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On the meme of giving and taking offense

I haven’t been able to get my knuckles scraped up in this particular brawl lately, but I HAVE noticed something that I feel I need to say. I intended this post for today to just be a linking post to Stephanie’s recent rundown of the situation, wherein she lays waste to the claim that our fights are about “bad werdz”. It’s never about the words, it’s about harm. It’s about trying to give offense as a strategy, one that’s intentionally chosen, by the opponents of those who dare call themselves both free thinkers and feminists.

There’s a meme hidden in amongst all these conversations that I’ve heard quite often in a different context, of religious folks “taking offense” at your “attacks” on their religion.

vjack also just doesn’t “get” XYZ-shaming.

Accusations of [insert noun of your choice here]-shaming are rarely helpful because nobody else has the power to make us feel shame unless we give it to them.

vjack apparently thinks we live in a world in which we have just one social encounter at a time and that these never add up in some way to become those emergent entities we call “communities” and “cultures”.

This is an identical construction to this other idea that one cannot “give offense”, one can only “take” it. Meaning, it is not possible for someone to be offended by something unless they allow themselves to become offended by it. It’s something I’ve heard Matt Dillahunty use several times against religious folks who claim that his ability to lay bare the hypocrisy behind their religion means he’s attacking THEM, and they are offended by such things.

But no matter how right Matt was that these people shouldn’t take offense, the specific meme that “offense cannot be given” was wrong then too.

The reason that religious folks are wrong to “take offense” when someone calls their religion nonsense is not because they are wrong to “take offense” period, or that it’s impossible for someone to give offense (intentionally or not). The reason these religious folks are wrong to take offense is because they have conflated their identities with their religions, and in showing those religions to be unfounded and illogical and self-contradictory, we ARE actually doing splash damage on their identities.

Some might argue this is a good thing (as I do), though. It is good to give offense to people when their ideologies are unfounded, by attacking those ideologies.

That’s not what’s happening here, though. Well, at least not directly.

What’s happening here is, harassers are taking parts of their targets’ identities, things that these people can’t actually do anything about and aren’t moral failings — immutable things, like their health problems or their size or their age — then attacking those things. As a strategy. As an intentionally-chosen pattern of attack. Not as splash damage, as the intended effect. Knowing full well that doing so will, in effect, deplete that person’s resources or stomach for the fights in question.

That’s why attacking people for being women by calling them cunts, attacking them for being old women by calling them cobweb cunts, attacking men who support these women as “manginas” (with all the attendant gender prescriptivism and suggestion that the only good human is a human with a penis), attacking people who are not socially-defined ideal weights for being fat (regardless of any medical reasons that might be the case — be damned with it medical reasons, fatness MUST be a moral failing of some kind, amirite?!) — all of these attacks contribute to drumming people out of the skeptical and secular communities. Not because these people’s ideas do or do not have merit, but because their attackers can’t actually confront those ideas on their merits.

When people scream about feminism, for example, being a dogmatic religion that nobody’s allowed to criticize, and yet their actual criticisms amount to calling people smelly-snatch and ‘shopping their heads on fat old naked ladies, well, that tells me these people are incapable of actually confronting some aspect of feminism on its merits. When people scream about being censored from the conversation when all they did was poison wells, pepper their posts with ad hominems (in absence of actual argument), dodge questions, victim blame, make up statistics without sources, and any of a million other ways to abuse dialog, well, that tells me these people were incapable of such dialog. It makes me think these people are seeking that blog-ban on purpose; seeking victimhood. That they were abusive of dialog for a reason: because they knew it was the fastest way to take on the mantle of the oppressed victim and join the others repeating ad nauseam that we are feminazis and dogmatic and yadda yadda blah blah fucking blah.

And what’s more, when these people scream about us making people witches-of-the-week because we dare disagree with them about something — when their entire “contribution” to this movement is disagreement with people about specific things and they don’t shut up about those things for YEARS, escalating their methods of gaining attention beyond all reason and way out of proportion of the original argument — well, they are the witch-hunters.

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Objection!

Whoa whoa, careful Phoenix, don’t object too strongly or people might target you for harassment for your next seven games.

So every one of these memes is projection. It strikes me as parsimonious that the meme about giving and taking offense — wrong as it is — is also projection.

These people are desperately offended that anyone might honestly have objections to their behaviour — their behaviour, see, not their person. They turn objections to behaviour into witch-hunts and feminazis and FtBullies and censorship and calling people sexists and misogynists (as though that were a slur, and as though calling behaviour sexist means calling the person sexist). They do exactly what the religious person at the top of this post did in mistaking the scope of their personal identities, and take personal offense that something they consider so deeply tied to their person — their behaviour, which is absolutely mutable, but they think is immutable and sacrosanct — might be called into question.

So in response, instead of critically examining their own behaviour, or leaving these people alone and returning to their own spaces, they rather escalate that behaviour — turn it up to eleven as it were — in an outright attempt to give offense. To offend as a matter of course. To find the things that people dislike, and do those things as often and in as shameless of ways as possible. To find perceived weaknesses (like the thought that Stephanie might actually give a shit that people call her Stefunny, rather than using diminutives mid-argument as the tell that it is), then attack it as frequently and in as distributed a manner as possible.

Then they hide behind the “you can’t give offense, only take it” meme when called on the behaviour. As though it were ever even a valid construct. Which it isn’t.

In short, these people choose to harass the living shit out of their targets — so chosen as targets because they dared speak up about behaviours they found damaging to the community — and they persist until their targets give in, pack up and leave said community. If “our tribe” does such nasty things as disagreeing with people’s behaviours publicly, surely “their tribe” is justified in the targeted harassment campaigns that last for eons, right? But surely that must work the other way. If you’re arguing for your right to call me a mangina, then surely I also have a right to call behaviour misogynist and ban you from my blog. Right?

But no, they shun any responsibility for these actions, because so-and-so did such-and-such and tu quoque, even though these people honestly believe that their nastiness — a hundred times viler than any examples they ever manage to dredge up from the other side — are FREE SPEECH.

What brave heroes. And so consistent.

Comments

  1. says

    You’re really going through more trouble to debunk this meme than you have to. The simple fact is, words have meanings that have already been agreed-upon by the overwhelming majority of people who speak the language daily; and these universally-accepted meanings are, for all practical purposes, objective facts on the ground that can’t be wished away or ignored. And the universally-agreed-upon meanings of some words, like “asshole” or “cunt” or various ethnic slurs, are denigrating and/or offensive, and you really can’t choose to interpret them any other way. If someone calls me an asshole, that’s offensive, according to the standard usage of that word, and I’d have to be at least a little bit insane to pretend it was uttered with any intent other than to offend, insult, denigrate, or deter me from participating in the conversation. I may be able to decide that such an offense doesn’t matter to me (or I may not have even that luxury); but I can’t choose whether or not it’s an offense.

    This “offense cannot be given” crap is nothing but juvenile irresponsibility; and it has absolutely no more place in any responsible grownup interaction than potty humor. That’s all that needs to be said about it — it’s just another childish thing that children are (or at least should be) expected to put away when they grow up.

  2. says

    Yes, it seems they are now trying to mangle the meme that “intent doesn’t matter” into “I can’t be held responsible,” which is of course their overarching theme anyway.

    “Intent doesn’t matter” was a simplification coined in response to the common claim that if you didn’t MEAN to hurt somebody, then it’s impossible that they feel hurt as a result of your actions. That if you didn’t intend to be racist, it’s beyond the pale to label any of your speech racist. If you didn’t intend to be sexist then it’s out of bounds to label any of your actions as sexist. “Intent doesn’t matter” was a specific response to that specific fallacy.

    Up until now, it wasn’t really in question (at least not to me) that if you were actually trying to hurt someone, yes, your intent does bloody well matter, as well as your actions.

  3. says

    Up until now, it wasn’t really in question (at least not to me) that if you were actually trying to hurt someone, yes, your intent does bloody well matter, as well as your actions.

    Also, you can easily hurt someone without intending to; and one of the things us grownups are responsible for doing, is thinking about our actions and trying to predict whether or not they might have unintended consequences. It’s not that hard to to, especially in cases of words that we all know will cause offense whether or not we think they should.

  4. says

    Well, isn’t their whole entire point “I must be allowed to do whatever I want, and the worst and really only evil in the world is telling me that I can’t”? That’s why they’re against religions, ethics/morality(that they dismiss as “ideology” or “dogma” as though that’s an argument), sexual harassment policies, comment moderation policies, blocking/banning, etc. No ethical reason, no rational or logical position. Just screaming at the top of their lungs that no one is the boss of them and no one is allowed to have boundaries that they are required to respect.

  5. PatrickG says

    isn’t their whole entire point “I must be allowed to do whatever I want, and the worst and really only evil in the world is telling me that I can’t”?

    Improbable Joe, I believe the phrase is “you’re not the boss of me”. :)

  6. PatrickG says

    And further fail, IJ used the exact phrase later in the comment. Going to hide under the covers now…

  7. PatrickG says

    Improbable Joe: Sometimes my reading comprehension skills lead me to wonder how I got such a high score on the SAT. For seriously!

    Jason Thibeault: What makes you think it hasn’t already happened? :) Also, congratulations on finding another real-life textbook example!

  8. psanity says

    Libertarians, and their coattail-hangers, are all about “freedom” without responsibility. All their arguments are about how individuals are personally responsible for their actions and the consequences thereof — except them. Because reasons.

  9. smhll says

    That’s why attacking people for being women by calling them cunts, attacking them for being old women by calling them cobweb cunts, attacking men who support these women as “manginas” (with all the attendant gender prescriptivism and suggestion that the only good human is a human with a penis), attacking people who are not socially-defined ideal weights for being fat (regardless of any medical reasons that might be the case — be damned with it medical reasons, fatness MUST be a moral failing of some kind, amirite?!) — all of these attacks contribute to drumming people out of the skeptical and secular communities. Not because these people’s ideas do or do not have merit, but because their attackers can’t actually confront those ideas on their merits.

    Thank you for saying this.

  10. John Horstman says

    Jason nails it!

    Bear with me as I try to think through the intent thing. I prefer “intent is not magic” to “intent doesn’t matter”. Intent matters insofar as it informs actions and provides some guide as to how one might approach someone with the intent of getting that person to change hir behaviors. The impact is more important than the intent – I *think* this is universally true, though I’m perfectly willing to admit the possibility of cases I haven’t considered where I might not agree with this assertion as a universal. Where it gets tricky is that context matters, and intent CAN form part of context, if the intent is known or somehow made clear. So I think I’ve arrived at some sort of workable interpretation: the actual impact is always what matters, but because context determines the meaning and thus impact of an action, and because intent can effect and/or affect context, intent can inform impact. So intent matters, but only to the degree that it is part of the impact of an action.

    Does that make sense?

  11. TM says

    I’d call it an argument by crapping rules. Someone just craps a rule like “if you are offended, it’s your fault” to frame the problem as a weakness in your ability to regulate your own emotions, rather than admit that they are being a turd (i.e. just being abusive and not accomplishing any positive dialog).

  12. rnilsson says

    IJoe, let me propose this boil-down:

    Well, isn’t their whole entire point “I must be allowed to do whatever I want, and the worst and really only evil in the world is telling me that I can’t”?

    is a supremely succinct concentration of what I humbly propose as the “me-me-me”-meme. And I certainly don’t care if someone else has already minted it, to me it still feels soo fresh!

  13. says

    Libertarians, and their coattail-hangers, are all about “freedom” without responsibility.

    Or, a little more precisely, freedom for people with money, power, and/or privilege; and responsibility for everyone else.

  14. NoAssume says

    Well, right-libertarians are anyway.

    I have to say this thing is a mess. While I think that on average, people should own their offense more, things is getting ridiculous and if people are offended, you are not going to be able to tell them not to.

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