Some writers write only happy pieces and live happy lives. Others write “anti.” When used as a noun, anti means a person opposed to a particular policy, activity, or idea. That’s occasionally true of all of us. Some writers write anti for a living. Some for the sheer pleasure of it. Others because anti is a personality trait hard-earned and brazenly displayed. And of course, writing anti is part of the job in politics, disunions, abortion, and never-nevers.
For example, think about writers employed to deliver harsh, disparaging tweets about a political opponent, rival team, that other race, or someone soft on crime, or in love with socialism. Those writers are paid well to spew rants, slants, and taunts about their supposed enemy, traitor, or vermin of the day.
What ethical or moral norms govern how and what these writers write? Are there ten commandments for rants, slants, and taunts digitally carved on https://screwem.com? Is that site on the Dark Net? When they need guidance on whether they are degrading or merely demeaning their target, where do they turn? Is the difference an ethical one, or does it measure venom content in the writing?
A diatribe, AKA “rant,” is a lengthy oration, often reduced to writing, made in criticism of someone or something, often employing humor, sarcasm, appeals to emotion and bad words. To succeed as a rant, you gotta be blunt, loud, use UPPER CASE, exclamation points, and cuss words. The test of how good they are is whether they make readers go ballistic, or at least quiver in their boots. But those are product standards, not ethical ones.
Ethical norms for rants are their reciprocals. If your words merely cause laughter and are taken as comedy, then you pass one ethical norm—write it without believing it—you’re just doing it for the paycheck. One famous rant “slammed the political right in 2016 for successfully garnering votes from the working class by persuading them they are vulnerable not because they themselves have failed, but because of the selfishness of some other villain, African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives, etc.”
Slants are an altogether different cat. A slant is writing from a particular viewpoint, to tip your subject to one way or the other, as in writing a news story from a far-right agenda. They only work if you distort your content to reflect your particular viewpoint. As in, “He slanted his memory of what happened to discredit those bastards in the executive suite at the office.” Here the ethical boundaries are less clear. Is the writer lying about what happened or just slanting it his way? If it really did happen, just not quite that way, then it’s ethical problematic. That’s as good as it gets in slant writing.
Taunts are written to anger, wound, or provoke someone. They can be sarcastic remarks, unkind gestures, or outright insults. If well done, they demoralize recipients or raise their blood pressure high enough to encourage reactionary behaviors. Almost any decent writer can do rants and slants, but taunts take a little more creative talent.
Taunting often shows up in presidential politics. Donald Trump called billionaire Michael Bloomberg a loser and Bloomberg taunted, calling Trump a barking clown. Trump denied he was barking. Trump taunted Marco Rubio saying, “He has really large ears, the biggest ears I’ve ever seen.” Rubio taunted back, “Donald is not going to make America great, he’s going to make America orange.”
The ethical standard is hard to apply to taunting, given its popularity in politics, sports, and social media. Some taunts damage the intended victim’s psychological wellbeing. It isn’t just teasing. If used as a tactic and meant to harm someone, it is unethical and dangerous. It is always a choice, consciously made. It’s one-sided. Unless it can be dismissed as a tease, it’s always unethical.
The moral lesson is if you are anti-something, be nice about it. It works all over the Midwest.
I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.
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