Seven Taboo Words

NYT Opinion Writer, Editor Discusses Identity Of Politics

Bari Weiss, New York Times opinion staff writer and editor, spoke at the Amphitheater at Chautauqua Institution on Thursday. She recalled comedian George Carlin’s seven dirty words and offered a new version that addressed the current political climate. Photo by Dave Munch/The Chautauquan Daily

CHAUTAUQUA — Comedian George Carlin once called attention to the seven dirty words that were forbidden. On Thursday, Bari Weiss, The New York Times opinion staff writer and editor, listed a new set of seven words that have become equally taboo during her visit at Chautauqua Institution.

While Carlin’s seven words that aren’t fit for publication, were shocking and explicit, Weiss’ seven words were surprisingly clean and simple.

Imagination, humility, proportion, empathy, judgment, reason and doubt were the catalog of words that were included in her version of Carlin’s seven dirty words. Weiss provided examples for each of the seven words and called attention to specific areas of politics.

Weiss currently serves as a staff editor for the opinion section of The New York Times. Weiss primarily writes about culture and politics where she has covered topics such as anti-semitism, the #metoo movement and free speech issues.

Before joining the New York Times, Weiss worked for the Wall Street Journal as an op-ed editor and an associate book review editor. She was additionally a senior editor for the online magazine of Jewish news called Tablet.

Photo by Dave Munch/The Chautauquan Daily

Inside the Amphitheater, Weiss declared modern times as the “obscene era of American history” during her lecture which she titled “The New Seven Dirty Words.”

For each word she gave a specific example as to how it pertained to the current political climate. For example, she called attention to imagination and how it impacts the current political atmosphere of tribalism. Weiss cited former president Abraham Lincoln as having the foresight to recognize imagination’s role in democracy even then.

She called back to Lincoln’s words detailing “political and moral imagination” in order to understand opposing viewpoints and beliefs. She said the identity politics that America is currently facing is the opposite of what Lincoln discussed. Instead of using imagination, Weiss described a scene where political debates end with opposing sides locking into “lanes assigned to (Americans)” as opposed to choosing our own beliefs.

With imagination, Weiss said political polar opposites can attempt to understand a conflicting viewpoint as opposed to blindly shutting down arguments. She said the lack of imagination resides in far-left politics and far-right politics. From a plethora of cultural appropriation claims on the left to racist marches and rants on the right, Weiss said both sides refuse to understand the other one. She went as far as saying that imagination is the antidote to identity politics.

“Identity politics is a refutation of the foundational and beautiful American idea,” she said. “Which is that there is something that binds us together. Which transcends our genders, our sexual orientations, our races and our religions.”

Encapsulating her descriptions of her version of the seven deadly words was a message that called for openness in speech and a free-thinking society. She called back to Carlin’s seven dirty words because she believes all words should be open for discussion.

“The truth about our politics today is that it is no longer a battle between the people we used to call liberals and the people we used to call conservatives,” Weiss said. “It is between open and closed, liberal and illiberal … whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or whatever, you can’t be indifferent to the outcome of this battle.”

“It took guts for George Carlin to say those seven words on the Santa Monica Stage half a century ago,” Weiss continued. “We can help honor his legacy today by keeping all the words alive and vibrant, and by defending the qualities of free thinking and independence that made him and frankly make the American experiment so genius.”