The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

My Feelings About Feelings

| 172 Comments

Some years ago, I kinda got into it with a few people on Making Light. I still don’t understand what the big deal was–we were only talking about religion and politics; why should that generate any heat?  (WARNING: Irony).

The discussion involved the relationship between the two, and my contention that, ultimately, to be a theist is, in some measure, to support reaction; if not now, then someday.

First of all, can we please not talk about that?  I bring it up only for context.  I might be full of shit on the subject; that isn’t the point right now.

What struck me so hard was when someone said, “I feel personally insulted by your comment.”

My reaction was, and still is, “What the fuck?”

Now, it isn’t as if I find the reaction completely befuddling.  I mean, if someone told me, “because you’re an atheist, you will someday become a child murderer,” I would, I’m sure, feel insulted.  No, what got me is that this person appeared to believe that was an answer.  I was croggled.  I am still croggled.  “Oh, well, you are insulted by my opinion about how the world works, therefore I must be wrong.”  What?  If I find it personally offensive that the speed of a falling body is independent of its speed parallel to the ground (which I do, by the way; it pisses the hell out of me) does that change how we do the calculations?

Sure, sometimes we feel insulted, and sometimes we feel attacked, just by what someone says about how things work. Of course we do; we live in this world, and who we are is innately tied to our understanding of where we fit in the world. Believing, “my religion makes me a better person,” is pretty vital; so it is quite natural that an attack on that will be insulting.  If we reverse that and apply it to me, yeah, sure, I’ll feel insulted.

But that has nothing to do with whether it is true. 

We are either going to share our feelings and try to make sure everyone feels good, or we are going to try to understand how the world works in order to change it.  Of course, there are times when what matters is that the people around you feel warm and accepted as much as possible.  Hanging out with friends, listening to music, many other activities that I love can be destroyed or harmed by an insulting comment at the wrong time.  But in the fight to understand the broader world, it absolutely amazes me that there are people who believe, “I feel insulted by your opinion,” is a reasonable part of the conversation.

The thing is, versions of this seem to be coming up more and more often.  Is it true, for example, that men and women have differences in their brains that, purely on biology, lead them to excel in different sorts of fields? I happen to think that’s a load of horseshit; or, at the very least, no one has ever come close to presenting a convincing argument.  But the answer to it lies in research, in understanding biology, in analyzing test results the way Cordelia Fine did in Delusions of Gender.  True or not, the fact that the position is offensive to women (which I think it is),  is not an answer to the argument.  (Caveat: If someone is taking the above position and claiming it is a defense of women, then pointing out that, in the end, it slanders women is entirely reasonable.  I trust everyone can see the difference).

If we are going to change the world,  if we are going to strike a blow against the oppression of women, then the first thing we need to strive for is the truth.   And whether someone feels insulted just doesn’t enter into it.

Please note that this is not a reference to any particular discussion going on here, or anywhere else. So I hope you don’t feel insulted.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

172 Comments

  1. That is pretty reasonable on the face of it.

    One of the main places it gets complex, for me, is when the nature of the discussion we are having is ambiguous or suspect.

    I used to run with occultists, back in the day. This acquainted me well with how inutterably rare it was to come upon a work which purported to be of magickal theory (how to go about causing desired change) which was not actually a work of magickal practice (such that the writer would like me to credit the work’s contents because for me to do so would aid or constitute the bringing about of change he desired).

    Once I started seeing it, I’ve never been able to unsee it. I still can’t tell economists from occultists, which leads to the most embarrassing mischoices of handshake.

  2. Right. If you told me, “Knitting leads inevitably to reaction, and increasing the number of knitters strengthens the forces of reaction in the long run,” I could say, “Speaking as a knitter, I find your comment offensive.” That would establish…that I’m offended, which doesn’t have much to do with whether reaction is buttressed, or even whether that’s a bad thing.

    If, however, I reply, “Do you have any evidence for that assertion?” or “In June 2010, Dr. Marie Lafarge of Eureka University conducted a survey of knitters on X website. Out of 10,052 respondents, 8,876 described themselves as socialist. 8,139 said they had become more committed to socialism since they started knitting,” I would still be participating in the argument.

  3. skzb

    I think the actual name of the website was knit4tomorrow.com (“Making a better world one purl at a time”).

  4. Damned Incrementalists are everywhere. *g*

  5. One of my Laws of People is, “People can only chose to be offended, and if it furthers their agenda, often will.”

    Of course people can also chose to be offensive. George Carlin chose to be offensive on every level where it made sense to his art. Yet his audience would laugh along with him. I was at a show once where he went on about lots of things that people may find offensive, but when he got to God, two people got up and walked out. That was their line, that is the point where after decades of entertainment, and 30 minutes of hearing the F word, they _decided_ to be offended.

    Another personal example. My wife says things like, “Yes I’m a bitch and proud of it.” I can call her a bitch and she smiles, knowing, she has just earned it. Yet if a stranger at work calls her a bitch, it ruins her whole day. The word isn’t offensive to her at all, and what weight would a stranger have over that phrase that I don’t? The reality of it is, she wanted to show offense at that remark. It was a choice somewhere in her brain.

    So when I say things that piss people off, I don’t lose sleep over it. It was their choice to give me the power over their emotional snow lobe, and they wanted it shaken.

  6. What if someone said, “I feel personally offended by that comment,” then went on to say that his visceral reaction (ha ha, reaction!) made it difficult to continue with the rational part of the discussion, and could we please discuss it a little so we can move on? I only ask because people have feelings, and sometimes the dratted things get in the way. Especially when one is talking about religion. Or sex. Or sex in religion. Or pretty much anything else, now that I think of it. We’re all really just emotional ticking time bombs.

  7. I absolutely agree, but the problem is that the various political movements that have a postmodernist philosophy at their core do not fundamentally believe that there *is* an objective reality to investigate, so personal emotion is all that can be talked about. Thus the debate must focus on “empathy” instead of, say, a boring analytical concept like class – which, like the rest of science, is often dismissed as being inherently Western and patriarchal.

    Of course, this gets really tricky when people who are nominally on the same side realize that they have very strong feelings about opposite matters. Then no debate is possible, because there cannot be any common ground.

  8. I don’t know that I agree, Jonas. I think that there can be common ground, but it’s trickier to come by and there has to be a lot of trust on both sides. I run into this a lot as a liberal religious professional (well, THAT’s a weird idea) in a very conservative state.

  9. “But that has nothing to do with whether it is true.”

    For a lot of people, a lot of the time, whether it is true is not the most important question.

    People have a hierarchy of needs. When items at the top of the hierarchy are not met, they don’t care so much about items lower on the list.

    So for example when you are being drowned, you don’t much care about being hungry too. Waterboarding is a more immediate torture than food deprivation — though with skillful use general food deprivation with small food reinforcements can be more effective.

    A human’s highest need is a sense of identity. People will gladly sacrifice their lives for their sense of identity. Dedicated Al Qaeda prisoners were waterboarded hundreds or even thousands of times before they revealed significant information — which turned out to be false.

    Second on the list is excitement.

    Third is security.

    If you believe something that isn’t true, it affects your security. Bad things may happen that you don’t expect. But if enough other people believe it with you, then maybe it won’t be bad for you.You can perhaps blame the problems on somebody else and try to make them be the ones that suffer. And anyway excitement and identity are more important.

    If you find out something you believed is wrong, that can be exciting. Or it can be horrible, you have to rethink a whole lot and maybe correct a bunch of mistakes, a lot of bother and your new life might not be nearly as good as you thought your old life was.

    If your identity says you search for the truth above all else, then good for you! Many people are something else. If your identity includes beliefs about the world — God and Heaven, Free Markets, convergence to gaussian distributions, whatever — then you will not usually care about evidence to show whether those beliefs are true in a particular instance. You know they are true.

    Here is a trivial example.
    http://www.policymic.com/articles/44035/senate-farm-bill-america-s-food-aid-program-is-broken-here-s-who-s-trying-to-keep-it-that-way/619881

    Lots of people believe that their own good and the good of people they care about, is far more important than whether other people know the truth. Like, if you believe that global warming is a hoax contrived by people who want to wreck the US economy and ensure their own world supremacy, then it makes sense to oppose the idea by all means. Because whether or not it’s true, it will be used by a secret cabal for their own evil purposes. If it is true we still won’t effectively prepare, just the evil cabal will have a better chance to win. So first we must defeat the evil people, and then we can think about what to do after that. In the meantime, truth does not matter.

    Etc.When we accept cultural diversity, we must accept that other people don’t always share our values. Belief that truth is very valuable is one of the values they may not share.

  10. And of course, this relates back to your post on the language of argument. Because the point at which someone stops having the argument and starts being offended is the point at which effective communication ends. At that point, one has to decide if it’s possible or worthwhile to address the hurt feelings so the discussion can continue.

  11. J. Thomas, I disagree with your hierarchy of needs. On the internet, it certainly looks sometimes as if humans’ greatest needs are identity and excitement, but in reality I don’t think they’re anywhere close to the top.

  12. skzb

    Nathaniel: You’re somewhat changing the conversation, but I don’t mind, because what you bring up is interesting. In brief, I don’t entirely disagree, but think your position is a drastic oversimplification. Emotion is the word we use to describe a complex set of thoughts; thoughts are reflections in our material brains of real-world stimuli received through our senses. Choice (ie, decision-making in general) is another word for a complex set of thoughts, also reflections, also based on the world perceived through our senses. To simply assign choice as being always dominant and in control of emotion does not, I believe, accurately reflect how the process works for most human monkeys. Including me.

    PreacherJean: I can imagine times where that could be done without derailing a useful discussion; other times not.

    Jonas: Yes.

  13. Good comments, all. I’d ask what is the purpose of the comment which resulted in the purported feeling of offense? If it is to attempt a rational discussion, perhaps it is necessary to work around the comment; come in by the back door. But, unfortunately, too often the feeling of offense is a defense mechanism and all attempts at rational discussion will fail.

  14. skzb

    PreacherJean: The issue of common ground is kind of abstract (okay, this whole conversation has been pretty abstract). Let me give an example.

    I believe that the oppression of women in our society is real. I believe it is a product of class society, and can only be ended by ending class society, and attempts to improve the lot of women that don’t start from the need to end class society, in the end will support capitalism and bring us further from equality.

    Now, take a look at what I wrote. There are many people who describe themselves as feminists who agree with my first statement, but disagree with some or all of the rest. With many of them I can have a fruitful discussion–fruitful at a minimum in the sense of making our positions sharper and clearer. But check out some Men’s Rights sites. They wouldn’t agree with the first sentence. I have nothing to say to them. There is no point in trying to have a conversation–as the saying goes, it wastes your time and annoys the pig (see what I did there?).

    Emma: Absolutely yes on the hierarchy of needs and the internet.

  15. I sometimes think that people don’t know WHAT they need or want, but react to a vague sense of being attacked or deprived of something. You know what? Forget universal health care! We need universal psychiatric care! Which I suppose could be under universal health care, so never mind.

  16. skzb

    Yes we do, and yes it would, and it would also help a lot with gun deaths. But that’s for another day. 🙂

  17. Emma, if it isn’t too much of a side issue, what do you think are among the highest human needs?

    I think identity is quite defensible, but since it’s such an abstract thing it might seem like a cheat.

    It might easily turn out that we agree but we slice up the words in different ways.

  18. J Thomas: Food and water, shelter, safety, community. I’d make those the first four. Identity is something that develops when a human infant first distinguishes between itself and everything else. If somehow that doesn’t develop naturally in the infant, it still needs those four things at the very least.

    If by “identity” you mean something like “special interest group” rather than “ability to identify one’s self as distinct from other people,” I’d say that’s even further down the list.

  19. @J. Tom, Emma and skzb: I think the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has either been distorted here, or else misinterpreted, or some combination of both. In J. Tom’s post, he went in descending order, saying identity is ‘first’. Maslow structured it like a pyramid, with the foundations being physiological needs. Then security of the immediate surroundings; resources, family members, health, property. Then love and belonging, then self-esteem and finally self-actualization. The final step includes the formation of artistic ability, a lack of prejudice, and the tendency to accept facts. Once one level is met and sustained, people move up, building their mind/personality/being and advancing it to higher functions. It’s important to know that he is talking about the mind itself and it’s ability to create, understand and accept ideas, not the ideas themselves.

    I think J. Tom was trying to use this concept to say that because you are threatening someone’s security of something, e,g, their belief in their chosen religion, they are then predisposed to not achieve the ability to accept the facts.

    I disagree, but I do think the concept is relevant to this discussion. People don’t form their consciousness in a single discussion (or argument). They form it through many interactions with other humans, through media, and through the physical aspect of their brain growing. The reason why Maslow structured his idea as a pyramid is twofold. Firstly, with such a construct you can’t jump to the top. There would be nothing to hold it up. But more nuanced than that, it can be stopped at any level and left unfinished. Secondly, graphically, the bottom is the largest horizontal segment, and that represents the majority of the population. For various reasons, people feel their security, or their sense of love, or their self-esteem, is threatened, and if that never lets up they never advance further in any meaningful way.

    I say ‘meaningful way’ because it is not an absolute. One does not have to have each segment in the hierarchy met perfectly before they can make any progress to the next level. And I think some of examples of needs, such as security of property, are shoehorned in based on assumptions, and that they are not actual needs. Security of shelter from weather; yes. Security of your HD flatscreen; no.

    If someone is raised in a religious household, part of their security is based in the ‘truth’ that god exists, he should be worshiped, and all of that. The undermining of their security through interaction with people who believe differently, if they were still building and did not reach the stage of thought where they are capable of accepting logical facts, will only hinder their development. Without ever reaching self-actualization, they will never be able to accept the facts posed against their religion. Furthermore, if they happen to grow up completely enshrouded in their religion, and have all their needs met, reach self-actualization, then the arguments against their religion are presented to them, the model predicts that they would accept the facts and denounce their religion. I don’t know if that is true to actually happen, but based on the model that’s the idea.

  20. Skzb

    I would commend to your attention James Kelly’s book:

    “That Damned Thing Called Honour: Duelling in Ireland 1570-1860”

    There are are any number of good books on duelling, but I just grabbed the first one I found on my bookshelves, because your example fits so perfectly:

    “I am personally insulted by your comment”

    was the archetypal precursor to a duel, and a lot of people were crippled or killed in those duels. There was no reasoned discourse on the comment itself, because it was irrelevant to the one central issue.

    The people you describe are not demanding people to name their weapon, swords or pistols, but their thought processes are identical to the people who did do that for almost three centuries; we are going backwards…

  21. “Food and water, shelter, safety, community. I’d make those the first four.”

    OK. I’d include the first four of yours under security. And in practice, people often do not make them their first priority.

    If you kidnap someone and deny them adequate food or water, and hold them in a place where the temperature varies a lot unpredictably, etc, and you tell them they will get food and water and shelter if they give up their ideals and bretray their closest friends, they will usually balk. It takes special training to apply those and other forces in just the right ways to get them to do that, and the techniques are not particularly effective. With weeks of effort most people can be persuaded to sign a random unread confession to get the torture to stop. Many people will provide names of other people to torture, but often the names they provide will not be their friends but someone else.

    They care more about their sense of who they are, than they do about food, water, and shelter. Many people will die rather than give that up. The methods that seem most reliable to get them to betray their ideals involve disorienting them until they can’t think straight, and then try to separate out the truth from their random hallucinations.

    Some people do break easily under torture, the people who did not care much about those particular ideals in the first place. Notice that I am doing circular reasoning, a no-true-scotsman argument. I can’t prove it really, it may be unfalsifiable, but I believe it’s true without sufficient evidence. You can justifiably disagree if you want to.

    If I’m right about the specifics, it shows me that people care more about what kind of people they are than they do about food, water, or shelter. That in a situation where they feel like it is the right thing to do to starve to death, they will starve to death rather than accept food they think they should not eat. As witness the various people who go on hunger strikes, some few of whom are allowed to starve to death.

    “I think the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has either been distorted here, or else misinterpreted, or some combination of both.”

    Yes. I believe Maslow got it wrong. I first saw the version I quote in a science fiction story by W McFarlane. I don’t remember now whether it was in Analog or F&SF.

    “I think J. Tom was trying to use this concept to say that because you are threatening someone’s security of something, e,g, their belief in their chosen religion, they are then predisposed to not achieve the ability to accept the facts.”

    I don’t think it’s security. When people incorporate beliefs into who they think they are, then it’s a great big step to question those beliefs. I see that among free market enthusiasts. Given an example of a market failure, they look for reasons to say that it did not fail after all. Failing that, they argue that the entire reason for the failure must have been government intervention. Since they know in their hearts that free markets cannot fail, they cannot imagine examples of market failure.

    “One does not have to have each segment in the hierarchy met perfectly before they can make any progress to the next level.”

    That’s a very good point!

    “And I think some of examples of needs, such as security of property, are shoehorned in based on assumptions, and that they are not actual needs. Security of shelter from weather; yes. Security of your HD flatscreen; no.”

    Yes, when we use abstract words to talk about things which may be different in any two people’s heads, it’s easy for the matchup to sometimes fail. What “security” means for one person may be different from “security” for another.

  22. Steve, you can feel free to leave the ‘preacher’ part off – they made me log in with my WordPress account, and that is my username. But since you (and Emma for that matter) have always known me as Just Jean (Mornard), I don’t need to stand on titles. 🙂

  23. Steve, I absolutely agree (and am not offended by) your example. If one of two parties has what they consider to be an inarguable position, and therefore are not willing to even enter into exploring other points of view with someone else, then the ‘discussion’ is over before it starts. But in the first part of your example, there might be room to at least agree to disagree, in a cordial manner. The first is sad and the second is much to be hoped for. My first and second, I mean, not yours – I realize that I switched them around.

  24. Wow. I thought my post had some thought put into it. Either I am under am extremely false impression of myself (certainly a possibility), or this guy’s ability to pick apart ideas, then tread water in a ‘discussion’ of them for the sake of disagreement, is astounding.

    Anyway, I hope my application of Maslow’s Hierarchy to the topic was helpful.

    J. Tom, I feel personally insulted by your comments. *snicker*

    No, really though. I don’t see how you made any points, you simply picked at mine without any real or helpful criticism. I particularly like how you disagree with my use of the word ‘security,’ then make a point of how people can abstract meaning, when we’re both using the word the same way. Your example is exactly with the financial crisis apologist is exactly what I meant by ‘security of ideas, such as religion.’ I will not interact with you again.

    To everyone else, I do hope to continue in the conversation. Few and far between as my ideas are.

  25. “I am personally insulted by your opinion” is actually psychological code for “I am having difficulty defending my much cherished position and therefore must end this conversation”.

    As has been said many times, humans are not rational animals. We have spurts of rationality, and we have moments of logic, but we are social, status-seeking animals well before we are thinking beings. There is more than a bit of scientific research that suggests that our ability to maintain social status is tied into being “right”; holding the correct beliefs, having the right facts, etc.

    Therefore, on an instinctual level, when we defend our religion, our economic beliefs, our political beliefs, what we are actually defending is our social status. This is why it can be so difficult us to embrace new ideas or different ideologies; we must first admit that our previous beliefs were wrong. That is something that we must overcome our psychological design to do; it takes work.

  26. For those of the literal mind: I think many people are insecure, so they take their identity from a group. Criticize the group’s tenets in any way, and they feel you’ve criticized them.

    For those of the ironic mind: Because I am personally offended by Godwin’s Law, I’ll note that Hitler was personally offended by Jews. Being personally offended is totes teh awesome, because you get to feel self-righteous while you do any damn thing you please.

    Stephen Fry’s observation applies: “It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?”

  27. Ryan, oops, I don’t know from Maslow. But I’ll look that up; seems interesting.

    J Thomas, I was thinking in terms of what’s needed for the survival of the biological organism. I guess you could think of survival as security, though I wouldn’t. But I don’t think community, as I had in mind, falls under security. I was thinking of the human need for other humans: children raised without touch develop abnormally both mentally and physically, and adults in isolation develop an assortment of mental illnesses, some of them more permanent than others. So, again, I was thinking biological necessity.

    You’re right, though, that we’ve wandered very much off the topic Steve started. I’ll stop here and go back to considering the effect of invoking emotion in the midst of intellectual discussion.

  28. Ryan Smith, I apologize. Yes, your post was very good. You gave an admirable explanation of Maslow’s thinking and how it could fit the topic.

    What I didn’t like as much was that when you understood Maslow you assumed that I misinterpreted Maslow, and then you misinterpreted what I was saying, and you disagreed. So I wanted to explain what it was I meant.

    Oh well. I find this way of thinking is a useful tool. It takes a certain skill to use, but there’s value to it. Naturally I wanted to share it. But I’m getting antagonism about it and it isn’t a *necessary* tool. You can get the same conclusions other ways. So I think I will just drop it.

  29. Emma, yes, we were talking past each other. I was thinking not what’s good for survival but what people actually care about. Suicide bombers and enthusiastic Marines don’t have personal survival as their most important goal, after all. They feel special to have a higher goal.

    I wouldn’t put community under just security either. People think of themselves as part of a community, it’s usually a central part of who they are. Some people can survive thinking of themselves as someone apart from everybody else, and as you say it changes them into something other.

    “It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?”

    If you say you are offended and people say “Well cry me a river you little snot” then it means you have low social status. If you say you are offended and people cower, and maybe some brave person stands up to you and all your friends pile on and tell him he’s a no good shit who doesn’t deserve to have an opinion, that means you have high social status in that particular community.

    And that is so fucking what. Saying you are offended deserves no respect in itself. Being the alpha baboon means that others will fear to offend you, and that deserves at least fear.

    There is no group anywhere that cowers when I take offense. By a peculiar coincidence, I believe it is wrong to decide things that way, and I do not take offense myself. I say that important choices should be made by rational attempts to find the truth. Yes, sheer coincidence that I think people should follow the ways where I have an advantage, and avoid the ways where I am at a big disadvantage.

  30. It’s just not fair that i get personally insulted, You need to wear a brain control device to bring you down to then level where you can insult anyone for anything. Personally, I am insulted that you continue to insult me by breathing my air and using my water. 🙂

    What i really think that is going on here is narcissism pure and simple, an over inflated self importance to protect them from the realities of real problems of the world. If someone gets personally insulted by another’s opinions then what about the big things like, hunger, oppression of women, large companies operating with impunity, Governments gone wild, etc…

    so to the hypocrites & the self-righteous I say this, find something worthy to be “personally offended by” and change it!

  31. Amusing bit of history about taking offense: http://alphahistory.com/weirdhistory/1619-spanish-homophobe-wears-buttock-basket-fight-ensues/

    Theodore Alvazlan is on to part of the problem. While being quick to take offense is as old as history, the identitarian love of subjectivity may mean it’s being promoted more than ever now: You’re offended? Speak up!

  32. I seem to have simplified life a great deal by deciding many years ago that I don’t get offended. (At this late date, I’m really not sure whether I decided not to or discovered that I don’t, hence my phrasing.) I may be appalled, I may get angry, I may decide that something Must Be Done or that a particular person is now anathema to me, but I don’t get offended.

    Being offended seems a pointless response, really. Either the person was trying to offend me or someone else, in which case they are unlikely to care that I am offended and may even be glad of it, or they didn’t intend to offend anyone, in which case a calm response regarding the problematic nature of their words/action has some small chance of being helpful, and “being offended” has little or none, in my observations.

    Being offended is also rather vague. What does it mean, exactly? What does it feel like? And “personally offended”? How would one be offended other than personally? One can have, after all, only one’s own response–one can’t have another’s.

  33. Theodore Aivazian, you changed the nomenclature a little, and I think it makes a difference. People get insulted all the time. I think it’s a pretty simple response to a negative stimulus. However, being offended requires effort, and sometimes extended effort, on the part of the offendee. That having been said, I don’t know what to call the feeling I get when something in the world is Not Right (e.g., huge numbers of people living in extreme poverty in this country). I call it offended, but in the context of this conversation perhaps I should come up with another name. Maybe George?

  34. “Being offended is also rather vague. What does it mean, exactly?”

    Operationally, saying you are offended is a communication. It means “You have been rude. I might do something to hurt you even if it is rationally not in my interest and I may get hurt myself in the process.”.

    Penalties for being rude may range from being treated coldly for a evening to being mildly beaten up, all the way to being declared a social outcast among a large group of people.

    Some people can carry it off, others can’t. Like, if an urepentant segregationist came here and got offended by the lack of racism, people might be upset that he was a racist but they would feel no need to apologize to him. On the other hand if you moved to Charleston, SC and started making friends, and then one of them was offended by your lack of racism, you might find that you had no friends after all and you must start over on that. It depends.

  35. “But that has nothing to do with whether it is true.

    “We are either going to share our feelings and try to make sure everyone feels good, or we are going to try to understand how the world works in order to change it.”

    Here is a third choice: We can try to shut up people who say things we don’t like, so we don’t have to hear about it.

    Nothing to do with everybody feeling good. Why should our enemies feel good? Nothing about understanding how the world works — except if I can shut people up then to that little extent I can make the world work the way I want it to.

  36. J Thomas

    You suggest that racism is the default setting in South Carolina.

    I should be grateful if you and others could expand on this; it is a point of some importance, but the Web is not the place to explain why this is of importance.

    Obviously you and others may not wish to comment in these circumstances and I entirely accept this.

  37. Stevie, I can’t explain. I can explain better about Memphis, TN. There, the white population is 34% while the black population is 61%. A long time ago a lot of whites left the city proper for white suburbs, and then blacks followed them into some of those. A lot of whites believe that a lot of blacks want to commit violence against them. I haven’t seen reliable statistics about it, but I have the impression that among poor blacks, black-on-black violence is far more prevalent than black-on-white violence.

    There seems to be a tradition that the races do not get along there. It isn’t outright warfare, they do business together OK, they work together in mixed businesses OK, just there’s that tradition. I visited there oblivious, and found that when I stopped with my wife and children at random ice cream shops or gas stations I faced a lot of hostility for no obvious reason, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know which areas I wasn’t supposed to stop in.

    My old parents visited and their car broke down in a “bad” area; an old black couple took them in and were nice to them, and the local white people they were visiting were quite relieved at that.

    It isn’t so much that people are racists (I expect a lot are, but that isn’t the important part) it’s that nobody on either side seems to feel safe.

    I had much less experience in Charleston. It seemed like it was entirely different cultures, coexisting. Some people had strong beliefs about race but had no reason to talk about it. I went weeks before the subject came up and I offended people without expecting to. Others were more liberal, and it looked like those groups didn’t mix. I couldn’t at first tell them apart.

    I had much more experience in Birmingham. A friend there said that in the ’60’s they had a sort of love-hate relationship that settled down into mild dislike. Birmingham was like a lot of small towns that merged into a city, there were a whole lot of little communities that didn’t mix much. I met some rich blacks who had the same humble Alabama “I’m just a country boy” attitude that some of the rich whites did. A lot of middle-class blacks were firmly integrated into some of the middle-class white groups. Some places blacks were scared if a car with white men drove into their neighborhood. I drove alone into one black community with a sandy mud road where the windows shut and the doors locked when they saw me coming, and a couple of guys on motorcycles slowly followed me until I left. Once my car broke down and I had time to get off the main road into the first suburb I found. A bunch of black kids stared at me angrily, and I wasn’t sure I should leave the car behind to get help. A black man stopped and helped me fix it. He said a lot of people there thought he shouldn’t, but he’d help anybody.

    I was there long enough to see that it went every which way. Likely it was every-which-way the other places too, and I just didn’t get enough experience to see that.

    My impression generally is that in lots of places there is enough hostility that people tend to feel unsafe when they feel they may be “in the power” of people of another race. And that puts a strain on relations. Not so much violence really, but enough that the possibility keeps scaring people. I have the feeling that the possibility of violence from either side is far more disruptive than the subtler things like some whites feeling superior. It may in fact be more of a class issue, but people tend to see it as race.

    This is all my interpretation of my experience. I haven’t seen that much, and my interpretation of what I see is not completely reliable.

  38. I have had similar experiences to J Thomas’ in Texas and Arkansas, where I have visited many smaller town neighborhoods and currently live in a university town. There is often a three-way split between whites (I’m white), blacks, and Mexicans. An extra wrinkle is that I have often been treated with outward acceptance by my Mexican neighbors and new acquaintances *until* I speak Spanish, when certain of them stop speaking to me entirely and seem to avoid me. I’m not sure if this represents a transgression of a verbal territory or what.

  39. J Thomas and NotTheBuddha

    Thank you both; that is very helpful.

  40. NotTheBuddha, some of them might be embarrassed because they don’t speak Spanish. Some of them might be picking up a vibe from your accent that you don’t intend. Apparently Ricardo Montalban got a lot of shit in his youth from Mexican-Americans because he spoke with a Castillan accent.

  41. J Thomas: “Operationally, saying you are offended is a communication.”

    Well, my point is that it isn’t a very effective one. “It means ‘You have been rude. I might do something to hurt you even if it is rationally not in my interest and I may get hurt myself in the process.’” It probably usually does mean “You have been rude,” but I doubt very much that it always, or maybe even usually, means the rest of that.

    I see nothing to be gained by saying, “I am offended by that.” Nothing at all. Either the person doesn’t care, or it puts the person on the defensive. I would rather say:
    “You do realize that I am a member of the group you just disparaged, don’t you?”
    “You do know that my children/spouse/sibling/parent/etc. is a member of the group you just disparaged, don’t you?
    “I have a friend who is _______; why don’t I call him/her over and you can say that to his/her face.”
    “I think that comments like that contribute to something in our society that I think is very bad for all of us.”
    “Do you know that word/term/image/portrayal/etc. is considered insulting by people who belong to that group?”
    “You, sir/ma’am, are an asshole.”

    And in general–not specifically to you–I am still wondering what way there is to be offended other than “personally.”

  42. skzb

    ‘And in general–not specifically to you–I am still wondering what way there is to be offended other than “personally.”’

    I take the term “personally offended” as a means to permit one to make a distinction between feeling offended on one’s own behalf, and being offended on behalf of another person or group.

  43. cakmpls – “I see nothing to be gained by saying, “I am offended by that.” Nothing at all.” I completely agree, and I admire your ability to be able to turn that particular response off. Would that we all would! That way we’d get more easily to the real issues that need solving, rather than wallowing around in non-rghteous anger (I don’t know what other term to use here). However, I do think that people use the O word in order to stop a conversation that’s uncomfortable for them, or an argument they feel they are losing.

    skzb – a useful distinction.

  44. Will Shetterly:Essentially all of the go-silent encounters for the last few years have been with people whom I heard speak Spanish previously. I don’t know that it is the accent, my Spanish teachers and my native speaker friends have all complimented me on my pronunciation (which is just my mimcry of whoever I am speaking with, really). My vocabulary and comprehension are not what they could be, so it’s possible they said something they did not expect to be overheard, taking my bilingualism as a transgression against their privacy.

  45. —————–
    I see nothing to be gained by saying, “I am offended by that.” Nothing at all. Either the person doesn’t care, or it puts the person on the defensive. I would rather say:
    “You do realize that I am a member of the group you just disparaged, don’t you?”
    “You do know that my children/spouse/sibling/parent/etc. is a member of the group you just disparaged, don’t you?
    “I have a friend who is _______; why don’t I call him/her over and you can say that to his/her face.”
    “I think that comments like that contribute to something in our society that I think is very bad for all of us.”
    “Do you know that word/term/image/portrayal/etc. is considered insulting by people who belong to that group?”
    “You, sir/ma’am, are an asshole.”
    —————–

    I’m not at all clear about the distinctions among all those, except that some of yours are more abstract while others are far more concrete, some of them are less emotional while others are more.

    “Did you know that I/my spouse/etc is a member of the group you just disparaged?”

    “Oh those Welsh, they’re all either prostitutes or soccer players.”
    “Did you know my mother is Welsh?”
    “I did not! What position does she play?”

    Either they don’t care, or it puts them on the defensive. And which it is depends on your status. If you are someone they can safely disparage as a member of the disparaged group, then they needn’t care.

    “Those people are X.”
    “Did you know that X is considered insulting by those people?”
    “What does it matter if they think it is insulting to be called X when they are in fact X? I call a spade a spade, sir.”

    Etc. Some of your alternatives are more specific than “I am offended by that” but the last, “You are an asshole” is a bit less specific while more intensely emotional.

    Other options are to try to get him fired from his job, try to get him blacklisted in his industry, try to get as many as possible of his associates to snub him and perhaps stop talking to him entirely, or find someone who is willing to map out his preferred traffic patterns and wait along the path with a rifle to snipe at him.

    To show him that you are offended you might, if you happen to be holding a drink in your hand, apologize for spilling your drink on him and then pour it over his head. Then while he’s confused apologize for stepping on his foot and them stomp his instep. Done right, he will be unable to chase you as you swiftly leave the area.

  46. ——————-
    It probably usually does mean “You have been rude,” but I doubt very much that it always, or maybe even usually, means the rest of that.

    I see nothing to be gained by saying, “I am offended by that.”
    ——————-

    I think this is because you have thrown away part of the meaning.

    When it only means “You have upset my equilibrium and I am upset”, the other person might not care about your feelings at all.

    When it means “I am upset to the point that I might damage you in some way without thought for my own hurt”, then they are far more likely to care.

    If he thinks you might sock him in the jaw, or try to get him fired, or shoot at him from the bushes, he is likely to be concerned. He doesn’t know what you will do, but it is likely to be unpleasant.This has far more effect on assholes than “You have got me upset and I might go find a private place and cry about it”.

    And so John Barnes claims that sometimes the only appropriate response to offensive statements is a sock in the jaw, and he puts examples of that in his novels. When Buzz Aldrin, an aging astronaut, was confronted by someone who claimed the moon expeditions were faked, he punched him in the jaw and the police refused to arrest him for battery. Barnes of course thought that was the only appropriate response.

    I disagree. Physical violence is not an appropriate response to symbolic communication you don’t like. But I can understand the urge.

  47. So, the discussion about whether or not emotionalism is antithetical to rationality is very interesting, but I am still stuck on the side issue of how theism inevitably leads to reactionary tendencies (that was the side issue, no?). It seems that the root of my problem in following the logic of that statement likely lies in the fact that I may be starting from a different set of assumptions as to the nature of divinity, and the nature of the relationship between humanity and deity, than the set possessed by the maker of the statement. (Either that, or I am not following what is meant by “reaction.”) In any event, I don’t comprehend a God that would wish a return to some former time or state. That confuses me. How could such a being also be possessed of the typical qualities we assign to Deity, such as love, for starters. How could a truly loving God wish to “hold back” those he loves perfectly? Rather, wouldn’t such a being be intensely and even solely interested in their eternal progression?

  48. “Physical violence is not an appropriate response to symbolic communication you don’t like. But I can understand the urge.”

    And now here, while I entirely agree with your rule, I must insist that there be exceptions. In the case you cited, I don’t think Commander Aldrin had a better option. How can an abstract, symbolic response reach a man who can stare into an astronaut’s face and tell him that he faked it all?

    In this case, I think we should consider the punch to the jaw as the exact equivalent of a Zen roshi cracking a meditation student on top of the head with a bamboo staff. It wasn’t really violence, per se, but a friendly attempt to help that individual achieve enlightenment.

  49. Zen roshis always struck me as self-righteous assholes with a philosophy to justify being self-righteous assholes. It’s amazing how many ways humans say “I hurt you because it was good for you.”

  50. What kind of materialist schematizes symbolic communication and physical violence as utterly distinct categories?

  51. Humans deal in symbols—everything’s symbolic, though literal-minded people don’t realize this and therefore confuse the literal and the symbolic. The question is how aware you are of the implication of your symbols. Hitting people to enlighten them, for example, is great if you’re a fan of hierachy.

  52. Will! I never knew you had such dry humor in you. Well done.

    Since you’re in such a mood to amuse today, riddle me another one:

    In what way is socialism not the identity politics of the identity “working class”?

  53. Hitting people in a koan is different from hitting people as a standard practice in teaching.

    While I wouldn’t be surprised if actual Zen monasteries were subject to hierarchical power formations like pretty much all other organizations (including no doubt anarcho-syndicalist collectivesas well) I really don’t think some parable of a smack to the head enlightening a student has much to do with authoritarian approaches to controlling groups.

  54. Chaosprime, “working class” is a relationship to capital that can change in an instant. A social identity is fixed by society: you’re female or black or Jewish no matter whether you own the means of production. That said, I would agree that the vague American “middle class” is a social identity, but that’s as easy to change as your clothes and, if you’re a decent mimic, accent.

    Miramon, I’m sure I sounded like I’m coming down harder on Zen folks than I am. But I have always wondered where the stories are of Buddha hitting people to enlighten them. I didn’t encounter them when I was studying Theravada Buddhism–though maybe I’ve forgotten them, ’cause that was a long, long time ago.

  55. I’m not a Buddhist, but the only stories I know of regarding Zen Buddhists hitting people as part of teaching are in a couple of koans, which can hardly be taken as accounts of systematic brutality. No doubt many posers have done it in attempt to appear cool, but is it really part of ordinary Zen practice? I mean, in real Zen monasteries, not in whatever fakish things might be established in the west as for-profit institutions. I know that discipline is very severe in some Buddhist sects, but in Zen?

    Of course Buddhists through history in both of the main branches have been just as warlike, violent, and hierarchical as any other religious groups, often with extremely lame and embarrassing explanations of how they are not departing from the eightfold path after all. The most egregious example is saying that the enemy isn’t fully human, so killing them doesn’t incur a karmic debt any more than killing an animal does.

  56. My understanding is Zen in Japan before WW2 was pretty hardcore, but I haven’t studied this. Just as Catholic nuns are said to hit less than they used to, I suspect Zen masters do, too.

    Apologies for the distraction. I should’ve just addressed the first part of larswyrdson’s comment: I enjoy stories about violence, but I think Aldrin punching first is just plain wrong. Gene Autry had it right: cowboys don’t hit first.

  57. See, I was all stoked to chat about sexual dimorphism and then I see the commenters are all occupied with things like the nature of truth, whether there is a reality beyond perception, and the priority of human needs.

    Sigh.

    My hope is generally to find some way to talk about the important things that won’t drive key players away in a huff. Granted, you may view off-stomping huffers as not-key-people for philosophical reasons, but I’m sure who’s key depends on the particular problem we’re trying to solve.

    For me, the interesting question in sexual dimorphism isn’t whether it exists – studies have demonstrated some marked, consistent, and material dimorphism in nonhuman species where the risk of offense is reduced – but whether in humans there are any that matter. In birds, the dimorphism controls whether you make your living building nests, singing, dancing, performing aerial acrobatics, displaying colorful feathers, or what have you – and within a given species these tasks are sometimes rigidly determined by gender (and in some traits, also by exposure to modeled behavior during critical periods). The question to me is, do we really think there are human traits that are so unavoidably different between genders that it’s safe to assume something about an individual from mere knowledge of the individual’s gender?

    If individual variation is large in comparison to the supposedly dimorphic variation, does it practically matter? Take height. Suppose men are “taller”. Even if true, knowing the gender of the next person to walk past doesn’t help you know what height to look for their face … unless you know you are tall or short, in which case you’re expecting to look down or up anyway – in which case you can still be wrong because individual outliers can really blow expectation. And is that what this is about? Dimorphism suggests some average difference, so individuals are offended that the supposed truth in the dimorphism is so often wrong for individuals? And if, like height, the dimorphisms in humans involve some trait that each share in some degree … does this matter as much? My own expectation is that there are a bunch of identifiable dimorphisms, but that in humans their effect is either swamped by non-inherited impacts (education, diet, etc.) or are less than the variation between individuals.

    Maybe the offense comes in our intended use of gender stereotypes. For example, if height corresponds with income (and there’s some suggestion it at least corresponds with promotion and rank), and we have a gender gap in income, maybe we should be studying why performance-irrelevant criteria are impacting compensation so consistently. There may be a specific call to action in there, and it may relate to gender differences, but it need not prove the the status quo has any special virtue (may do the opposite), nor must such study support assumptions about a trait in individuals based on mere knowledge of gender.

    On Zen: Chill. There is no swatting Buddha.

  58. “In the case you cited, I don’t think Commander Aldrin had a better option. How can an abstract, symbolic response reach a man who can stare into an astronaut’s face and tell him that he faked it all?”

    How is this an adequate option?

    Say, somebody finds the President of Enron in a public place. They go up to him and say “You defrauded millions of people. How do you live with yourself?” The President of Enron socks them in the jaw. How is that different from Aldrin doing it?

    When you do that there is a chance the police will arrest you for battery. The other guy will then get a lot of publicity. What’s the chance? I’d guess 20%. 10% for Aldrin because he’s an astronaut. Is it worth that chance?

    There is a chance the other guy will hit you back. He might be better at it than you are.

    “Do not enter into political discourse without knowing what you want to accomplish and why, after which you can give some thought to how. ”Because he’s wrong,” is not a sufficient reason.”

    Aldrin had been forced into political discourse. Whatever he said or did would be considered a response to the other guy’s claim. To my way of thinking, punching the guy gives him too much legitimacy. But Aldrin got to decide what he wanted to accomplish. Maybe one of his goals was to persuade everybody “I’m a manly man who will punch people who get too far out of line.”. He gets to choose. I get to say it’s a bad choice.

  59. skzb

    “What kind of materialist schematizes symbolic communication and physical violence as utterly distinct categories?”

    That, my friend, is an entirely valid point, and a nice expression of something that’s been niggling at me for a while. Yes. I mean, clearly standing up and saying, “I think you are incorrect,” is different from shooting someone; but it isn’t nearly so clear that those lines don’t get blurred at some point. For example, threats of violence; or even arguments so passionate that a given individual feels intimidated.

    ‘In what way is socialism not the identity politics of the identity “working class”?’

    That strikes me as playing with words. But, to take it seriously, here are two answers:
    1. Because class distinctions, unlike the forms of distinction made by those who believe in identity politics, do not vanish because thinking changes. That is, remove all racist thoughts from everyone, and you have solved racism. Remove all “classist” thoughts from everyone, and you still have a majority of humanity that must live by selling it’s labor-power, and a small group that sells the products of the labor of the first group.
    2. Because (in my opinion, of course) the economic position of the working class as the working class gives it the power to make a revolutionary transformation of society such that equality becomes possible; the others do not.

  60. Violence vs threats of violence vs …?

    It may be worth recalling that “assault” encompasses a wide variety of behaviors that place the victim in reasonable fear of imminent harm. Under this standard (which appears in legal sources, so has some authority even though it may not provide the definition you choose to use), a credible threat of violence is itself violence.

    But there’s a big difference between saying “I believe you have this one wrong” and “You know, I’ve flogged fools for less and buddy, you’re next.” So mere disagreement isn’t violence, although a verbal attack may still be an attack.

    And I think this goes back to offense: when people think they’re attacked, they say they’re offended. So, how to you conduct a debate about the ideas without entering a conflict between the people? In other words, how do we keep discourse civil?

    skzb: on point 2, is there a source to which you’d direct people to understand the goal or end-state of the transformation? Or, put differently, what’s the idea that won’t bring the participants back to the original state? The experience of survivors of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions seems to suggest it’d be nice to design a scheme to avoid similar results.

  61. I would propose that communication that is purposed to maintaining a subject population in a state of subjection, or returning a formerly subject population to that state, has very little in common with communication that is purposed to an earnest search for veracity, and extending to the former the protections deserved by the latter is a good way to communicate to said populations that one does not give a solitary syphilitic fuck about them.

    It’s also a good way to blithely concede ground to the trolls, as seen on Wikipedia. One of its core principles is “Assume Good Faith”, generally abbreviated AGF. There’s also a saying, “AGF is not a suicide pact”. Unfortunately, that sage advice was too little, too late.

  62. skzb

    CD: For that question (a very reasonable question) I’d suggest starting with The Revolution Betrayed by Trotsky. An understanding of exactly what happened in the Soviet Union is necessary to understand the conditions under which it will not happen again.

  63. *sigh* I can’t complain when something I said while feeling lighthearted is taken seriously, particularly when I inserted into a serious discussion…

    OK, if I am being fully honest, I never believe in hitting first either. Even if I had walked on the damn moon and was faced with someone so pig ignorant that he could insist to my face that it was only a Hollywood set made from masonite and plaster of paris. Someone who had just called the most important thing I’d done in my whole life a lie, and, by extension, had called me and every relative, friend or co-worker I had ever had a liar.

    On the other hand, I truly can’t imagine what I could say to such a person under such a circumstance. “I am personally offended by what you just said”?

    Seems a bit inadequate.

    Braining him with a genuine moon rock, if I had one available, would seem the most poetic answer, but still fails the “violence only in response to violence” test.

    I suppose that, if I were in that situation, I would smile sadly at the man, retreat to a corner and quietly weep for the prospective fate of all mankind.

  64. skzb

    Me, I’d probably hit him. But then I’d be sorry and wish I hadn’t.

  65. An incredulous stare can speak volumes.

    And Aldrin’s old enough to get away with, “What, they revived Candid Camera and no one told me?”

  66. “On the other hand, I truly can’t imagine what I could say to such a person under such a circumstance. “I am personally offended by what you just said”?”

    Can you be aware enough to notice your goals? If you hit him on autopilot, before you’ve thought it out, then you get pot luck for results.

    My first thought is not to further the other guy’s goals. “Sorry, I’m not up to arguing with lunatics right now” is a start.

    If there’s a possibility that he is filming you, looking for something he can use, telling the truth with some intensity is good. “I was there. I went to the moon. We should do it again.”

    We live in a pluralistic society. We have people who believe Jesus will come back for them in this lifetime, people who believe that ancient astronauts taught the egyptians how to levitate pyramids, people who believe in Tarot, etc etc etc. If you are offended at somebody’s *existence*, you can get in a lot of trouble trying to kill him. If you accept his continued existence, then how do you want to interact with him?

  67. There are of course contexts offense is meaningful. For example if you are at a party, and someone wants to keep arguing that women are inherently inferior to men, that is offensive. Now I suppose you can insist that the way to deal with this is simply to counteract the argument with facts. And maybe if everyone there enjoys the argument that is what will happen. But maybe a bunch of people are offended, and is spoils their fun. And you have to admit there are ways to make that argument that is pretty damn offensive. And I would say at that point if the person making the argument won’t shut up or change the subject, then maybe ejecting him or her from the party is a valid actions. Cause it is a party, and people want to have fun, and there is no reason to put up with bullshit that is spoiling everyone’s fun. Maybe the host is fine with it, and thinks the people are offended should leave. And fine, the hosts house, the hosts rules. But if the host says hey I’d rather throw the the one person who is bringing a bunch of people down out than have a third of the party leave. then that is not an unreasonable choice.

  68. The flipside is there are people who rarely or never take offense, so they can discuss anything. In the case of the party, throwing someone out will be a downer, no matter how it’s done. If everyone can laugh or shrug and say the equivalent of “A chacun son gout,” it’s going to be a much better party for everyone, no matter how much they disagree about anything.

  69. “And I would say at that point if the person making the argument won’t shut up or change the subject, then maybe ejecting him or her from the party is a valid actions.”

    Yes. It gets complicated, doesn’t it? I don’t want to commit violence over symbols that aren’t themselves violent. But if I’m a host and I tell somebody to leave, and they don’t go away, what then? I guess legally I should tell them they are illegally trespassing, and then either eject them forcibly or call the police to do the same thing.

    They can do illegal nonviolent protest — maybe lie on the floor with their arms and legs spread — and you can try to drag them out without hurting them or start kicking them or whatever you prefer. You may feel an obligation to do violence to protect your private property. All escalated from somebody saying things that people didn’t want to hear.

  70. Here is a link to give people an idea of the consequences of both giving & taking offense. Be afraid…

    http://cdn-www.i-am-bored.com/media/canadian-stereotype-comics.jpg

  71. Er when I talk about ejecting from the party, I’m not talking about violence. I’m assuming the person who won’t shut up still has manners enough to leave when told to by the host. And Will, an insistent loud drunk can ruin a party for a lot people. There are occasions when asking someone to leave makes for a better party than “your goat may vary” (my deliberate mistranslation). Are you really asserting that someone can’t be verbally obnoxious enough in a party to make asking them to leave the best choice?

  72. Gar, sure, helping someone figure out that it’s time to go home is a good thing. But that suggests they’re capable of some reason, which suggests they’re capable of talking about something else if the people around them refuse to take offense and move on to another subject.

    I think you’ve been blurring two things, improper thoughts and improper behavior. I’ll happily toss someone out of a party for behavior, but not for thoughts.

  73. Do you count loud obnoxious speech as behavior?

  74. “Loud” is behavior. “Obnoxious” is thought.

  75. Can’t obnoxious also be phrasing? For that matter, is there a non-obnoxious way for one person to tell another that they are inferior?

  76. “Er when I talk about ejecting from the party, I’m not talking about violence. I’m assuming the person who won’t shut up still has manners enough to leave when told to by the host.”

    Sometimes they don’t. It can reach the point of violence initiated by you or the police, or you can back down and let them do what they want.

    I want to believe in a rule that I never initiate violence, never be the first to start that. But in practice it’s all complicated and things don’t fit together as neatly as I want them to.

  77. In my experience, guys who embark on the ‘women are innately inferior’ rant do not confine themselves to words.

    They usually follow it up with groping any woman who has not recollected an urgent and pressing appointment elsewhere, hence my rapid departure from such social events. It’s either that or relocate their testicles to the vicinity of their tonsils, which would be discourteous to my host and/or hostess…

  78. Extremely relevant, imho: http://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/the-pleasures-of-pluralism-the-pain-of-offence/

    Gar, if someone tells me I’m inferior, I’m either gonna laugh or roll my eyes. Protecting people from being called inferior would only increase their feeling of inferiority, I’d think.

    Stevie, when people don’t confine themselves to words, you can address their behavior. Moreover, in my experience, some of the most cavemanish men can be perfect gentlemen around women, while some men whose speech would delight Andrea Dworkin should not be allowed near a woman who is not armed and already aiming the weapon at them.

  79. PS to Gar: moreover, there are people who are capable of hearing an accusation of inferiority in the most innocuous statements. My favorite example is bell hooks, who can have a day exactly like anyone else might have and sees racism in every frustration, even from the working class black folks who are not quick enough to serve her because, in her view, they’re victims of internalized racism.

  80. Is this a fair paraphrase of what you are saying?:

    Offense is only in the mind of the offended. There is nothing someone can say at a party that is so out of line that it makes it worth throwing them out, as long as the tone and volume are OK.

  81. Oh, there are things people can say that make laughing at them until they leave rather likely.

    Here, I’ll be blunt. As a kid, I was caught up in the civil rights struggle–family got death threats, I got beat up for speaking up for integration, etc. So during Racefail 09, when some bourgie sjws called me a racist, I took offense–it was the last word that could hurt me. I didn’t realize that to them, “racist” was rather like “sinner” to a Baptist, a natural state of being if you subscribe to their belief system. I got pissed off when I should’ve just pitied them. It was entirely my bad.

  82. I liked the Kenan Malik article Wil referenced. It’s clearly written.

    “There is nothing someone can say at a party that is so out of line that it makes it worth throwing them out, as long as the tone and volume are OK.”

    Let me try that in Malik’s terms. You get to throw the kind of party you want to. You can have a party that celebrates the traditions of your tribe — whether your tribe is fandom, or the intelligentsia, or people who like impressionist art, or whatever.

    Or you can have a party that celebrates diversity of thought.

    Or anywhere inbetween. And your focus could be something at skew angles to this axis, but this is where the issue comes up.

    If your party caters to something the members have in common, and somebody challenges that, then he doesn’t belong at that particular party.

    If your party caters to diversity, then people who show up and get offended have only themselves to blame for attending.

    And if it’s somewhere inbetween then you have to decide where to draw the line, when a particular transgression happens.

  83. On a larger scale, the USA and Britain are kind of stuck being multicultural societies. For awhile the USA tried to be a “melting pot”. Throw in immigrants and they melted into standard Americans trying to live the American Dream. But American culture melted into mass market culture, which can fill empty hours but doesn’t mean much. Lots of Christians chose that life precisely because it came closer to meaning enough. Lots of Republicans dream of a kind of white America that’s worth dying for. Zionists can remember the Holocaust and if necessary sacrifice themselves so Israel can live. Immigrants learn how to move in mass culture but they sure don’t want to give up whatever meaning their lives already have.

    Lots of Americans don’t want a multicultural society. They never agreed to that. They want a society where everybody agrees with them and values them.They can create that if they find the right people, but it isn’t America.

    We need to get along. That needs to mean that in public you don’t take offense except to immediate threats. If somebody comes into your culture’s space and offends you, that’s their fault. If they say something in mass-culture space that you find offensive, that’s your problem.

    In practice, though, powerful groups get their way because they are powerful. You can’t publish something too sexist because feminists will object. You can’t publish something too antisemitic because semites will object. You can’t publish something anti-muslim because a fanatic might track down and kill your editor. You can criticise white racists all you want because they have no standing. Similarly you can slander communists or liberals, which to many people are the same thing.

    If you talk bad about bankers you just might have a problem about your mortgage, and you need to be careful offending rich people. If you do it to their face, some of them have bodyguards who can get away with beating you up.

    Groups that have the right kind and the right amount of power can get their way when they take offense. Other groups can’t.

    Should we avoid offending NAMBLA members and snake-handling evangelicals and drug addicts and prostitutes and convicted muggers and used car salesmen and pickup artists and neonazis? I guess. Ideally you should never say anything that might offend anyone.

    But in practice there are people who have clout that you mustn’t offend, and there are people who don’t have clout that you can offend all you want — if you want to.

  84. >If your party caters to something the members have in common, and somebody challenges that, then he doesn’t belong at that particular party.
    >If your party caters to diversity, then people who show up and get offended have only themselves to blame for attending.
    >And if it’s somewhere inbetween then you have to decide where to draw the line, when a particular transgression happens.

    Exactly. There are bars in Boston where anything negative you say about Red Sox better be as a disappointed fan, and not because you love the Yankees. There is the public square where, in terms of speech, anything should go – with exceptions for libel and criminal conspiracy and so on (Though these exceptions can and often are abused.). There is the private sphere (even in socialism) where pretty much it is “your home, your rules”. Not unlimited. Some rules you are not allowed. But within broad limits the people who live in a home get to say what goes on within it. But there are also shared spaces in between.

    In between are shared spaces. And those shared spaces don’t have to be pure open forums.Not only as a matter of law, but legitamately as a matter of right they can limit what is discussed. A magazine has editors, and editors don’t pick material just on the basis of pretty phrasing. They select material on the basis that the content is worthwhile – not necesarily something they agree with, but worth presenting.

    Imagine an engineering magazine, whose audience used to entirely white but now is about one third Black and Hispanic. And one day a long term columnist submits a column giving advice to Black engineers, explaining how to get ahead. He explains that Black engineers need to get to work early to show they are not lazy, to have a healthy diet and not eat too much fried chicken and chitlins and watermelon, not shuffle when they walk, and not being too eager to date whites. Oh, and Black Engineers should not be too excitable, but should imitate the quite dignity of Uncle Tom in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

    Now I think that an editor of that magazine would be completely justified in rejecting that article on the basis that it has zero value to its audience, will be offensive to many.

    If that editor is somehow asleep at the switch and lets the article through that article might arouse angry reactions A lot of Black engineers might cancel subscriptions, as might subscribers of other races. And maybe not everyone would be offended. Maybe some Black engineers would think it was funny as hell. “Get this guy to give us more advice” they might say. “This jerk is one of the great unintentional humorists of all time.” But overall the magazine is losing lots of subscribers.

    The editor decides that even if a few people, some of them Black enjoyed it, that overall articles of this type don’t have much value. This is an engineering magazine with a limited page count.Space in the magazine should not be wasted on unintentional humor. That can be saved for college magazines and blog posts. So the editor, having decided he genuinely showed poor editorial judgement, apologizes – because apologizing is what many people choose to do when they think they have made a mistake. Further the editor promises that changes will be made in the magazine to insure that this kind of article does not slip in again. Because editors make editorial judgments in every issue, the editor genuinely believes that there is some bullshit his readers should not have to put up with in this magazine.

    And I dont’ think there is a general principle to decide if this editor is right or wrong. It is NOT a free speech issue. It depends on the facts of the case. What kind of magazine is it? What kind of article was it? If the magazine is of a type such that this article genuinely did not belong in it that the editor is right that he showed poor editorial judgement, and thus right to apologize and to make sure it does not happen again. The editor may also be wrong, but again it depends on the actual normal range of articles the magazine publishes and the nature of that particular article. And yes offensiveness is part of editorial judgement. While a magazine should not confine itself to inoffensive works, a professional journal should have good reason before it offends its readers. If an article is trying to give good advice to a segment of its readers and instead is not only offensive but displays ignorance about them, that is not a very useful article.There may be other useful things about the article, but they had better be damn useful before a good editor will choose to publish it – especially in the context of a professional journal.

    Yes there are people who choose to take offense lightly. But that does not mean an editor should never take offensiveness into account. It just means that whether an article is legitimately offensive is one of the things the editor has to consider – not whether it will wilt delicate flowers but whether there is a damn good reason to be offended at it. And yeah, that means the editor has to (horror of horrors) make a judgement. There is not magic forumula. The editor has to decide based on what in his or her judgement is appropriate for the particular publication he or she edits.

  85. C,D, said: “For me, the interesting question in sexual dimorphism isn’t whether it exists – studies have demonstrated some marked, consistent, and material dimorphism in nonhuman species where the risk of offense is reduced – but whether in humans there are any that matter.”

    Oddly enough, there ARE sexually dimorphic traits in humans that have a psychological effect on society and cause difficulty in the struggle towards equality.

    Human females are more neotenous than any other species of primate. That means we retain juvenile traits, and most never develop the physical traits that show sexual maturity in males. While you may not be able to tell much of a difference between a male bonobo and a female bonobo, other than a size difference and external genetalia, the difference, physically and visually, between male and female humans is quite large, AND there are many secondary sexual characteristics that female humans never develop.

    We do not grow facial hair, our eyes remain large in proportion to our faces, our hips remain at a juvenile tilt (which is NOT helpful for birth!), are among the secondary sexual traits that stay juvenile in female humans.

    At some point in our evolutionary history, childlike women was a positive attribute, and *it is still being sexually selected for at this time*. Studies have shown that, when judging attractiveness, men will consistently find the more neotenous traits attractive. There is some evolutionary advantage to that of which we are not yet aware.

    As to how that effects us as a society? It means, to both the male and female instinctual brains, that females always APPEAR juvenile, with all the attributes, both positive and negative, associated with immaturity.

    In other words, you can be 900 years old and have all the experience in the world, but if you look like a child, and are perceived as a child, you will likely be treated as a child.

  86. Gar, are you working really hard to justify a heavier editorial hand in the SFWA Bulletin? There are people who take offense at positive references to Islam or homosexuality. Where do you stop the “offense” defense of censorship?

  87. Gar, to clarify, no one is saying private magazines shouldn’t print–or not print–anything they please. People do object to abrupt changes of policy–if the Bulletin’s going to have everyone subscribe to a speech code that’s acceptable to neoliberal identitarians, it would be nice to have a vote first. When I talk about how I would deal with people at a party, I fully realize there will be people who will forbid discussion of various subjects at their parties. Their venue, their rules. People have a right to live in echo chambers, so long as their echo chamber isn’t hurting anyone else.

  88. Could we maybe, please, stop drawing a fucking equivalency between “your statement was offensive (that is, an example of tactical offense) because it stated that I was a congenital monster who should be murdered” and “your statement was offensive to me because it stated I was wrong to call people congenital monsters who should be murdered”?

  89. Got any examples to clarify your point?

  90. http://dreamcafe.com/2013/06/13/my-feelings-about-feelings/#comment-16016, in which one W. Shetterly drew an equivalence between offense taken at sexism and offense taken at positive references to Islam and homosexuality.

    It is actually not even slightly difficult to tell the difference between people wanting to live their lives without others attacking them and people bothered by any implication that there’s something wrong with their attacking those they consider beneath them, indeed by a failure of others to join them in doing so.

  91. “Studies have shown that, when judging attractiveness, men will consistently find the more neotenous traits attractive. There is some evolutionary advantage to that of which we are not yet aware.”

    Why would there be any mystery there? In evolutionary terms, it benefits a man to have all the children he can afford. If he is involved with a woman who is older, there is a chance she will become infertile while he can still afford more children.

    If he takes on a second woman who requires separate housing, “the cost of keeping two women is twice the cost of keeping one, plus certain fringes”. Those are resources that could otherwise go into more children.

    I don’t intend to use offensive language. All of this is still true when women contribute a whole lot of work and/or monetary income.

    The actual result may not come from evolutionary advantage. It may be some random effect of advertising etc, that was not created by natural selection and that will change randomly with advertising styles. But if we want to argue evolutionary advantage, I think this approach is adequate.

  92. Chaosprime, there’s not a religion around that has never attacked people for blasphemy. I’m often amused by what people will do in the name of protecting religion. In Egypt recently, a Muslic cleric was sentenced to, I think, 11 years for burning a Bible. By the logic of protective fairness, that’s perfectly fair–insult any religion, and get punished. But I’d rather live in a world where people say, “Sure, someone burned one of my sacred texts. My faith is greater than that.”

    And yes, it is possible to tell the difference between people who don’t want to repress others and people who do. But often, the people who want to repress others claim that they’re trying to stop the would-be repressers. On the long list of things that amaze me is how often that works.

  93. “Gar, are you working really hard to justify a heavier editorial hand in the SFWA Bulletin? There are people who take offense at positive references to Islam or homosexuality.”

    Do those people have sufficient clout to get their way? Then editors must cater to them. Otherwise not.

    “Where do you stop the “offense” defense of censorship?”

    It stops when the people who want to censor are not important enough that they must be catered to.

    So, say that an SFWA article mentions something about NAMBLA and how creepy and disgusting they are, and some SFWA NAMBLA members complain that they are being slandered and they don’t like it. Would anybody care? More likely we might get complaints from members who object to such creepy things being mentioned at all because they don’t want to be reminded that such disgusting perverts exist. And that objection would be taken more seriously.

    This has nothing to do with taking a principled, fair, moral stand. It’s about giving in to people who have power. If you don’t give in, they will try to replace you with somebody they like better.

  94. “Could we maybe, please, stop drawing a fucking equivalency between “your statement was offensive (that is, an example of tactical offense) because it stated that I was a congenital monster who should be murdered” and “your statement was offensive to me because it stated I was wrong to call people congenital monsters who should be murdered”?”

    I don’t see why that matters. If you have the clout that makes people scared when you are offended, so they have to placate you, then they will placate you regardless which of these you object to. If you lack that clout then they will probably not placate you in either case.

    So why do you try to make this irrelevant distinction?

  95. @Will: Regarding repressors in liberators’ clothing, yeah, unfortunately you’re ever so right about that. I’m presently an uncomfortably proximate witness to a particularly horrific case of it working ever so well.

    It doesn’t mean that every high-minded position a petty control freak has ever dressed themselves up in and subsequently (or concurrently) betrayed is wrong. Seductive as that interpretation is.

    @J Thomas: Some vague ethical notion that, all other things being equal, the desire to not be punched in the face is superior to, and should be indulged and supported in preference to, the desire to punch someone in the face.

  96. @chaosprime, I keep using the example of NAMBLA although I don’t really know much about it.

    I have the strong impression that if a NAMBLA enthusiast were to speak up in pretty much any public occasion anywhere, and try to tell his side of the story — why he likes what he does, why it’s OK for him to like that, how happy and exciting his life is when he isn’t being persecuted — a whole lot of people would be offended and would not want him to continue.

    And if some of those people offer to punch him in the face, what would it take for you to support his right to speak out versus their right to offer to punch him in the face? A whole lot of people would not feel it was appropriate to support him even if they were not feeling disgust themselves.

    However, of 20% of the male population belonged to NAMBLA and had firearms and a reputation for being touchy about insult, it would seem prudent not to offend them and their rights would be considered at least as valid as those of Muslims or gays.

    So I think ethical ideas are useful for individual human beings, but they don’t play much part in the sweep of history.

  97. Chaosprime, the positions are often as admirable as can be. It’s the tactic I disagree with. There are certain things that will backfire, no matter how carefully you choose your targets. The first three that I can think of are the death penalty, concentration camps, and restricting free speech. Hmm. Add torture to that list, and include forced feeding as part of the definition.

  98. @J Thomas: NAMBLA doesn’t seem like a very good example for the context. You’re constructing it as if it were simply about visceral disgust, but it’s a lot more relevant that the general consensus is that the behavior it advocates for constitutes a degree of assault rather a bit worse than punching someone in the face. If there’s a credible case to be made that what’s being advocated is outright harm to innocent people, yeah, it will take a lot to convince me that we should dismiss and ignore all critics of said advocacy as hysterical, self-righteous outrage addicts trying to repress others so as to secure iniquitous privilege exclusively for their grubby little identity faction.

    When the credible argument falls on the side that what is being advocated for is harmless to beneficial, as with, say, NORML, there might be an argument there. But it wouldn’t take much for me to stick up for the NORML guy, despite the balance of power in society still evidently being tilted against him. Not that I’d go to the barricades to keep him writing paeans to tetrahydrocannabinol in the SFWA Bulletin.

    I’m sure you’re right that the vulgar exigencies of power mostly define the broader landscape. Though of course individuals’ ethics are part of the construction of those exigencies. Luckily for me, I am an individual human being, not a broad sweep of history.

  99. @Will: That’s reasonable. I suspect that there’s a magical transformation from “editorial oversight issue” to “free speech issue” that happens when people you are mad at are complaining in a fashion you don’t like, but, y’know. Details.

  100. Chaosprime, here’s one that may be relevant: changing the rules without warning. The Bulletin always expected readers to assume that writers were speaking for themselves. It’ll be interesting to see if that policy changes after the uproar by people who want to limit what old guys may say when reminiscing about women. Forbidding things which had been permitted in a magazine will always seem like censorship to believers in free speech, no matter what their personal views of those things may be.

    So far, you seem to be arguing for the freedom for other people to say what you want them to say.

    And I don’t think we’re going to get past our fundamental assumptions, so I’ll once again try, in my weak way, to drop this now.

  101. skzb

    Will: “So far, you seem to be arguing for the freedom for other people to say what you want them to say.”

    Christ Jesus, Will. Are you even aware of how inflammatory that is? Are we dealing with a kind of tone-deafness here?

  102. Do let me know what the third option is here. If you mean that some censors support some speech that only annoys them, sure, no argument. But this is what censorship boils down to: silencing others because you only want to hear what you want to hear. I have a lot of sympathy with the emotion, but none with the practice.

  103. Requiring that someone’s column be appropriate to a publication in order to be included in that publication is not silencing them. Moreover, I don’t support silencing any of the parties in question. I also don’t support them blathering in places their blather doesn’t belong, any more than I support some guy screaming in my ear on the subway.

    I really don’t give a fuck about anybody’s expectation that because they got away with sexist dipshittery yesterday, they should get away with sexist dipshittery today.

  104. I’d bet the people who raided the lesbian bookstore in Canada under Dworkinesque pornography laws would agree that “sexist dipshittery” should be suppressed and certain things are not appropriate to a publication.

  105. “Take it somewhere else” isn’t suppression. You have yourself indicating that being boring is sufficient cause to consider material inappropriate to a publication, so I guess we can all be Godwinned together.

  106. “If there’s a credible case to be made that what’s being advocated is outright harm to innocent people, yeah, it will take a lot to convince me that we should dismiss and ignore all critics of said advocacy….”

    Yes, sure, it’s OK to censor evil people, and it’s OK to threaten them, and it’s not OK to try to censor people who threaten them, because they are evil.

    We’re getting close to clarity.

  107. lol. Yes, I am the Politically Correct Censorship Bogeyman. That’s me!

    BOO!

  108. Seriously, Chaosprime, isn’t this the argument from morality that pretty much everybody uses?

    Like, a fetus is as innocent as it gets, not having had much opportunity to sin, and abortion is murder, about as harmful as it gets, so doesn’t it make sense to censor anybody who is anti-life?

    Similarly, when somebody makes arguments to seduce people away from a Christian lifestyle, it hurts them. They are likely to wind up taking drugs and doing meaningless sex, throw away their lives and stomp on their souls. So anybody who supports a life apart from Christ should be censored.

    Meanwhile the nation is at war. (Not a declared war, but still.) Anybody who publishes something detrimental to the war effort is committing treason, they are indirectly responsible for US casualties, and at the very least should be prevented from publishing in the USA. If they want to publish, they can emigrate to some other country and publish there.

    It isn’t just you and NAMBLA, everybody does it.

    Meanwhile I have not read anything that NAMBLA has to say. Probably I could find a collection of their writings somewhere but I just haven’t been that interested, and I haven’t stumbled on anything in any public forum. I can imagine things they might say.

    Love is a wonderful thing and people should have the chance to experience it at an early age. Physically, the human anal ring is amazingly flexible and resilient — more so if people of both genders learn to stretch and exercise it starting young. If they wait until they are older then it may stiffen up and cause them pain. It’s simply healthier to start young, with expert guidance. And the wonderful sensations

    I don’t feel like continuing. It’s possible that they might say things that would seem reasonable to someone with an open mind. Your claim of damage may possibly be as false as that arguing that everything but Christianity is damage. As you point out it is the general consensus, but how many people have experience with it, or have even heard the other side? How are they qualified to be a consensus?

    By a curious coincidence, the groups that are so powerless that they do get thoroughly censored, get little sympathy from anybody. Could there be some explanation for that, or is it just some mysterious accident?

  109. J Thomas- seriously? Are we taking the argument that far? NAMBLA is not a repressed minority whose philosophy is ignored because they lack political power, they are a vanishingly small band of pedophilia apologists. If advocating the rape of children is defensible, then what limits are there on free speech? And, if you accept no limits on free speech, then what exactly is the ethical framework that you are using to justify your support of even that principal? Do what thou whilt shall be the whole of the law?

    Between your seemingly unlimited moral relativism and Will’s unreasoning terror of FemiNazis, I am have trouble taking this conversation seriously at all,

  110. Larswyrdson, feminazis? Seriously? The feministsf wiki says I write strong women, and that’s because I’ve been in awe of feminists all my life. It’s only the bourgeois identitarian sect I dislike. Really, if you do your research, you’ll find there are many different sorts of feminists who disagree strongly with each other. I don’t agree with all socialists–no one could–but that doesn’t make me someone who talks about pinkshirts.

    Well, unless you live in a binary world. Then sure, there’s no difference between me and Rush Limbaugh and Malcolm X, because we all have written that identitarianism is the wrong way to deal with the world’s problems.

    As for free speech, being able to advocate something and being able to do something are very, very different. For example, I don’t want a world in which murder is legal, but I also don’t want a world in which people decide we live in a Murder Culture, and therefore anyone who uses death metaphors is Pro-murder and must be silenced. But I do want to live in a world where self-proclaimed anti-murderists can argue for the forms of censorship that they believe are “decent”.

  111. “NAMBLA is not a repressed minority whose philosophy is ignored because they lack political power, they are a vanishingly small band of pedophilia apologists.”

    Maybe they are a floor wax AND a dessert topping.

    “If advocating the rape of children is defensible, then what limits are there on free speech?”

    Do they actually advocate rape? I haven’t seen what they do in fact advocate because they have been so utterly unsuccessful at getting their ideas out and I haven’t made a big effort to look them up. Don’t they say they want consensual relationships with younger people? Well, but the mass culture says that people below the age of 18 are not capable of consent, so it has to be rape. Ah. I guess that means they must be advocating rape.

    But you know, women under the age of 40 aren’t really capable of deciding for themselves whether to get abortions, so somebody else should do it for them…. We don’t have that consensus, but maybe we could get it….. The consensus ideas about consent do not make sense. Which doesn’t say they are necessarily wrong, just they really do not make sense.

    “And, if you accept no limits on free speech, then what exactly is the ethical framework that you are using to justify your support of even that principal?”

    I can’t say I have it all thought out, but my preference is to say that it’s OK to think anything. If we have to do double-think, if we have to notice what thoughts are not allowable and be careful not to think them, that’s a big burden.

    I say it’s OK to think anything whatsoever, and then choose which thoughts to pay attention to.

    Further, I think it should be legal to say anything whatsoever in public spaces. If somebody hears something they wish they hadn’t heard, then they should not have listened in public.

    However, sometimes speech has consequences. Like, if you tell somebody “I intend to kill you later today” then they might decide to kill you first. Or somebody else might kill them and try to blame it on you. It’s a stupid thing to say.

    Or you might say something that offends powerful people who will do their best to hurt you in various ways. You could lose your job or contracts and have trouble finding income. If your lease is month-to-month you could lose it. Your taxes could be audited. You could be shot, or kidnapped and disappear like Judge Crater or Jimmy Hoffa. Somebody might send embarrassing photos — real or fake — to people you care about. Etc etc etc. If you say things that get people upset then bad things might happen to you and nobody can prevent it.

    If somebody says something that offends you, should you do things to hurt them? When it’s somebody who would or did do that to you? I don’t recommend it. What has been said cannot be unsaid. You must find a way to regain your equilibrium, regardless whether you hurt somebody. If you feel better just because you hurt somebody, you’ll have it to do all over again the next time somebody says something similar.

    Better to find a way to deepen your understanding so that you aren’t so much affected by it. Consider the matter, and think out whether there is any way they are right, or whether they are all wrong, and what it means. Accept that people can have that idea — people can have any idea whatsoever including ideas that simply do not make sense.

    When the fact that it can be said doesn’t bother you so much, then you can notice whether there’s anything useful you want to do about it.

  112. skzb

    J. Thomas: ” people can have any idea whatsoever including ideas that simply do not make sense.”

    I must admit, you’ve proven that point beyond doubt.

  113. Will

    If you do your research you will discover that the feministsf wiki does not exist; it was mooted but it never got off the ground. Laura Quilter’s bibliography at feministsf.org appears not to have been updated since 2007 but she tweets regularly.

    Broadly speaking, and as a very general rule, lecturing people about the need for them to do their research whilst demonstrating that you have not done yours is unlikely to inspire them with anything other than derision.

    J Thomas

    The definition of paedophilia is having sex with a child who has not reached puberty. Either you know a lot of 17 year old’s in urgent need of medical treatment or you are confusing the statutory age of consent, which differs according to the legislation in different states, with the biochemical facts determined by scientific methods which establish whether a particular child has reached puberty.

  114. J Thomas- I have no more words for you. I am not at all sure we are speaking the same language.

    Will- I am afraid to say that I have never read anything you have written, other than on this site. I certainly wouldn’t cast aspersion on you as a writer, sight unseen. I will certainly try to read your work in the future.

    However, on this thread, you have repeatedly invoked your anti-identitarianism as an absolute counter to any suggestion that demeaning women is in some way undesirable in a writer. Andrea Dworkin has been mentioned more than once. Even a mildly expressed desire for professional behavior in a publication for professionals in your profession has not come close to meeting with your approval.

    I understand you are a man of strong principals with a clearly defined political philosophy, but I hope you will forgive me if I read your tone on this thread as just a little strident.

    I hope that was a more nuanced read than conflating you with Rush Limbaugh. 😉

  115. Stevie, you should never say “do your research” lightly: It may not exist now, but it did. That’s where Kathryn Cramer was accused of outing Coffeeandink by putting information on the wiki that Coffeeandink had been putting in public posts on her LJ.

  116. Larswyrdson, if you ever read Orwell, I hope you won’t assume he was a capitalist because he criticized Stalin.

    I do think it’s wrong to demean women; I don’t think censorship is the proper response to demeaning anyone.

  117. …and now I am embarrassed by my emoticon! I am sorry, I didn’t know that would happen… honestly, I am not 13!

  118. When someone demeans women in a professional publication and others call for this to be prevented in the future via editorial oversight, and you call this foul play, unless you would equally call foul play if people called for editorial oversight to be applied to a column which consisted of the words “gluble gluble gluble” repeated hundreds of times, you aren’t sticking up for free speech, you’re sticking up for sexism.

  119. Will

    Tempted as I am to opine on the necessity of distinguishing between the past and present tense when purporting to produce testimonials on one’s own writing, I have no intention of becoming involved in reopening that particular can of worms.

    I shall therefore restrict myself to amending ‘never got off the ground’ to ‘crashed and burned shortly after takeoff’, a fate which I profoundly hope will not apply to the 8.15 am London to Athens on Monday, and get back to my packing…

  120. Will- I have read Orwell (well, Animal Farm and 1984, at least, not any of his essays that I can recall) and I recognize that there are more than two political theories in the world, and that there are countless interpretations of each.

    But I also think there are more options than Free Speech and total censorship. Yes, every day we are given opportunities for political discourse. Some of those opportunities are with people who sling demeaning speech as chaosprime brings up, or, as J Thomas kindly and repeatedly pointed out, speech advocating criminal behavior. Whenever that speech is in a public forum, I think there can be rational checks (like editorial oversight) on it without destroying free discourse entirely. I understand that you don’t think that is true. I even have some understanding of why you think that and sympathy for your position.

    My only point was that someone who knew you only from your posts on this thread and the SFWA thread might think that your disdain for anyone who felt maligned for their perceived social subgroup trumped your advocacy of free speech. I am sure that is not so. I am sure that your commitment to speech is the stronger motivation. But in many posts, your passion seems to run the other way.

  121. The primacy of free speech is not consistent in Will’s argumentation.

    The upshot being that Those People Don’t Get Their Way is consistent in Will’s argumentation.

  122. J. Thomas: ” people can have any idea whatsoever including ideas that simply do not make sense.”

    skzb: “I must admit, you’ve proven that point beyond doubt.”

    Thank you. I think. 😉

  123. Stevie: The definition of paedophilia is having sex with a child who has not reached puberty.

    I finally took a quick look at what these people have to say.
    http://www.nambla.org/

    They are opposed to “ageism” and arbitrary age-of-consent laws. I didn’t notice them mentioning anywhere their opinions about sex with pre-pubescent children, but at one point they did mention that often boys 5-10 years old will fall in love with TV icons like the Marlboro Man etc. They claim that very often it’s the youths who initiate sexual contact. That seems plausible to me for post-pubescent people, when I taught high school I got propositioned by various girls and gay boys, and I never propositioned anybody. I suggested they wait until after they graduated….

    They definitely are talking at least partly about post-pubescent youths, but in my quick scan I didn’t see them categorically deny the other. They naturally stress consensual relationships.

    I can see why they are despised. They appear to allow pedophiles to be members. And they didn’t accept lesbians who like underage girls, or heterosexuals. That has to limit their appeal even more.

  124. Larswyrdson, I hear you on the emoticons. The theory is lovely–people constantly misunderstand tone on the interent–but the execution’s kinda embarrassing.

    I strongly recommend Orwell’s nonfiction. Homage to Catalonia is very useful for understanding what drove a socialist to write Animal Farm and 1984, though Down and Out in Paris and London is probably an easier read for most folks.

    I’m not opposed to editorial oversight. I’m opposed to editorial oversight that imposes a politically-driven speech code in a non-political organization. SFWA has, historically, included right-libertarians, conservatives, liberals, reds, and anarchists. They should all be free to speak as they please.

    Stevie, your culture’s way of saying, “I’m sorry, I was wrong” is interesting. But really, don’t worry about it. Who has never asserted something that didn’t turn out to be a mistake?

    As for testimonials, they’ve never been time-stamped.

    Chaosprime, you seem to think primacy is a synonym for something like “absoluteness”. I’ve been professionally editing for decades. I love editors in the way I love librarians: done right, there is no nobler calling.

    But you are right that Censors Don’t Get Their Way is consistent in my argument, no matter what political views the would-be censors may have.

  125. “My only point was that someone who knew you only from your posts on this thread and the SFWA thread might think that your disdain for anyone who felt maligned for their perceived social subgroup trumped your advocacy of free speech.”

    From what I’ve seen, Wil tends to stick up for the underdog.

    Usually the underdog is asking to be allowed to present his views. If the underdog demands that the dominant side get censored, there isn’t much chance of it happening. So in that particular case it isn’t very important to stand up for the right of the dominant group to speak their mind. He might stand up for them anyway even though they don’t need it, because it’s the right thing to do. But they don’t need it.

  126. Yeah, I really think it’s kind of a joke to have boring content subject to editorial oversight, and stupid content subject to editorial oversight, but as soon as content insults women, now it’s political speech! And must be protected at all costs! Because the wrong kind of feminist will get mad about it!

  127. Chaosprime, okay, what are your rules for which women must be protected? Do you discount anti-censorship feminists like Christine Hoff Sommers because they’re the wrong kind of feminist?

    I might be more convinced by would-be censors if they ever supported censoring their own views. At least free-speech advocates support their opponents’ right to speak.

  128. Not actually having a white knightly program of “protecting women” on my agenda, the closest thing I have to such a rule is that if people are telling me that something is fucking bullshit they shouldn’t have to put up with, to evaluate whether, in context, the thing appears to be fucking bullshit and whether it is necessary to ask them to put up with it, and if it is the former and the latter is not the case, to offer what trivial support to their position I may have to spare.

  129. “…if people are telling me that something is fucking bullshit they shouldn’t have to put up with, to evaluate whether, in context, the thing appears to be fucking bullshit and whether it is necessary to ask them to put up with it….”

    I’m closer to clarity on this now. Thank you.

    So, suppose that somebody who was not a science fiction writer wanted to publish a SFWA article about why science fiction is bad in principle and should be made illegal. SFWA is a private space for people who agree that SF should not be illegal, and it makes sense to censor him in that space. (If such a movement might succeed then writers might want to hear about it, but that’s a different question.)

    What if various science fiction writers said that homosexuality is something that a professional bulletin should not make them put up with, so there should be no mention of that. Well, but there is a significant minority of homosexual SF writers, and some of them are members. Why should their issues be censored just because some homophobes are uncomfortable about them?

    What if various science fiction writers said that homophobia is something that a professional bulletin should not make them put up with, so there should be nothing that smacks of that in the bulletin? Why is that different? I guess the argument could be made that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition and a free choice and part of a person’s fundamental nature, while homophobia is a violation of other people’s rights and so nobody has a right to it. But bullshit aside….

    Similarly, it would be absurd to say that women shouldn’t be science fiction writers or SFWA members, and the bulletin shouldn’t publish anything about women’s problems as writers. But then some women want the bulletin not to publish anything that reminds them of sexism. Sexist SF writers should be censored so that women don’t have to put up with them.

    I say, a group of insiders has a right to censor outsiders in its own space. But when they censor other insiders they are heading for problems which might possibly bite them. When insiders refuse to accept other insiders as they are, one of the *smaller* problems is that the people who are excluded may leave the group.

    How does this fit your example of boring SF writers? “I’m a boring SF writer. Many SFWA members are boring and proud of it, and we deserve our fair share of the Bulletin to bore other writers. You can’t get away with censoring us!” I can’t quit see it….

  130. In general, I am not likely to judge self-expression that leaves other people the fuck alone as fucking bullshit, and self-expression which is designed to be harmful to others (including pique at others who are not like oneself being permitted self-expression which leaves other people the fuck alone) as fucking bullshit.

    “I am gay and proud!” is not fucking bullshit, and if you take offense at it, you are, in fact, manufacturing the offense as gone over in the earlier part of this thread.

    “I am gay and breeders should be kept in concentration camps so they stop killing the planet!” is fucking bullshit, and nobody should have to put up with it in their professional publication.

    Where you’re having a problem is making the leap from hostile content to hostile people. Neither C.J. Henderson nor Valerie Solanas’s ghost need to be prevented from publishing in the Bulletin ab initio. Editorial should have their eye on C.J. Henderson and Valerie Solanas’s ghost, like everybody else, to see that they do not publish hostile content in the Bulletin, and pay their kill fees if they can’t manage to write anything which isn’t fucking bullshit that SFWA’s members should not have to put up with.

  131. Chaosprime, do I correctly remember that elsewhere you referred to the Bulletin or its editor or the writers targeted by the offended community as shitting on women? If so, would you say you are now shitting on women like Felicity Savage?

  132. Will

    When I apologise I say ‘I apologise’; I’ve always thought that was the best way of doing it.

    Your understanding of my culture is as minimal as your understanding of what worries me.

    That could be translated into ‘not everyone is a male trust fund baby whose primary health concern is his future dental care’, but it would be hopelessly inadequate, so I will get back to my packing…

  133. I haven’t the faintest idea why Felicity Savage is extra special in this matter.

  134. Oh, Stevie. I must admit there’s something hilarious about being lectured about privilege by someone who lives in a nation with universal health care and who has just jetted off to Athens, while I’m living below the poverty line in a working-class neighborhood.

    And, yes, I know you’re not acknowledging the fact that you were simply wrong. I don’t really expect you to. Privileged is as privileged does.

    Chaosprime, I’m trying to figure out how you pick and choose which people to support in your calls on censorship. I just read this, which seems relevant:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/21/55123/

    It notes: ” Transgender activist Joelle Ruby Ryan has written that the terms “female” and “sex-class” are “offensive and passé.”” Do you now support a speech code for the SFWA Bulletin that bans “female”?

  135. “In general, I am not likely to judge self-expression that leaves other people the fuck alone as fucking bullshit, and self-expression which is designed to be harmful to others (including pique at others who are not like oneself being permitted self-expression which leaves other people the fuck alone) as fucking bullshit.”

    OK! So when Mike Resnick wrote that Bea Mahaffey was beautiful and competent, do you think it was designed to be harmful to others? That looks like the event which started the SFWA mess. People got upset that he said it.

    How about the retro cover with the chain mail bikini? How harmful was that?

    CJ Henderson wrote a page that looks pretty peculiar to me, but that didn’t seem to me to harm anybody. Did someone volunteer to write something to present an alternative view? Or did they just get enraged that it was published? Where’s the horrible harm?

  136. Will: No. I don’t find Ryan’s claim credible, not that I know any more about it than your link’s context-stripped quote.

    J Thomas: There’s this concept called objectification. You might want to look into it.

  137. Chaosprime, people do objectification sometimes. Should it be censored? If so, why?

  138. If I may be permitted a specific statement rather competing in the “grand illustration of high-minded principle that somehow accidentally winds up lending all its actual support to a disgusting status quo” sweepstakes:

    If someone is “doing objectification” in a trade publication where professional support is to be expected rather than objectification dialogue, then whomever is responsible for the integrity of said publication should put a stop to it, which behavior I suppose we may lionize with the term “editorial oversight” or demonize with the term “censorship” according to whether we think dehumanization narrative is the most preciousest of all political speech.

  139. Chaosprime, so you’re comfortable with offending transfolk now, but not the cis women whose understanding of privilege makes them think they should be able to censor anyone they take offense to?

    And how do you judge a “credible” offense? It seems extremely credible to me. The speaker doesn’t seem to be faking being offended.

  140. Will, I outlined a heuristic for you above. If you run it for this case, I bet you can find where it terminates.

  141. Chaosprime, here’s more about the trans advocate who you’re content to offend:

    http://www.transadvocate.com/category/joelle

    Is it fair to say you take the side of cis women because you’re transphobic? Because really, if the point of censorship is to keep offended social identity groups from reading things that might cause them to take offense, cis women have far more privilege in our culture than trans women.

  142. I wouldn’t say that I am “taking the side of cis women” because I don’t think the usage of the word “female” is somehow a particular concern of cis women considered as a political bloc, nor that cis women meaningfully are a political bloc. (I am ignoring the issue of the term “sex-class” because what the fuck even?) What I am doing, I don’t feel like it’s fair to assign to transphobia, no.

    Specifically, what I am doing is skipping, for the sake of argument, the part where somebody is telling me something is fucking bullshit, since that isn’t happening, then examining the claim of whether the use of the term “female”, in context, is fucking bullshit. Since I have no indication of context, I am examining the use of the term “female” in all contexts. I am aware of no compelling reason to view the use of the term “female” in all contexts as fucking bullshit. End of run.

    You’ll note that in my heuristic, someone being offended doesn’t prove anything. I feel like it’s nice if I listen, but it doesn’t replace my judgment.

  143. Chaosprime, is it fair to say that when you choose which side gets to censor on the basis of having taken offense, you prefer to offend trans women?

  144. I don’t believe so, no. I prefer to offend whoever’s full of shit. If someone wants to use their Bulletin column to talk about how trans women are not women because women are things that have vaginas (see Penny Arcade flap of yesterday), I will most likely prefer to offend that person.

  145. Chaosprime, so you think trans women are full of shit, and therefore you don’t care when they’re offended?

  146. What? No. Are you reading any of this? I have no compelling reason to believe that the use of the word “female” in all contexts is terribad, so I am not motivated to action by Ryan’s putative offense at it.

  147. Pretty great article you linked to there, by the way.

  148. Chaosprime, is it your cis privilege that makes you indifferent to the offense that your language gives a trans woman? Are you erasing transfolk here? And if your preference for cis women’s issues doesn’t make you transphobic, what should your unwillingness to support these transfolk be called?

  149. 1) No. 2) No. 3) Hmm. I think I’ll go with “unconvinced”.

  150. Chaosprime, you do realize that you’re enabling transphobia by not opposing it?

    And what gives you the right to not be convinced by a trans woman? Don’t trans folk get to decide what offends them? A trans woman has declared that language offends her, yet you shrug it away.

  151. 1) No. 2) Possession of my own critical faculties. 3) Yes. 4) Yes.

  152. So you think that you, a cis person, are entitled to tell trans folk what may offend them? Do you also feel entitled to tell black folk what may offend them?

  153. Well, as you might observe from my commentary on people being offended at others existing, I actually feel entitled to tell everybody what’s legitimate and illegitimate for them to be offended by. I am more likely to avoid telling the people who are already on the bottom of the heap about it because I figure they have enough problems.

  154. So you don’t think trans folk are lower on the “heap” than cis folk? Do you also think men are lower than women, and whites are lower than blacks, and gay/lesbian/bi folk are lower than straights, and non-Christians are lower than Christians? If so, I disagree with you in every case. Those are all battles that we’re winning, but the battles continue.

    Or is it only trans folk that you think are privileged, so what offends a trans activist doesn’t matter to you?

  155. Hunh? Of course trans people are down the pecking order from cis people. And women viz men, blacks viz whites, queer viz straight. You do have Christian viz otherwise written correctly, though (unlike the rest). I imagine that’s an error?

    I’m saying that I’m not going to go out of my way to tell Ryan of my lack of support, whereas I might very well do so with some Christian gentleman offended at teh gays wanting to be all existy and shit.

    I only informed you of it because you asked and it would be awfully poor of me to be uncooperative when you get all sexy and Socratic.

  156. Well, I gotta run away from the internet for a while. Chaosprime, I hope everyone realizes your cis-sexism comes from ignorance rather than malice, but if people get angry at you for supporting language that offends trans folk, don’t tone-police them.

  157. Uh huh. 🙂 I’ll try to keep my tone-truncheon in my ignorance-jackboots while you’re away. Toodles!

  158. Just caught your last message. If you think trans folk are lower on the pecking order, why are you supporting the cis people who are higher?

    I did goof up my list: I meant to ask if you thought straights and Christians were lower than GLBTQ folk and non-Christians. I hope Stevie won’t take offense if I simply say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” I don’t have time to try to come up with a reason why my mistake wasn’t a mistake.

  159. Because oppressed status doesn’t mean one is always right or nothin’.

  160. “oppressed status doesn’t mean one is always right or nothin’.”

    My work here is done.

  161. Chaosprime, I might have a sense of your position now.

    In deciding what to censor, instead of making some general principle you look at positions which look wrong or inappropriate to you, and those are the ones you think should be censored.

    There’s a kind of purity to that.

    I could point out that this is basicly what everybody who calls for censorship does — christians, blue-nosed-anti-sex guys, conservatives and liberals, nazis, feminazis etc.

    But that’s OK, you’ll support the ones who are right and oppose the ones who’re wrong.

    “Everybody I know who’s right agrees with me.”

    I think your position is logically consistent. I can imagine it might be a good way to do things, since the world may become a better place if bullshit gets censored while truth is repeated.

    Have I misunderstood you?

  162. Will: It is always a joy to see someone satisfied with the product of their earnest labor.

    J Thomas: That’s about it, yeah. This system operates based on my judgment of what is okay and what is not okay being the one I prefer to rely on, and if it were the foundation of a political system, it would be the foundation of an autocracy. So, y’know, possibly its progressive credentials aren’t the most immaculate, but I’m not trying to found a political system on it.

    Mostly what you left out is that there’s a heavy dependency on context. I would be infinitely friendlier to a call for some horrific nonsense or other to be censored from the SFWA Bulletin than for someone’s personal blog to be censored from the internet because of its unrelenting devotion to horrific nonsense, for example. This being related to a distinction I draw between custodianship and silencing.

  163. Will

    I am fortunate to live in a country with universal health care, free at the point of use, but you do seem to overlook the fact that it is paid for by our taxes; you, on the other hand, have structured a system where your ambition is to pay no taxes at all.

    Equally, the trust funds you were happy to exploit enabled you to avoid being saddled with massive education debt; the same cannot be said for my daughter who will spend the next decades paying it off. She is a hospital doctor; she has just finished day 5 of a 12 day shift having worked from 7.30 am to 10pm. She has another seven days just like that before she gets a break. Unsurprisingly I worry about her.

    But then she worries about me as well because amongst other things I have severe bronchiectasis, my lungs have been colonised by hypermutating multiresistant pseudomonas for many yearsband, more recently, an apparently unshiftable proteus has colonised my lungs as well.

    And thus, in the absence of any medications which will actually kill those bacteria, my lung consultant falls back on the oldest advice of all: go somewhere warm, and breathe some decent air, and I am duly going somewhere warm and I will breathe some decent air.

    When I come back I will embark upon an 8 week intensive course of unpleasant physical treatment which may possibly do some good, but may do some harm. My daughter worries about that as well.

    Of course, I’m lucky to have been able to work for at least some years; that is unusual for someone like myself, but it means I can actually go somewhere warm. But a quick stroll through Pubmed is sufficient to demonstrate the fatuosity of describing someone like myself as privileged…

  164. J Thomas: It might all make more sense if you know that I think Iain Banks’s Culture is the best thing we could hope to develop into, and probably a good bit better than is likely.

  165. chaosprime: I haven’t read Ian Banks. I think my wife has, I’ll ask her about it.

    I sort of think the culture of Katherine MacLean’s _The Missing Man_ might be about the best we can hope for, and better than is likely. I feel like I’m a better person for reading it, though.

  166. Stevie, I am sincerely glad that you have the privilege of going to a warm place. I wish everyone did. And I’m sorry you’re sick. If you want to claim I have health privilege, I’ll roll my eyes at the worldview in which everyone is either oppressed or privileged, but I have always been lucky so far as my health goes. I hated working as a kid and envied the kids who didn’t have to, but it probably was good for me.

  167. The saddest thing about the Culture is we could have had a low tech version of it at any time in history. All we had to do was distribute stuff better and come up with better names for our ships. Oh yes, and eliminate all forms of bigotry, tribalism, and strife.

  168. Will

    I devoted my career to fighting the corner of the generality of taxpayers against very wealthy individuals and even wealthier corporate structures, since none of the latter wanted to pay any tax at all.

    It is difficult for a government to provide such things as, for example, universal healthcare, financial support to those in need, education for all, if it doesn’t actually have any money to pay for it. There have to be very highly trained public servants capable of persuading wealthy individuals etc. that, upon reflection, they really do want to make a contribution to the society they are making lots of money in. Obviously this has rather more to do with the ability of those very highly trained public servants to find ways of making them contribute than it has to do with their excellent conversion skills.

    I was one of those very highly trained public servants, and whilst the NHS has spent a lot of money on keeping me alive, it got an excellent return on it’s investment, as did education for all and people in need of financial support, amongst others. Whilst I certainly subscribe to ‘paying it forward’ I also subscribe to ‘paying it sideways.’

    The rich can afford top dollar lawyers and accountants, so the generality of taxpayers needs people like me to level the playing field.

    And so I did, until it finally reached the point when I was spending far more time in hospital than in my office and I had to retire.

    Having read your ‘pay no tax strategy’ I view you as no different to the wealthy investment bankers who adopted precisely the same strategy; this is probably unsurprising since a lot of them are trust fund babies as well. The only difference is the amounts involved, and George Bernard Shaw nailed that one long ago…

  169. When the conversation devolves into trying to prove that the other guy is no good according to our own ethical standards, is it really worth continuing?

    Is there something else we could discuss?

  170. Stevie, if you want me to say there are problems with the tax-resister strategy, I already said that years ago. On the other hand, I do have the satisfaction of knowing I haven’t contributed money to killing Iraqis and Afghanis, or toward imprisoning folks at Guantanamo. So I can’t say I regret having taken an ineffective approach. Paying the empire while you claim to oppose it is, shall we say, problematic, both pragmatically and philosophically.

    As for your notion that I’m a trustfund baby, you have a remarkably simplistic understanding of class mobility. But more importantly, do you generally disapprove of class traitors? Identitarians seem to think it’s significant that Engels was middle-class. That observation bores the rest of us.

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