25 January 2016

Some Words on Words by Norman Cousins

Whatever success The Saturday Review may have had was directly connected to its respect for the place of ideas and the arts in the life of the mind.  This emphasis takes on special significance in the light of the sleaziness that has infected the national culture in recent years.  There seems to be a fierce competition, especially in entertainment and publishing, to find ever-lower rungs on the ladder of taste. . . .

There is the curious notion that freedom is somehow synonymous with gutter jargon.  At one time people who worked in the arts would boast to one another about their ability to communicate ideas that attacked social injustice and brutality.  Now some of them seem to feel that they have struck a blow for humanity if only they can use enough four-letter words.

The debasement of language not only reflects but produces a retreat from civility.  The slightest disagreement has become an occasion for violent reactions.  Television has educated an entire generation of Americans to believe that the normal way of reacting to a slight is by punching someone in the face.

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Norman Cousins was a long-time editor of The Saturday Review.  These words probably were written in the 1980's.


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