Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The double standard of “you’re not allowed to be offended”

Ragen has a really good post at Dances with Fat pointing out the ridiculousness of the idea that if someone is offended, that they’re the bad guy, not the person who said the offensive thing.

The meme she’s responding to says:

To be offended by what someone else says is your own choice, as you don’t have to care about what other people think, and nothing has actually happened to you. Information merely passed from their mind to yours.

To state that you are offended means that you wish the person hadn’t said it and won’t say anything similar again. In other words, you actually want to stop certain information from being communicated. You must believe that you have some sort of right to dictate not only what people can and can’t communicate, but what the can and can’t think.

To be offended is to take the first step in being a totalitarian megalomaniac

It appears to come directly from bizarro world, because I can’t find any earth logic in the chain of arguments they’re using.

First off, yes, you get to control your reaction to what other people say and do. But people are social animals. We have strong instincts to fit in and be loved and accepted. Separate us from the group, whether it’s a kid who’s socially isolated or a prisoner in solitary confinement, and we don’t do well. Nobody has a “Gives no fucks” switch that they can flip to completely turn off any concern about how others perceive them. You’re probably healthier if you save those fucks for people with worthwhile opinions and people you care about, but unless you’re a sociopath, you probably can’t just “choose” not to care if people close to you say horrible things about you or about others you care about.

It also completely ignores the fact that ideas don’t exist in some magical vacuum separate from actions. “Information” like the false allegation that Planned Parenthood delivers healthy babies and cuts them up to sell body parts directly resulted in an act of terrorism. The stereotype of black men as dangerous criminals means that police in training exercises are more likely to incorrectly think they see a weapon when they see a black face. And, in turn, more likely to shoot when they didn’t have to. Both of these pieces of “information” lead to the very obvious and tangible harm of people being murdered.

Stereotypes about groups of people, whether they’re fat or disabled or a racial or religious minority, excuse and encourage bad behavior toward those people. If you say that fat people are worthless, dirty, lazy, and stupid, that may not hurt me directly. (If you are….that is *were* a friend of mine, it’s obviously going to cause me pain because I am not a robot.) But what happens when someone in a position to make my life tangibly worse believes those things? Everybody from my doctor to my boss to the person sitting next to me on a plane? Yes, that’s going to cause me actual harm. People in disadvantaged groups suffer more illness, live shorter lives, because that stress does actual physical harm.

Describing any and all offensive statements as “information” is particularly sneaky, because we think of information as neutral and objective, unclouded by emotion. But often, what’s being transmitted isn’t anything of the sort. If it has any informational content at all, it’s often factually incorrect. But what information, exactly, does a racist slur convey? Mostly, it’s just verbal bile. It conveys hate and disgust, and that’s about it.

Next we have the amazing leap of “To state that you are offended means that…you want to stop certain information from being communicated.” all the way to “You must believe that you have some sort of right to dictate…what [people] can and can’t think.” For real? Again, this is not earth logic.  Expressing a preference does not mean that you want to force people to abide by that preference against their will.  Just like you can think Crocs are ugly or country music is insipid without demanding that they be outlawed, you can wish the world had fewer racists or homophobes without actually wanting them forcibly reeducated.

And let’s look at the double standard too. The person who says the offensive thing not only has freedom of speech, but freedom from the consequences of that speech. Not just major consequences like losing a job or being kicked out of an apartment, but the relatively mild consequence of having someone express disapproval. Meanwhile, the offended person isn’t even entitled to *speak.* No matter how incorrect or harmful the “information,” no matter if it was a screed about how people like them should go die in a fire, they aren’t even allowed to object.

Like Ragen says, it’s okay to be offended. It’s a completely normal reaction. Like any completely normal reaction, it can be taken overboard, and how you handle it matters. But when people say things that are dangerous, or harmful, or flat-out evil, it is absolutely okay to tell them that you object. And if they can’t handle that, then maybe they should take some of their own medicine and remember that their reaction to what someone else says is a choice.

 




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