When My Joke Hurts You

A dear friend of mine was hurt recently.  If you want the full story, it is (linked with permission) here. The short version is as follows: They were playing a game in which someone puts the name of a character (real or fictional, living or dead) on your forehead, and you ask yes or no questions until you guess the name of the person.  My friend discovered that she had spent several hours with the name “Hitler” on her forehead.   I know some of you will be feeling a bit queasy on her behalf, and others will be going, “What’s the big deal?”  Okay, permit me to add that this took place in Haifa, Israel.

My youngest daughter has recently been hurt in the opposite way: as I understand it, she, an aspiring (and, in my unbiased opinion, very talented) comedian, agreed to take part in a show that had a theme (mental handicaps) that many people found offensive and unsuitable for humor; sufficiently offensive and unsuitable that she has had to sustain barbed comments and cold shoulders from some people she considered friends.

In commenting to my Israeli friend, I said some things that (again, with her permission) I want to repeat here so I can hear smart people (that’s you) talk about them.

Some things are so horrible, that some have to laugh about them or the horror will take over their lives. Others, confronted by that same horror, have to pretend to laugh at them to convince themselves that they’re strong enough not to be beaten down. Others laugh at them because their friends do, and they’ve never stopped to think about it. Others laugh at them because they have no trace of sensitivity, and just don’t give a fuck about other human beings. So, at least four different reasons for the same behavior.

The dilemma, as I see it, is something like this:
1. No one has the right, through humor or any other way, to needlessly hurt someone else.
2. No one has the right to decide for another how and when to use humor to relieve suffering.

This contradiction is what makes it so hard for me to get a grip on. It’s complicated even more because there is absolutely no subject of humor that will not offend or hurt someone.

There are those with an attitude that goes something like this: “It was just a joke. If you can’t take a joke, you need to lighten up.” The kindest thing one can say about this attitude is that it is over-simplified; we don’t all respond the same way to the same kind of pain, and your coping method might be exactly what makes it impossible for me to cope.  More typically, someone with that attitude needs to be sequestered from other human beings so he won’t do any more harm.

When in doubt, I err on the side of caution, because the damage to someone who is sensitive about whatever one is laughing at is more significant than the benefit for someone it helps, at any given time (you can tell the joke later when there’s no one around it bothers). But usually, one doesn’t know one has crossed the line until someone reacts badly, and then one is, first, puzzled, then ashamed, then (sometimes) angry or determined to justify one’s self. It’s ugly as hell.

I have no conclusion; I’ve been wrestling with this for years and gotten nowhere.
Edited to add:

Some years ago, my friend Nate Bucklin and I went to visit a friend in the psych ward of a hospital.  Because it was Nate and me, we brought guitars, and a party ensued.  During the party, Nate played his version of “Mama Don’t Allow,” which humorously references several forms of mental and emotional illness–the very conditions those attending the party were dealing with.  I recall very clearly that the patients all found the song delightful; the staff, however, thought it was Not Funny.  Take from this what you will.

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0 thoughts on “When My Joke Hurts You”

  1. Tricky.

    In the case of your friend, what happened was inappropriate. Having a person in the room with that name assigned to them is perhaps thought-provoking for the other participants, but your friend was made an unwilling central participant. Other people discomforted by it could simply avoid the person bearing the name. She did not have that option. Had I been organizing the function and wanting to include Hitler in such a game, I think I’d have given that name either to a ringer, or to someone who I personally knew would not be upset by it.

    (Her involvement, having the name literally pasted to her forehead, was also much more personal than simply listening to a joke)

    I think you have to err on the side of caution, as you describe, because any possible benefit to some people in the audience from telling the joke is largely lost when someone near them reacts in horror. Humor-as-therapy requires knowing the audience.

    Humor at the expense of a non-power group is very difficult to pull of in an acceptable way unless you’re part of the group in question. A good comic can make light of their own group and have others nodding ruefully in acknowledgment – the exact same joke from an outsider will often get a different response. From someone who shares the background, those jokes are expressing a common experience, reinforcing in-group ties. From an outsider, they are easily perceived as mockery. I don’t think it’s IMPOSSIBLE for an outsider to tell those jokes and have them be funny, but it’s very hard. It’s made easier if you have some sort of established ‘cred’ with the group already.

    In your daughter’s case…was this event by invitation? Was it organized by a mental-handicap advocacy group or something of that sort? Both of those things would help the reaction from people who HAVE those handicaps, I think. Of course, the question of whether or not members of the group you’re telling jokes about will find them funny has very little to do with whether other OUTSIDERS will think you’re being insensitive. They may leap to the defense even when none is needed.

  2. I’ve come to a place where, among my long time friends, I say what I like, and we trust each other enough to realize that non of us are in-human hate filled monsters. Around others, I largely keep my fool mouth shut, because it will invariably get me into hot water.

    That’s one solution

  3. whenever someone is offended by humor, whether on purpose but especially when on accident, I flash back to the first time I read Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land, and what prompted Valentine Micheal Smith to learn to laugh…

    Humor is the plaster spackled over all of the daily pain that if we did not laugh, would break us down into unending tears. To laugh is to acknowledge the pain, share it, and make it less.

  4. You seem like you have a thorough understanding already. There are only a few key elements:

    1) People react to jokes differently, sometimes with glee, sometimes with great sorrow.
    2) The joke-teller (as all performers, yourself included) has to tailor his performance to his audience.
    3) If he gets it wrong, he has failed immensely.
    4) If he gets it wrong and blames the audience, he has failed both to be a joke-teller and to respect his audience’s values.

    This is a performance, just like writing a novel. You have a good idea at this point at what your audience–well, let’s make it more simple. You have a good idea of what I want out of a book, and I have a good idea of what you will give me as a performer. If you write your next book, title it “Space Marines Vs. The Jenoine,” and make it largely scatological humor, you will have delivered something that your audience (and I think I can say safely everyone in the universe) would not want. You would have injured me, to the extent of $30 or however much I foolishly spent on the book, and I would resent you and not come back until you made it up by writing a really good duel between Sethra and Verra.

    If you cultivate an audience as a clown — even among your friends, even as a non-professional artist — and you tell a joke that they don’t find funny, you have failed as a clown, but they’ll still love you. If you go further and mis-appraise them so badly that you grievously offend them and hurt their feelings, you have failed not only as a clown, but as a friend. It’s essentially proving that you don’t know these people, and you have values that are totally alien to them. The excuse line, “Don’t be a baby; it was only a joke,” clearly establishes that you not only don’t share their values, but that you don’t value their ability to choose what’s important to them. That will break a friendship.

    You say that, “When in doubt, I err on the side of caution,” and it’s because you don’t want to damage people — and that’s respect for other people’s feelings. That’s kinda what makes a good person. Sometimes mistakes will happen, especially if you don’t know your audience well; that’s the risk inherent in joking around with strangers. But you probably stay away from potentially super-offensive joke topics — like rape, or abortion, or Hitler — until you know whom you’re dealing with. People who don’t stay away from topics like that, I would say generally don’t give a damn whom they’re dealing with.

    Sorry, tl;dr: Know whom you’re dealing with. That resolves the dilemma fairly easily, I think.

  5. I definitely recognize the problem. So much of what passes itself off as “edgy” humor these days, so deemed because it bats about with touchy topics and groups, is really just a retread of the same old racism, misogyny, homophobia or other prejudice flavor-of-the-month. That’s not edgy or transgressive, that’s just the same old retrograde social hierarchy beating on the same old underclasses as ever.

    Sean’s commentary about knowing your audience, and about its being at least a little different when you’re telling the jokes on yourself, have some validity, but all too often I still find that the more I pause and think about why something’s funny, the less often I’m pleased with the joke when I’m done.

  6. It’s the interpersonal communication version of the Risk vs. Reward home game. After a period of time experiencing a certain culture, one gains a rough understanding of what subject matter is and is not offensive to those people (common sense). One wishes to make jokes to entertain, express oneself, curry favor, etc, so there is a reward in engaging in this behavior. However, the risks arise in broaching potentially offensive subjects when doing so and achieving the opposite of the desired effect. These subjects are, in my opinion, easy to avoid through aforementioned common sense, which results in a safe and innocuous sense of humor. And we all know that offensive, or almost-offensive, jokes are the best kind.

    I personally just tone down my humor regarding material that targets people that tend to take themselves seriously. I may make jokes concerning handicapped issues, but never in a way to insult or ridicule the handicapped. I may joke about Nazis around my Jewish friends, but never in a way that forces people to sympathize with the Nazis. If I’m in a room full of people that wouldn’t mind if I blindly insulted a whole class of people, well I may be free to do so, but I’m more likely to conclude that I should probably be in a different room. And if I’m in a room full of people determined to be insulted by everything (certain church folk perhaps)? Same conclusion. They’re equally poisonous to me and to be avoided.

    Now dick and fart jokes — those don’t target anyone specific and are just hysterically funny.

  7. @mearn4d10: In the ideal world, to laugh would be to acknowledge pain and lessen it. Among select groups of trusted people, like Ben’s friends upthread, perhaps it is. But unless used correctly, humor can be (and often is) used to downplay and diminish genuine distress.

    If someone came up to you sobbing that his loved ones had been killed, and you laughed, he probably wouldn’t think you’ve “spackled a plaster over his pain”. He’ll punch you in the face. I echo what others have said: know your audience. And, first and foremost, do no harm.

  8. It’s a part of the human condition that we’ll never connect with every person we meet 100% of the time. Humor is only one of the many ways we can fail to connect with another individual. It’s always a good idea to stop and consider whether you’re the source of the problem, but on the flipside it takes a measure of humility to accept that sometimes it’s not about us. Sometimes it really *is* them. Two simple principles will help you navigate through most human interaction.

    1. Don’t be a dick.

    2. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

  9. Looking at your Dilemma.

    The dilemma, as I see it, is something like this:

    1. No one has the right, through humor or any other way, to needlessly hurt someone else.
    2. No one has the right to decide for another how and when to use humor to relieve suffering.

    I have to disagree from the get go and say that both are wrong statements.

    Looking at the first I would say, yes, yes they do have that right? If you take that statement another way, it says that ‘a person has the right to not be needlessly hurt’ (verbally, we can keep this away from the physical). This is the same idea that is pushing the PC movement. Who says I am not allowed (morally, legally, whatever) to verbally hurt someone? Legally I’m allowed to say anything I want to get a point across (never mind the finer points of yelling fire). I can walk up to someone and say the most hurtful thing (some jokes I know) and they have no right protecting them against this. (excluding harassment and the like)

    Morally speaking its up to the individual, but I for one am annoyed at the idea that I or anyone else ‘needs’ to be protected against words. I hope I can hold true when I say that no matter what horrible things someone says to me, I’ll be able to deal with it like an adult and deal with it by either leaving that person or violating them (biblically).

    With your second point, I would have to say again, yes they do have that right. I use humor far too often to deal with suffering and the like. I laugh at jokes about the holocaust, blatant violation of human rights, victims, and even politics because these things are so horrible and significantly beyond my realm of genuine understanding that I believe getting sad and depressed grants these ideas power over me.

    I am sorry that people get insulted, it happens to me all the time, but being insulted is something we all have to be able to deal with. *steps off soapbox*

  10. @Joseph:

    >> I am sorry that people get insulted, it happens to me all the time, but being insulted is something we all have to be able to deal with.

    Uh, by that logic, people get run over by drunk drivers all the time, and we should all have to be able to deal with it? As in, learn to face it quietly and not make too much of a fuss?

    Or, and here’s a radical idea, try not to hurt people (whether by inappropriate jokes or driving cars). I agree with Steve’s words about practically everyone being offended by something, and yeah, it’s really annoying to constantly bother with other people’s *feelings* and stuff, but hey, maybe it’s worth it? It might make the world a nicer place to live in.

    I think it’s pretty selfish to say “well, this is what I find funny, other people can go fuck themselves, I don’t give a shit about how they feel”. Nothing’s stopping you from saying whatever you like, of course, but then common decency isn’t enforced by law, and if none of us had common decency I think we’d all be much worse off.

    >> I use humor far too often to deal with suffering and the like… I believe getting sad and depressed grants these ideas power over me.

    That’s fine, and a perfectly valid way of coping with a difficult reality. However, not everybody thinks or feels like you, and making fun of a topic which someone else feels very strongly about can often come off as depreciating and snide. YOU feel better afterwards, but what about the other person? I think what folks are saying here is that the emotional damage caused to the other person is much greater than the little relief you may feel.

    Again, see: selfishness ; decency, common.

  11. Joseph, it’s nice that you can “deal with mean stuff,” but to basically say that everyone else should just deal with it is unfair, unrealistic, and insensitive. The problem isn’t people’s reactions, but the thoughtlessness that provoked the reaction. You might as well say that you like to eat dead babies, so people should just do the same and deal with it. And pretending that by laughing at human horror, it loses power over you, well, that strikes me as rather adolescent. If these ideas lost power over you, then why are they funny?

    Offending people is regrettable, whether your intent was humorous or not. The correct behavior is to apologize and reconsider your actions. I don’t believe people need to be protected from words or any other source of harm, but i do believe that we ought to avoid harming people. This isn’t about political correctness; it’s about playing and living well with others.

  12. Joseph @ 9: “Morally speaking its up to the individual.” Meaning what, exactly? If you claim an individual has a “right” to his own morality, then what if my morality requires me to dispute with his? I do not have the right to suggest that some moral choices are wrong? Why are you denying me my right to my own morality? Pfui.

    If it is worthwhile to discuss right and wrong at all (and I think it is), then the subject of needlessly inflicting harm on another would seem, not only valid, but at the very heart of the issue.

    You limited your disagreement to words, explicitly excluding physical harm. Why did you do so? Do you deny there is such a thing as emotional abuse? I will point out that, in the law (which I bring up because you did; it forms no part of my argument), assault can be “mere words.”

    I would like to think that most of us would agree with the old truism that your right to swing your fist ends at my nose; what we are discussing here is, as Thom Digby said, “How long a nose do you have the right to grow?” In a world where there are fists swinging in a variety of circumferences, and noses of many sizes, your argument is, to put it in the kindest possible terms, meaningless.

  13. 1. No one has the right, through humor or any other way, to needlessly hurt someone else.
    2. No one has the right to decide for another how and when to use humor to relieve suffering.

    True, but so is the reverse. I do not have the right to needlessly, and *knowingly* hurt another. But if what I said was offensive to you, and I had no way of knowing it would be, you don’t have the right to needlessly hurt me in defense of yourself either. So while I shouldn’t tell a dead baby joke if I am at your child’s funeral, if I tell a blond joke at dinner, and you find that offensive, you should find a way to tell me so in a calm manner, rather than reacting with horror and outrage and making me and everyone around us uncomfortable. So that needless hurt thing has to go both ways, from joke teller to audience, and vise versa.

    And just as I cannot choose to use humor to relieve your pain, you don’t have the right to tell me it is inappropriate for me to relive my pain through humor. So if I stand over my cat’s grave and tell her that if she plans to breathe, now is the time (true story) you don’t get to be offended by that. My cat, my grief, my coping mechanism.

    I think the most important thing is to remember that we are all of us, most of the time, well meaning humans. If I hurt you, presume I didn’t do it on purpose, calmly tell me that you are hurt and tell me what I can do to fix it (hug, apology, public statement, refrain from doing that again now that I know), and then ACCEPT whatever method I use to make good. I then owe you, the offended party who has calmly communicated your unhappiness, the respect such self awareness and attempt at communication deserves: I shouldn’t tell you to lighten up, or defend myself as just joking, but rather say that I’m sorry and endeavor to remember not to tell such jokes in your presence again.

    If I do tell you to lighten up, thus treating your boundaries and sensibilities as unimportant, then you can consider me an a&&hole, and rightly so. But until I willfully and knowledgeably cross a line, let’s keep it calm and presume I misstated and meant only the best.

    Though from what I can see, neither of those arguments apply to your friend’s situation.

  14. Hm. Seems I get to take the insensitive ass position. To skzb@12.

    When I wrote “Morally speaking its up to the individual.” I mean that each person is able to choose their own morals. I have no wish to deny you your own morals. I was trying to express that discussing the details of morals is difficult due to each person having their own opinions, thus trying to keep my argument about the ‘rights’ defined earlier.

    And I don’t know if you were saying this but, of course people dispute on moral grounds, I think morals and their dispute are so amazingly complicated that we had to come up with the judicial system.
    Again, agreed, it is worthwhile to discuss right and wrong. And yes, inflicting harm does sound to be the very heart of the issue with respect to right and wrong.

    I limited my disagreement to words specifically because I do not believe in my previous argument beyond verbal. I think Physical situations are significantly different than verbal.

    I do not deny that emotional abuse exists, but I believe my argument again, is not valid when the situation moves beyond verbal exchange and verbal abuse. I think we just nailed the pivot point of your post.

    Where does it become abuse? Id assume that for one person the act of mentioning a subject could be emotional abuse, while others (like myself) consider words simply words. Id have to say that this changes things for me a bit. And if anyone cares about my opinion they can read further. Orrrr. People that are offended by asses, stop reading this post.

    I would rather er on the side of offending someone. I do not think I should tip toe and watch my words to the effect that I wont offend anyone. Should I modulate my speech to benefit the weakest person? The physical act of speaking is probably abuse to someone. I think we should all take the stance that words are nothing but words and that we can all choose to let them have an effect on us.

    So back to the original examples, while I see that Hitler and making fun of disabled people could offend people, that shit is funny. The girl with Hitler on her forehead now knows to not play with him, and people that don’t like retard (he said the R word) jokes should avoid that comedy club or those comedians.

    With your last statement, id have to disagree again, even if my argument was wrong (by my own or everyone’s standards), it did provide a yet untaken side of the argument (except Preston). Everyone agreeing is a boring discussion.

    This is fun. :)

  15. Joseph @ 14:

    >> Should I modulate my speech to benefit the weakest person?

    I think you should modulate your speech to fit the majority of the audience, the average, so that there is the least possible chance someone will get hurt.

    For instance: someone offended by the mere mention of cats is not representative of the majority. They might exist, but they’re pretty rare. Nobody expects you to preemptively guess at this person’s private traumas (and censor yourself accordingly, of course) because there’s no feasible way you can know something like that without them telling you.

    The Holocaust, on the other hand, is a very painful topic for a great many people, fraught with horror and grief. (Well, I’ll speak for my homeland — in Israel it is. Probably more than any other topic.) Cracking a Holocaust joke despite being aware there’s a likely chance of your audience being hurt by it — that’s being an insensitive ass, as you so astutely perceived.

    Moreover, tagging someone with a sticker on their forehead inscribed with HITLER for an entire evening, thus drawing an overt connection between that person and Hitler, is more grievous than just cracking a joke, in my opinion. As Sean (@1) said, the person’s involvement is a lot more personal, and she’s an unwilling participant in a joke that’s offensive to her.

    Look, basically, you don’t know how stuff you say will affect other people. And you may unwittingly cause a great deal of damage. If you choose to impose your personal worldview (“words are just words”) on people although that’s obviously not the common opinion, and if you choose to elevate your personal gratification above the very real emotions of others… well, yeah, you are kind of an insensitive (not to mention conceited) ass.

    I hope you aren’t offended by what I just wrote, because, you know, words! They’re just words.

  16. Some of my favorite comedians have said things I find offensive at the time.

    The way I see it, it comes part of the package.

    It depends on the person is telling the joke for the primary intent of hurting or in fact doing it for entertainment of the general majority.

    I mean, when is it appropriate to make fun of Hungary?

  17. “I mean, when is it appropriate to make fun of Hungary?”

    When you are old, and have acquired an incurable degenerative disease, and find that life isn’t worth living any more.

  18. Trying to channel Bubba here…it hurts worse when they laugh at you; it hurts less if they laugh with you. The screwups come when people mistake laughing together at someone else for laughing with someone.

    Yeah, no Bubba today.

  19. There is no contradiction, only a few unfortunate premises.

    There seems to be an assumption which no one is questioning but which is clearly and undeniably false: that we can and do in fact control the choices of others.

    If someone is offended because I do not wear a suit and tie, should I be forced to suit (pun intended) their irrational emotional desires? Of course not.

    So too with anything I say, or you say, or the other says. Even if you call me names, it is up to me to decide whether to choose to feel hurt or not. Unlike physical violence, words simply do not actually cause any harm. The choice of how to react to words causes the harm.

    So while we can recognize that someone who gleefully disregards the obvious preferences of others may well be a lout, we cannot blame her for those choices of others. After all to stay on topic and still use a clear example would we cease condemning the actions of the Third Reich simply because some descendants of nazis might be offended? Or do we simply use reason and accept that we each make the choice of how to react in any given situation?

    It is unfortunate that the friend chose to feel hurt, but it is inaccurate to say that she was in fact hurt by the joke. She was hurt by her choice of reaction.

    I am sure that there are some who will lash out in fear of personal responsibility, but even so it remains true that we each choose how to react to any given situation. Consider that most of us have been called names or “insulted” by dear friends and we took no offense, yet if those same words, the exact same “insult” is offered by another we choose to feel hurt (or perhaps vice versa). That the reactions are not identical itself proves that there is no causal relationship.

    Also consider that there have been those in our lives who sought to hurt us with harsh words, but we chose not to allow their name calling to hurt. This would not be possible if there were a causal relationship between the name calling and the hurt.

    The solution? We each take responsibility for our choices in reaction, and though I am sure will be “hurt” by this suggestion, we grow up a little..

  20. “Unlike physical violence, words simply do not actually cause any harm. The choice of how to react to words causes the harm. ”

    Man, I am so tired of this one. It came out of the alchohol rehab movement, worked it’s way into self-help, and has never had a shred of validity. Yes, it is possible to define “harm” in such a way that words don’t do any, but to do so you need to restrict the definition so much that it is easier to say “mutilation” instead.

    Are you sincerely arguing that emotional abuse does not exist? Or are you arguing that it exists, but does no harm? If either of those is true, this discussion must be suspended until you take your meds.

    Those who keen about “personal responsibility” remind me of the Southern Baptist or the Northern Lutheran: Christianity consists of a set of beliefs that your neighbors ought to live by. If you’re in Texas, add “bless their hearts.”

    And may I remind you that those who engage in PHYSICAL abuse typically give the same argument? “If you hadn’t made me so mad, I wouldn’t have had to hit you.” Sound familiar?

    Listen. This is a complex, difficult issue, but the part I’m talking about now is very simple: If you say something that causes someone pain, and then you justify it by saying that person chose to feel pain, you are denying your personal responsibility. And if you follow it up by talking about personal responsibility, you expose yourself as a fool as well as a scoundrel.

  21. Dude, I just don’t know. And you know, I like to think that not knowing and thinking about that fact makes for the potential to do right. Or, at the very least, to do less harm.

    Not enough people in this world think from more than one perspective.

    I’ve become a bit addicted to authors’ blogs. And in Robin McKinley’s, a while back, she made a point about “othering” and how she believes it’s responsible for most of the world’s wrongs. Okay, so it was a bit part in a post about other things, but it was also a post that got me to rummaging through and then getting addicted to authors’ blogs:


    I tend to agree. When you label someone an “other” it’s possible to say all kinds of hurtful things about them, and to them. That post is from May, and I still think about this “othering” all the time.

  22. It’s simple. Sometimes you just need to know how to sincerely apologize when you’ve inadvertently seriously hurt someone.

  23. okay, well. I just got to this thread, waded through it, and now i think i need a shower and a mint.

    Joseph, are you just playing devil’s advocate? or are you really that obtuse?

    And on the other end of the spectrum we have Storm….hm.

    Allow me to paraphrase, if I may, the dilemma:
    I have the right to crack a joke to make myself (and others) laugh, but at what point must I sacrifice my mirth to avoid moral censure.

    On one extreme we have “what moral censure?”, on the other we have “what moral censure?” (yes the repetition was intentional)

    I don’t have it in front of me so I’ll have to paraphrase and hope I’m not wrong, but the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America allows us the right to free speech, as long as it does not result in harm to others. i.e., assault can be ‘mere words’, emotional abuse, death threats…none of which are covered by the 1st Amendment rights.
    So, the attitude of ‘I can say whatever I want and everyone else can go jump’ is misguided, even in the Land of the Free.

    I do agree with those who have said the key is to respect your audience, and yes blunders will be made, and i do agree that reparations are in order at those times. The question, however, to my understanding, was ‘how does one avoid those blunders?’

    (If the solution was simple, it would not be an issue, and this thread wouldn’t even exist. )

    skzb: in my opinion, the incident with your friend was regrettable…whoever thought that was funny should rethink his/her values…something of that nature was no accident, but deliberately offensive…a name chosen specifically…your friend’s co-player crossed the line. It was not only insulting to her (or so I had the impression), but insulting to anyone she came in contact with (who I presume didn’t know what it was about). I doubt the harm was intentional, but the joke was poorly planned and harmful, and could have had other reprocussions.

    the incident with your daughter, her situation is a lot closer to the line of demarcation. The show may have been poorly suited for its intention, and perhaps she should have considered her moral obligation a little more deeply. By the same token however, as humans we do tend to laugh nervously and humorize those things we fear or do not understand. Also, humor draws attention to it in a way that allows us to consider it later on, rather than averting our attention in horror. So, if THAT was the intent, then perhaps it wasnt as morally wrong as it may have appeared. Whatever the reason, he friends acted pretty strongly towards it, as naturally they’d have their own opinions about the topic and perhaps wondered if they’d mistaken your daughter’s values. However, it seems to me that their shock is predicated upon not understanding her intentions, rather than her values. A little communication would remedy that. Her situation seems, to me, to be more at the crux of your proposed dilemma than the other incident. Did she cross the line?

    I guess then that it boils down to intention. If your humor hurts others intentionally, it is inappropriate. If your intention was humor, but was selfishly so (it only matters that YOU think it’s funny), again inapproriate. If your intention is to engage someone else (whether to make laugh or to make ponder, or both) but offend accidentally, then an apology may be in order, but you committed no outright immorality.

    And last, it is NOT the responsibility of the listener to guess the intention of the speaker. It is up to the speaker to state things in a way so as not to be misunderstood. If you challenge and ridicule my experiences and values with your so-called humor, thats your bad.

  24. Actually the observation that words do no harm comes from simple facts, clear observation, the application of sound reasoning, and of course familiarity with causation.

    Yes people often use dishonest excuses like “If you had not made me mad I would not have hit you.” But the dishonest claims, or if you prefer mistaken claims of one or more people in no way makes those claims true.

    Or do we suspend reason and also adopt the claims of the extreme religious zealots who tell us that the world is 5-7000 years old also, merely because they claim it?

    The examples already provided prove conclusively that there is no causally necessitated link (yeah I realize that this is redundant for those who are familiar with causation, but seems a useful redundancy here).

    But let’s look at it another way, if we could in fact control the emotional choices of others, then why not just immediately force that person to stop feeling hurt? If you are able to force one, then you can necessarily force the other. But as we know from experience, we cannot force someone to feel good, feel bad, stop mourning, start caring, or any other emotional state.

    There seems to be a mistaken assumption that if we don’t accept the contrary to fact belief that we each control the emotional states of others, but are incapable of controlling out own, then nothing anyone else does is worthy of criticism. Clearly we can note the boorish behavior of others, without ever assuming this complex and unsupportable set of beliefs about abilities to force others to feel some emotion.

    Rudeness, in no way depends upon actual harm. So we can s[till take note of someone being rude, inconsiderate, or whatnot without ever making any assumptions about some complex set of beliefs about controlling the emotional states of others.

    Finally, not accepting a proved false assumption never makes one a fool, much less a scoundrel.

    The way you are using “personal responsibility” is identical to what I came across all too often while counseling rape victims: Others would claim that they asked for it because they were women, or because they were dressed wrong, or because they were outside, or some other bizarre non-causally related aspect. Taking responsibility for that which you can actually control, is what it means to be personally responsible. Taking responsibility for that which is outside of your control is not merely irrational, it is personally harmful and often acts so as to excuse the responsibility of others for their actions.

    Don’t mistake correlation for causation. But if I am mistaken and you can force someone to be happy when they are sad, or to stop mourning the loss of a loved one, please share that secret to controlling the minds and emotional choices of others so that we all may reduce the suffering in the world.

  25. I think the belief that “words do no harm” that I’ve seen crop up in a few comments here (and seen elsewhere, of course) comes from (among other things) an irrational over-attachment to the childhood mantra “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” (Not to mention an amazing lack of awareness of one’s own internal processes.) Even as a kid we didn’t believe that, but it can take on almost talismanic focus, a NEED to believe it, if you’re suddenly the target of a concerted word attack.

    I don’t care how smart you are, how much you’ve analyzed or dissected out your internal landscape, how much you’ve thought about and analyzed your own responses. We are all affected by words as well as actions, though they certainly affect us in different ways. Simply saying that words do no harm, or have no effect in comparison to actions, shows a fundamental lack of understanding of both yourself and the human condition…as well as marketing, propaganda, politics, religion, and basic human psychology.

  26. Being a person who deals with grief through humor, really inappropriate humor, I’ve offended a few people in my time. I remember cracking jokes at my mother’s funeral. Even though humor helps me deal with painful situations, I still understand that at certain times a joke is quite inappropriate. My view, and excuse me if I am parroting other views already stated, is that you need to know your audience. If one of my jokes(a joke I know is offensive) hits the wrong ears, then an apology is necessary.

    I was playing a game of football after my mother’s funeral. I threw an interception and said, “I can’t believe you did that. My mom just died and you go off intercepting my pass. Jerk.”
    The joke really killed the atmosphere and I felt like an insensitive prat.

    I think my point is this. Everyone crosses the line at some time. If you do and you offend, you deserve the feeling of shame. Shame is good. If you feel shame, you’re not an ass.

    However, if you make jokes to intentionally create pain. Well then, that is abuse.

  27. I can speak from the point of view of one who is constantly being told to lighten up. As far as regular individuals go, if I pay any attention at all to someone cracking insulting jokes my question is, what was the intent behind this comment? If it’s just stupid word play someone thinks is clever I tend to ignore it, but if there is an ugly edge to it, I’ll often ask them what they mean. A lot of times the other person never bothered to think how insulting he’s being to whoever was the butt of the joke, or the comment itself reveals a very ugly way of thinking it’s important to ask about. For instance, I find your Texas Wisdom series to be tedious, because as a native Houstonian I’ve heard such down home sayings being attributed to ranchers and rednecks a million times but since there’s no daily trouble associated with being Texan, the stereotype it perpetuates is harmless. However, every single day I run into instances of being treated poorly just for being a woman because most people, including other women, think of women primarily in sexual terms, and when your first TW to include a woman was the first to revolve around sex, it perpetuated that very harmful notion, which is why it was important to ask about the motives behind it. In fact, the responses in that thread are a good example of what you were talking about, a person being offended at what was meant to be a joke, and other people being offended at my offense.

    As for comedians performing in public, that’s completely different. A person who goes to see a specific performer or amateur hour and is offended has only herself to blame for not finding out something about the performer’s style (or the club’s typical clientele) beforehand. However, a show featuring a number of performers put on by a charity or similar group needs to be avoid what could possibly seem hateful since whomever they sponsor will reflect on themselves.

    Cutting someone just for signing onto a show about mental handicaps is childish without knowing if the show itself is intended to be utterly disrespectful. There is no theme totally unsuitable for comedy, there are only comedians whose intent is to be unsuitable. Such people want to be able to insult with impunity and use the ready made defense of “you have no sense of humor”. (In a debate, it would be called “poisoning the well”.)

    And for the most general question, like any human interaction humor all comes down to empathy. Someone who makes jokes about a complete stranger in a wheelchair has completely dehumanized the other person, reducing her to a mere prop who exists only to be ridculed. Making jokes with someone in a wheelchair can be a way of showing support and friendliness.

  28. Storm @ 26: Cute. You state that there are facts without mentioning them; you invoke logic without showing it. Do you generally argue with people who are stupid enough to fall for this crap?

    And then, here, we find your method expressed in its purest form: “let’s look at it another way, if we could in fact control the emotional choices of others, then why not just immediately force that person to stop feeling hurt?” All right, mon ami. If hitting you with a tire iron can cause hurt, why not immediately hit you again to remove the hurt? I repeat my question: do you deny that there is such a thing as emotional abuse? Or are you saying it exists but does no harm?

    And then we get this: “There seems to be a mistaken assumption that if we don’t accept the contrary to fact belief that we each control the emotional states of others, but are incapable of controlling out own, then nothing anyone else does is worthy of criticism.” In this, as above, you *appear* to have made the error of erasing the distinction between *controlling* the emotions of others, and *affecting* the emotions of others. But, you know what, I don’t it’s an error at all; you are a fool, but you aren’t stupid. I don’t think you could actually believe that there is no difference between control and affect; I think you are deliberately obfuscating the difference in order to score points in a debate. As I said before, do you generally argue with people who are stupid enough to fall for this?

    Worst of all is the method underlying your method: you play intellectual games, misusing half-understood terms, in order to deny responsibility for harm to others. To you, other human beings are reduced to ideas; and human feeling, pain, distress, is mere fodder for the play of abstractions. It is ugly.

  29. “I’d assume that for one person the act of mentioning a subject could be emotional abuse, while others (like myself) consider words simply words. […] I would rather er on the side of offending someone.”

    To work by analogy, which is admittedly imperfect:
    “I assume that punching some people in the shoulder would be assaulting them, while to others (such as me) it is a sign of affection. I would rather err on the side of assault.”

    If you can (and do) acknowledge the fact that people have differing levels of tolerance to an act, it would probably behoove you to act fairly with that knowledge. Willfully ignoring those differences is an emotionally manipulative insistence on your standards, on the same . . . unnuanced . . . level as its inverse (“this offends me, therefore it should never be done”).

    Expecting others to toughen up their shoulders for you is wrong, not in the moral sense (a separate argument), but in the sense of incredibly unlikely to get you the results you seem to be aiming for. If you want to promote toughness, demonstrate it, discuss the benefits its bringing you, and help people who specifically ask for help with it. Requiring it in social interactions does exactly the opposite, by making what you say only palatable to those who already agree with you, and alienating the rest.

    (Note that I am not implying moral equivalence between a punch and a misstatement. I am using the physical analogy to put you in the shoes of someone who has less tolerance for the affronting act, as I’ve found that those who emotionally rhino-hide — myself included — are at a disadvantage in sympathizing with those who do not or cannot.)

  30. sorry SKZB I did not realize that you required formal sentential logic before we can refer to that which is necessitated. However if you would tell me what symbolic form you are familiar with I will be happy to provide that formal representation.

    Using the hitting with a tire iron disanalogy, you can use physical force to harm, such as your suggested hit with a tire iron, and you can use physical force to remove harms, such as the use of massage.

    The point made was that with this so far unsubstantiated, and unsupportable assumption that we control the emotional states of others, is that if we accept this assumption as true, then we necessarily have the same ability to remove harms, in other words to force people to be happy, as we do to force them (even against their will) to feel hurt.

    As for facts, In what form do you wish to have these presented so that there can be no doubt. I have noted several, despite your claims to the contrary, not the least of which is the complete absence of ANY evidence of causality. In fact, I noted that we all share experiences where not only was this supposed causal link not found, it backfired. For instance, I suspect that some of your comments are intended to be snide and intended to offer up some sort of insult. This seems to be the case. Now, if that causal link existed, as is being assumed, then I would necessary be harmed by such remarks. I am not, therefore, via RAA (Reductio ad Absurdum) no causal link exists. (It takes but one counter-example to disprove any universal claim)

    As for your rant on control and affect, you are playing VERY fast and loose and in doing so, first off being intentionally dishonest, and secondly abandoning your entire position in the process. If you now want to allow mere affectation, then fine there is no issue of responsibility. If you want to claim moral (as some have here) responsibility, then you must have control. Without the ability to control, you cannot be responsible. This is elementary level ethics.

    Mere affectation, is simply that. It carries no control, no responsibility for the actions or choices of others. Everything and every person you interact with affects you in some manner. Arguably the very existence of others affects you in some manner. Affecting does not equal harm, nor necessitate any moral responsibility for the actions or emotional choices of others, unlike the direct causing of physical harm.

    Your writing has affected my life, and I have spent a great many hours involved in them. Does it follow then that you have harmed me, that you are morally responsible for those actions I have taken? Or is that affectation simply a fact more or less interesting?

    I don’t debate at all. Debate is a game, just as you describe, of points and of seeking to harm others. I participate in honest, civil, intellectual discussions where individuals are not opponents to hate or try to harm, but rather individuals are in a cooperative effort where truth is the final goal. In debate truth is irrelevant, it is simply who can better bully the other.

    To prove this point, if I am wrong, why not simply reveal this method by which we can control the emotional choices of others so that we can forcibly reduce emotional pain? Why not tell us how to take away the pain from the rape victims while we are counseling them?

    There is nothing whatsoever in anything I have said which supports these absurd accusations: “Worst of all is the method underlying your method: you play intellectual games, misusing half-understood terms, in order to deny responsibility for harm to others. To you, other human beings are reduced to ideas; and human feeling, pain, distress, is mere fodder for the play of abstractions. It is ugly.”

    Having full understanding is actually the benefit here which I am trying to draw some light upon. It is acting upon the false and unsupportable misunderstandings and baseless assumptions which lend to the problems. What is ugly is to blame others because we fear taking responsibility for our own choices.

    That said, I fear that you are missing one point I keep making, that being that we can still condemn the boorish actions of others. I have stated this twice, and noted that it does not rely in any way upon dismissing our personal responsibility, our own choices, or basic aspects of causation.

    Furthermore, recognizing that we do not and cannot control the emotional states of others, and the other half of that coin, that we are responsible for our own emotional choices, gives us the firm footing in reality that allows us to actually reach out to help others. To really help that is, not to simply wave our arms about and moan, but to help others get past incidents of emotional pain.

    Nothing in what I have pointed out denies empathy, sympathy, understanding, or certainly compassion. In fact understanding causation helps in all of these, and it helps all of us avoid the games that we all too often see that allow some people to wallow in their choices, sometimes for entire lifetimes.

    FWIW, The Reasonable Woman by Wendy McElroy is a wonderful resource for avoiding some of the mistaken assumptions which underly some of the unfortunate responses you have made to that which is verifiable and necessarily true.

    As for causation, I cannot place my hands on the text at the moment, but I believe that the work, entitled Causation, also a wonderful resource, is by Rogers and Allen.

    Finally, I am playing no games. If you manage to find a way to demonstrate control over the emotional states of others, then fine all that has been known to be true about causation is simply false, and thus all of the observations I have made based upon that knowledge are also false. If not, then so what? I am no better nor worse for having presented these objectively true and easily verifiable facts. I am no better than anyone else who may have already known these or who may never have actually thought critically about these issues. The individual in any honest, civil, intellectual discussion is unimportant with regard to the objective: the truth. I literally have nothing on the line here regardless of the outcome. Even if I were as petty and “foolish” as you claim, I could not even brag anywhere that I had “bested” you or anyone as I could not demonstrate that this is me who is responding! :)

    So as I noted there simply is no game playing whatsoever. Simply an effort to offer some help. I would hope that these efforts would be taken in that spirit.

  31. Fascinating question, and there seems to be something lost in the vitriol. To use a gross word because I cannot think of a fine one, I’d say the missing ingredient is context.

    No, I don’t mean no Hitler jokes in Israel or whatever — as the party SKZB mentions makes pretty clear. Who are you, the speaker, and what is your relationship to the listener? You, listener, who are you, existentially and situationally? These things seem to matter.

    There are some contexts as a speaker when you just don’t joke about certain things: e.g., as a teacher, you don’t make a joke out of how stupidly a student answered a question, even when you find it irrepressibly funny. What that and similar situations share is the clear difference in power status between the two parties. And, by and large, that’s not contested territory.

    The problem comes, I’d suggest, when the power dynamic is hidden, when either one or both parties does not know what the relative status is — whether through avoidable or unavoidable ignorance, and the fault can lie with either (or both) parties. For example, don’t go see Gallagher and wear nice clothes and sit in the front center. More appropos to this discussion, Don Rickles regularly insulted his audience, and those offended it by it made a mistake by showing up. For unknown comics (not the guy on the Gong Show), audience and comic seem to need to give each other some slack, as there’s no way to know expectations.

    Same thing, I’d think, in other contexts where things aren’t clear. That would lead to erring on the side of caution — both in the choice to tell a joke AND to consider how to take a joke. To quote Goat, if someone offers you an insult and you don’t accept it, who has it?

    As a side note, there’s this whole other notion of “needlessly hurting people.” There is, of course, obviously needful physical harm (restting a bone, popping a joint back in place, maybe chemotherapy); and once upon a time there was recognition of the need for verbal harm, in the grand tradition of the court jester.

    But that’s not really a side note. The very notion that there are situations or conditions which can NEVER be the subject of jokes is, to me, absurd on its face, and highly discriminatory in a negative way. Making a joke to laugh at someone is not cool or funny — unless the object of the humor is more powerful than the one delivering the joke, in which case the humor is subject to evaluation.

    But when we can laugh together at, or in the face of, something horrible or monstrous or unbelievably sad, we are the stronger for it. And that’s needful, yes?

  32. “Using the hitting with a tire iron disanalogy, you can use physical force to harm, such as your suggested hit with a tire iron, and you can use physical force to remove harms, such as the use of massage.”

    Ah, progress! So, then, we have a concession that harm is a possibility when words are used?

    “The point made was that with this so far unsubstantiated, and unsupportable assumption that we control the emotional states of others…”

    “If you now want to allow mere affectation, then fine there is no issue of responsibility. If you want to claim moral (as some have here) responsibility, then you must have control.”

    Why? If I tell a stranger, “There’s a gas station 2 miles to the left,” I am not controlling him, but I am affecting his decisions. If I’m lying, I have some responsibility for the time he wastes. Though once again, it is only words.

    “To prove this point, if I am wrong, why not simply reveal this method by which we can control the emotional choices of others so that we can forcibly reduce emotional pain?” As I have said repeatedly, control is not the issue. Taking responsibility for situations where we have needlessly hurt others is.

  33. I think the point is that a joke, in this context, is a way of making something big and scary into something small and harmless.

    If I’ve been through a fire, making jokes about sitting in the smoking section is a way to reduce my horror.

    If you’re the one whose house has just burned to the foundations, I take a significant risk of belittling your loss and pain if I suggest you sit in the smoking section.

    Which, I think, pretty much comes down to the laughing with/at distinction. If I make a joke at your expense, I’m telling you it’s time to get over your loss and I’m an ass. If I’m helping you get through it with a well-placed zinger then I’m a friend.

    In the case of Hitler jokes, the difficulty I see is that minimizing the the Third Reich (or the Khmer Rogue or the current Sudanese government) with humor (or any other way, for that matter) is a slippery slope to genocide being a topic that doesn’t horrify us.

    So I would argue that there are some things that shouldn’t be the subject of jokes, on the basis that someone who is not familiar with the situation may take the false impression that it’s no big deal and people who are familiar with the situation are likely to think you’re an ass for making the joke.

  34. Basic conclusions we’ve reached so far, I think:

    1) You can hurt or help other people, with either words or physical actions.
    2) You can’t always know what’s going to hurt or help them, unless you spend time really trying to understand them individually.
    3) It’s a lot easier to blame the victim for being a wuss than it is to apologize for hurting someone.

    I am put in mind of an incident between Daymar and Vlad early on in their acquaintance, where Vlad was manipulating some witchy energies, and Daymar popped in with a “Mind if I help?” and dumped a fuck-ton more energy into the mix than Vlad was ready for. Vlad was able to support it and survive, but he was exhausted and nearly injured severely.

    Vlad’s choices here were to be honest about how he felt and how he was vulnerable (something extremely difficult for him), or to thank Daymar for his help, or to stab Daymar in the eye. He chose the second option, because he felt like it was expected, and because he already had a pretty low opinion of Daymar’s ability to help anything ever.

    The analogy I’m trying to make (which maybe I’m not doing well) should point to the fact that, if you contribute something you think will be helpful or funny, you have to know the capacities and sensitivities of the person you’re giving it to. Even if you fuck it up and hurt them, you might not know–the person might just keep you away from his incantations or cocktail parties thereafter. But blundering around with powerful words (like “Hitler” or “retard”) when you don’t know how people are going to take it can hurt them severely, and it’s a matter of how considerate a person you want to be, and how considerate you think you have to be to keep a friendship intact.

    PS- Apologies if I misremembered that scene, SKZB — I don’t remember which book it is, or how many years since I read it, but I remember thinking at the time that it outlined Daymar’s character perfectly: incredible power, zero awareness. We should all try to do better than that.

  35. Aesch: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. “So I would argue that there are some things that shouldn’t be the subject of jokes, on the basis that someone who is not familiar with the situation may take the false impression that it’s no big deal and people who are familiar with the situation are likely to think you’re an ass for making the joke.”

    I think we need to push it further. It isn’t a matter, I think, of there being some subjects we shouldn’t joke about, but of guidelines for when and when not to, and how and how not to. I think that’s the sort of thing I’m looking for.

    I really want to avoid the PC-ish attitude of, “If anyone is hurt by anything you say, you have, ipso facto, done a bad thing.” Similarly, I want to avoid the morally bankrupt position that says, “I can say anything I want whenever I want and if it hurts you, it’s your problem.”

    It seems there ought to be some general rules for things to watch out for, to be careful of, that would help us find the line.

    del: No, you got it.

  36. The net effect of this discussion is starting to look familiar. I feel I must point out a couple of things however:

    Verbal abuse is not physical abuse, you equivocate when you use “abuse” to mean both things.

    To be verbally abused the abusee must first give a flying shit about the opinion of the abuser. If this does not happen the abuse cannot happen.

    To be physically abused the abusee must first exist in the same physical plain as the abuser. It is hard to avoid this.

    The rest of this discussion is interesting, but not terribly relevant to the original question.

  37. I think there’s a point in here that others have touched upon but that I’d like to highlight.

    “1. No one has the right, through humor or any other way, to needlessly hurt someone else.”

    I think this is true. And certainly I think most cases of this are unintentional or at least thoughtless actions. But can we say what exactly is meant by “needlessly”?

    What if there are times when it *is* needful to hurt someone else, through humour? Sometimes causing pain is necessary – but sometimes it can be done gently, and humour might be a valuable tool there …

    “2. No one has the right to decide for another how and when to use humor to relieve suffering.”

    … so, on this one, I think I disagree. It may be true in the individual case, but it doesn’t scale. I think there are (edge) cases where some people do have the right to decide that it is time to start using humour to relieve suffering.

    For this to hold true, the suffering might need to be of a systemic kind, say, like that associated with mental handicaps. The “how” might need to be of a large but diffuse nature, such as a public forum. And the people making the decision should probably be experts in the use of humour: professional comedians.

    Of course, they could be wrong; it might not be the time, or the appropriate method. They’re not absolved of responsibility — if anything, they have a greater obligation to be aware of the risks. And it’s certainly possible that there *are* topics that should not be combined with humour, although I don’t personally believe that. But if anyone has the right to make that decision to force the issue, then comedians do.

    Artists (and I include comedians in that group) have a responsibility to society. Responsibility means both accountability *and* authority. It means that your daughter bears the burden (and privilege) of that responsibility. All artists do — you could probably help her to understand how to wield it appropriately.

    Does that help with the dilemma?

    As for a set of general guidelines for day-to-day use in social interactions, I think the ideas (mentioned by earlier commenters) of “othering” and “privilege” are very important ones. Definitely those qualify as “things to watch out for”. But my own grasp of those concepts is so ham-fisted that I won’t say anything else.

    (Apologies for my Canadian spelling; I would change it to match the quotes, but then it would hurt my eyes when I read what I’ve written.)

  38. Zac: I think you hit an important point regarding ‘needlessly.’ That’s one of the tough things about this. The social role of comedians is to point out ironies, contradictions, and absurdities in life; there is almost always going to be a measure of pain in that. When is it needless, when is it valid, when is it necessary? Tough questions. Obviously, it is a question that can’t be answered in the abstract, but perhaps we can find some things to look for making the decision.

    I think I also agree with you that point 2 doesn’t scale.

    I hope you appreciated the Canadian quotation marks above.

  39. If it was a joke, what exactly was the punchline? I’m not sure I see the humor in the situation. Or the offense at the situation either.

    Hitler was a real person, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t be fair game in a guess the person game.

    If the joke was simply ‘Haha, she has Hitler on her forehead.” Then it’s not really a joke, it’s making fun of her, and that would be cruel and mean and petty.

    Her journal entry is somewhat vague on if she was the butt of the joke or what exactly the details were. At least in my reading.

  40. I have many thoughts running through head after wading through all the commentary about this. One thought is that we, as a society, have lost the art of apologizing. “I didn’t mean it” isn’t really an apology. It is an excuse. The degree of intimacy we share with others varies across our many different relationships, but I like to think that even in the most casual of acquaintances that I am honest and mature enough to admit when I have done wrong.

    I am a smartass by nature(which is why I really need a familiar), but I have spent the better part of my 43 years learning to edit and save the really choice comments for those who know and love me. Just because I think something is amusing does not give me carte blanche to trample on the sensibilities and feeling of others. I may not intend any harm, but harm is still possible. When it occurs, I have to own up to the error of my ways and sincerely apologize.

    Another thought is that I am hoping Storm is not secretly in my circle of acquaintance. (I told you I was a smartass).

  41. Jennifer Robey? As in, John’s Hot Little Sister? Wow! Great to hear from you! Also, I agree with what you said.

  42. SKZB @38: I’d think the only useful guide is to examine one’s intent.

    The times I injure someone would seem to fall into two categories. My intent can be kindness, but I can mistakenly think you’re at the point where a joke about your house burning down will be funny to you and injure you unintentionally. As long as I apologize, I don’t see where any fault can be assigned.

    But if I make that joke either to be cruel to you and/or to keep you from making me uncomfortable by talking about your painful experience, I should be sanctioned for it.

  43. Nonsense. No one can ever really know anyone else’s intent. I do agree that if the offending person apologizes (apparently) sincerely, that that should mitigate the offense at least, but it’s “do no harm” not “mean no harm”.

  44. GWW @ 42: I’m the girl who wrote the journal entry. I hope I can help shed some light on this issue and alleviate your confusion regarding the situation.

    First of all, let me say that in my family, the Holocaust is not something you make fun of, ever. Many people may disagree with this view, and it is their right; still, I personally cannot stand Holocaust humour. I bear it in social situations and would never dream of denying someone the right to it, because humour can be a great coping mechanism, but it is something which I personally, quietly, privately abhor.

    Secondly, let me say that in my eyes, equating someone to Hitler is tantamount to a call to murder. Hitler was a man who needed to be killed for the sake of humanity. Comparing someone to him is saying, this person is a blight upon the existence of mankind. He needs to die immediately.

    Thirdly, there *was* a certain relation between the person and the name chosen for them. Regardless of the intention, the connection is natural; we can’t look at any two names put together without drawing *some* sort of link. In the game we had a tall, beautiful, blond-with-blue-eyes guy named Barbie. A guy with a hook nose was called Gargamel. I personally labeled one of my favourite people there, a smart and funny and capable girl, as ‘Superwoman’.

    I don’t know what the reasoning behind my own label was, nor do I care to find out. In my mind the fact it was done at all is horrible–‘Hitler’ is not a name you casually toss around, no matter the circumstances. I personally felt dirtied by having that sticker on my forehead, and I felt betrayed by my friends for treating a very painful subject with such callousness. It should not have been done at all, in my opinion, neither to me nor anyone; the fact it was done unintentionally doesn’t help much. In the LGBTC, a place which is a self-proclaimed “safe zone”, people should be at their most sensitive and empathic, and this means using a little forethought before sticking on someone’s forehead the worst name in the world.

  45. I’d like to comment on this and will say that I’m more interested in explaining my opinions of what Steve wrote.

    I’ve done some open mic standup comedy and having studied standup as an art my take on jokes and humor doesn’t seem to be mainline at all. I’ve lost friends over things I’ve said and plan to keep doing so.

    Your friend in Haifa, Israel, I don’t see issue with Hitler on her forehead as much friends making fun of her for hours. There’s a difference between a joke and a joke At someone. Context is usually everything. That being said I feel it’s a comics Duty to push the line. Comics work in comedy clubs…

    If a standup comic makes fun of a group, let’s say blacks or jews that’s different in my mind than making a joke about a single individual in the audience. In the end I feel the main point is intention. Intention is hard to define, though usually I can feel it moreso than rationally explain it.

    In the context of joking with someone I usually take them into account. When I’m doing standup I take the audience into account. Again, I feel it’s my duty to push the line. It’s my duty as a comic to find the general pulse and see if I can get it to flat line.

    What I often find with people who don’t like jokes about certain subjects is that the messenger is killed instead of those who committed the act. If I make a joke about the holocaust why get mad at me? Get mad at the Nazi’s. Get mad at the U.S. allowing it. Get mad at the Catholic church for having knowledge and doing nothing. My making a joke is just my way of trying to deal with the insanity of this world and my pain of living on earth. If I’ve done my job well as a comic, I’ve not only made people laugh, I’ve hopefully made them release their own tension and anxiety.

    Laughing releases endorphins and pain killing chemicals. To make a long story short if you don’t start laughing you will probably start crying. Comedy and jokes allow people a healthy way to deal with life.

    I don’t personally subscribe to someone can’t say that. That’s just not how I operate. On a personal basis I don’t want to hang out with people who go out of their way to focus their attention on me and make me feel bad. Context and audience is everything when it comes to jokes.

    I think joking about things is a fine expression of and good use of language. What I think is worse…is saying nothing.

    How many women do you know who talk about the abortions they’ve had? How many men do you know who talk about being raped in prison?How many troops coming home from Iraq discuss what they’ve seen? Silence is Far worse than a joke. Silence allows it to keep happening via a willing populace.

    George Carlin in speaking about Lenny Bruce said that Lenny’s true gift was being able to show you the wound. Look at it. See how it’s open and oozing? See the maggots start to gather and eating. See that crust around the edges?

    The court jesters job is to point out that the emperor has no clothes. I consider it almost higher than civic duty to continue telling jokes about everything. Sacred cows make the best hamburger.

    This isn’t done to hurt. It’s done to heal. Again, intention…

  46. How many women do you know who talk about the abortions they’ve had?

    I talk about my abortion. That doesn’t mean I appreciate crude jokes about the topic. And I have yet to hear a skillful joke on the topic.

    Getting mad at someone who makes a joke about the Holocaust isn’t shooting the messenger, it’s getting mad at someone who has made a joke in poor taste. You naturally want to defend your own actions, and clearly you feel they are defensible (or you wouldn’t take those actions and make those jokes). But don’t accuse the people who dislike your actions of doing anything other than what they’re doing: voicing their hurt and insult at your jokes. And don’t equate crude jokes with people talking about their real experiences.

  47. Miarr @ 47 So the names weren’t randomly generated and picked out of a hat?

    I can see how you might be upset if you were targeted to be Hitler. I sorta read it as a random game, sorta like charades. The clarification helps somewhat.

    Who else would you consider off limits?

    Alexander the Great? Gengis Khan? Mao Zedong? Pol Pot? Atilla the Hun? George W Bush (cheap shot!)? And on and on.

    I mean, history is literally littered with war mongering murderers, it would be difficult if we had to side step around all of them.

    I appreciate that the Holocost was a bit more recent than some of the crimes against humanity that have occured in our somewhat checkered past, but that doesn’t make it any more or less important than the rest of them to me.

    I know I may be a minority in that.

  48. Robert: Thanks for commenting. I can see some of what you’re saying: There IS a difference between targeting an individual for a cruel joke–whether intentionally or unintentionally cruel–and a comedian forcing us to look places we aren’t used to looking.

    But, in the case of the comedian, let us remember that it makes a big difference how he is doing it. For every Lenny Bruce–who pointedly said “nigger” in order to undercut the stereotype and reduce the associated hurt–there are twenty comedians who will use the word to get a cheap laugh and end up strengthening the stereotype.

    So, yes, sometimes it’s good to look at the wound. But let’s remember that it IS a wound, not healthy flesh, and let’s not be proud of it.

    GWW: I would think Attila the Hun would be off limits–to someone who spent every day surrounded by people whose immediate families were slaughtered by him. And, yes, I have no doubt that there are many, many people today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan who feel that way about George W. Bush, and with good reason. To them, no, a Bush joke just wouldn’t be funny. That is the position Miarr is in with respect to Hitler. Does that make sense?

  49. GWW @ 50:

    No, each person was to decide on the “alter ego” of the person sitting to their left. The guy who wrote my sticker did it fully knowing it would go to me, as did everyone else.

    Genghis Khan or Pol Pot are not the ones responsible for putting my grandfather in a concentration camp or for killing off the entirety of my grandmother’s family. Hitler is. I do not presume to know which one of them is “worse”, but I know which one of them has affected me and my loved ones.

    I realize you may not be aware of just how significant the name ‘Hitler’ is in Israel, where more than half of the population are either descended from, related to, or actual survivors of the Holocaust. To you he may be a distant historical figure, but where I come from he’s a lot more than that.

  50. Robert @ 48: >> Your friend in Haifa, Israel, I don’t see issue with Hitler on her forehead as much friends making fun of her for hours.

    Trust me, Hitler had everything to do with it. I don’t mind jokes at my expense, honestly I don’t, and besides I like those people so much that I’d probably join in. We tease each other all the time.

    MadGastronomer nailed it–it’s not about shooting the messenger, but about getting mad at whoever made a joke in poor taste. I absolutely revile and detest the Nazis to the depth of my soul, but that doesn’t stop me being upset when someone makes a mockery out of my family’s suffering, even unintentionally. It’s not just about the initial cause, it’s also the way we uphold and respect the memory of the event.

    Furthermore, an audience at a stand-up show, by virtue of attending, becomes a voluntary participant to your act. Believe me, if I’d known this is what would happen, I’d never have joined the game in the first place.

  51. I find it very interesting that those who wish to defend the practice of making jokes about sensitive topics so often cast blame on those who are insulted by the jokes. So many of them cannot simply say, “I find humor about sensitive topics to relieve tension and get people to think,” without adding that those who are offended are shooting the messenger or laying blame inappropriately or just being to sensitive.


  52. Interesting how a discussion of inappropriate humor, in this case a Hitler reference, appears to have created a Gestapo here.

  53. Bawrence: In the interest of not muddying the discussion waters further, I’d ask you to clarify your comment as without further context it potentially creates a similar distasteful comparison as in the initial discussion. What sort of “Gestapo” do you see forming here? I see an emotionally charged issue being discussed by people who sometimes disagree and who so far have managed to keep the discussion from degenerating into too much name-calling while exchanging some interesting viewpoints. The fact that we have no one group attempting to force a consensus on the issue means I fail to see the relevance of your analogy. I’d appreciate it if you clarified your opinion so I can better understand how it fits into this larger discussion pattern.

  54. Please review the post and replies. With a few exceptions the bandwagon is loading up fast.

  55. …and anyone who shows signs of disagreement with the party line is quickly pounced upon.

  56. Groups of people disagreeing with one another hardly constitutes a Gestapo. No one is attempting to force anyone else to their opinion here. If one group is larger than the other, it merely indicates that like-minded people have congregated, and that people of that opinion are finding the discussion interesting enough to speak up.

    I have personally weighed in against offensive humor in many contexts. Yet just the other night, my chef, my new lead bartender and I spent a good thirty minutes telling each other the most offensive jokes we could come up with — after everyone made sure that no one else would be offended. None of us wanted to hurt the others and damage our newly-formed professional relationships. We used it as a form of bonding, and are closer for it, rather than farther apart.

    I would never attempt to forbid anyone from ever telling an offensive joke. If someone told a joke which offended me in my presence, I would either leave, let them know it offended me, or simply ask them not to tell jokes like that in front of me again. But that’s just a request for consideration from one human being to another, not any attempt to enforce anything. There is no threat of arrest, violence or execution in that at all.

  57. Sorry, I can’t agree. I don’t see enough consensus yet forming to label one position “the bandwagon”. Regardless, no one is threatening physical harm or cattle cars for any of the opinions held here, so using such a hyperbolic comparison obscures your point rather than making it.

  58. I can’t help but be reminded of a Bloom County sunday comic strip from long ago. Essentially it boiled down to everyone was offended by something that someone else either said, did or was, with the culmination being that one of the characters said, “I’m offended that you’re offended!”

    Leaving the First Amendment out of the discussion (since that really is about freedom of the press and not your mouth and there’s plenty of legal exceptions to it anyway), I disagree with the statement that people aren’t allowed to say whatever they want. Should they is another question…

    If an asshole tells a jew a holocaust joke, it is probably inappropriate, offensive and could very well cause harm (in this case mental harm which can have physical symptoms). It probably does not cause laughter and hilarity all around. By the same token, the person who told the “joke” could then realize what he just did and apologize for it, understand the issue and most likely help the listener to feel better by talking about it.

    Basically I think Storm is a fricking moron – a person can both cause harm with words and also help to heal harm with words.

    @Bawrence: your comments are completely fu*king useless. Seriously? You feel like making a snarky comment is useful? I pity you.

    SKZB: as others have said, it all depends on your audience. In this day and age (which isn’t really different from any other) someone somewhere is going to be offended no matter what you say. Being silent isn’t really an option for a writer I wouldn’t think. I think that if you go with the “intent to do no harm” approach you should be fine.

    At least that’s what works for me, but then again I’m generalizing from one example… (tell me you get the reference and that I didn’t butcher it too badly)

  59. Seth: Yeah, I pretty much agree. But I think it depends on your audience AND your intentions. It is true that we cannot know another person’s intentions; nevertheless those intentions (or, more precisely, our perceptions of them) make a difference in how we respond.

    And, yes, I got the reference. :-)

  60. There is a whiff of hypocrisy in this thread and I merely pointed it out. If you don’t find that useful you are the one to be pitied, Seth.

  61. SKZB: yeah, learning the difference between my intentions and the listener’s perception of my intentions caused quite a few arguments early in my marriage. So does the question then become at point do I censure myself because it may not be apparent to my audience what my true intention is?

    Bawrence: I pity you because you’re obviously a fool. Any person with a brain that is functioning would realize that in this type of discussion there’s going to be some hypocrisy – that’s why I said your comments were completely fucking useless. Your comment had no input into the discussion.

    Where’s the ignore function?

  62. Seth: “So does the question then become at point do I censure myself because it may not be apparent to my audience what my true intention is?”

    I think the idea is to try to be aware of areas where that might be a problem, and proceed with caution in those areas.

  63. Seth: Your pronouncement that my comments are useless is a convenient ploy, easily identified and dismissed along with the rest of your ad hominem. Your opinion simply doesn’t matter. other than revealing more about your character or lack thereof than you perhaps intended.

  64. @Bawrence: I’m quite interested in considering where hypocrisy in various forms enters into discussions like these. While I don’t think your presentation of that point so far is conducive to calm rational discussion about the matter, since you say your interest is in pointing out hypocrisy, I invite you to frame your arguments in more clear and specific terms so that others may have a better chance of understanding your position and responding to it meaningfully.

  65. skzb: I’ve lived below the Mason-Dixon line long enough to get the reference, but if you’re going to be derogatory why be such a pussy about it?

  66. Bawrence @ 70:

    So far all I’m getting is, Reesa has been repeatedly trying, in a polite and well-phrased manner, to invite you to explain yourself better. You respond by throwing out obtuse one-liners and refusing her requests (quite rudely, I might add). You seem to have some criticism about the discussion, and that’s great, but so far we’re not even *having* a discussion, not with you anyway, so what’s the point of your comments? Like Reesa, I would welcome any sort of elaboration on your part.

    (Also, and you really should’ve seen this comment coming, the Gestapo remark was in pretty fucking bad taste.)

  67. Translation of Bawrence: I am a troll, so I’m going to make inflammatory comments and refuse to explain myself.

  68. Reesa is trying to be Paarfi-lite and failing miserably. Not having a discussion with me is by the choice of others, since they immediately went into rabid animal attack mode.

  69. My jokes are full of poor taste MadGastronomer. I don’t recommend you come to see my standup. My assumption is that we’d not get along and be beneficial to each others lives.

    If people get offended, that’s their issue. If people based all of their actions on what made others happy no one would do anything. Any step you make will probably frustrate and irritate someone. If I chose to put myself on antidepressants and lots of barbiturates maybe I could get through life knowing that we as Americans spend more tax dollars on rockets and bombs than healtcare and education combined. If I make a joke about that, that’s just my coping mechanism for the fact that you’re putting energy into telling me what I should and shouldn’t joke about in a comedy routine rather using that energy to create an Edenic earth that contains no war.

    The pact I make with the comedy audience is that when you create heaven on earth where I don’t have to see famine, war and useless disease that Can be prevented…I’ll stop telling jokes about it. Till then, just feel the tide come on in, it’s gonna be a rough one.

    Most of the things that are fodder for comedy are our own foibles. If people don’t like what I choose to joke about we don’t remain friends for very long and you’ll certainly not wanna hang out at a comedy club with me after my routine. Everyone has their own path, I understand people get offended but I do this so I can live without killing my neighbors, which is less than I can say for the rest of our species.

    SKZB: “So, yes, sometimes it’s good to look at the wound. But let’s remember that it IS a wound, not healthy flesh, and let’s not be proud of it.”

    But we’ve spent so much time and energy creating that wound it Should be celebrated. Our species has spent more time creating the conditions that cause cancer than on figuring out how to heal it. We’ve learned how to fix traumatic wounds and injuries because we’ve been busy blowing arms and legs off of people. Our species is the apex! This is how far we’ve come. We’re 6 billion strong bipedal homo sapiens sapiens who’ve come out of the animal body to develop a consciousness that’s allowed us to harness the atom…and wipe out Hiroshima and Nagasaki just so we could test the weapons. That my friend, is achievement! High art. What’s not to celebrate?

    Life entails by it’s very nature some suffering. The content of my jokes is usually about the unnecessary suffering we cause ourselves. That’s why it’s important to look at the wound and see if we can learn from it.

    The darkness is what most avoid. My yoga is using comedy to have an unwavering view of it to ferret out it’s meaning and wisdom for our species. Think of it like the wounded healer, you’re reformed after your painful disintegration to return anew with information for the community. A shaman…of the giggle.


  70. Quoting Reesa @ 56: >>In the interest of not muddying the discussion waters further, I’d ask you to clarify your comment…

    >>I’d appreciate it if you clarified your opinion so I can better understand how it fits into this larger discussion pattern…

    MadGastronomer @ 59: >>No one is attempting to force anyone else to their opinion here. If one group is larger than the other, it merely indicates that like-minded people have congregated…

    Reesa @ 69: >>I invite you to frame your arguments in more clear and specific terms so that others may have a better chance of understanding your position and responding to it meaningfully…

    Miarr @ 73: >> Like Reesa, I would welcome any sort of elaboration on your part…

    Bawrence @ 75: >> Not having a discussion with me is by the choice of others, since they immediately went into rabid animal attack mode.

    I’m… not seeing what you’re seeing.

  71. I do not condone bigoted humor, I do not feel that you can really heal wounds with poison.

    There are some words that people just should stop using. Perhaps in a few decades of going without use the words can be dug out and refreshed for another use, but not now.

    I grew up in a racist town, went to a racist school and heard a racist father speak to his racist friends. In high school 2 blacks were hung from a tree and murdered for being in the wrong part of town.

    I just don’t believe that hate language should ever be used. While you might not ‘mean’ it racist. Or your ‘intentions’ may not be racist, the words themselves are too poisonious to be used.

    This does not have to do with PC for me. I’m not a very politically correct person.

    But I do have a tiny spark of compassion for my fellow man. And I can not abide bigotry because of that.

    I’ve had to jump up my friend’s arses many times over the use of the word ‘gay’, which has become synonymous with bad. That they can’t see that every time they say that they’re condoning hate language drives me up the wall.

  72. If Bawrence won’t participate, I still think the discussion on hypocrisy deserves consideration. According to dictionary.com, hypocrisy is:

    1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
    2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
    3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.

    Hmm, under those definitions I’m still not sure that hypocrisy is the most accurately defining word to use to describe the problem, but we can start from here and see where it gets us.

    The two related topics that I see on this issue are, when and where and if jokes about Hitler (or mentally handicapped) are funny, and the specific circumstances related to the situations described in the post. One can condemn the details of a specific situation without condemning the behavior categorically. I wouldn’t define this as hypocrisy, though I can see where someone else might. I can say that from my perspective, the behavior of the guy at Miarr’s party, in a publicly defined “social safe zone”, based on the described details, was fairly categorically inappropriate. However, I also agree with Mr. Gardner and others saying that there ARE times and places and ways that we can mock any topic, no matter how controversial.

    I agree that the unfortunately quite subjective areas of intention and context matter a lot here. And I do think that the narrowing of scope of the court jester role in modern society IS a loss, and I personally admire those comedians best that take on some aspect of that role along with their humor. Who else has thoughts about hypocrisy as it relates to humor in this area?

  73. Robert @ 77:

    Regardless of your personal ideology, which surely justifies your offensive humour in your eyes and comes from a deep and soulful place, etc. etc. etc. I’d just like to point out that your stand-up audience, by virtue of consciously arriving to your shows, are voluntary participants and have agreed to risk being offended. Nobody dragged them there, I’m guessing. However, once you’re off your stage and hanging around people who didn’t necessarily sign up to hear your brand of humor, it would behoove you to pay more attention to what you say and how it may be interpreted. Why? Because it’s the decent, civil thing to do. All throughout this discussion, when people talked about “context”–this is exactly what they meant. Same goes for “know your audience”. And your audience may not always be willing as you imagine.

  74. @Miarra: Right. What you are doing is called cherrypicking.

    @Reesa: They hypocrisy lies in the metaphoroical use of tactics employed by the nazis to attack inappropriate humor involving its’ most famous proponent. But keep going where you’re going with it, surprisingly enough sometimes rabbit trails have rabbits.

  75. Bawrence @ 82: What, like, stating facts and using evidence and stuff? I know these methods are beneath you, but please pardon the rest of us for trying to wage a rational discussion.

    Reesa @ 83: You bring up excellent points, as usual. I have lots to say about this subject and I’d love to, but it’s 1:30 AM where I’m at and I have to get up in, uh, four hours. To do a test. ): Not fun. So I’m signing off for the night; keeping rocking, I’ll return tomorrow.

  76. @Miara: No, like selecting bits and pieces of the discussion and presenting them as if they are the sum total of it. The practice has been used previously to excuse all sorts of bad behavior, even some that you say that you find personally offensive.

  77. Reesa @ 83: Hopefully the discussion went beyond ‘he’s crazy’. Heh.

    Interestingly enough, I find that when people use Hitler as a comparison, like when we see political figures made up to resemble Hitler more offensive than I do the game in question. Mostly because in that case they’re calling someone Hitler.

    I just don’t think the guy who wrote Hitler down was thinking that. I doubt he was thinking much at all.

    I would be interested to hear sticker guy’s side of things, just to see the differences in perceptions on the event.

    None of which takes away from the fact that Miarr did get offended. Which should warrant an apology I would think. Perahaps not an ‘I’m sorry for my actions.’ but rather an ‘I’m sorry my actions upset you.’.

  78. Miarr, if you’d wish to give me a list of the things that I can’t talk about in private or public while offstage I’ll be happy to change my entire being to suit you. I’m sure that’ll add to the diversity of the planet and it’s use of language.

    In the end I don’t think most in this discussion would think I was anything but polite in everyday general conversation. In private, amongst my friends?..that’s a different story.

    The stage is to a degree a character. That character discusses whatever he cares to. Least there I can be free, cept for the tomatos.

  79. Robert: I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Unless I misunderstood (which is certainly possible), Miarr was agreeing with you that the stage is the appropriate place to push limits, and social interactions among acquaintances requires a certain degree of courtesy and sensitivity. Where is the dispute?

  80. Miarr @ 81

    If I was hanging out in Israel I’d probably not make Hitler or Holocaust jokes until I figured out what the audience can handle, in public or private. Your friends should be blamed for having poor taste. How do we choose to punish those with poor taste? If they’re friends then they stop being so.

    I’ve had many people ostracize me and remove me from a group for contrary speech or opinions and that’s their choice. I’m not begging folks to find me funny, just trying to see what the public pulse is.

    I wouldn’t have put Hitler on your forehead. Least not until I’d determined that wouldn’t be an issue.

  81. “In the game we had a tall, beautiful, blond-with-blue-eyes guy named Barbie. A guy with a hook nose was called Gargamel. I personally labeled one of my favourite people there, a smart and funny and capable girl, as ‘Superwoman’.”

    So the guy’s choice for you was an anomoly, or is it reasonable to assume that he used the same general criteria as everyone else?

  82. @Robert Gardner
    Well, then I just won’t go to your shows. Or, probably, hang out with you. And that’s fine. The world is full of comedians whose work I don’t enjoy and people I don’t want to hang out with. Please understand that I mean no judgement of you personally, I’m simply acknowledging that your work and personality are not to my personal taste (and my personality is not to yours, which is fine).

    I’m glad to hear that you do take some care in your choice of material to suit audiences, and I’m glad that you’ve found an outlet for your frustrations. There’s certainly an audience for what you do, even if I’m not a part of it.

    You have yet to demonstrate that anyone is using any actual tactics used by the actual Gestapo. Your tactics, including you sophomoric scatological humor, again marks you as a troll.

  83. @BadGas: Whatever fairy tale helps you sleep at night, cupcake. Your failure too understand is not my problem.

  84. Bawrence, no one (except, perhaps, me) has been rude to you. Certainly, MadGastronomer has done nothing to deserve the 3rd-grade level of insult you’ve offered. Name calling is unacceptable. Please desist.

  85. skzb…Miarr @ 81 said:

    “However, once you’re off your stage and hanging around people who didn’t necessarily sign up to hear your brand of humor, it would behoove you to pay more attention to what you say and how it may be interpreted. Why? Because it’s the decent, civil thing to do. All throughout this discussion, when people talked about “context”–this is exactly what they meant. Same goes for “know your audience”. And your audience may not always be willing as you imagine.”

    With that being said it sounds very close to my needing to be told what I can and can’t say in and amongst different social groups like friends and family. I need to have defined for me what is civil and decent so I can be a decent and civil citizen.

    I think I’m civil and decent because I’m not being quiet about the fact that our government is dropping bombs on civilians with the help of our tax dollars. If that can’t be discussed over Thanksgiving dinner what can?

    I don’t disagree that the stage is an appropriate place for pushing boundaries but someone determining for someone else what is and isn’t appropriate in speech just seems controlling.

    Miarr’s comment mentions not only what I say but how that may be interpreted by someone else. If I have to be overly concerned with not only what I say but how it may be taken, well..I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Again, this is about people getting irritated at my sense of humor, my language and speech when I feel there are much bigger fish to fry.

    @ madgastronomer:
    Reesa mentions that I’d probably find you appealing. You also seem to be knowledgeable about food and cooking. I was hoping we could have civil discussions about Harold McGee and molecular gastronomy.

  86. @skzb: that an ..um… interesting take. How unfortunate you couldn’t come up with an objective one.

  87. Oh, I’m happy to discuss food and cooking with nearly anyone! I’m perfectly pleased talking about the chemical reactions that go on when making mayonnaise or the philosophy of salads or just the recipe for puff pastry with people I cannot otherwise stand, and you’re nowhere near that bad. ;)

    What Reesa does not, I think, know, is that I am currently working on opening my own restaurant. I’m not the chef, but the owner. I hired a chef to run the kitchen mostly because I simply don’t have the experience in restaurant kitchens to run one efficiently. I am, however, a culinary school graduate and a passionate cook. Molecular gastronomy is a favorite toy.

    So yes, definitely up for that.

  88. Robert @ 90, 95:

    Steve actually summed up my intentions quite well. I didn’t mean to tell you where and when you can talk about what, merely point out that there’s a difference between talking shit onstage, where people come to see you, and doing it in public where they don’t. If I somehow came off as snitty then I apologize, it was not my intention at all!

    (Not cracking a Holocaust joke in Israel, btw, is to me an example of ‘decency’ as we mentioned it. So it seems we may even agree on part of what ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ constitute.)

    Bawrence @ 91:

    I was the only person matched with a historical and “negative” persona; the rest were stuff like Santa Clause, Margol (a famous Israeli singer and LGBT icon), Al Bundy, etc. I’d define his choice as an anomaly, although I’m not sure he himself would do so. I really have no idea what he was thinking; I haven’t talked to him since.

    Re: cherrypicking: You’re welcome to offer counter-examples to prove your point. I represented the discussion as I see it; so far that’s what everyone is doing, except you.

  89. The proper response to an obvious troll is to stop feeding it. There’s no reasonable explanation for someone commenting on these message boards to pick ridiculous arguments with skzb or anyone overtly identified as dear to him (Miarr & Reesa are the two that jump out most immediately; I am probably overlooking others). Arguing with people so desperate for attention that they assault message board discussions is a waste of time and a validation of the puerile.

    Miarr @98, your recontextualization of the game really helped me to understand what was going on here — at first, I thought you were just a random victim who took things very personally (I’d be lying if I denied thinking it was unreasonably personally). But you weren’t; you were someone who was picked out to be compared directly to Hitler. You were an Israeli someone in Israel who was picked out to be compared directly to Hitler. That’s not a joke; that’s an undisguised insult that, if everyone had been the appropriate gender, would probably have gotten someone beaten up.

    Disguising a direct insult as a joke is a cowardly tactic, long used to paint the target as an overly-sensitive hothead. The only appropriate way to deal with that sort of mealy-mouthed chicanery is to shoot the sonofabitch.

    PS- Is anyone else amazed at the effective exchange of communication in a message thread that was essentially Godwin’ed before it started?

  90. @Robert Gardner
    Well, I have no idea what anyone else thinks of you, but if I considered vile everyone whose sense of humor I found distasteful, I wouldn’t speak to most of my friends, either. Any humor that relies on awkwardness or people or characters being the butt of the joke, I dislike. A lot. But I do not believe that my own personal taste is the One True Way, and you have said that you do take your audience into consideration, showing that you do not completely disregard the feelings of others. So yeah, not vile.

    I’m in Seattle, as is my restaurant. The Night Kitchen’s website has all the relevant info, plus the current draft of the menu (which will change often). Should you find yourself in Seattle, I do hope you’ll drop in — and if you let me know in advance, we can even make sure to have something special on the menu (like we’ll have cassis bombs for Emma when she and Will come to town next fall).

    I’ve never been any good at not feeding the trolls. I’ll try to stop responding to him now.

  91. To skzb @ 44 – alas, I am not John’s Hot Little Sister. Nor anyone’s little sister. I am just a long-time fan, anxiously awaiting the appearance of your next offering in January. They love me at Uncle Hugo’s.

  92. How much do we value our relationships? I have some friends that I value so much that I go a long way to make sure that any borderline or questionable comments I offer are appropriately placed in context so the chances of misunderstanding or hurt feelings through gross insensitivity are minimized. For other acquaintances, who tend to have thin skin and a short fuse, I am willing to offer an apology when the need arises. If it is accepted, our acquaintance can continue. If not, I am content to let the relationship wither.

    And family members are a whole ‘nother category.

  93. del @ 100:

    Duly noted, I’ll stop feeding him. It’s tempting, though. *g*

    Re: the game: I… don’t know anymore. I just don’t know. People have told me that this warrants cutting off ties with the guy completely; other people have told me to demand an apology and see if it’s forthcoming; and a few even said to give him another chance and gloss over the incident (which I’m definitely not going to do, but still). Two days ago, L, one of the organizers of the event (the girl I tagged as ‘Superwoman’) called me up to apologize and ask me to attend this week’s gathering as well. She and another guy, A, are my favourite people of the group (they’re the two who ran out after me, if you’ve read the linked post on LJ); they both called me independently to see if I was all right. The guy who did it didn’t call and as far as I know, didn’t even mention the incident to anyone later. :/ On the other hand, L said the whole group was really sorry and everyone agreed it shouldn’t have happened. I… honestly don’t even know what’s what right now, with those guys.

    Gah. Sorry for venting. Back to the relevant discussion!

  94. @Bawrence :”Seth: Your pronouncement that my comments are useless is a convenient ploy, easily identified and dismissed along with the rest of your ad hominem.”

    See, you really are a twit. You don’t even know what you’re talking about. I was not attacking your argument by attacking you, I started out attacking you. If I had said, “You contention that there is hypocrisy in this thread is false because you are a jackass,” then that would have been an ad hominem. However, I started out by calling you an asshole, I never said you were wrong. Thanks for giving me a laugh though, fools always make me smile.

    @Miarr: Depending on how comfortable you are with this type of thing you should attend and make it a point to tell the whole group why you were upset.

  95. Well, the discussion seems largely wrapped up now, unfortunately.

    Still, I wanted to add a slightly different spin on things. Leaving “humor” aside, there are other words that ride a similar line.

    Words that identify groups are often much more appropriate used inside a group, than by an outsider. The use of “nigga” in the black community and “queer” in the gay community are fairly obvious examples. Using those terms as an outsider labels you as clueless at best, and bigoted at worst. However, often it is tricky to recognize the line between insider and outsider (such as when referring to others as “nerd” or “geek” before self-identifying as such), or between outsider who has earned the right to use such terms (such as a straight individual who frequently socializes in the LGBT community) and one who hasn’t.

    The other view I want to present actually has to do with my wife. She is arachnophobic to a pretty severe degree. Halloween is often hard for her, as many people and places use large, and sometimes lifelike, spiders in their decorations. One year, Busch Gardens (a theme park in VA) did over their entire Germany area as a giant spider web for Halloween. We literally had to run through, with her keeping her eyes closed.

    So, at what point do I have a right to get indignant with people on her behalf? I mean, her level of phobia is pretty uncommon. But, don’t enough people have arachnophobia to enough of a degree that covering an entire area with spiders is inconsiderate? There often comes a point when she *can’t* choose to just not encounter spiders.

    The world thrusts them on her, not understanding the borderline between “creepy” and “nearly traumatizing.” Much like that borderline between “funny” and “offensive.”

  96. Too much work has kept me from reading this. 9-(

    Tossing in my 2 cents…

    In my 20+ years I have seen life through a different set of glasses, one that has gone from one extreme to another. “Back in the day”, you could say whatever you wanted, and the worst that could happen was that someone took offence and walked away. Or I guess someone could really take offence, slug you one, then thats it.

    Now-a-days, we are a much kindler, gentler military with equal opportunity and this and that training to teach us how not to possibly offend anyone.

    I say this is garbage, and has weakened our country as a whole.

    Watching TV and see something you find offensive? People are up in arms versus ones simple ability to just turn the flipping channel.

    If something offends you, dont listen. You always have the option to walk away, or punch them in the face. But for heavens sake, dont just whine about it.

    People now are so easily offended, and the repercussions are more severe then ever before. I do believe that people just need to “lighten up”, and take charge of their own lives. What’s NOT funny to one person may be absolutely hillarious to somone else. Does one person have the right to deprive others of laughter? No, but maybe society does, but thats another debate for another time…

  97. @Christian: I agree, and in a similar vein precision ordnance has weakened our country. When our military had to take out neighborhoods to ensure hitting militarily significant targets the neighbors wanted peace. Now that they can hit individual buildings reliably the neighbors have no stake in the fight.

  98. Seth @ 107:

    I think I shall, eventually, though not this week. I’d definitely like to come back there, but I want to let time do its healing thing for a bit. And perhaps if I meet with A and L beforehand (as a casual meeting–over coffee or something) it’ll make it easier to face the group as a whole. I rather hope so.

    Lugh @ 109:

    I’d like to quote Robert @ 48, who said: “If a standup comic makes fun of a group, let’s say blacks or jews that’s different in my mind than making a joke about a single individual in the audience.”

    I think public vs. personal is a main factor in setting that fine line between unfortunate/inappropriate (and humorous/offensive). To draw an analogy to your wife’s situation, the display in the Busch Gardens was intended (I assume) for the general public, among them your wife. Since the majority of the population does not suffer from arachnophobia, I would classify the case as upsetting, but not *wrong* on the BG’s part. Do you agree, or would you say the display was in poor taste?

    Regardless of your answer, I’m sorry this happened to your wife. It’s a very difficult situation to be in, especially in a country where once a year everyone breaks out the spider decorations.

  99. Seth,
    So does the question then become at point do I censure myself
    You censure yourself when you become aware that you did something bad and want to tell yourself it was bad.

    Bawrence, in debate, an ad hominem argument refers to attacking an argument or position because of some characteristic of the person espousing it. Merely attacking a person isn’t any sort of argument, therefore it can’t be an ad hominem argument.

  100. If you hurt someone, say you are sorry. Buddhist monks consider laughter a tool to attain enlightenment, therefore making people laugh is a right action. If in the act of making people laugh you should cause someone pain, apologize. Try to help them by pointing out how infinite and amazing the human spirit is in that we don’t all see things the same way.

  101. Bawrence, one of us does.

    “An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.”

    Note that the key issue is rejecting the claim or argument based on a characteristic of the person presenting it, as I specified.

    That’s on http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem.html, the first result I got for “ad hominem fallacy examples”.

  102. @Seth: Ah, cherrypicking. That’s the second entry in my search engine (Bing), a quick glance at the first and third entries (Wikipedia and dictionary.reference.com, respectively) should give you a more complete picture.

  103. @Miarr: whan you adopt the practices of a group you claim to despise you continue their legacy.

  104. Bawrence, did you read your references?

    The WikiWorldNews starts with:

    “An ad hominem argument has the basic form:
    Person 1 makes claim X
    There is something objectionable about Person 1
    Therefore claim X is false”

    Note that it’s about the claim.

    The next section says

    “The term ad hominem has sometimes used more literally, to describe an argument that was based on an individual, or to describe any personal attack.[3] However, this is not how the meaning of the term is typically introduced in modern logic and rhetoric textbooks, and logicians and rhetoricians are in agreement that this use (equivocated with “personal attack”) is incorrect.”

    Your second reference comes closer to supporting you, but still doesn’t:

    “Usage Note: As the principal meaning of the preposition ad suggests, the homo of ad hominem was originally the person to whom an argument was addressed, not its subject.”

    In an insult, the person being insulted is the subject of the argument.

  105. I read all of my reference, and note that you’re overlooking part of it. How convenient. In what universe do you wield such power?

  106. Try the first entry under “Types of ad hominems” at wikipedia. Gee, I hope it doesn’t make your head explode.

  107. “Some years ago, my friend Nate Bucklin and I went to visit a friend in the psych ward of a hospital. Because it was Nate and me, we brought guitars, and a party ensued. During the party, Nate played his version of “Mama Don’t Allow,” which humorously references several forms of mental and emotional illness–the very conditions those attending the party were dealing with. I recall very clearly that the patients all found the song delightful; the staff, however, thought it was Not Funny. Take from this what you will.”

    I think the answer to the dilemma is by and large in this paragraph. People will get angry when someone uses humor to belittle them. But using humor to empathize makes very few people angry. In fact, it draws people together. Other people, however, tend to get angry because it allows them to feel superior to the person who tells the joke.

    Use humor to empathize not humiliate. Of course, there will be from time to time the occasional misunderstanding, but that is true of anything.

  108. Bawrence, you mean where it refers to “Ad hominem abusive (also called argumentum ad personam[by whom?]) usually involves insulting or belittling one’s opponent, but can also involve pointing out factual but ostensible character flaws or actions which are irrelevant to the opponent’s argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because insults and even true negative facts about the opponent’s personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent’s arguments or assertions.”

    Note how that also refers to using statements about a person to argue against his position.

    Now it’s your turn: What’s the first thing listed under “Common misconceptions about ad hominem”?

    (For the rest of you who don’t want to bother going there, it says ‘Gratuitous verbal abuse or “name-calling” itself is not an argumentum ad hominem or a logical fallacy.’)

    Care to provide any more references that demonstrate the incorrectness of your position?

  109. weird. i thought the discussion was about “to joke, or not to joke”….now it’s about ad hominem arguments??

    anyways, it seems to me there hasnt been anything new said on the topic in many posts. My take from this then is:

    1) know your audience – what can be said without causing offense (various posts)

    2) understand the power dynamic (agreeing with JP and Lugh) – this relates to (1) in that not only should you know your audience, but in what societal way you the speaker relate to the audience (i.e., NOT using the n-word around african-americans if you’re caucasian, or NOT marking a Jew with the name “Hitler”, especially if you are not also Jewish (not that any Jew would do so))

    3) this discussion only applies to individual interplay of humor, not comedic routines that play to a large and diverse group

    4) sometimes we’ll make a mistake with 1 or 2, and will cause harmful offense – not just offense, but an offense that cuts deeply emotionally or harms that person’s standing in his/her own societal group. At such times, an apology is called for and should be rendered, regardless of the intent of the speaker.

    That about right skzb?

  110. Bawrence, even that “usually” doesn’t make you correct; it refers to ad hominem usually insulting someone to belittle his argument, but it can also be pointing out something else about him which is also irrelevant to the argument, as a way of belittling his argument.

    Did you miss the point about the “Common misconceptions”?

  111. Seth, I suggest you should not have high expectations of the quality of this gentleman’s responses.

  112. Bawrence, reality is that which doesn’t care about your rejection.

    Now try to point out where I said anything abusive about you, other than that you’re wrong. Saying you’re wrong, and providing references (and even showing that your claimed references disagree with your position) is not ad hominem, which distinguishes it from your post #129.

  113. I pointed out your post #129. You pointed out none of mine despite my challenge to do so. The obvious conclusion is that you can’t. You might think whatever you want, but reality doesn’t care.

    Now are you going to try to point to evidence, or just post more lame attempts at insults?

  114. I’d say only one banning after 130+ comments on a topic like this isn’t a bad rate at all. Thanks to nearly everyone for holding to standarsds of discussion that encourage exchange of ideas, even ones we might not always agree with.

    Responding to Josh C@ 127, I think your summary is fairly reasonable. However, on point 4, I’d like to see perhaps a sub point or an additional one that defines some of the standards for delivered apologies. Simply saying an apology should be rendered, while true enough, isn’t really informative for someone who might not have been taught how you do that. It would also balance out nicely the otherwise fairly detailed list of points in your summary.

    Have there been enough mentions of this in other comments that you think it can be summed up easily, or should we try to move forward on this topic by discussing how one renders an effective apology when your points 1 or 2 are flubbed on?

  115. Reesa, I think apologies in this sort of scenario are extremely difficult, and often impossible. A basic apology arises when I do something accidental and injure you — step on your toe, perhaps, or run over your cat. It should express regret, repentance, and beg forgiveness. If you believe I won’t do something like that again, at least on purpose, you’d probably forgive me after you got over your mad.

    But when I make a joke, it convinces you that this is something that, on some level, I think is funny. That tells you about my character, and while you might forgive my social gaffe, you might not forgive that my character is flawed. In Miarr’s case, f’rinstance, she might forgive the social ineptitude that made that mook put a sticker with Hitler’s name on her forehead; she might be brought to believe that no harm was meant to her or anyone else. However, she’s never going to convince herself to be friends with the sort of mook that could ever think that was funny. She can forgive the error, but she can’t continue to embrace a person with a character flaw (or, more objectively, a character incompatibility) of that magnitude.

    I could make a joke, perhaps, with my brother about how dumb girls are, and if a girl happened to overhear such a comment, she might get her feelings hurt. I could (and would!) apologize to her, and tell her that I didn’t think she or any of her gender were dumb. (It would be an obvious lie, but one that was clearly necessary for politeness’ sake.) She might eventually believe that I didn’t mean to hurt her; she’s never going to believe that my character is one that was capable of respecting her or her intelligence. And she’d be right.

    What a person thinks is funny is an enormous insight into his or her character. If this insight renders a character odious, I suspect no amount of repenting words will repair the damage done.

    tl;dr- The gaffe can be forgiven; the breach in the relationship maybe can’t. Sorry I keep writing dissertations in here.

  116. del:
    It is almost like you think this is a community of readers, inclined to consuming long-winded prose that explores, meanders about, and otherwise circumnavigates a point. Unfortunately, I myself am far too terse a writer to give this opinion the full examination it so richly deserves, except to say that I might see some small amount of evidence, if not directly for it, then for it’s likelihood.

  117. Very late, but I was unavoidably away from Internet.

    Almost the first thing my boss told me about my new (now several years old) job was “if you’re terribly PC and take offense easily, this is probably not the job for you.” And she was right – expect everyone from your colleagues to the owner of the company to throw jokes at you – especially if you give them unintentionally a straight line. Of course, the (rare – he’s Good!) times one of us get the owner is treated exactly the same way.

    But I just spent the last week with a different crew. And while the gay jokes were significantly less offensive than the ones thrown at, or by, my gay colleague in the office, the intent was not – and I felt uncomfortable.

    But the one time the people at work hit one of my really sore spots, totally unintentionally, I said please don’t do that one again. And they don’t. And when someone new comes close, *other people* point out the cliff they’re approaching. And I didn’t have to explain why to stop it (although I have, to most people, later to much later, because it’s a safe environment to do so).

    So, are we offensive? Well, we get warned when clients come around, so we know to shut it off, so I guess so. If one’s problem is “that’s not funny” or “that’s not a suitable topic for jokes *with me*”, then it stops, though – and so, maybe not.

    Unintentionally crossing a barrier like that will happen, and I think it more damaging than helpful to avoid it at all costs, or restrict the open discourse to the point that it’s impossible to do so. It can, and will, hurt, but among friends and colleagues, it will only hurt unintentionally, and *once*, because after that, it Won’t Happen Again. Most of the time, the once is survivable, because we know it will be only once.

    In the original poster’s case, I am neither sure that the “joke”, should there have been one, was unintentional; nor do I believe that the point was clear that it was over the line and will not happen again, will it? That is the point where I think we have gone too far.

    I am a big fan of really dirty humour. Even highly offensive humour. But it has to be funny. The Dowager Duchess of Denver has it when she said (from memory) “It is possible to be funny while being vulgar, and possible to be funny without being vulgar. I suggest you try one of the two.”

    And I point out – with great trepidation, for the abuse whose repercussions I live with was not wholly, maybe even majorly, physical – that there is such a thing as needful hurt; many of the “taboo jokes” are, if done right, such. As said above, “look at the wound, look at the damage. You need to see it, you need to remind yourself it exists. Here, I’ll give you a safe, ‘joking’ place to look at it in.”

    But back to the original poster, that safe place wasn’t there, and when it turned into a problem, the support wasn’t there either. Wrong.

  118. While it is true that words are merely the vehicle by which we communicate our intentions, it is the meaning behind them that is what truly matters when any two beings communicate with one another.

    As in any form of communication, it is sometimes possible for the meaning to become garbled and misunderstood; and there is sometimes blame on either side of this equation. That is to say, in some cases, a speaker may not fully and correctly express his intentions, or likewise, a listener may not correctly or fully understand those intentions.

    It is my view, however, that it is incumbent upon anyone wishing to express himself that at least a good faith effort is made to avoid unintentional harm. At least, if he has any sort of conscience or concern for others. (I don’t feel any particular sympathy for those who simply don’t care, don’t have a conscience, or can’t feel empathy for fellow human beings. I try to avoid such people as much as I can.)

    A great author once said that the key to appropriate behavior lies in advancing one’s own goals without causing unintentional harm to others. I tend to agree with this philosophy.

  119. @schmwarf
    I wouldn’t think so. There are circumstances under which appropriate behavior includes causing intentional harm (war, for example). There are never circumstances in which it is appropriate to cause unintentional harm.

  120. I think it was Bill Hicks who said, “Its always funny until someone gets hurt. Then its just hilarious.”

    Andy Kaufman did a bit where he started out crying, and gradually changed his noises and facial cues into a laugh.

    And Robin Williams said, “Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck.”

    Humor is the absence of terror, and terror is the absence of humor. When we laugh at something painful, we take some of that pain away. Robert Heinlein goes on about this at some length in “A Stranger in a Strange Land”, in short saying that we laugh so that we do not cry.

    The laugh is the release of a sort of tension. When a joke flops, that tension isn’t released, and there is that awkward silence. The punchline or laugh is like a non-sexual orgasm. When someone is hurt by a joke, its because they have not released that tension.

  121. Dal-
    I’m with you here, I think.
    Well, up until the orgasm thing, which was just awkward. heh

    I think the potential problem with that argument is that it ignores the territorial nature of what you are calling tention causing , and the rest of this discussing has been calling hurt causing.

    I think the ‘who gets to be hurt by what’ argument is really the heart of the matter, as said by skzb in an earlier comment.
    “…what we are discussing here is, as Thom Digby said, “How long a nose do you have the right to grow?’

    To me the answer to that question changes depending on the context, not of subject but of environment.

    When it comes to an event in a community that is built to be a safe haven from intolerance and fear, that nose get’s to be pretty darn long, I think.

    When you are talking about a comedy show with offensive content as a part of it’s mission statement and it’s promotional material, in a community based on interest in that show, or the people involved with it, well… I think that nose might need to temporarily -resind- back into the face.

    For me, I think the big arguement that hasn’t been adressed, as far as I’ve noticed, by anyone who isn’t too stupid to convey it is this:

    There are a lot of painful things in the world. Really bad shit happens all the time. Most of the big time bad shit doesn’t change my life directly.

    I think, however, that I have every right in the world to be hurt by them. That means that I have the the right to deal with that pain.

    And as a comedienne, to me, that means that I have the right to express that pain through comedy. Even offensive comedy.

    I guess that I’m both saying that (potentially wildly unpopular, if not hugely controversial idea) just because it didn’t happen to me, doesn’t mean it’s not my hurt. So I think every one is “inside” on everything that’s hurting the people in the world.
    I live in a world where pain is caused, and therefore it is mine, and I am on the inside of it.

    I feel that gives me the right to find comedy anyplace I think to look for it.

    Of course, I think everyone else has the right to think that I’m both wrong, and a bad person.

    And just in case this wasn’t inflammatory enough, I also believe that being offended by hot-button humor really only makes the button hotter, and who doesn’t love a bright red button.

  122. And as a comedienne, to me, that means that I have the right to express that pain through comedy. Even offensive comedy.

    In my view, this falls under the category of “intentional harm”, rather than “unintentional”.

    As a comedienne, you do indeed have a moral right to be deliberately offensive in certain circumstances. (As you say, however, environmental context is very important, here.)

    The problem with causing unintentional harm is that since it is not done with specific attention to context, and specifically controlled for effect, it ends up being completely uncontrolled and irresponsible.

    If you own a handgun, for example, there may be appropriate times and places to shoot it at people; even though you know you will be causing them harm. It is not appropriate or moral, however, to randomly fire it off in all directions with no regard for who might be affected, and to what degree.

  123. I guess that I’m both saying that (potentially wildly unpopular, if not hugely controversial idea) just because it didn’t happen to me, doesn’t mean it’s not my hurt. So I think every one is “inside” on everything that’s hurting the people in the world.

    I’ll agree with the first half of that, but not with the second. Anybody can be hurt by the things that happen to other people, but in order to be inside the circle of people hurt by something, someone has to actually be hurt by it. I am not trans, but I am hurt by transphobia. Someone who is not hurt by transphobia is not inside the circle of people hurt by transphobia, despite the fact that they have the potential to be hurt by it.

    Did that make any sense?

  124. @48
    Oh, absolutely that made sense. And I think most people will agree with you.

    I just happen not to be one of them.

    I know that some peoples’ pain runs deeper than others, and I think it’s reasonable to say that that means the closer you are to that pain, the more right you have to harness and explore it.

    I just don’t agree.

  125. Is there anyone around who part of this conversation, way back when? I just reviewed it, for reasons that aren’t important right now. And I want to say, first, thank you for fascinating me, again. Second, I need to learn to be faster on what Scalzi calls the mallet of correction. Third, it’s amazing that you guys persevered in spite of how dilatory I was in banning the troll.

    Good work.

  126. It’s not “deleterious” (which means “bad for you or for whatever”, if it’s a word at all), but at OMG 3-dark-10 I can’t think of the word you[re groping for.

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