From street harassment to Clarkson: The first rule of causing offence


During my recent blogging hiatus, a couple of teacup-bound tempests blew up in which I detected a common theme. It’s a trend that can also be spotted in all sorts of debates around offensive or hateful language and behaviour, in many contexts.

First, the Guardian became embroiled in one of its periodic ding-dongs about everyday sexism and misogynistic street harassment. It began with a video which set out to turn the tables on catcalling and sexual harassment which, in my view at least, failed on every level – in its concept, its delivery and the message it conveyed. It then sparked a couple of follow-up blogs, culminating in a downright weird piece on Comment is Free by a chap called David Foster who seemed to believe that discouraging men from making unwanted and threatening sexual advances to strange women in the street would lead to the human race dying out. Or something.

In an apparently unrelated news, Jeremy Clarkson hit the headlines across the UK media after audio footage emerged of him joshing around hilariously with the hideously racist old children’s rhyme Eenie Meenie Minie Mo. In the ensuing farrago, Marina Hyde stuck out her (perhaps brass) neck and declared herself rather bored by the ritualised ding-dong between left and right over the casual, soft racism of Clarkson and his ilk, and suggested that rising to the bait merely entrenched the debate. This in turn provoked Musa Okwonga to pen one of the most brilliant blogs I’ve read this year: a weary, funny, dignified cry which nonetheless packed a punch like a handful of ballbearings in a silk stocking.

I believe in freedom of speech as a powerful guiding (if not quite absolute) political principle. I don’t think people should be censored or punished by the state for what they say or write, unless their words present a very clear and immediate danger to others. Where we create our own spaces (blogs, websites, homes, social networks, whatever) we can write our own rules and expect others to stick to them, but in shared common spaces, people should be free to cause offence.

I don’t agree with imprisoning drunken idiots who spout foul racism on public transport or who send offensive tweets to me or anyone else on the internet. I do not think it should be a criminal offence to proposition someone sexually on the street. The corollary to that – the inescapable quid pro quo – is that we all must take responsibility for our words and the impact they have on others. I think there is a rule of free human interaction which far too many people fail to grasp, and it goes like this:

None of us gets to decide how another person reacts to what we say or do.

The debates on sexual harassment sparked hundreds, if not thousands of comments that basically boiled down to (usually) men telling (mostly) women that they should be flattered if told A,B or C, that they should not be threatened or offended by behaviours X,Y or Z. The debates about Clarkson were spilling over with (usually) white people telling (mostly) black people that they should relax about racist language, it’s just a word, it doesn’t mean anything, or if Snoop Dogg says it, why shouldn’t I?

Fail. Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail.

I offend people, on a fairly regular basis, I know I do. I cannot write about the topics I cover without offending people from time to time with my ideas or my language. I swear a lot, including calling people cunts (note to US-based readers, where I grew up we pretty much use that word as a punctuation mark.)

As a citizen of a nominally free society, I assert and proclaim my right to offend you, and I champion and defend your right to offend me. However neither of us has the right to tell the other not to be offended.

It seems to me that if someone says “I was offended by that” there are several perfectly legitimate responses, including:

1. Oh, did it? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention.

2. Good. I fully intended to offend you.

3. Oh did it? So fucking what?

The two responses which I find extremely problematic are:

1. No it didn’t

2. You shouldn’t be offended by that.

What is the difference between the first set and the second set? It is all about ownership and control of another person. When I somehow impinge upon another person’s consciousness, I take the chance that he or she may be happy about that or unhappy about it, may react well or react badly.

If I strike up a conversation with a stranger at a bus stop I might generate a pleasant social interaction for us both, or I might totally freak the other person out. Either response is entirely legitimate. If I pass a woman in the street and say “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen” then she might be walking on air all day or she might be posting online to Everyday Sexism within the hour. Either reaction is entirely legitimate. If I use the word ‘nigger’ or ‘Paki’ in public or print, someone might hear me and think I’m cheekily poking one in the eye of political correctness or that I’m a nasty racist. Either assumption is theirs to make.

In all these examples, the other person might misunderstand my intentions, but that was the risk I took. It is crucial to understand that ‘I didn’t intend to offend you’ does not automatically lead to ‘you must therefore not be offended’ any more than ‘I didn’t intend to kill you’ does not automatically lead to ‘you must not be dead.

When I talk about the concept of privilege, I’m generally referring to a psychological process, a series of cognitions that are conditioned by one’s experience of status in the world. I think we see it really clearly here. There are few greater markers of a privileged attitude than believing one has the right to tell another how to react emotionally, how to think, how to feel.

We all have the right to be offensive. We also have the right to be offended.

Comments

  1. brucegee1962 says

    Fantastic article which should be read by all.

    I have an aside, though. While Okwanga’s article was finely written, I was very surprised when he said Clarkson had one of the most popular shows in the world. When I hard about what he’d said, I had to look him up, and I assumed he was just the host of a rather obscure reality show of the sort that we have hundreds of in the US, all with forgettable hosts. Is this guy really a household name in the UK?

    Also, I’ve been reading the BBC more recently, and I note that their homepage has a whole section on cars. No American news sites that I’m aware of do. I thought we were supposed to be the ones who were inordinately in love with our autos?

  2. Paul Inman says

    I agree with everything you have said. The reverse of people who assume that because they didn’t mean to offend therefore the other party should not be offended are the people who automatically assume that because they are offended that the offence was deliberate and that they are therefore in the right. Far too many people are far too easily offended and far to many people are far to quick to tell us all what we can and cannot be offended by. People in either category don’t really understand what free speech is really all about, although we do seem to pander far too much to the former with more and more censorship. There are ways to handle causing offense, deliberately or otherwise, and there are ways to deal with being offended, justifiably or otherwise, all of which require a degree of maturity and personal responsibility that all too often people lack.

  3. Paul Inman says

    Brucegee

    Jeremy Clarkson is not just the host of Top Gear in the UK, his production company owns the concept and rights to the show which has been exported to several countries – although he only hosts it in the UK, he doesn’t host it anywhere else.

  4. Ally Fogg says

    thanks chaps.

    Brucegee – Top Gear is the single most profitable show the BBC produces. It is broadcast in 170 countries to 350 million people per week.

    So yeah, Clarkson is a pretty big deal!

  5. gjenganger says

    You are quite right, people have a right to their own feelings. But you are leaving out two points.

    The minor point is that some people get offended more easily than others, and getting offended can be quite useful, personally or politically. It may be impossible to decide from the outside how deep the hurt is, but that does not mean that the reaction is equally heartfelt in every case.

    The major point is that we are not a bunch of uncorrelated individuals interacting. There is such a thing as society, and society has a shared norm for what kind of speech is normal and generally acceptable. That unavoidably includes rules for what kind of language would normally offend, might well offend, and could normally be used without problems. Which, again unavoidably, gives a suggestion for which side can get what it wants and which side ought to adapt. Some bloke might find it genuinely offensive if another male looked at his girlfriend, or talked to her. I might in theory decide to accommodate him, as a favour, but by accepted social rules, it is up to him to get used to it. A sufficiently vegan person might find it very offensive to see people eating meat, but she would find scant sympathy if she insisted that nobody could eat meat in the canteen while she was having lunch. When we get to racism the boot is on the other foot: by current norms saying anything that a particular racial group might find offensive is not only unacceptable but potentially criminal, if someone hears it and is offended by it.

    A lot of the debate is about what the general rules for society should be. What things should you generally have to put up with? Which groups can command automatic respect for their hurt feelings, and which can not? Everybody prefers to live under rules that reflect their own preferences, so setting those rules calls on some serious effort. Personally I would be happier if words like ‘sky pixie’ or ‘flying spaghetti monster’ went the way of ‘nigger’. I do not expect it to happen. But surely it is a relevant debate how much protection we should give the feelings of either people like me, or people like Musa Okwonga, and why.

  6. Ally Fogg says

    gjengange

    There is such a thing as society, and society has a shared norm for what kind of speech is normal and generally acceptable.

    I’d disagree. I’d say there is a dynamic, constantly shifting spectrum of acceptability. There are very few things which are objectively offensive to everyone. What debates like these ones do is keep that dynamic alive, so that different people within society are constantly having to ask ourselves ‘is this acceptable?’

    The exact same thing goes for the street harassment / sexual approach etiquette that David Foster is getting at. Of course there are behaviours which are considered quite acceptable today which would have been the height of rudeness 50 years ago, and vice versa. It’s actually a really good thing that people are able to discuss whether some types of behaviour are considered acceptable or not.

    That’s the main reason I was (and remain) completely dumbfounded by the reaction to the “Elevatorgate” thing. Do women welcome approaches from men in an isolated elevator late at night? If the answer to that question is no (even if the answer is no for some women) I would have thought most blokes would appreciate learning that, rather than stamping their feet and saying “No, I demand that you allow me to make a pass at you in an isolated elevator late at night.”

    Some bloke might find it genuinely offensive if another male looked at his girlfriend or talked to her. I might in theory decide to accommodate him, as a favour, but by accepted social rules, it is up to him to get used to it. A sufficiently vegan person might find it very offensive to see people eating meat, but she would find scant sympathy if she insisted that nobody could eat meat in the canteen while she was having lunch.

    In both cases the man or the woman is perfectly entitled to feel offended. You, in return, are perfectly within your rights to respond “Yes, and so fucking what?” You are not within your rights to say “No, you are not.”

    by current norms saying anything that a particular racial group might find offensive is not only unacceptable but potentially criminal, if someone hears it and is offended by it.

    Well as I said , I strongly disagree with criminalising such behaviour. However again, the same applies. If, to choose a deliberately trivial example’ I were to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep and a black person were to tell me I had offended them, I could legitimately say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘So fucking what?’ but I cannot say “no, you must not be offended by that.”

    But surely it is a relevant debate how much protection we should give the feelings of either people like me, or people like Musa Okwonga, and why.

    that word ‘protection’ is key to this. As I said in the piece, I think there should be very little protection given to feelings. However people still have to take responsibility for the impact of their words.

    In the case of Clarkson, if he says something so overtly, outrageously racist that he alienates a large proportion of his audience and (this is crucial) seriously damages the brand and reputation of the BBC, then he is going to be disciplined and possibly sacked. If he (or anyone else) says something in his workplace that serves to undermine fair employment practices etc, then he can expect to be disciplined and possibly sacked.

    I think it is particularly difficult with Clarkson, because he has never gone full Ron Atkinson, but he has clocked up an increasingly long list of marginal, borderline offensiveness. At some point there may be a straw that breaks the camel’s back, and when it does, people will doubtless ask why he’s being sacked over a tiny straw.

    The thing I loved about the Okwonga piece was that he wasn’t jumping up and down in outrage demanding that Clarkson be sacked. He was basically saying “Do what is right, but don’t you dare pretend that racism is somehow no big deal or acceptable.”

    That strikes me as entirely right.

  7. Ariel says

    There are few greater markers of a privileged attitude than believing one has the right to tell another how to react emotionally, how to think, how to feel.

    Eenie Meenie Minie Mo, yes and no, see below.

    As a citizen of a nominally free society, I assert and proclaim my right to offend you, and I champion and defend your right to offend me. However neither of us has the right to tell the other not to be offended.

    Consider for comparison:

    As a citizen of a nominally free society, I assert and proclaim my right to believe that the moon is made of yellow cheese, and I champion and defend your right to believe that the moon is made of yellow cheese. However neither of us has the right to tell the other not to believe that the moon is made of yellow cheese.

    In both cases I totally buy into the first statement. In both cases I do not accept the second one.

    Indeed, you have the right to feel offended. You have also the right to believe that the moon is made of yellow cheese. Sure you do! It means in particular that you won’t go to prison for your opinions or feelings; it means also that nobody can use force to make you shut up. What it doesn’t mean however is that no one has a right to say “you shouldn’t be offended” or “you shouldn’t believe it”.

    You believe something for a reason; you are also offended for a reason. In both cases your reasons can be good or bad. If I call you a nigger, you have not only the right, but perhaps also a good reason to be offended. If you call me a racist in return, do I have the right to feel offended? Sure I do! But do I have a good reason for offence? Hmm, I would say: if I’m in fact a racist, the answer is ‘no’ – in such a case the label I received is fully justified. Period. And I’m indeed tempted to phrase it in the following way: if I’m in fact a racist, then I shouldn’t be offended.

    In a nutshell: it seems to me that “you shouldn’t be offended” often means “you have no good reason to be offended”. And if this is so, do you still think there is something wrong with the phrase?

  8. redpesto says

    Ariel #7: It would be better – and more accurate to challenge with ‘That [i.e. what you said] was racist’ than ‘You are a racist’ different issue; different proof required).

  9. Ally Fogg says

    Indeed, you have the right to feel offended. You have also the right to believe that the moon is made of yellow cheese.

    It’s not a perfect analogy, because the moon being made of yellow cheese is an objective and (dis)provable proposition.

    So it is perfectly legitimate to say “your belief that the moon is made of yellow cheese is factually incorrect.”

    Offence is a subjective and emotional response. It is therefore impossible to say “your emotional reaction of being offended is factually incorrect.”

    A better analogy would be something like beauty. If you say “I find this building to be beautiful” do I have any right to reply “You should not find that building beautiful”?

    I don’t think I do. I could say “I don’t understand why you find that building beautiful” or even that “I disagree that the building is beautiful” but I cannot say that I am right and you are wrong.

  10. gjenganger says

    @Ally 6

    I’d disagree. I’d say there is a dynamic, constantly shifting spectrum of acceptability

    Well, yes. It is not a precisely defined rulebook, and it changes over time and context, but at any one moment any behaviour comes with its own approximate value.

    In both cases the man or the woman is perfectly entitled to feel offended. You, in return, are perfectly within your rights to respond “Yes, and so fucking what?” You are not within your rights to say “No, you are not.”

    So far so fine. And if nobody else gets involved and neither side has power over the other that is where the matter ends.

    that word ‘protection’ is key to this. As I said in the piece, I think there should be very little protection given to feelings. However people still have to take responsibility for the impact of their words.

    In the case of Clarkson, if he says something so overtly, outrageously racist that he alienates a large proportion of his audience and (this is crucial) seriously damages the brand and reputation of the BBC, then he is going to be disciplined and possibly sacked. If he (or anyone else) says something in his workplace that serves to undermine fair employment practices etc, then he can expect to be disciplined and possibly sacked.

    This is where I think you are weaselling out. If the ‘impact of my words’ is likely to get me fired, then the feelings of other people is given very considerable protection, whatever you say to the contrary. It is no longer a matter of Clarkson having the right to offend and other people having the right to be offended. We have an official norm whereby certain offenses are regarded as unacceptable, and certain groups are protected from offense. Which parts of the audience the BBC is afraid of alienating, and which acts are seen as tarnishing its brand are not things that just happen. It is a case of a culturally dominant group (majority or elite as the case may be) that imposes certain values. Not that there is anything wrong with that (AFAIAC), that is how society works, but it is an exercise of power, and it should be discussed as such.

    To illustrate:

    If Clarkson had instead ‘joked’ that UKIP supporters are bigoted idiots, would he be under threat of getting the sack for “alienating a large part of his audience and tarnishing the brand of the BBC”? If not, why not? I doubt it is the relative number of black people and UKIP supporters in the Top Gear target audience that makes the difference.

    Or, say, that a man decides from one day to the next that he wants to be treated as a woman and wants to use the women’s loos at work. Some years ago the official reaction would have been that “he” was an unpleasant trouble maker and the women had an employment right to use the loos without “a man” being present. Now the reaction would be that “she” was a woman exercising her rights, and any objections were transphobic attempts to undermine”her” fair employment rights. In terms of the free right to offend and to be offended this is inexplicable. You cannot make sense of it without invoking a dominant norm in society being imposed on its members.

    Which is why people argue about what that norm should be, and why your ‘free right to offend and be offended’, while attractive, seems a bit irrelevant to what is actually going on.

  11. Ally Fogg says

    also, what Redpesto said (it’s the essence / praxis debate, which is slightly different).

    But:

    In a nutshell: it seems to me that “you shouldn’t be offended” often means “you have no good reason to be offended”. And if this is so, do you still think there is something wrong with the phrase?

    The fundamental principle is that no person is entitled to make a definitive judgement on whether another person should be offended. At best you can say:

    “I do not understand the reasons why you are offended.”
    or
    “I do not share your sense of offence.”

    To say someone should feel a certain way is to insist that someone else shares your viewpoint, which is a fundamentally autocratic position to take, and usually seems to stem from a place of social privilege.

  12. carnation says

    As a bit of an aside, and I admit to having watching only a few episodes, isn’t Top Gear one of the most ridiculously fucking stupid TV programmes ever made?

    Can’t the audience see that they’re being patronised?

  13. Pitchguest says

    In big, bolded letters:

    None of us gets to decide how another person reacts to what we say or do.

    That’s the main reason I was (and remain) completely dumbfounded by the reaction to the “Elevatorgate” thing. Do women welcome approaches from men in an isolated elevator late at night? If the answer to that question is no (even if the answer is no for some women) I would have thought most blokes would appreciate learning that, rather than stamping their feet and saying “No, I demand that you allow me to make a pass at you in an isolated elevator late at night.”

    Brilliant.

    (It’s also objectively disprovable, but let’s not ruin the moment.)

  14. Ally Fogg says

    gjenganger

    This is where I think you are weaselling out. If the ‘impact of my words’ is likely to get me fired, then the feelings of other people is given very considerable protection, whatever you say to the contrary. It is no longer a matter of Clarkson having the right to offend and other people having the right to be offended. We have an official norm whereby certain offenses are regarded as unacceptable, and certain groups are protected from offense.

    First thing to say here is that nobody has free speech at work. When you are at work, you are under contract to your employers and sign up to certain terms and conditions that will, almost certainly include such conditions as bringing your employer into disrepute.

    Secondly, I dispute this idea that there are protected and unprotected groups.

    Case in point, a couple of years ago a woman I know called Kia Abdullah who wrote for Comment is Free and other outlets made a joke. A couple of posh boys from public schools with double barrelled names had been killed by a polar bear while ‘adventuring’ in the Arctic Circle. Kia basically laughed about it on Twitter.t
    What we see is that certain views are considered beyond the pale by a large proportion of the population, and if you express those views you will make yourself persona non grata.

    Yes, you have the right to express offensive attitudes – whether that be racist attitudes or laughing at dead posh teenagers.

    No, you do not have the right to be protected from the consequences of people’s offence.

  15. Erica says

    I’m not understanding the point. Why can’t I say “No it didn’t [offend you]” or “You shouldn’t be offended by that”?

    Aren’t those words, which are legal to say, just like the words: ” Oh did it? So fucking what?”

    The state shouldn’t stop me from saying any of those words (and I don’t think you’re arguing the state should). In any case when I speak, I face the social consequences of my words. I do understand that if I choose to say “no it didn’t offend you” I will lose any respect you might have had for me, but other than that, don’t you agree that I have the right to say dumb shit?

    Telling you what to feel isn’t actually unethical — it’s just stupid. (And even if it were unethical it wouldn’t be illegal.)

  16. Ariel says

    redpesto #8, point taken but I don’t think that it changes much in this discussion.

    Ally Fogg #9:

    Offence is a subjective and emotional response. It is therefore impossible to say “your emotional reaction of being offended is factually incorrect.”
    A better analogy would be something like beauty.

    Yes, I noticed of course that you try to fit all the talk about offence into the procrustean bed of subjective contexts like “your socks offend my sense of smell”. The thing is however that the term is not always used like that. More importantly, it is not used like that in situations specifically targeted by you (sexist and racist behavior).

    In such situations offence is far more than a subjective and emotional response. It is also a moral response. It is a reaction to something which shouldn’t be done to other people. There are reasons for offence, not just causes: you can provide arguments justifying your reaction. And people do provide such arguments all the time – that’s what actually happens at every step, in various sorts of situations. How can you not see it?

    “An atheist rally offends you?” “Of course it does, after all godlessness leads to immorality!” “You find catcalling offensive?” “Of course I do, I should be treated as a person, not as a pair of tits!” “Does the word ‘cunt’ offend you?” “Of course it does! Don’t you know that it’s typically used to degrade women!?” And so on, and so on.

    There are arguments hidden in all these responses. Moral arguments, mixed with factual ones. These arguments can be correct or not.

    At best you can say: “I do not understand the reasons why you are offended.” Or “I do not share your sense of offence.”

    No, at best one could say “your reasons are invalid – you are offended for bad reasons. Which means: you shouldn’t be offended. You are wrong, godlessnes is not immorality. You are wrong, “cunt” is not typically used to degrade women. You are wrong, catcalling doesn’t mean that you are not treated as a person.” And so on, and so on.

    It seems to me that a lot of real discussions look just like that: we do indeed question the reasons for offence, debating in effect moral and factual claims. And if we find these claims invalid, we say sometimes “you shouldn’t be offended”. I still can’t see anything wrong with this.

  17. says

    The state shouldn’t stop me from saying any of those words (and I don’t think you’re arguing the state should). In any case when I speak, I face the social consequences of my words. I do understand that if I choose to say “no it didn’t offend you” I will lose any respect you might have had for me, but other than that, don’t you agree that I have the right to say dumb shit?

    I can agree with this. I would also add that sayig so what in case of offense is as stupid and unproductive or even more so.

  18. gjenganger says

    @Ally 14
    I am not claiming that any group is absolutely protected. But some are more protected than others.

    Also, who becomes persona non grata is not just a matter of people’s spontaneous offence. Much is, and a good thing too. But some kinds of offence are carefully promoted and orchestrated. And some kinds of offence are (unavoidably) treated much more positively by ‘the system’ than others. Consider the likely reaction to these:

    “Parliament has too many”:
    – stupid toffs
    – stupid women
    – stupid chavs

    Which group can you say are stupid and bigoted in polite UK discourse:
    – UKIP supporters
    – god-botherers
    – Muslims
    – US Republicans
    – the poor
    – immigrants

    Calling someone:
    – “a f***ing black c**t”
    – “a f***ing four-eyed c**t”
    – “a f***ing shit-eating c**t”

    A well-organised campaign for boycotting or getting fired
    – people who have been active against gay marriage
    – people who have been active in favour of gay marriage
    – people who have been active in promoting trade union membership

    A spontaneous outpouring of internet hate against
    – Kia Abdullah
    – Anita Sarkeesian

    Whose sensibilities and world-view is protected:
    – Radical feminists
    – Transsexuals

    “The banking crisis would never have happened if the bankers had all been”:
    – women
    – men
    – white

  19. gjenganger says

    @gjenganger 18
    Ah, I forgot:

    – Men’s Rights Activists
    – Feminist
    “are just poor excuses for human beings who cannot nget laid.”

  20. Ally Fogg says

    Erica (15)

    I’m not understanding the point. Why can’t I say “No it didn’t [offend you]” or “You shouldn’t be offended by that”?

    Of course you can say it, in the sense of moving your lips and making the sounds come out, and you will not be arrested or otherwise oppressed for doing so.

    What I am suggesting is:

    A. that there is no moral or rational basis for you to say such a thing, and
    B. It is potentially oppressive and unjust to say such a thing. .

  21. Ally Fogg says

    Ariel (16)

    There are arguments hidden in all these responses. Moral arguments, mixed with factual ones. These arguments can be correct or not.

    This is true, but it disguises the uncomfortable truth that the disagreements over such rational frameworks invariably boil down to one or two subjective premises.

    So to take one of your examples and follow it through:

    “You find catcalling offensive?”
    “Of course I do, I should be treated as a person, not as a pair of tits!”
    “But when I catcalled you I was thinking of you as a person, not as a pair of tits”
    “Maybe, but when I heard you catcalling me, it made me feel as if you were reducing me to a pair of tits”
    “Well that wasn’t my intention”
    “Your intention has no bearing on the impact of your actions on me.”
    “Yes it does”
    “No it doesn’t”
    etc etc etc.

    There is nothing inherently, objectively offensive about a catcall. Stripped of context etc, it is not an unpleasant sound, it’s not like an offensive smell. It only becomes offensive because of the way it is (often) interpreted.

    You can get absolutely nowhere arguing whether a catcall is objectively or inherently offensive. But because it is not objectively offensive does not mean it isn’t experienced as being offensive.

  22. Ally Fogg says

    gjenganger

    Sorry, but I really don’t understand what your point is any more.

  23. Pitchguest says

    #16 Ariel

    “An atheist rally offends you?” “Of course it does, after all godlessness leads to immorality!” “You find catcalling offensive?” “Of course I do, I should be treated as a person, not as a pair of tits!” “Does the word ‘cunt’ offend you?” “Of course it does! Don’t you know that it’s typically used to degrade women!?” And so on, and so on.

    In all those situations, it’s up to one’s subjective opinion of offence. And if they happen to be offended, well, so fucking what?

    No, at best one could say “your reasons are invalid – you are offended for bad reasons. Which means: you shouldn’t be offended. You are wrong, godlessnes is not immorality. You are wrong, “cunt” is not typically used to degrade women. You are wrong, catcalling doesn’t mean that you are not treated as a person.” And so on, and so on.

    It seems to me that a lot of real discussions look just like that: we do indeed question the reasons for offence, debating in effect moral and factual claims. And if we find these claims invalid, we say sometimes “you shouldn’t be offended”. I still can’t see anything wrong with this.

    A lot of the times it comes to questioning the reasons for offence, if the reasons for offence are inaccurate.

    Most of the time, though, the questioning is not in regards to the offence itself. It’s to the people who wants us to be offended, too, and if we’re not offended we should be.

  24. Koken says

    I can think of a few circumstances in which I would feel able to say ‘you shouldn’t be offended by that’.

    For the first, we might take the example of someone offended by depictions of homosexuality. Their offence stems from their views on homosexuality, on which I am happy to make a substantive moral judgement: those views are wrong and they ought not support them. They shouldn’t take offence, because their reasons for taking offence are bad reasons.

    The second big one that springs to mind is well covered by Ariel above – when that offence is based on beliefs I consider to be wrong as a matter of fact. If someone is offended by a non-racist criticism of Israel because they incorrectly, and without reasonable evidence, take it to be motivated by anti-semitism, they shouldn’t be offended by that. Their offence is inseparable from them acting unfairly toward others.

    I also think Gjenganger has an important point when he says that your definition of the terms of the debate excludes a lot of the real politics of offence, which are all about grounding certain kinds of claim in an offence that is only important because it seems to people justified. This kind of use of the idea of offence is a long way from an acceptably subjective, personal aesthetic-type response; it’s all about societal ideas of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour held in common.

    If there’s one thing I’d like to add it’s that ‘offence’ is a slippery bastard of a concept. It gets used to characterise a range of reactions and situations where the common thread isn’t always clear, and is very hard to give a simple definition of which satisfies all the ways we want to use the term. If possible, it’s worth interrogating exactly what kind of sensation we are talking about for a given use of the term.

  25. Steersman says

    Ally:

    You can get absolutely nowhere arguing whether a catcall is objectively or inherently offensive. But because it is not objectively offensive does not mean it isn’t experienced as being offensive.

    Agreed.

    But, as you suggested elsewhere, I don’t think anyone gets anywhere by arguing that all women are going to be offended by any given set of circumstances, in particular the ones Watson seems to have been subjected to. Which seems to be essentially what was the import or implications of her “guys, don’t do that” – rather arrogant, if not tantamount to wrapping herself in a flag of one sort or another, for her to insist that every woman and every man has to act and feel as she prescribes. For instance, as one extreme, one can easily imagine that the woman in question could have been a prostitute who had just come back from standing on the street all evening with no more than a nibble for her efforts, and would have greatly appreciated the attention.

    Really bad karma to be trying to characterize an entire group by the attributes of one or more individuals in it; seems to be far too much “four legs good; two legs bad” in many of the on-line discussions, particularly those surrounding “feminism” – however that might be defined.

  26. johngreg says

    Ally, welcome back. I thought you’d vanished in the night. Anyway….

    Ally said (http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/05/08/from-street-harassment-to-clarkson-the-first-rule-of-causing-offence/#comment-75162):

    That’s the main reason I was (and remain) completely dumbfounded by the reaction to the “Elevatorgate” thing.

    Hmm. From my bench it looks liike the more probable reason that you are completely dumbfounded by the reaction to the “Elevatorgate” thing is that you are quite unaware (blissfully, perhaps) of what actually happened at the time and have framed the reaction to Elevatorgate in the false inventions of the gender feminists.

    Do women welcome approaches from men in an isolated elevator late at night? If the answer to that question is no (even if the answer is no for some women) I would have thought most blokes would appreciate learning that….

    Most blokes (whatever happened to Hetpat’s primary rule?) did not need to learn that, because, and you would know this if you actually followed all sides and historical timelines after the event, most blokes already knew and accepted that.

    … rather than stamping their feet and saying “No, I demand that you allow me to make a pass at you in an isolated elevator late at night.”

    Most blokes did not, in point of fact, do that. The backlash to Watson was not based on the idea that guys should not sexually proposition solitary women in elevators at 4 AM; the backlash was based on myriad other things. In point of fact, the vast majority of the anti-Watson crowd actually agreed that sexually propositioning solitary women on elevator’s at 4 AM was a stupid and wrong-headed thing to do.

    Ally, in your brief and limited frame of the Elevatorgate incident, you are wildly misrepresenting what actually occured, and presenting/framing it wholly in the deeply dishonest, misrepresentative, and often wholly invented narrative created by the more fundamentally fanatical elements of the social justice league warriors and gender feminist who were involved in the online ongoing expose.

    I think if you really want to understand it, rather than just misrepresent the long-term scuffle in simplistic jingoistic ways, you very much need to dig into some of the more valid history — but I doubt very much that you have the time for that.

  27. daveallen says

    Out of interest Steers – when did Watson specify that she spoke for all women?

  28. Steersman says

    And, out of interest Dave, where did she specify that she was referring only to those guys who might want to hit on her? Absent a qualifier or qualification my understanding of the language is that the implication is a categorical one. Which hardly seems untenable given the context of harassment of women in general that she has, with some justification, been harping on. Not to mention the fact that she subsequently raked Steph McGraw over the coals by “calling her views ‘anti-woman’ and ‘parrotting misogyny’” for having the temerity to question Watson’s take on the incident.

    Rather untenable, at best, to even suggest that Watson’s comments were intended to be applicable only to her circumstances, and not to substantial portions if not all of the wider community.

  29. johngreg says

    daveallen said:

    Out of interest Steers – when did Watson specify that she spoke for all women?

    Regarding some of the Watson backlash about her “Guys, don’t do that” statement. The issue there is that some of Watson’s rhetorical tricks include filling her statements with ambiguities, jump-tangents, oblique pauses followed by disguised/ambiguous shifts of topic, immediate non sequitors disguised as related topical points, and so on and so forth. The primary issue with the “Guys, don’t do that” statement is that it is, in point of fact, rather difficlult to determine specifically and with accuracy, what she is in fact telling guys not to do, what guys she is referring to (all; many; some), and to which part of her overall statement she is even relating it to — regardless of which side of the statement one’s politics holds one to.

  30. daveallen says

    I’m not sure why my asking you to back up a claim you actually made requires me to defend a claim I did not make. I don’t care to answer an inquiry about where she specified she was only referring to certain guys because I made no such claim.

    “Untenable” to “even suggest”? I’m amazed in that case that that is what I was able to do. What a talent for hype you have.

    I’d advise you to watch the video again. Not only is the recounting of the event in question entirely first person singular, she even states earlier in the video that she does not see herself as talking for all women. I think there’s an offhand remark to “women’s experiences” when it comes to discussing Paula Kirby, but by the time it comes to the anecdote about the elevator it’s pretty much “I didn’t like” and “don’t do that to me”.

    No mention of her personal distaste applying across the board.

    I thought her treatment of McGraw was uncalled for and even mildly abusive. In the context of this discussion – so what? I think dozens of things she has said or done elsewhere have fallen short of admirable. In the context of this discussion – So what? I think I can point out nearly 100 lies or errors in her skepticon 5 talk. In the context of this discussion – So what?

    How does any of that back up your claim that she “insist that every woman and every man has to act and feel as she prescribes”?

  31. daveallen says

    John

    “The primary issue with the “Guys, don’t do that” statement is that it is, in point of fact, rather difficlult to determine specifically and with accuracy, what she is in fact telling guys not to do, what guys she is referring to (all; many; some), and to which part of her overall statement she is even relating it to — regardless of which side of the statement one’s politics holds one to.”

    In the instance of the video about the event in question she really couldn’t have been more specific. Honestly – watch it again if you doubt me. She more or less outlines a specific situation and specific actions therein.

    Now as I said above – I’m no fan of Rebecca’s – there’s a lot to criticize – but her lack of specificity in this instance isn’t one of them, and that she claimed to speak for women as a whole in this instance isn’t one of them either.

  32. Steersman says

    John Greg:

    Most blokes (whatever happened to Hetpat’s primary rule?) ….

    Good point John – Ally’s “Primary Directive” (I think he called it that) is a credible one, but “we” – many of us in any case – do have a tendency to be careless about qualifying our statements – which seems to cause no end of mischief.

    But, in passing, I happened to be searching the “voluminous” archives of the Pit on Watson’s egregious if not odious response to McGraw and ran across this post, a salient comment from which amplifies the point in question, i.e., the referent of “guys”:

    And to add insult to injury, RW not only put Stef’s comment in the context of people promising to rape her (RW) and characterised Stef’s reaction as “parroting of misogynistic thought” (i.e. mindlessness), but then went on to say that Stef’s reaction made a lot of women who had experienced sexual assault be scared “because they know that you won’t stand up for them.” Which I find an outrageous accusation, made, in essence, simply because someone (strongly) disagreed with her interpretation of ‘sexualization’.

  33. Ally Fogg says

    OK, it is entirely my fault because I started it, but in order to keep some kind of order to this thread, I shall from this point onwards instantly delete any post that mentions or alludes to Rebecca Watson, Elevators or anything related.

    No ifs, no buts, no exceptions.

    Now, anyone have anything to say about the blog?

  34. Ally Fogg says

    In an unrelated matter, the HetPat First Directive says very specifically you shall not generalise about either feminists or MRAs.

    You can generalise the fuck out of anyone else.

    (well, you know, up to a point…)

  35. johngreg says

    Ally said:

    OK, it is entirely my fault because I started it, but in order to keep some kind of order to this thread, I shall from this point onwards instantly delete any post that mentions or alludes to Rebecca Watson, Elevators or anything related.

    No ifs, no buts, no exceptions.

    When you say, “or anything related”, just how fucking deep, or oblique, or vaguely (dis)associated are you going to go with that kind of open-ended ambiguity?

    And how are we supposed to have meaningful discussions about many of the relevant issues that you yourself often bring up seeing as how some of those issues touch very closely on the verboten, and in refusing to allow that, along with your frequent refusals to allow any mention of certain specific blogs or things said on them, just how the fuck are people supposed to back up their opinions and claims with certain specifics, facts, citations, and links, if you’re just going to Memory Hole them?

  36. Steersman says

    Ally:

    I swear a lot, including calling people cunts (note to US-based readers, where I grew up we pretty much use that word as a punctuation mark.)

    I can sympathize – policing language tends to be a bit of the proverbial “slippery slope”. Although one might suggest that, analogously, “cunt” is to sexism as “nigger” is to racism – the frequency of occurrence seeming to have little bearing on whatever judgment might be appropriate: both adjectives or descriptive terms being applicable or neither of them. However, one might also argue that, at least in the case of “harassment” itself, that frequency is very much an essential element – as suggested by the definition:

    ha•rass
    tr.v. ha•rassed, ha•rass•ing, ha•rass•es
    1. To irritate or torment persistently ….
    3. To impede and exhaust (an enemy) by repeated attacks or raids

    Which then raises the question: how many “irritations” in what span of time qualifies as that? In any case, it seems that far too many are far too quick to play the “harassment” card simply as a disingenuous if not egregiously dishonest method of absolving themselves of having to respond to justified criticisms.

  37. Ally Fogg says

    johngreg (35)

    Don’t be a prick John, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

  38. Steersman says

    Ally:

    When I talk about the concept of privilege, I’m generally referring to a psychological process, a series of cognitions that are conditioned by one’s experience of status in the world. I think we see it really clearly here. There are few greater markers of a privileged attitude than believing one has the right to tell another how to react emotionally, how to think, how to feel.

    We all have the right to be offensive. We also have the right to be offended.

    Indeed. Something that bears repeating – and more than once. Although I think it is also quite important to emphasize something you alluded to earlier: while we have a right to be offended, we most definitely don’t have a right to be not offended. You might be surprised to know how many, particularly in these environs, who actually try to claim that latter right.

    In any case, something on privilege, a post by a philosopher, Jeremy Stangroom, that you might be interested in. A salient quote:

    Stangroom: There’s a tired old argument that seems to have gained a new lease of life in these less exacting times (bad internet!), which holds that privilege functions as an epistemological barrier when it comes to understanding sexism, racism, inequality, etc; and, conversely, that being part of a group that is in various ways marginalized, oppressed or subordinated confers a sort of epistemological privilege [ironic, eh wat?] when it comes to understanding the nature and reality of that situation.

    Obviously, there is a kernel of truth to this argument, but it is also highly problematic (especially for people committed to the importance of reason, evidence, etc., as mechanisms for assessing truth-claims). Here are some of the things you need to get straight about if you’re tempted to deploy this argument. ….

    Another particularly interesting observation therefrom:

    Stangroom: In other words, it is entirely possible that structural privilege confers epistemological privilege even when it comes to understanding the nature and reality of the situations of the subordinated, marginalized, etc.

    Probably not necessarily the case, but it may be true often enough to justify asking whether it is true in any given situation or not.

    In any case, “we” are going be “screwed, blued, and tattooed” if we categorically anathematize all manifestations of “privilege” – as more than a few seem to be engaged in – when that one in particular might well be the foundation for having any grasp on the “truth” at all – whatever that may be.

  39. Jebedee says

    Perhaps if people saying that they had been offended (or the slightly more open-ended “that was offensive”) were simply announcing their own personal subjective reaction to things, then there would be no grounds for questioning it, any more than there would be if they said they didn’t like the taste of tomatoes.

    But I think most of the time in practice the statement carries the connotation that the person who offended them shouldn’t have done so, and did something wrong by a rather broader moral standard than just a single person’s subjective reaction. I.e., as well as “I’m offended” there’s an unspoken but strongly implied “and objecting your having said that is a reasonable thing to do”. I think, even if the language gets a little sloppy, most arguments on the matter are understood by most parties to revolve around the latter idea.

  40. bugmaster says

    @Ally:

    I don’t think people should be censored or punished by the state for what they say or write, unless their words present a very clear and immediate danger to others.

    I wholeheartedly agree, but the way you phrased this statement is a little disingenuous; or, perhaps, merely unclear.

    What about censorship and punishment by agencies other than the state ? Is that ok ? From what I’ve seen, many social justice warriors would wholeheartedly answer “yes”, as evidenced by their behavior during the various “-gate”s. Their motto is, basically, “If a person says something we deem offensive, we will campaign tirelessly to get him fired, shunned, and widely condemned; and you should join us, because if you don’t, then you’re an evil misogynist/racist/whateverist and therefore part of the problem. Oh, but it’s ok for us to do this, because we’re not the state”.

    As I see it, there isn’t anything magical about the state; it’s just an organization like any other (though possibly bigger in size). Silencing people who disagree with you merely because you are offended by their disagreement is wrong, regardless of which organization you employ to do the silencing.

  41. Thil says

    “You shouldn’t be offended by that” to my mind that’s just advice. like saying to someone at Alton towers “you shouldn’t be scared to go on the Oblivion”

    Your not giving them an order. your trying to tell them that their emotional reaction is not a good thing, and they shouldn’t stick with it even though there entitled to do so

  42. Thil says

    @Ally Fogg @21

    I would say that a cat call implies objectification in such way that the man can’t strip it of those implications simply by not meaning it that way. In the same way you can’t make “nigger” not racist by just not meaning it that way.

    Ally since when does a degree of subjectivity mean why can’t make definitive statements about what we think about something? I mean you believe morality is subjective but your perfectly comfortable saying “rape is wrong” in no uncertain terms?

  43. Steersman says

    Thil @ 42:

    In the same way you can’t make “nigger” not racist by just not meaning it that way.

    How do you reach that conclusion? Looks like a rather idiosyncratic definition to me, and one not really supported by any credible dictionary I’ve ever run across. For instance:

    nig•ger n. Offensive Slang
    1.
    a. Used as a disparaging term for a Black person: “You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger” (James Baldwin).
    b. Used as a disparaging term for a member of any dark-skinned people.

    Note the use of the indefinite article “a” which “denotes a single but unspecified person or thing”. I certainly can’t see that that implies the use of the word, particularly when it is explicitly directed at one individual, is necessarily referring to all black people in “disparaging terms”.

    Seems to me that such epithets – and “cunt” which Ally seems to have a penchant for – while they certainly are designed to be insulting, I certainly don’t see that their use necessarily qualifies as either racist or sexist, that they are pejorative of the entire class that is nominally referred to or suggested by the words themselves.

    And while more than a few “social justice warriors” insist that the use of such epithets produces significant amounts of “splash damage”, I at least find those claims to be quite bogus and egregiously self-serving at best, that they are electing to be offended by proxy, by a highly questionable identification with the people supposedly being directly insulted. Seems more credible to ask ourselves whether the insult was justified or not, whether the verbal offense was a justifiable “tit-for-tat” for some prior questionable or obnoxious behaviour – as with Ally’s recent suggestion that John Greg was being a prick with his recent line of questioning.

  44. thetalkingstove says

    See Ally, you set off the Watson alarm and all the usual Slymers had to come charging over to talk about it with all the same old ‘arguments’ from their crib sheets. It’s sad how predictable it is.

    Anyway, on topic, I agree almost entirely (that David Foster piece was indeed dreadul, just another guy who can’t tell the difference between ‘don’t harass women’ and ‘don’t talk to women’, and whose primary concern is his penis).

    On this, though:

    I don’t agree with imprisoning drunken idiots who spout foul racism on public transport or who send offensive tweets to me or anyone else on the internet.

    Generally yes, but there has to be a line that can be crossed here. If that drunken idiot spouting foul racism is doing so by screaming it in someone’s face, gesturing violently, intent on intimidating them, it verges on assault.

    Likewise vicious tweets or online harassment in general can be relentless and intimidating, designed to upset or silence or drive someone out of a space. I’m not sure we can wave away the idea of punishing this kind of behaviour when it becomes overt bullying and not just ‘stuff we don’t like’.

  45. Thil says

    @Steersman @43

    The difference between “nigger” and something like “bitch” is that it makes sense (in the sense that’s how the word is commonly used) to call a black person a “nigger” as insult regardless of what they’re doing or who they are (all that’s required is that they be black) where as it only makes sense to call a women a bitch if you think she’s doing something wrong.

    “nigger” is a racist insult because it applies to all black people all the time indiscriminately, where as “bitch” is not a sexist term because it can’t be applied to al all women at all times. “bitch” is just synonym for “ass hole” that happens to be gendered female

  46. Thil says

    @thetalkingstove @44

    Physically invading a person’s personal space and/or shouting at them on the street are both totally non applicable to verbally abusing somebody on social media.

    For one on the street short of putting my fingers in my ears I can’t just choose not to hear you or make you vanish if you keep getting in my way, where as I have to actually make a choice to read the stuff I’m sent twitter or wherever

  47. gjenganger says

    @Ally 22
    I was arguing against your point that no group was privileged relative to another, but yes, it was getting out on a tangent. Will you indulge me in one more try?

    Your point is basically “Everybody is free to offend; everybody is free to feel offended; it is never acceptable to query whether someone else’s offense is justified“. That frames the whole problem as a matter of individual people exercising their free will. As a side effect it nullifies any criticism against progressive political practice. A long as it is all just a matter of exercising free will, there are no valid objections. The thing is that you are leaving out a lot of important bits.

    First, your description is completely value-neutral. My right to offense is equally privileged whether I am offended by homosexuality or homophobia, theocracy or godlessness, inequality or taxation, racism or racially mixed marriage. Are you really, in practice, saying we cannot argue whether some of these attitudes are more justified than others – be it objectively or in terms of common morality? Do you find it equally acceptable to boycott people with the wrong opinions out of business, if the ‘wrong’ opinions are opposition to gay marriage, opposition to gun ownership, or opposition to capitalism? Or are you maybe applying this selectively, to favour your side?

    Secondly (strange that I should be saying this to you, of all people), it complete ignores any collective dimension. Which opinions are heard or approved in public discourse heavily influences both what people come to think, and what they feel they can do.If people like you are never mentioned in public it becomes hard to ‘come out’ – even to yourself. If they are slapped down and ridiculed when they do appear, fear of social disapproval will pressure you to keep your head down. That holds equally if ‘people like you’ are lesbians, or opponents of immigration. This is a well known point, and both sides work, quite consciously, to make sure that public discourse reflects their opinions, and puts opponents at a disadvantage. Hence all those debates about depictions of minority groups, female characters in video games, etc. The debate on the use of language is at least as much about changing minds (language shapes thought) as it is about individual offense.

    The immigration debate shows the mechanisms very well. You yourself advocate (on CiF) that the best way of combating UKIP would have been to systematically keep them out of the media. Similar things were tried in Scandinavia for a long time. Anti-immigrant sentiment could not be uttered in polite society, and any that came up was met with an immediate wave of condemnation. In Denmark that eventually broke down (for reasons too complex to get into), and Denmark now has a quite draconian immigration policy, supported (like it or not) by a large majority of the population. In Sweden the wall held, and Sweden is a very immigrant-friendly place. I find it hard to believe that Swedes are inherently nice and tolerant, and Danes are inherently xenophobic. Clearly this is a case where a culturally dominant group either managed or failed to impose its norms on the population.

    “You do not have the right to protection from the consequences of the offence you cause”, you say. But power essentially means conditioning people’s behaviour by controlling what information they have available, and what consequences they can expect from their actions. We cannot escape from using power, but we can at least admit it openly when we do it

  48. Ariel says

    Ally Fogg #21

    This is true, but it disguises the uncomfortable truth that the disagreements over such rational frameworks invariably boil down to one or two subjective premises.

    Invariably? See Koken’s examples in #24. Or maybe you want to claim that all moral views “boil down to one or two subjective premises” – is this the view you are promoting?

    From my perspective, the moral from this discussion is indeed that offence is a tricky matter. No simple diagnosis of the sort “offence is always a mere subjective feeling!”, no simple prescription of the type “don’t you ever, ever say ‘you shouldn’t be offended!’” is viable. What is left?

    The hard way is left, I’m afraid. No shortcuts. Deal with it case by case. In some cases you may indeed find out that (after everything has been explained), you are stuck with something irredeemably subjective. But in other cases it won’t be so. It’s no use to assume the verdict in advance. No shortcuts.

    Btw, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to comment further on the dialogue about catcalling from your post. What you proposed is a caricature – with some realistic elements, this I admit, but still a caricature. Obviously a lot more could be said about the role of intentions than your “yes, it does”, “no, it doesn’t”; there is still a lot of room here for substantial disagreements (different from mere emotional reactions). But I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing here – it’s not a thread about catcalling after all.

    Thil #41

    “You shouldn’t be offended by that” to my mind that’s just advice. like saying to someone at Alton towers “you shouldn’t be scared to go on the Oblivion”
    Your not giving them an order. your trying to tell them that their emotional reaction is not a good thing, and they shouldn’t stick with it even though there entitled to do so

    Yes, that’s another common usage, you are quite right to stress it. And it can blow in your face like a grenade.

    When my daughter flunks a test, sometimes she is downcast and sad. Then I say: “instead of being sad, you’d better start working!” Practical advice, isn’t it? Hmm, so far she’s never dared to answer – in Ally’s style – “Fuck you, I have a right to be sad, don’t impinge on my consciousness, you control freak!” … but one day, who knows, who knows. I’m still waiting.

    It is here where Ally’s remarks fully apply. A very troublesome usage indeed! All these familiar advices directed to women – “man up”, “develop thicker skin instead of being offended” – they can degenerate very easily into an attempt to control, to tell someone how to feel so that the status quo can be preserved.

    But does it mean that we should always abstain from giving such advice? Sorry, I have no general solution to propose. It’s a minefield. Maybe someone else, happy to lose his leg?

  49. Thil says

    @Ariel @48

    That’s not an issue of being too controlling. That’s an issue of giving BAD advice

    Telling someone they should ignore genuinely hurtful remakes is wrong

  50. says

    A few years ago, I probably would have disagreed with this article and made a big deal about how nobody has a right to be offended by anything. I’ve obviously grown up a bit since then, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bit of appreciation for those who seem unable to feel offense under any circumstances. I’ve come to realize that getting offended by things, and thus trying to avoid giving offense when practical, is a part of the basic social contract most everyone has to accept unless they want to live in the woods. When in Rome, do as the Romans, and all that.

    IMO, Ally–and this may be just me, I’d be open to corrections–the difference between offending people with your writing and doing stuff like catcalling or spewing racial abuse is that nobody’s forced to read your blog or any article you publish. If someone doesn’t like what you say, all they need to do is not pay attention to you. It’s not as easy to ignore someone who’s actually screaming at you IRL, though. Thus, that’s why getting offended by catcalling or racist venting strikes me as more reasonable than getting offended by a writer or blogger or whatever. Again, though, that may be just me ;o

  51. Adiabat says

    I don’t think people should be censored or punished by the state for what they say or write, unless their words present a very clear and immediate danger to others. Where we create our own spaces (blogs, websites, homes, social networks, whatever) we can write our own rules and expect others to stick to them, but in shared common spaces, people should be free to cause offence.

    Personally I dislike this currently popular “upholding free speech is just for the state” argument, predominantly from the left. While the Right to free speech usually only applies to the state the Principle of free speech is a universal principal that everyone has to decide if they support, especially people with power over platforms, such as blogs, newspapers etc. If a blog or newspaper owner arbitrarily decides to exclude certain voices that they don’t like then they are demonstrating that they don’t follow the principle of free speech as a classically liberal guiding moral principle, and others can judge them for that. Their own morality wrt to how they treat others comes into question.

    The true value of freedom of speech is that it enables an individual to participate in the development of knowledge and the direction of society. While they may have the legal right to do so anyone with power over a platform who arbitrarily restricts individuals from participating is attempting to take for themselves, and those they agree with, control over the direction of society. It’s a fundamentally fascist act (even if a relatively minor one wrt blogs).

    If I use the word ‘nigger’ or ‘Paki’ in public or print, someone might hear me and think I’m cheekily poking one in the eye of political correctness or that I’m a nasty racist. Either assumption is theirs to make.

    Not really. As a reader we have the responsibility to try and ascertain what the speaker is trying to say. Due to the nature of language it’s always possible to read many different meanings into a text, some of which you may find offensive. It’s up to the reader to judge which interpretation is most likely, using the available evidence and language skills such as phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and react to that (this is commonly referred to as “Reading Comprehension”). If they instead choose (intentionally or unintentionally due to bias or poor language skills) to react to a less likely interpretation than it’s completely valid to say that their offense is most likely not valid. The cause of their offense is due to their own failings and not due to anything external.

    There may be a couple of interpretations that are close to equally valid when all evidence is considered. In this case it’s a judgement call for the individual; neither side can say for certain whether the offense is valid. Personally I would err on the side of caution and not call for repercussions for the speaker: ‘Innocent until shown guilty’ is another ‘classically liberal guiding moral principle’ that seems to be disappearing from the left in recent years. :(

  52. gjenganger says

    @adiabat 51
    Sorry to disagree with you, but
    1) Free speech applies at the level of society, and those who can have a significant effect on other people’s total possibility to make themselves heard. It does not apply to individual blogs or channels. There is nothing fascist about Ally arbitrarily deciding that there should be no discussion of elevatorgate under this blog, when there is lots of room elsewhere.
    2) Society unavoidably has rules for what can be said and how. For instance you can not argue openly in favour sex with small children without serious personal consequences. That may not be free speech, but it is a prohibition I fully back. The question Is where we should draw the line.
    3) Speakers have at least as much obligation to ascertain how the average audience will interpret what they say. As I said above, the meaning of words belongs to the community as a whole, not to individuals. Where it gets hard is when some usage is perfectly acceptable to a group, but when another group, possibly a small minority, finds it offensive. Who should adapt to whom, then? Another issue where Ally’s talk about individual offense has nothing to say.

  53. Ally Fogg says

    Sorry I haven’t had time to address individual points today, will try this evening. In the meantime, I get the sense that a lot of detractors here are failing to take on board my distinction between saying:

    “You shouldn’t be offended by that”
    and
    “I don’t give a shit if you’re offended by that.”

    Going back to real examples, if you read one of the long Guardian threads about street harassment, there add up to guys saying to women “You should not mind / object / be offended if I do A,B, C.”

    It would be much more honest of them to say “I don’t give a shit if you mind / object / are offended.” which I suspect is closer to the truth.

    Or if you go to any debate thread about Clarkson, you will find dozens or hundreds of white people saying “you should not mind if someone says the word ‘nigger’.”

    It would be much more honest of them to say “I don’t give a shit if you mind.”

    The latter statement, in both cases, would be more honest, but leaves the person saying it look a little more morally suspect. It is basically about whether we lay responsibility for any upset caused on the person doing the offending or the person being offended.

  54. gjenganger says

    @Ally 53
    Ah, so you are not just saying “everybody has a right to own their own feelings”. You are saying “The person who might be offending someone has a moral duty to defer to the person who might be offended”? I would disagree, but at least it is clear where that is going.

  55. daveallen says

    Where is the deference involved in “I don’t care that you found that offensive” or “I’m glad you’re offended”?

    I mean presumably all Ally’s really saying is the obvious point that if you say something that someone else takes umbrage to – in and of itself that’s just your tough luck.

    I suppose there might be some point where the thing you said really was so utterly inoffensive. Like a clearly innocent inquiry of “excuse me would you be so kind as to give me the time” or something – and any umbrage that resulted would seem rather mad and far more obviously a problem for the subject of the umbrage taker than the one who gave it.

    But the context seems to be stuff cheeky or taboo enough to enough people so as to risk offence, like Clarkson chancing his arm at another petty racism or someone attempting to charm a stranger.

  56. Adiabat says

    Gjenganger (52): Apart from on one point I think we agree actually. It’s hard to get every nuance of a concept such as free speech into a single blog post.

    Free speech applies at the level of society, and those who can have a significant effect on other people’s total possibility to make themselves heard. It does not apply to individual blogs or channels.

    Can you clarify what you mean? Do you mean the ‘state’ or all of society? By ‘significant effect’ do you think it should apply to mainstream media but not blogs? If so then you have a ‘scale problem’ where you must decide a point where a blog, essentially a niche and very focused media channel, becomes big enough that it must uphold freedom of speech.

    By saying that free speech only applies at the level of society do you mean that it is fine to suppress speech in one place if there is an outlet for it elsewhere? That principles such as Mills marketplace of ideas, where ideas can be tested in a market, and concepts such as toleration of dissent, and well as the encouragement of education should only be held on a large scale and are free to be dismissed individually on a small scale? Surely agreement and support for these principles don’t apply just to society but to the individual, and should be expressed in their personal behaviour, including blog moderation.

    There is nothing fascist about Ally arbitrarily deciding that there should be no discussion of elevatorgate under this blog, when there is lots of room elsewhere.

    Yeah, fascist is too loaded and I shouldn’t have used the term. And I wasn’t even thinking of Ally at the time; I think he finds a good balance in general and despite what he said in the OP I think he does apply the principles of free speech to his own blog. I would also agree that upholding free speech doesn’t mean turning every channel of communication into a generic free for all. Channels can be focused on particular topics and off topic posts deleted, as long as on topic posts from people aren’t’ deleted arbitrarily. Sometimes restriction is necessary to ensure the free flow in information; for example a place where everyone is shouting over each other and no opinions are considered has less ‘free speech’ than a place where people take turns making their arguments.

    2) Society unavoidably has rules for what can be said and how. For instance you can not argue openly in favour sex with small children without serious personal consequences. That may not be free speech, but it is a prohibition I fully back. The question Is where we should draw the line.

    I don’t disagree with anything here. Free speech is often balanced against other principles and concerns, in a rather ad hoc way from place to place.

    3) Speakers have at least as much obligation to ascertain how the average audience will interpret what they say.

    In my previous post I was replying to the claim that the listener can interpret however they want and it shouldn’t be challenged, which I disagree with. But I also agree with you that speakers have a responsibility to be clear. Do you agree though that no matter how careful they are it is always possible to interpret something in many difference ways, due to the inherent flexibility of the language, and that while the speaker should try and be clear the listener has the ultimate obligation to try and discern the actual intended message?

  57. Adiabat says

    Ally (53):

    In the meantime, I get the sense that a lot of detractors here are failing to take on board my distinction between saying:

    “You shouldn’t be offended by that”
    and
    “I don’t give a shit if you’re offended by that.”

    I.. suppose there’s some truth there, but surely they don’t give a shit if they’re “feeling the emotion of offended” because they ‘shouldn’t be offended by that’. I don’t see how both of your statements can’t be applicable, one refers to the reaction to the other person experiencing an emotion, and the other refers to whether that emotion is a reasonable response to whatever happened. If it’s unreasonable then why should others give a shit?

    Are you trying to say that if someone is feeling offended for no good reason, even for ridiculous reasons, then everyone else should drop what they’re doing and give them *internet hugs* to make them feel better?

  58. daveallen says

    Why would anyone say that it’s a legitimate reaction to say “I don’t care that you found that offensive” or “I’m glad you’re offended” if they were trying to say that if someone is feeling offended for no good reason, even for ridiculous reasons, then everyone else should drop what they’re doing and give them *internet hugs* to make them feel better?

  59. jamessweet says

    TOTALLY agree with this, and I’ve tried to say the same thing myself on a number of occasions. I think you expressed it very well.

    What made this sink in for me was a time I decided to go with the “I don’t care that your offended” route, but realized I totally respected that offense was given. The kids’ film “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” originally had a joke in it about leprosy, that happened to be in the trailer. Some leper advocacy groups made some noise about it, and the filmmakers ended up changing the joke (the joke more or less worked equally well either way).

    I thought about this, and I’m like, “Are leprosy jokes off the table?” After thinking about it, I decided that, for me, I need to be able to laugh about the terrible things in this world, and this was just a bridge too far for me. I’m not going to worry about that. I basically chose to decide that I don’t care if a joke like that offends people.

    But what I did not do was get mad that people were offended. I totally get why people were offended, and I respect that. I also did not get mad that the filmmakers changed the joke, or whine about “political correctness run amok” or any of that nonsense. The filmmakers decided they did want to be sensitive to this issue; that has nothing to do with me. Kudos to them for doing so.

    That sort of crystallized for me the difference. It’s probably best, most of the time, to actually care if you offended someone, but let’s face it. we don’t all have that in us all of the time. But the offense is still legitimate, even if I don’t care about it :)

  60. jamessweet says

    Skimming through the comments, I see a lot of people struggling to see the difference between “I don’t care that you’re offended” and “You shouldn’t be offended.” Here’s one key difference: In the former case, if somebody else does care about the offense, you don’t care; whereas in the latter case, somebody else deciding to care about the offense might very well piss you off.

    So let’s say that Alice, Bob, and Charlie are talking, and they use the word “doo-doo”, which happens to offend Doug, who is listening in. Alice says, “I’m sorry, I won’t say ‘doo-doo’ anymore.” Bob shrugs and says, “I don’t care that you are offended, I am still going to say ‘doo-doo’.” Charlie gets mad and says, “Not only am I going to continue to say ‘doo-doo’, but Alice should too. There is nothing wrong with saying ‘doo-doo’, and I am angry that you intimidated Alice into stopping.”

    Is it clear that Bob’s and Charlie’s positions are not equivalent?

  61. Steersman says

    Thil @45:

    The difference between “nigger” and something like “bitch” is that it makes sense (in the sense that’s how the word is commonly used) to call a black person a “nigger” as insult regardless of what they’re doing or who they are (all that’s required is that they be black) where as it only makes sense to call a women a bitch if you think she’s doing something wrong.

    I’ll concede that words like “bitch” and “prick” are a little more specific than “nigger” in quantifying the “wrongness” of the person being targeted with the insult – for instance “cunt” identifies “obnoxious” or “disagreeable”; “prick” similarly identifies “obnoxious” or “unpleasant; “bitch” relies on “spiteful”, “overbearing”, or “contemptible”; whereas “nigger” merely uses the suggestive or unspecified “disparaging”.

    However, I don’t think it takes much thought to realize that within just about any ethnic or otherwise specified group you can imagine there are going to be individuals who are egregiously obnoxious or who otherwise deserve censure – in particular who might be overly full of themselves, who might be engaging in some over-reliance on identifying with the class or group suggested – and who might thereby justifiably be targeted with the corresponding epithet. And in the case of “nigger”, there seem to be any number of negative stereotypes – “Uncle Tom”, “Stepin Fetchit” for examples suggesting a problematic or odious degree of obsequiousness or betrayal of group solidarity – that might reasonably be applied to one individual without that implying that one is suggesting that all those who possess the primary attribute or aspect of black skin are similarly guilty of the same “crime”.

    Thil: “nigger” is a racist insult because it applies to all black people all the time indiscriminately, where as “bitch” is not a sexist term because it can’t be applied to al all women at all times. “bitch” is just [a] synonym for “ass hole” that happens to be gendered female.

    In your opinion – which seems to have very little if any justification or evidence to support it: “black” is something that is apparently intrinsic, by definition, to all black people and which doesn’t carry any pejorative connotation, “nigger” is something that might be applicable only to some black people but which generally does. Now if someone were to say, for example, “all black people are niggers” then I would agree that that qualifies as racist – the same way that, for example, saying “all men are pricks” would qualify as sexist. But those terms applied to specific individuals? Neither intrinsically racist or sexist.

  62. Thil says

    @Steersman

    as I understand the word all black people are (suppose to be) “Niggers”

  63. Ian Osmond says

    What my parents taught me was that “a gentleman never gives unintentional offense.”

    If I offend someone, or if someone offends me, it damn well better be on purpose. Accidentally offending someone is sloppy — it happens, of course, and one apologizes for it.

    NOT CARING that you’ve accidentally offended someone is callous; you’ve been the cause of pain. Offense is a form of pain. If you cause pain on purpose, because you believe it’s the right thing to do, well, that’s your choice, and there are cases where it IS the right thing, or at least the least-wrong thing available.

  64. Steersman says

    Thil:

    as I understand the word all black people are (supposed to be) “Niggers”

    Some people may in fact think that way – and who might therefore reasonably be called racists. But the dictionaries quite clearly indicate that that is not categorical; if it were then the definition might be “nigger: used as a disparaging term for all black people” – but it most emphatically doesn’t.

  65. Steersman says

    Ian Osmond:

    What my parents taught me was that “a gentleman never gives unintentional offense” … and there are cases where it IS the right thing, or at least the least-wrong thing available.

    Indeed. While turning the other cheek does seem to have some utility, it also seems that it shouldn’t be construed as any type of an absolute, any type of irrevocable get-out-of-jail-free card, that at some point “tit-for-tat” – at least – seems the more rational and appropriate response.

  66. bugmaster says

    @gjenganger #47:

    I find it hard to believe that Swedes are inherently nice and tolerant, and Danes are inherently xenophobic.

    Why ? Do you have any evidence one way or the other ?

    I’m not sure if I agree with your main point, either.

    In Sweden, one faction managed to effectively silence another, and as the result they now have a more tolerant immigration policy.

    In Denmark, one faction managed to effectively silence another, and as the result they now have a more draconian immigration policy.

    You and I believe that the first situation is preferable to the second, but a xenophobic Dane would argue the exact opposite. So, how do we decide which policies should be implemented, given that “do whatever Bugmaster says” is not a viable option ? Should it just be the matter of who shouts the loudest; or who’s got more power to silence the opposition; or what ?

  67. gjenganger says

    @Adiabat 56
    I do mean society, not the state.
    Free speech for me is a matter of being able to say what you mean without being persecuted for it, and that varied and widely held opinions have a reasonable possibility of getting out to people in general. This is not very ambitious, I know , but it is the best we can hope for in an imperfect world. It is unavoidable that there is some cost to voicing unpopular opinions, and that the rich, the majority, and the culturally strong get heard more than others. As long as the minimum rights hold, people can control their own channels as they want, and we must trust that the best ideas in the marketplace will win anyway.

    As one example: I am currently in pre-moderation on CiF, which means that about half my posts disappear, in a capricious and unpredictable manner. It is monumentally irritating – you cannot debate if any contribution has a 50% chance of evaporating. I do think that at least for opinions like mine, the Guardian is not that interested in hearing ‘a vigorous presentation of strong viewpoints’. The thing is, it is their paper. They do not owe me a forum, and if the readers and stockholders are happier if certain opinions are toned down, good luck to them. If I want to ensure that my wise words are available to the world I can always try another newspaper (or someone else’s blog), so my rights are safe.

    It is more problematic when the cultural elite essentially decides to blank out important and widely held opinions, like the resistance to immigration. Here we see people losing their minimum access, and a distortion of political debate. Whether it is necessarily always wrong is harder question. Powerful elites are another thing you cannot avoid, If the UK was more truly democratic we might still have the death penalty – should we lament that? But this kind of violence to the democratic process should at least be done with a sense of proportion and a certain trepidation.

    On 3)I agree that you should in decency consider what people are actually trying to say, but if the commonly agreed meaning of the words is offensive (not any old minority interpretation), then good intentions are not enough. One Danish politician once described a certain negotiated labour market agreement between government, trade unions, and employers as ‘fascist’. In her own political vocabulary this meant replacing free negotiation with a central, government-mediated accord, which is technically one element of fascism. But everybody (of course!) understood it to mean ‘ruthlessly trampling under foot freedom and democratic rights’, and got offended accordingly. So she had to withdraw and apologise, her sincerity notwithstanding.

  68. Erica says

    Jamessweet @60 – A, B, C seem different, yes, but they also all seem like valid positions someone might want to express in public. Substitute different words for “doo-doo” and various contexts, and I can imagine myself taking any of those positions: A, B, or C.

    The point of the OP was that it’s not legitimate to say that someone else shouldn’t be offended. Ally agrees @20 that it’s legal to say someone shouldn’t be offended, but he thinks it’s not rational or moral.

    But if Annie says women should be entitled to have abortions, and Doug says that’s murder and it’s offensive for Annie to treat murder so cavalierly, well then I might take Charlie’s position and say Doug should get over himself and not tell Annie how to feel about her body. That might not win Doug over to our side, but it might be a positive (& moral & rational) contribution as far as supporting Annie.

  69. gjenganger says

    @Bugmaster 66
    Denmark and Sweden are culturally quite similar in most things. The Swedes are a bit more moralistic and deferent to authority, I believe, which may be relevant here. But it would be surprising if there was such a big difference in general attitude to foreigners that it faithfully reflected the difference in outcome.

    Anyway, you are wrong in assuming that the pro-immigration faction in Denmark is silenced. You are not shouted down or denied access to the media or treated like a pariah if you speak out in favour of taking more asylum seekers or making family reunions easier. It is just that most people tend not to vote for you if you do. Two to three parties in our eight-party proportional system are pro-immigration (far-left and lib-dem, let us say), and the Labour party would be so still, except that their pro-immigration policies kept losing them elections. Is that not what they call democracy?

  70. Thil says

    @Steersman

    not specifying what the black person has to have done to be called a nigger (which that dictionary doesn’t) equates to saying it can used against all black people at all times

  71. Erica says

    I would say:
    “We all have the right to be offensive. We also have the right to be offended. And we have the right to say someone’s wrong to take offense. And we have the right to take offense at being told we’re wrong to take offense. Etc.”

  72. Jebedee says

    @Ian Osmond

    “If I offend someone, or if someone offends me, it damn well better be on purpose.”

    Suppose you were to say “I’ve never liked the music of ABBA” and someone responds “As someone of Swedish ancestry, I find that very offensive”.

    I don’t really think the only alternatives should be to either apologise or proudly say that offending them was exactly what you intended to do. I think there’s a perfectly valid middle ground of “Well, offending you wasn’t my intent, and I regret that my remark made you feel bad, but I think it was a perfectly reasonable remark that doesn’t need apologising for. I’m not indifferent to your feelings, but restricting what I say to accommodate that level of sensitivity isn’t something I’m willing to do.”

    It’s a shame that “I regret that you were offended” gets so often slated as a “not-pology”. It can, of course, just be a faux-polite way of saying “screw you, you’re crazy”, but I think it can also be a useful way of saying that you didn’t set out to make someone feel bad, but you still don’t think their objection is valid. The difference between that and “Damn right I wanted to insult you” being a meaningful one.

  73. johngreg says

    Ian Osmond said:

    If I offend someone, or if someone offends me, it damn well better be on purpose. Accidentally offending someone is sloppy — it happens, of course, and one apologizes for it.

    I think that saying that accidental offense is sloppy is somewhat naive or narrow. Ultimately, it is inevitable — given the range, number, and variety of cultures, and cultures within cultures the world over, it is inevitable that someday you are going to offend somone without any such intent at all.

    Nonethteless, I agree that one should also apologize after the fact — unless, of course, you find yourself on the end of a saber being slow roasted along with the roast beast.

  74. Steersman says

    John Greg @73:

    How so? I’ve differentiated between, for example, “all blacks are niggers” and “person X is a nigger”. Or “all men are pricks” and “person Y is a prick”. As does the definition – in both cases which look pretty analogous to me.

  75. johngreg says

    Thil uses the term in a plural form, which is all encompassing and supports Thil’s assumption — in my opinion.

    The FreeDic def uses only the singular form, and avoids examples or discussion of plural — suppositionally, what the FreeDic def leaves out is:

    niggers: refers, in plural, to a group of black people and/or all black people in general.

    But that’s somewhat sophistic (as in sophistry) and pedantic, and anyway, you and I will always remain in disagreement about the denotative, connotative, and general usage meanings and suppositions of the word.

  76. Steersman says

    John:

    But Thil did say: “‘nigger’ is a racist insult because it applies to all black people all the time indiscriminately”. Which tends to contradict your assertion or claim.

  77. says

    I’m another who’s noticed that some people have a very difficult time distinguishing between “you shouldn’t be offended by that” (proscribing or judging a person’s subjective emotional reaction) and “I don’t care that you’re offended by that” (apathy toward an emotional reaction). Very often, from the context they themselves provide, it’s clear that some people mean the latter when they say the former.

    Also, in countless threads and RL conversations it’s often crystal-clear that when someone does say “You shouldn’t be offended” they don’t just mean “I don’t care that you’re offended”; they also mean “I don’t want to adjust my behaviour, you can’t make me, here’s a wall of text to show you why I will continue to do things that I know will offend both specific people and entire groups of people”.

    Which is of course their right. People have the right to respond to expressions of offence however they like. I’d just wish they’d be more honest, e.g. “I don’t care if you don’t like it when I call you a bitch; I’m going to continue to do so because I think you’re a fucking bitch. It makes me feel good, it’s cathartic, it makes me feel big and clever, I’ve been calling spades spades my whole life and fucked if I’m about to change now just because the zeitgeist seems to be demanding it” or what-have-you instead of investing significant time and energy on a several hundred word comment philosophising and prevaricating about whether it’s okay to say things you know will offend people (the irony of my long comment is noted, thanks).

    Of course it’s okay to offend people; I do it all the time, both intentionally and unintentionally (I suspect some might be offended right now! Good! [that was intentional]) – what’s not cricket is hearing someone tell you your conduct was offensive to them and telling them they shouldn’t feel that way. You don’t get to proscribe or prescribe an emotional reaction. Just spine up and own the offence, for fucks sake. If whatever offensive thing you said was an honest expression of who you are and what you think and feel, don’t defend it with reams of dry, pretentious faux-academic text explaining how what you said was just fine and not even offensive in this context anyway or not even directed at whoever, personally and whoever should not take offence – just say “That’s what I think and that’s how I will continue to express it. You don’t like it, you can go and chew on a boiled arsehole.”

  78. Thil says

    @johngreg

    the way I read it the lack of examples implies that the word has no necessary conditions for use besides the person being black.

    At the very least it doesn’t preclude it and that’s the way I’ve always heard the word being used

  79. Sans-sanity says

    I think a lot of trouble come from people using and perceiving “I am offended” and “That’s offensive” interchangeably. The first is a statement describing ones own subjective emotional response and is not open to argument, the second is statement that objectively describes reality and should be completely open to challenge.

    Often people will hear “I am offended” and argue back as though the person has said “That is offensive”, which is reinforced by how often people will say “I am offended” and proceed as though they have just established that “That is offensive”.

    An idea I remember going around a while back is that “If someone tells you that you have stepped on their foot, you do not argue and stay ‘no I didn’t’ or ‘it doesn’t really hurt’, you apologise and get off their foot. The same goes for when some one says “I am offended.””

    The problem here is that a objective hurt (foot stepping) is being treated like an subjective hurt (being offended). We have a right to deliberately offend people, sometimes we even have a responsibility to deliberately offend people. Stomping on people’s feet deliberately is assault, we do not have a right to do it deliberately, and we do have a responsibility to try and avoid doing it accidentally.

    Spreading the idea that if we accidentally offend some one we should immediately back off and apologise will only increase the number of people saying “No you’re not” or “No you shouldn’t be”, as they want to be moral, but have a reason to hold to their position, making their only course of action to try and make the offence go away. If we want to see a decline in this behaviour we need to reinforce the idea that there is nothing immoral in causing offence, and that there is nothing immoral about a polite but firm version of “I hear, but do not care.”

  80. bugmaster says

    @gjenganged #69:

    Anyway, you are wrong in assuming that the pro-immigration faction in Denmark is silenced. You are not shouted down or denied access to the media or treated like a pariah if you speak out in favour of taking more asylum seekers or making family reunions easier.

    I don’t know anything about Denmark, I merely paraphrased my understanding of your previous post; it looks like I got that wrong, sorry about that. The situation you describe sounds fair to me; but then, I’m still not sure what your opinion is regarding free speech as a general principle (as opposed to a specific part of government policy). Do you believe that, in Denmark, people should be “treated like pariahs” for speaking out in favor of the draconian immigration policy that Denmark is currently suffering under ?

  81. gjenganger says

    @Bugmaster 69
    The short form is that you must respect people’s right to put forward their opinions. Applying social pressure to silence your opponents is an exercise of power, and it is wrong, whether we are talking about the Swedish elite preventing the people from arguing their views on immigration, generic Muslims trying to suppress blasphemic books and offensive cartoons, or gay marriage campaigners trying to intimidate people who campaign against them.

    There are a few nuances, to be sure. Some views are so generally unpopular that the pressure applies itself. And I do actually support the right of a majority to enforce social norms even if they can not justify them philosophically – such as prohibiting polygamy or banning neo-nazis and hard-core pornography from public space. Suppression can be justified against marginal viewpoints that could never make it through the democratic process anyway, or in the immediate context of war or violent oppression (like WWII, or slavery). But failing that, democracy and free speech require that people are allowed to speak.

  82. Koken says

    @Ally 53
    ‘It is basically about whether we lay responsibility for any upset caused on the person doing the offending or the person being offended.’

    Indeed it is. And sometimes we hold one party responsible, and sometimes the other – it all comes back to the fact that offence is understood as normative and related to societal standards, not just as a subjective reaction. In that context, sometimes the person who has given offence is responsible, because they have breached some standard and offence at their conduct is therefore merited. Sometimes the person who has taken offence is responsible, because what they have taken offence at does not violate any standards we hold valid, so their offence is unfair and unreasonable. When people argue about, in your example, being offended by various acts of street harassment, they are really arguing about the social acceptability of this conduct, because that is what determines whether taking offence at it is legitimate or illegitimate.

    It may also be true that people that people arguing for their right to offend in particular contexts also don’t give a shit if they offend (particularly if, as Adiabat notes, they think that people shouldn’t be offended). That does not mean that they aren’t making a coherent claim beyond this when they argue that people should not be offended by whatever-it-is.

  83. Koken says

    @Sans-sanity 80

    That may well be a helpful conceptual distinction, though as you observe it doesn’t really track the way the two terms are actually used.

  84. gjenganger says

    @Ally 53
    I misunderstood you at first, so my posts may have been a bit beside the point. I took it as a choice between
    1) I am sorry if that offended you and I promise never to do it again
    2) I notice that this offended you, but I do not think I should have to change my behaviour. We are both within our rights. Now what?
    Which does rather stop before you get to the important point. But I gather you really did mean
    2) I do not give a shit about what you feel.
    Which is very aggressive, of course. So, not deferring to somebody’s sensibilities counts as an act of aggression, with the effect of cutting the bonds of community and consideration between us. This may be an overinterpretation on my part (do let me know), but it would explain e.g. why such a tolerant person as you sees absolutely no problem in people getting hounded out of their job because they have come out in favour of the wrong opinion. Clearly the logic is that anyone coming out against gay marriage is deliberately excluding himself from the consideration and community of decent people, and then he just has to take what comes.

    This is clear and consistent (as might be expected from you), but there are some problems.

    First, it means that taking offense is a formidable political weapon – people have an obligation to defer to you and are not allowed to argue. Such a weapon is going to be widely used.

    Second it rather removes the possibility of discussing things with people you disagree with. Deferring to other people’s sensibilities becomes a precondition for talking at all. Now I think that discussing with people you disagree with is good and important – that is why I hang around here. It is the only way to reach some kind of compromise arrangement, it lets you understand and appreciate other points of view, and gives you security that other people may listen and are not necessarily out to get you, even if you do disagree. Your approach would divide the world into goodies and baddies, and bring us back to the gender war. Which would leave me fighting for my sex, manning the barricades alongside Paul Elam and whoever else cares to come along. I sure hope there is a better alternative than that.

  85. Ally Fogg says

    Sans-Sanity (80)

    I think a lot of trouble come from people using and perceiving “I am offended” and “That’s offensive” interchangeably. The first is a statement describing ones own subjective emotional response and is not open to argument, the second is statement that objectively describes reality and should be completely open to challenge.

    I think this is a really good point. Personally I try to talk about offence as something which is felt by myself or others, not as an objective truth.

  86. Ally Fogg says

    gjenganger

    I think maybe one gulf of understanding here is that I do not believe giving offence is always morally wrong. Some people hold (what I consider to be) vile, hateful beliefs and values, many others have beliefs and values that are just a bit unpleasant.

    So I have no problem with someone offending a homophobic bigot by kissing in public. I have no problem with a girl offending an Islamic fundamentalist by going to school. At a more trivial level, if I point out that UKIP is a party of xenophobes, bigots and racists (something I hold to be true) I will offend some UKIP supporters. Good. That is part of my intention when I make the statement.

    However (and this is the really important bit in the context of the debate) I fully accept that the homophobe, the Islamic fundamentalist or the UKIP supporter really are offended, and are perfectly entitled to their offence. They are also entitled to their views, even if I think they are profoundly wrong and will tell them so.

    Clearly the logic is that anyone coming out against gay marriage is deliberately excluding himself from the consideration and community of decent people, and then he just has to take what comes.

    That’s not something I’ve said and it is not something I believe. In practice, a few years ago someone who works for a local authority in greater Manchester was disciplined for saying on his personal Facebook wall that as a Christian he was opposed to gay marriage. I wrote a piece in the Guardian in his support – I thought that was outrageous (Incidentally Peter Tatchell argued the same as I did, which was impressive.)

    Similarly, if you look, you’ll see that nowhere have I said that I think the BBC should sack Clarkson. I think that would be an over-reaction. He was right to issue a grovelling apology, that was about right. However if they did decide that a final straw had broken the camel’s back, I wouldn’t waste any effort arguing with them. He’s sailed close enough to the wind over the years that he takes his chances.

    I did point out earlier that we do not have freedom of speech at work – that is a plain statement of fact. It is right that someone who, for example, sits at a desk blurting out racist or homophobic rants all day or who has a KKK poster on the wall is going to actively damage the atmosphere in the workplace for gay or ethnic minority colleagues. It is therefore entirely right that an employer can “censor” or indeed sack someone on those grounds. Would you disagree?

    First, it means that taking offense is a formidable political weapon – people have an obligation to defer to you and are not allowed to argue. Such a weapon is going to be widely used.

    Second it rather removes the possibility of discussing things with people you disagree with.

    No, it doesn’t. absolutely not for the reasons above. Someone’s offence only has as much value as you accord it by respecting their feelings. I know that I offend some Jewish readers when I write about ritual circumcision being abusive. My argument is not that they shouldn’t be offended. My argument is that their offence is not an adequate reason to drop the debate or to dissuade me from my own beliefs (and, for good measure, that arguments in favour of circumcision offend me in turn)

    My position was summarised rather superbly by Hank_Says in comment 78, by the way. Thanks for that.

  87. Ally Fogg says

    Koken (84)

    Indeed it is. And sometimes we hold one party responsible, and sometimes the other – it all comes back to the fact that offence is understood as normative and related to societal standards, not just as a subjective reaction. In that context, sometimes the person who has given offence is responsible, because they have breached some standard and offence at their conduct is therefore merited.

    I think perhaps the real problem is that offence (or more generally etiquette, manners, decency, taste etc etc) are all considered by most people to be normative, but in practice are wildly diverse and subjective. Everyone thinks their own norms should be observed by everyone else which is something of a recipe for disaster.

    Going back to the Musa Okwonga blog, it strikes him (and me!) as utterly unbelievable that there is seen to be a need to debate the question of whether ‘nigger’ or ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ is offensive. And yet despite that, the internet is awash with comments saying “what’s wrong with that?” If in 2014 we cannot even agree on those, what hope have we got on anything else?

    For another example, the Everyday Sexism blogs are totally dominated by arguments between people (mostly but not entirely men on one side and women on the other) who cannot agree as to whether or not it is acceptable (or even complimentary) for a man to wolf-whistle an attractive woman.

    Both sides believe that their position is self-evidently, obviously correct. And yet they are completely irreconcilable.

  88. Archy says

    Not sure if this has been covered, a lil tired at the moment but with this “2. You shouldn’t be offended by that.” what do you do or say to people who really shouldn’t be offended? Eg, offended at something that really shouldn’t be offensive, like something minor, 1 hair on someones hair being a lil bit longer when the rest are short? Or offended that people offer help to a crash victim? Things that really should never be offensive.

    Of course people have the right to be offended by serious stuff like overstepping boundaries, but what about the small stuff? Even stuff like breastfeeding, should mothers apologize for offending others because they chose to look at her naked breast whilst breastfeeding?

  89. Ally Fogg says

    Archy (91)

    I think all of that is well covered by: “You’re offended? So fucking what?”

  90. johngreg says

    So, some of the last few posts by Ally et al. regarding various approaches and definitions of offense, how/when/why it happens, and so on are making more sense, and even seem to be leaning in the direction of building some kind of consensus and maybe even a sort of quasi-rule that we can mostly all agree is useful, practicable, and sensible.

    What do we do when encountering groups who make something of a practice of being offended by almost anything, especially in inventing redefinitions of words specifically for the purpose of being offended? Do we:

    1. Ignore them altogether, even when they participate in “our” spaces of dialogue and debate?
    2. Try to to encourage them to dialogue on “our”spaces of etc., and open their minds (educate them) to broader and more informed understanding?
    3. Try to to dialogue with them even on “their”spaces of etc., in the hope of opening their minds (educate them) to broader and more informed understanding?
    4. Intentionally offend them using trite multi-meaninged words, that in almost all the rest of society are deemed inoffensive, as a way of exposing their over-sensitivity?
    5. Just ridicule them mercilessly?
    6. Completely play by their rules, as though such accomodation is somehow useful and constructive?

    Or what?

  91. Steersman says

    Ally:

    Going back to the Musa Okwonga blog, it strikes him (and me!) as utterly unbelievable that there is seen to be a need to debate the question of whether ‘nigger’ or ‘Bongo Bongo Land’ is offensive. And yet despite that, the internet is awash with comments saying “what’s wrong with that?” If in 2014 we cannot even agree on those, what hope have we got on anything else?

    So what happened to your “You’re offended? So fucking what?” While I’ll readily agree that, in particular, some uses of the word “nigger” are certainly offensive, I wonder what you would think of the use of the word in various literary works if not masterpieces such as Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, or Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers, or many of Mark Twain’s stories. You going to mount a campaign to expunge the use of the words from the language and the literature?

    And while it might take some thought to come up with a case in which the use of that word as an insult is appropriate – although one might suggest that some black politician or intellectual putting an over-reliance on their black identity, their wrapping themselves in that flag, their being “full of themselves” might qualify – I think it is unwise to insist that there is never going to be a case of that.

    However, it seems the crux of the matter, the sticky wicket, is that many seem to think that targeting an individual with an insult that incorporates some attribute common to an entire group means that the entire group is being insulted – and which thereby justifies the accusation of racism or sexism depending on the insult tendered. Apropos of which, something from PZ Myers on the use of “cunt” in the recent tweets by Ricky Gervais which summarizes that perspective in as neat a nutshell as one is likely to find anywhere:

    Myers: It’s incredibly common to see people protest that [“cunt” is] a perfectly acceptable word; everyone says it in England; it doesn’t have any sexual connotations at all …. Right. Because the best way to hurt an individual’s feelings is to demean half the population of the planet.

    So. Calling someone a cunt – generally “obnoxious person” – means that you’re saying that anyone who possesses that physiology is likewise and similarly obnoxious. Sure would like to know what type of glasses PZ uses to be able read all of that between the lines. Not least since it seems predicated on thinking that everyone is defined entirely and only by their genitalia, that there are no other dimensions or aspects of their characters or selves.

    But if you’re going to be deprecating that rather bogus and entirely specious argument – a sensible thing to be doing in my opinion – then I think you’re pretty well obliged to do that – mutatis mutandis – with the word “nigger”: certainly or frequently a rather odious insult, but still not one that is necessarily racist – the blathering of various “nattering nabobs of negativism” notwithstanding.

    In any case, while sexism and racism are obviously rather difficult social problems, one might also suggest that this is a bit of a “tempest in a teacup” generated by those “who make something of a practice of being offended by almost anything, especially in inventing redefinitions of words specifically for the purpose of being offended”. But one nonetheless that tends to detract from or vitiate the search for and application of more practical solutions.

  92. TheUltraOffensiveWhineyMalone says

    Bloody hell, how did Kenny Everett win Eurovision last night – thought he’d bitten the dust ages ago!

    Anyway, on the topic at hand, it is surely blindingly obvious that the present preoccupation with
    ‘causing offense’ is in part a political gambit on the part of professional feminists (such as
    Stella Creasy and Craido-Perez) to try and control public discourse, and to censor ideas which
    they believe might be harmful to their wider agenda. Those criminal acts which were committed against them have been dealt with by the courts, yet they appear to want to go much further than that and put pressure
    on companies such as Facebook and Twitter to censor comments which might be somehow ‘anti-women’ (whilst, naturally, ignoring all the equivalent messages directed at men.)

    As an approach to cack-handedly skewing the rules for public debate, you don’t get much more transparent than that.

  93. daveallen says

    Steers:

    “So what happened to your “You’re offended? So fucking what?””

    Nothing he wrote was at odds with that. He said he found those words offensive, he didn’t say people who disagreed with him were somehow prevented from responding with “so what?”

    And once again I’d like to personally congratulate you on your talent for ludicrously disproportionate hyperbole, I mean:

    “You going to mount a campaign to expunge the use of the words from the language and the literature?”

    A thing of beauty sir! Bravo! He’ll be reeling from that bit of nonsense!

    Having said that – I second a desire to see a Fogg v Myers dust up on why different attitudes to the employment of a swear word make a barbarous hellhole of this scepter’d isle.

  94. johngreg says

    daveallen said:

    Having said that – I second a desire to see a Fogg v Myers dust up on why different attitudes to the employment of a swear word make a barbarous hellhole of this scepter’d isle.

    I third that. PZ is describing people, specifically people like Ally, in the most awful terms, and dismissing them as, generally speaking, really bad people. It would indeed be wonderful to see Ally and PZ go head-to-head in a local discussion on this specific issue — the issue in this post of Ally’s.

  95. Koken says

    @Ally 90
    ‘I think perhaps the real problem is that offence (or more generally etiquette, manners, decency, taste etc etc) are all considered by most people to be normative, but in practice are wildly diverse and subjective. Everyone thinks their own norms should be observed by everyone else which is something of a recipe for disaster. ‘

    I mostly agree, and I would submit that this is precisely why one sees so many arguments about what is or is not offensive. As with most tastes, though, despite individual variation there is a great extent to which attitudes are formed by social context, and tend largely to converge. Thus people are actively trying to push this rough societal consensus, or at least centre ground, in one direction or another on issues like wolf-whistling which seems to be a marginal case for many.

  96. Steersman says

    DaveAllen @97:

    Steersman: “So what happened to your “You’re offended? So fucking what?””

    Allen: Nothing he wrote was at odds with that. He said he found those words offensive, he didn’t say people who disagreed with him were somehow prevented from responding with “so what?”

    True enough. However, I sort of detected an implicit bit of censure, some “and something should be done about – by Jove!” If the response is “so what?” then why make a big deal out of what was said? Ally doesn’t strike me as a person likely to be making comments without some expectation that there were going to be or should be “consequences” [“off with their heads!”] of one sort or another.

    Allen: And once again I’d like to personally congratulate you on your talent for ludicrously disproportionate hyperbole, I mean:

    “You going to mount a campaign to expunge the use of the words from the language and the literature?” ….

    “Thnk you, thnk you ver much”. A talent I’ve worked assiduously at to develop to a fine art, one it’s nice to see some appreciation for.

    However, I might direct your attention to the Wikipedia article on analogies which argues that analogy is “the core of cognition” and that it “comprises exemplification, comparisons, metaphors, similes, allegories, and parables” with “metaphors” in turn encompassing hyperbole. While I’ll concede that my analogy was rather hyperbolic, it’s objective was to highlight in stark terms the potential consequences of embarking on actually criminalizing the use of certain words – and if that isn’t the objective, more or less, then why bother unless one only talks to exercise one’s jaw. As someone said of fictional story-lines, which has some relevance to “real-life” – as is frequently the case, if you buy a gun in the first act then you have to use it by the third.

    Having said that – I second a desire to see a Fogg v Myers dust up on why different attitudes to the employment of a swear word make a barbarous hellhole of this scepter’d isle.

    Indeed. Has some relevance out here in the “colonies” too.

    P.S. You might want to take a look at using the HTML formatting codes that are listed in the data-entry area.

  97. aspidoscelis says

    I agree with Sans-sanity’s comment at 80. In this light, it is worth pointing out that, although Ally is correct in saying this:

    Or if you go to any debate thread about Clarkson, you will find dozens or hundreds of white people saying “you should not mind if someone says the word ‘nigger’.”

    It is also true that in discussions of Clarkson you will find dozens or hundreds of people insisting that we should be offended by Clarkson’s mumbled words–not just that particular people are offended by them, but that they are in point of fact offensive and should be considered so by everyone. Attempting to dictate what is or is not offensive is hardly limited to one side of the issue. Similarly, I think this sentence from the original post is problematic:

    There are few greater markers of a privileged attitude than believing one has the right to tell another how to react emotionally, how to think, how to feel.

    So far as I can tell, any group that has strong opinions on societal issues that involve offense in one way or another–whether the issues involve gender, race, religion, etc., and whether those in the group are in favor of considering some particular item offensive or against–inevitably ends up attempting to dictate what emotional reactions and thoughts one ought to have. Those offended by speech they consider sexist, racist, atheist, tend to say that such speech is, objectively, offensive, should be considered so universally, and should not be tolerated. Those who are not offended by the speech in question tend to do the opposite. Not everyone does this, certainly, and, Ally, I appreciate that you do your best not to–but in any heated debate about social issues I have seen claims about what we ought or ought not consider offensive delivered frequently by both sides. So either this statement is simply wrong, or we must redefine “privilege” radically to the point that a “privleged attitude” has no particular relationship to attributes like gender or race.

    One of the results of this is that the final two sentences of the original post–

    We all have the right to be offensive. We also have the right to be offended.

    –are, in my opinion at least, absolutely correct when taken together. If we accept that we all have the right to be offensive then, and only then, we can and should say that we also have the right to be offended. However, when the fact that one is offended is used as a means to control others or dictate what emotional reactions others ought to have, this ceases to be the case. Being offended then moves from the realm of statements of one’s own emotional reactions, which I cannot justly question, to claims about how I should act, which are open to debate and to which of course I can reasonably object. Personally, I would reword these two sentences to the following: “We have the right to be offended to the extent that we admit that others have the right to be offensive.” I would also be tempted to add that we have the right not to be offended.

    The gist of the above is that I think it is important to keep in mind that attempts to use one’s own emotional reactions to dictate how others ought to feel is not limited to those saying “you should not be offended” and that this behavior is equally objectionable regardless of who, on what side of any particular disagreement, is engaging in it. If you don’t get to say “this is not offensive” then I do not get to tell you “this is offensive”. If you don’t get to reject my emotional reactions as inappropriate or wrong, I do not get to reject your emotional reactions as inappropriate or wrong. We should accept these dicta impartially and not apply them only to the “other side”. Also, Ally, since I’m responding mostly to your words, I think my disagreement with you is mostly on emphasis rather than on content…

  98. daveallen says

    Steers – ta for the pointer to the tags.

    True enough. However, I sort of detected an implicit bit of censure, some “and something should be done about – by Jove!” If the response is “so what?” then why make a big deal out of what was said? Ally doesn’t strike me as a person likely to be making comments without some expectation that there were going to be or should be “consequences” [“off with their heads!”] of one sort or another.

    I just thought he was talking about remaining intellectually honest with yourself about what you’re doing when you flirt with the transgressive.

    Now I suppose there is a mild censure of behaviour to a formation along the lines of “It doesn’t half leave me unimpressed when people say that their use of nigger shouldn’t have caused offence because they saw someone else apparently getting away with it”.

    But given his extra context, I don’t think he’s suggesting consequence beyond the right of others to say “well that’s just not good enough”.

    Given that we surely acknowledge that there’s no consensus on what is inoffensive or trivially/seriously/extremely offensive I would agree that when you’re playing with the potentially offensive the only intellectually honest responses to resulting offence are variants of “sorry”, “meh” or “that’s what I wanted”.

    Of course – plenty of practical matters might prevent voicing such honesty.

  99. bugmaster says

    @gjenganger #83:

    Applying social pressure to silence your opponents is an exercise of power, and it is wrong, whether we are talking about the Swedish elite preventing the people from arguing their views on immigration, generic Muslims trying to suppress blasphemic books and offensive cartoons, or gay marriage campaigners trying to intimidate people who campaign against them.

    Sounds like you and I are in perfect agreement, then.

  100. Lucy says

    “the inescapable quid pro quo – is that we all must take responsibility for our words and the impact they have on others.”

    The inescapable flaw in that approach is some people and especially some groups of people can hold others to account less effectively than others. Women are at an innate disadvantage because we are physically weaker, more vulnerable, have access to less effective media rights of reply given that 78% of journalists are male and widespread sexism within the audience.

    Leaving the response to sexism in the hands of the people who suffer from it is a circle of sexist reinforcement.

  101. Archy says

    The C word in Australis is quite different too. First time I heard it in reference to a woman’s genitalia was from an American woman who used it in a positive manner. My jaw hit the floor as here it means a bad person, eg a cheater would be a C***.

  102. sacharissa says

    “Don’t take this the wrong way” is also trying to control responses implying that the speaker knows that what they are about to say is likely to be unwelcome but if the listener is offended it’s their fault.

    I find secularists often get confused about offense. Discussions often get derailed because people start talking about whether religious people are offended by XYZ as though everything offensive to someone is bad so if something is ok then the person cannot be offended. I’ve even heard it said that someone had “no right” to be offended, as though offence is a matter of rights rather than an emotional response.

  103. Copyleft says

    Of course, announcing “I’m offended” is just as often an attempt to control how others act, specifically by demanding that they change their behavior now that they’ve been put “on notice.” Since I am offended by what you say, YOU should stop saying it.

    That’s why Option #3 is so handy, as George Carlin noted. “Oh, you are offended? Who gives a shit.”

  104. johngreg says

    Copyleft said:

    Of course, announcing “I’m offended” is just as often an attempt to control how others act, specifically by demanding that they change their behavior now that they’ve been put “on notice.” Since I am offended by what you say, YOU should stop saying it.

    Indeed. That is the primary MO behind all these groups of people who strive so hard to find daily offense in every word they can — at one point, some of the A+ forums people were even instituting a campaign, so to speak, to have the word Ableist struck from the record, because it was … wait for it … because it was ableist.

    From my perspective, the majority of the Word Police phenomena is all about silencing dissenting arguments and opinions, especially dissenting arguments and opinions that argue for free speech, real free thought, and the determination to tackle difficult socio-political issues and concepts with an allowance for nuance, different culture and sub-cultural influences, differing life experience and values, and the neccessity for disagreement and debate that such challenging topics deserve and require to be effectively dealt with.

    The primary goal of the Word Police phenonena is to silence all critics and all forms of criticism to help ensure that a very narrow, black-and-white, challenge-free form of Newspeak becomes the only form of communication.

    It really and truly is all very 1984ish in all its many ugly aspects.

  105. says

    I o not think that was a very good peace by Maher. He conflates a whole bunch of postmodern (certain postmodernists to be sure) values with “feminine” values ad then bashes “the ladies”. Neither funny nor insightful.

  106. David Foster says

    a downright weird piece on Comment is Free by a chap called David Foster who seemed to believe that discouraging men from making unwanted and threatening sexual advances to strange women in the street would lead to the human race dying out. Or something.

    “A chap called David Foster” here. Just a brief note to say that this is an astonishingly offensive and ignorant way to misrepresent my article and my views. If that’s what you took from my piece you need to read it again. The argument advanced therein is really quite straightforward but I’ll spell it out for you in the simplest way I can.

    1) There is nothing inherently sexist about directly propositioning someone.
    2) Doing so, however, is taboo. That is to say it runs counter to Freud’s Reality Principle/Marcuse’s Performance Principle.
    3) Actively challenging this taboo is therefore pro-liberation.

    Your precis of my writing constitutes a disgraceful smear, and it is clear quite (from your nonsense about “the human race dying out, or something”) that you haven’t even bothered to try and understand what is really a pretty straightforward argument. It shows you up as the ignorant and nasty “chap” you quite clearly are.

  107. David Foster says

    Oh, and the fact that you think the piece is “downright weird” shows just how wholly interpellated you are within prevailing ideology, where instead of engaging with something that seeks to challenge that ideology, it is just dismissed as “weird”.

    It’s not weird, it’s transgressive. The former term seeks to shut down discourse that might pose a threat to prevailing ideology. The latter term acknowledges the potential of that threat.

    You claim to be “unshackled from any dogmatic ideology”. What a joke! You’re as shackled as they come, as your dismissive non-response to my piece clearly demonstrates.

  108. Carnation says

    @ David Foster

    If you hop over to the most recent Friday Open Thread and ask for a fellow named Adiabat. He will be your friend and share his butthurt ointment with you.

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