The Cursing Ape

Four-letter monosyllables replace high invective. "We ARE apes, after all".

Four-letter monosyllables replace high invective. “We ARE apes, after all”.

We were talking last night in the embassy about the very old saying that our society is one long conversation, and we spoke of how our conversation was a feminine form of education—for masculine conversation is often about “winning” or “who is right”, while feminine conversation is a search for truth within an agreed world of thamë—a Unanimous Society, to borrow a phrase from Ananda Coomaraswamy.

One of the things I have always loved about this kind of academic discussion (academic in the sense of the groves of trees [academe] where the pupils of Sappho or Sai Hermya sat in discourse) is that the teacher often learns as much as the pupil (and of course in informal discussion “teacher” and “pupil” may change places instantly), for by examining our subjects of discussion carefully and responding to the questions of our intelligent and thoughtful academiciennes, we refine our thoughts and oft-times learn things we did not know we knew.

Such a moment occurred last night when we were talking about thamë, morality and cursing. The point was made that the Christian concentration on morality and sin can actually be corrosive. Many serious Christians will, for, example, use filthy language in the belief that they are not committing any sin in doing so. Some of these would agree that to offend anyone with their cussing would be sinful, and will reserve it for like-minded “liberated” company. But they do not believe—and even those who are offended do not believe—that dirty words are sinful in themselves.

And, by the narrow Christian definition of sin, they are not. That is why this morality-morality is so dangerously inadequate.

Christians of an earlier generation avoided cuss-words because they did not take the barrack-room-lawyer attitude that “it isn’t actually sin so I can do it”. They understood that impropriety and sin are close cousins—an attitude that is dismissed as “illogical” by the post-Eclipse mind.

And, indeed, it is illogical—because earlier generations of Christians, no less than their more recent counterparts, had lost the doctrine of thamë.

A good analogy would be if the current world had forgotten the germ theory of disease. Surgeons would still go on washing their hands just because “it is better to be clean”. Until a generation of post-modern critics started saying “why are you washing your hands —there is no logical reason for it”. And the surgeons would have to agree, and many would stop washing their hands.

Many also would cling sentimentally to the old, illogical discipline of rigorously washing their hands like the outmoded ritualists they are, but slowly a generation of surgeons would arise among whom hand-washing was seen as the antiquated superstition it clearly is (at least for those who no longer know the germ-theory of disease).

In our case, the germ-theory of disease is the law of thamë. The knowledge that harmony is fundamentally important and that to invoke ordure or coarse sexuality is literally dirty, and as disease-bearing to the soul as physical filth is to the body.

We also spoke of the decline of invective. If I were really angry and wished to state my anger, I should indulge myself in high rhetoric, excoriating the object of my anger. I flatter myself that I have a reasonable vocabulary and a fair-to-middling knack with words. I think I could come up with some pretty scathing diatribes should the need arise.

But for most educated people in the Pit, in moments of extreme anger, their highest invective consists of a few schoolyard monosyllables, endlessly repeated and strung together with semi-articulate prose.

Our reaction to it is not one of shock, but of contempt. That an educated person should be reduced by temper to the mental level of a drug-addled vagrant is simply laughable. “Rhetoric” of this kind is not just offensive, but weak. Having established that they can pronounce the same dirty words that make pre-teens giggle, they have exhausted their repertoire.

Now this is a new thing. In the past anger moved educated people to rhetoric, not to semi-literate monosyllables. What has changed? A friend last night suggested that it was laziness, and on thinking about this suggestion carefully, and feeling it, as it were, I feel sure this is not the main reason.

The main reason, I feel quite sure, is Darwinism. At first this may seem an odd suggestion, but let us consider it for a moment. Miss Trent, in The Feminine Universe documents the huge change that came about in Tellurian culture in the late 19th century, leading Prof. C. S. Lewis to declare (in his inaugural lecture as professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge) that the author of Beowulf has more in common with Jane Austen than we have. A huge watershed took place at the end of the 19th century. And Miss Trent shows that the reason for it was the change in the underlying mythos of the western world from real myths, that convey metaphysical truth, to the pseudo-mythos of evolutionism.

Now I am not going to go into all the ramifications of that myth. Its effect on bad language is one tiny part of a vast change. But it is there and it is obvious.

In the past an angry person would seek to express her anger in terms that were most in keeping with what she conceived herself to be—an intelligent being, ultimately a reflection of the Divine. High rhetoric was her natural mode for expressing passion.

What does the modern person think of high rhetoric? That it is “artificial”.

Why—in the end—will she not use it in anger? Because she feels her hearers will dismiss her anger as “phony”.

The “real” and “natural” way to express anger is in inarticulate shouts, in monosyllabic grunts that refer to irrelevant animal functions.

Why? Because ultimately, we are animals. Any attempt to bring the refinements of civilization to our anger just prove that is not “real anger” because in extremis we should be reduced to our animal base.

That is why pre-Darwin anger was expressed in high rhetoric and post-Darwin anger in monkey monosyllables.

See also: The Animal Thesis


After an earlier publication, “The Cursing Ape” received the following comments:

  1. Miss Barbara Lynwood says:

    I remember my dear Mother’s “refined invective,” a tradition I continue when annoyed! Curse words are the last refuge of the inarticulate.

  2. wanderingelf says:

    What a delight you must be at parties! I could not envision a more tight-***ed, pursed lip, psalm-singing old maid writing the condescending drivel above if I tried. Quite frankly, I almost consider those unable to let go of their cultural inhibitions and “curse” for humorous effect and/or venting of real anger to be inarticulate themselves. Unless you’re going to exercise some real mental discipline, and keep your mouth shut for an extended period of time no matter what happens, get over your Bronze Age taboos about speaking forbidden words. And really get over your sweeping generalizations dismissing and disrespecting people you know absolutely nothing about. Oh, and **** you.

    • The editor replies:

      Thank you for your comment. Obviously it was necessary to remove the ritual incantation of one of the Two Monosyllables at the end, but otherwise not a bad bit of invective, if rather predictable.

      You say “get over your sweeping generalizations dismissing and disrespecting people you know absolutely nothing about.” You mean ignorant, disrespectful (and male-centered) generalizations like “tight-***ed, pursed lip, psalm-singing old maid”?

      You are right that we know nothing – or at least rather little – about you outlanders. You seem a rather peculiar brand of alien to us. Your continued obsession with a few limited bodily functions is a mystery to us. One would have thought that, after learning about the bathroom ones at the age of two or less and the reproductive ones a few years later, you might have had your little laugh and moved on. But it seems not. This is a lifetime’s supply of amusement. A perpetual village-idiot fascination with dung. It would be quite cute if it weren’t so ugly.

      As for “expressing real anger” – didn’t you read the article at all? Or do we just inhabit different worlds altogether? And what is remotely humorous about the constantly repeated reference to the same two bodily functions in the same two words? I certainly would have no desire to attend a party where that passed for “humor”.

      But as you rightly say, we know as little about your people as you know about ours.

  3. Niami says:

    I have heard this sort of argument before. I do not believe that those who state notions such as “I almost consider those unable to let go of their cultural inhibitions and “curse” for humorous effect and/or venting of real anger to be inarticulate themselves” can truly mean what they say or have no grasp of what a world to be like with no standards or limitation of behavior. Take for instance the example of a person cooking in a kitchen. It is a cultural expectation that this individual would cleanse their hands before working there. We enforce these standards by various means usually some form of shame, isolation or even confrontation. No one desires to have the filth of others spread around them or the things they consume.

    If this is so, then why is it that the analogous spiritual situation is not given the same credence ? As a wandering elf you should know that the world is not solely what lies before our physical eyes. The things we think, hear, and do stay with us and shape our hearts. If one must think unsavory thoughts, do take into consideration the development of those around you.

    They deserve better, and so do you.

  4. Silvercloud says:

    “Cursing for humorous effect” – my, that sounds like high-level wit!

    What do they do for an encore? Take their knuckles off the ground and say “look no hands”?

    And these people sneer at rednecks.

    • Ladygray replies:

      “And these people sneer at rednecks.”

      The thinking is that if one is a conscious lout, one is not really a lout at all but an Educated Person deliberately using lout-language, and that makes it all right. The snobbery behind this attitude is breathtaking.

      The truth is that such a person is simply a lout who actually does know better which makes it far worse than it is with the louts who genuinely don’t.

  5. Lady Aquila says:

    “As for ‘expressing real anger’ – didn’t you read the article at all? ”

    Well, clearly the correspondent either did not read the article or was incapable of responding to its argument, since he merely repeats the position criticized in the article without in any way attempting to reply to the criticism (this is technically known as a ’tis-’tain’t argument).

    But in just blindly reiterating the common recent-west-Tellurian position, he also gives a clear example of how precisely the article hit the nail on the head.

    The correspondent believes foul language is necessary “to express real anger” – to the extent that he actually seems to believe one would be silenced if one did not have recourse to verbal filth.

    “Real” anger. That, just as the article explains, is the salient point. The correspondent is not inarticulate. He demonstrates here that he can express negative feelings effectively without cussing (he does cuss – but that is only incidental and is actually the weakest point of his diatribe).

    But he feels sure that if he had to express “real” anger he would have to make a display of near-animal inarticulacy lest his anger be dismissed as “unreal”. This inarticulacy is actually phony. The correspondent is not really inarticulate, as we know, but it is a cultural ritual of post-Darwin society that an angry person must pretend inarticulacy as an acting-out of supposed “realness”.

    Whereat the author of the original article might reasonably say: “I rest my case.”

  6. Orfanum says:

    Finding this site is like waking within a lucid dream; you articulate accurately what I have been struggling to expand on myself: that the objection to Darwinism cannot be that it is “scientifically” incorrect, or that to reduce its hold on our mind one should abandon the discipline entirely of thinking “scientifically” but that Darwinism creates the conditions for the hegemony of the metaphor of the ape in understanding how humans should be – faith, that is, understanding life from the perspective of things cascading from the Absolute, is valuable if only it supports the notion that the metaphor that is required is that of the angel.