sailor vernacular. If you never swore in your life, you could be rest assured that it would become common to you. I even had an extremely religious friend who had an internal battle trying to rid these words that he acquired-- he lost that battle.

    I had never noticed the change until I went home on leave or went out in San Diego. People would always comment that I say the F-word in almost every sentence along with a peppering of other "fancy" words. Friends and family would get truly offended just about every time I opened my mouth.

    Of course, I was just speaking normally and didn't mean to offend anybody. The words were just as normal to me as "the", "and", "a", etc. I would not say that the words lost their power completely, because when used in a different context it was clear that they were still strong words. But they had lost their power in regular conversation.

    It took me about 2 years after I got out of the Navy to break that habit. Unfortunately, it hasn't completely left, but I am getting better.

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  4. Joseph, what was the experience of new members who did not speak that way?

    Do you think they felt that they *should* curse a lot [start speaking the local language]? Or do you think it was more "cool! I can curse all the time now! I've wanted to do that since middle school!"?

    Or some combination of the two?

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  5. Marris,

    I'd certainly have to give those considerations more thought if I am to respond faithfully. There certainly was much more to digest than merely the common vernacular... At least when I was experiencing it. For now, I will say that environment played a larger role than many people give credit to.

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