Sunday, July 20, 2008

Taking offense

I love Jon Stewart, and I want to have his babies.

[h/t to The Apostate]

However, Stewart says one thing that I have to disagree with:
Barack Obama should in no way be upset about the cartoon that depicts him as a Muslim extremist, because you know who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists.
This position is bullshit. First of all, cartoons are not inherently too trivial to cause offense; they are powerful and persuasive forms of communication.

More importantly, you're allowed to take offense at whatever you please, and you're allowed to say so. I might or might not care that you're offended, but I won't condemn you just for taking offense.

There's nothing wrong with Muslims being offended by depictions of Muhammad; they're allowed to be as offended as they please, and say so. There's nothing wrong with Catholics being offended at the desecration of communion wafers. There's nothing wrong with Jews taking offense at antisemitism, with women taking offense at sexism and misogyny, with black people taking offense at racism. There's nothing wrong with me being offended at defamatory depictions of atheists or scientists.

What is right and wrong, however, are what some people and groups actually do about being offended.

If you're offended, you're free to say so. It might be important that you're offended. Sometimes I offend people unintentionally, and a civilized person should never give offense unintentionally. A civilized person also never gives offense gratuitously, for no other reason than to make someone else feel bad. If you're going to give offense, you should do so intentionally and with reason and purpose.

But if you're offended, you are not free to demand censorship of the offensive speech for no other reason than you are offended. You are not free to physically assault or do violence on those who offend you. You are not free to threaten violence and death. You are not free to riot, loot and burn down embassies.

Fundamentally, all ethical beliefs are about being offended; without the concept of taking offense, each person would object only to physical harm he or she personally suffered. It is taking offense when we care about harm caused to others and condemn acts that harm others.

The power of western civilization is not that we do not take offense, it's that when we do take offense, we don't riot in the streets. We talk about the issue, and sometimes come to a consensus about how to deal with the offending speech (e.g. we socially condemn offensive racism), or just agree that those taking offense should shut the fuck up and get back to work.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.