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Not Lawliet

Being Called "Offensive"

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In the case that you are told that what you are saying is "offensive", and that you should therefore stop speaking, what would be your response?

I haven't quite had that experience yet myself, but witnessed it around me. My response would have to be replying that such a criticism of what I have said is offensive. I would go on to be sarcastic, saying that I feel attacked and marginalized.

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The audience to which you are speaking matters. If the forum is formal, such as a classroom or work place, there are certain protocols one must observe. If the forum is less formal, such as your chosen confidential associates from school or work, family, or friends, the conversation would be more open, of course. 

Free speech is under attack in our times. Campuses, once an institution of open ideas, have been restricting free speech as a measure to prevent "offending." In the work place, there have been too many times where an employee files a complaint that the company is creating a "hostile environment," by allowing free speech construed as harassment. These limits on free speech should perhaps be threshed out under a separate thread.

I have had such an experience of offending a work associate on more than one occasion, quite unintentionally. I recall one such case in particular. Knowing how the rules of my employer would put me at a disadvantage, I addressed this co-worker, without apology, saying simply that I shouldn't have said that "offensive statement," and we should let it go. The fact that this person demonstrates an unusually high sensitivity to open discussion of ideas, I choose to speak to him as little as possible, and only when necessary, and only then with specifically chosen words. Work environments may exercise their policies to "shut up" unpopular employees.

Had I had the opportunity to speak outside of the work place with him, it would have been entirely different. Claims to the effect that what one is saying "is offensive," is little more than name-calling, and demonstrates a lack of any rational contradiction to one's statements. My response to this is: "You have no argument." "You have no argument, so you resort to playing the victim, (or when appropriate, point out that they are merely name-calling, not making a rational argument.)

4 hours ago, Not Lawliet said:

I haven't quite had that experience yet myself, but witnessed it around me. My response would have to be replying that such a criticism of what I have said is offensive. I would go on to be sarcastic, saying that I feel attacked and marginalized.

The simplest axiomatic statement can be called into question by just about anyone with an emotional disagreement. Using the same emotional response with sarcasm may be appropriate among friends, but in the frontier of ideas, I challenge my detractors to "dare to face the truth." And if they can't provide a rational argument, it is because they have none. And they should be made aware that they have no rational argument. If rational ideas and free speech are to survive this age of political correctness, it will not be through passive aggression. 

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22 minutes ago, Repairman said:

If rational ideas and free speech are to survive this age of political correctness, it will not be through passive aggression.

You make a fair point. I suppose my example would be more to the purpose of amusing myself than to make persuasive progress. A lot of people would suggest that if a person demonstrated they were unreasonable that I should walk away, but it would be such a missed opportunity for amusement.

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4 hours ago, Not Lawliet said:

You make a fair point. I suppose my example would be more to the purpose of amusing myself than to make persuasive progress. A lot of people would suggest that if a person demonstrated they were unreasonable that I should walk away, but it would be such a missed opportunity for amusement.

Not knowing what the nature of your example is, I think it's a matter of your surroundings. The chilling effect of some public and private policies could result in unintended consequences. Sarcasm can be lots of fun. But it can also be a dubious endeavor, and a persuasive argument is easier to defend than a display of ridicule. As always, use your own discretion, and be sure you are right. And avoid the irreconcilable irrationals.

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I'd like to clarify and add to my earlier statements: I am not opposed to sarcasm, satire, or any form of humor as a means of making a valid point. Last year on this forum, we had a lively debate regarding the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, and whether or not humor in poor taste is appropriate in any context. I defend and support free speech whenever I can, in poor taste or any other form. The principle of free speech must always be protected. It is not right that their exists an oppressive majority, or for that matter, an elite minority willing to jeopardize one of the most important natural rights to man, nonetheless this evil majority/minor exists. Pushing back against this injustice may be most effective with a rational argument, but humor can be effective also. From what little I know of Charlie Hebdo, they were a source of humor for some, offensive to others. The massacre was an extreme example to the chilling effect by those with neither the rational consideration for life, nor any respect for free speech. You may not necessarily face such a fatal reaction, but facing your Human Resources director over a wisecrack can be uncomfortable and threaten your livelihood. If you feel you must exploit an opportunity for amusement, I encourage you to make it a good clean shot.

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Rational arguments are expected to work with rational people. Ridicule should be and is properly reserved for the ridiculous.

To follow "the individuals responsible for a massacre" with "facing a Human Resources director over a wisecrack" is a bit of a stretch in my imagination. A system should require more than an alleged allegation to trump up charges. Filing false police reports, levying unsubstantiated arbitrary accusations, can bring an underlying sense of solemn protocol to such activities that perhaps should not be taken too lightly.

I don't know if this is just a difference of iteration, but it seems that the good fight should be for justice, rather than against injustice. As Reardon aptly points out in Atlas Shrugged:

"You don't know why you're here. We do. You don't know who your prisoner is. We do. You don't know why your bosses want you to guard him. We know why we want to get him out. You don't know the purpose of your fight. We know the purpose of ours. If you die, you won't know what you're dying for. If we do, we will."

 

 

Edited by dream_weaver

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On 4/17/2016 at 7:47 AM, Repairman said:

Free speech is under attack in our times. Campuses, once an institution of open ideas, have been restricting free speech as a measure to prevent "offending." In the work place, there have been too many times where an employee files a complaint that the company is creating a "hostile environment," by allowing free speech construed as harassment. These limits on free speech should perhaps be threshed out under a separate thread.

Freedom of speech is a political right in the sense that a statement or word is not an initiation of force. People need to think and express on their own. But a workplace or university should absolutely reserve the right to decide what is and is not appropriate. Politically speaking, a neo-Nazi group should be allowed to speak, but I think it would be morally appropriate to silence them in most cases as a private individual. It would be appropriate even to protest all their public events and disrupt them.

What I'm saying is that freedom of speech is not under attack. Sure, you're right that campuses have not been using any sensible definition of offensive speech or hostility. On the other hand, it is necessary to decide what is or is not appropriate. I think it would be absurd to argue that someone has a -moral- right to be hateful, especially since what people say has real social consequences.

The important thing to ask if you're accused of being offensive is: by what standard are you offensive? If I could not find a standard, either I would ask politely what exactly was offensive, or depending on the subject, I'd be sarcastic. Mentioning freedom of speech sounds more like cover for poor social etiquette.

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18 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Freedom of speech is a political right in the sense that a statement or word is not an initiation of force. People need to think and express on their own. But a workplace or university should absolutely reserve the right to decide what is and is not appropriate. Politically speaking, a neo-Nazi group should be allowed to speak, but I think it would be morally appropriate to silence them in most cases as a private individual. It would be appropriate even to protest all their public events and disrupt them.

What I'm saying is that freedom of speech is not under attack. Sure, you're right that campuses have not been using any sensible definition of offensive speech or hostility. On the other hand, it is necessary to decide what is or is not appropriate. I think it would be absurd to argue that someone has a -moral- right to be hateful, especially since what people say has real social consequences.

The important thing to ask if you're accused of being offensive is: by what standard are you offensive? If I could not find a standard, either I would ask politely what exactly was offensive, or depending on the subject, I'd be sarcastic. Mentioning freedom of speech sounds more like cover for poor social etiquette.

I would say one has the moral right to speak without being intimidated into silence by those who object to your speech, even if what you say is completely irrational and even if the intimidation from others isn't actually force. You do not have the moral right to shut down a person's speech simply because it offends you. Yes, politically you have that right insofar as it derives from your property rights, i.e., if someone is speaking on your property you have the right, at any time, for any reason, to tell them to shut up or you will make them leave. That is different from the realm of ethics. Morally, if your private property is ostensibly a "public", "open" place where the expression of ideas is supposedly encouraged, such as a university, then it is wrong to shut down speech, even abhorrent speech, just because it is abhorrent to you, because now you are discouraging free expression and going against the stated purpose of your university or whatever. Morally, you cannot encourage an honest, open discussion of ideas and simultaneously say that this idea and that idea will not be permitted for discussion. (The exception would be ideas that explicitly advocate behavior that is objectively criminal, e.g., anarchists who advocate rioting and violence.) But if you encourage such a discussion you still retain the moral right and obligation to express your belief that someone's ideas are repugnant; you are not obligated to be egalitarian in your response to others' ideas.

That doesn't mean that if you run a university that you are obligated to put people on the payroll whose ideas you abhor, but at the same time you don't have the moral right to shut down students' speech (again, not unless they explicitly advocate lawless behavior). As far as guest speakers go, I would say that if a speaker's ideas align with the ideas of a significant number of students then you should invite that speaker to defend his ideas in a debate, as much as you may abhor their beliefs. Presumably you didn't provide a litmus test of the students' ideas when they applied, and in any case students can of course acquire beliefs that they didn't have before, so it's useless to tell them that they cannot express their views (in the appropriate context) or else they will be punished or dismissed. If you despise their ideas, having a prominent advocate of similar ideas defend them in a debate could expose their ideas as irrational (provided the one who debates him is good enough) and could change those students' minds. That is the only objective way to deal with the situation, but again only if you put yourself in that situation by creating an environment where open expression is encouraged. If you don't want such an environment, tell students up front that yours is not a university where debate and discussion are encouraged, or don't run a university.

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17 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

Ridicule should be and is properly reserved for the ridiculous.

I've got to remember that line. It's excellent.

3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

It would be appropriate even to protest all their public events and disrupt them.

I don't think so. Feel free to protest outside their event, but it would be wrong to use equipment to be so loud as to interfere with their ability to speak to anyone 4 ft from them. I suppose your use of the word "disrupt" is just too vague for my taste.

 

3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

What I'm saying is that freedom of speech is not under attack.

I disagree. There hasn't been successful attempts at removing political freedom of speech, but the movements silencing "hate speech" on campuses are motivated by a specific ideology that won't hesitate to advance further after succeed with colleges, news sites, and social networks. I've seen a people sign a petition at college to remove the 1st Amendment.

Edited by Not Lawliet
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I think of humor, such as sarcasm and satire, as the best and proper method to derive joy from evil or a bad situation. So humor can serve to convince others by showcasing the absurdity of their views, but since that can be done without humor, I think the primary purpose of satire and sarcasm is for enjoyment.

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I'm challenging this idea:

3 hours ago, NewbieOist said:

Morally, if your private property is ostensibly a "public", "open" place where the expression of ideas is supposedly encouraged, such as a university, then it is wrong to shut down speech, even abhorrent speech, just because it is abhorrent to you, because now you are discouraging free expression and going against the stated purpose of your university or whatever.

It sounds like you're already assuming that universities are supposed to encourage debate of -all- ideas, except for cases of initiating force. The idea here is that open debate is inherently moral, and it would be morally inappropriate to ever dictate what people are allowed to say. I agree it would be wrong to shut a person down for simply being offensive. But if you can give reasons that a person's speech is "offensive" as in intellectually destructive, explicitly bigoted, or something to that effect, then why not silence it or disrupted? Free speech, in the sense you're talking about, demands that you let them speak, even if it is within your political rights to prevent them. I'm claiming that free speech has nothing to do with morality, and making it into a moral principle is excessively egalitarian.

A university is for educating people to be intellectually responsibile, or it should be. To accomplish this, you need to decide what will be permitted. If you want there to be intellectually responsible outside of a university, you still need to decide, as an individual, what is or is not appropriate. I'd say the real problem of universities is exactly this idea that they are for exchanging arguments and debates. Yes, rational debates are important, but this depends on already setting standards of what may or may not be said. Then when people come around and exaggerate what is offensive, for every little "microagression", no one is there to propose alternative standards. They're too busy saying that freedom of speech is under attack.

Here's an article I found interesting. Yes, it's from a radical left-wing website (no, I don't promote its underlying political message), but it makes good points about idolizing freedom of speech as a moral necessity, as a fundamental moral principle. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/why-im-not-a-liberal/

I'd agree that satire or sarcasm works well if accusations of being offensive or based on nothing, though.

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On 4/18/2016 at 6:19 PM, Eiuol said:

I'm challenging this idea:

It sounds like you're already assuming that universities are supposed to encourage debate of -all- ideas, except for cases of initiating force. The idea here is that open debate is inherently moral, and it would be morally inappropriate to ever dictate what people are allowed to say. I agree it would be wrong to shut a person down for simply being offensive. But if you can give reasons that a person's speech is "offensive" as in intellectually destructive, explicitly bigoted, or something to that effect, then why not silence it or disrupted? Free speech, in the sense you're talking about, demands that you let them speak, even if it is within your political rights to prevent them. I'm claiming that free speech has nothing to do with morality, and making it into a moral principle is excessively egalitarian.

I think the context -- i.e. the setting and timing -- make all the difference. The most obvious case would be a professor deciding what he wants to allow in his class, based on his judgement about what is of value to that class. Similarly, if there's a venue like a post-class online discussion forum, where time-constraints are not an issue, the professor should disallow discussions that take the focus too far from the objective. 

However, with that said, universities have a solemn moral obligation to provide venues where the most radical ideas can be presented and discussed, without the speakers being unduly shouted down. Not just ideas that 25% of the students think are cutting edge and probably a little further than they would go. No: but, ideas that most people on campus think are silly, or wrong, or evil.

Think of the famous soap-boxes in Hyde Park: here is a venue which does not block traffic or interfere with anyone. Even though it is a public park, it is large enough, and the speakers do not have megaphones. It is trivial to stay away and not be offended. I'd like to see every university offer a Hyde-park style area, and encourage a culture in that area such that those who are offended typically just walk away. 

In addition, as long a decent sized group of students would like to listen to someone present on a topic, the university has the moral obligation of enable this to the max of their ability. Students should be encouraged to invite and listen to ideas that are considered completely ridiculous or completely evil. And, in this context, the speakers should be given a polite hearing. Tell the Flat Earth society to send it best presenter. Ask the KKK to send its most convincing speaker. Professors should encourage their students to give such people a hearing, and not just to shout them down. Those who are confident of their own truth need not fear a contrary presentation. 

As it is, high-schools are encouraging a namby-pamby, scardey-cat approach to speech. They have almost obliterated the vital distinction between teasing and bullying. Now, Universities are compounding the problem by trying to protect kids from hearing shit. That's totally wrong. We should pray our kids are taught the right things, but also have all sorts of shitty and evil ideas around that they can think about, and dismiss for themselves, not because they're sucking up their professor's bland notions by osmosis.

Edited by softwareNerd
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Sure, setting makes a difference, and varying ways to be offensive.

But I disagree that, somehow, freedom of speech is something that beats out requiring people to be polite, or that it is morally proper to always let people talk. If someone says don't be offensive, it's better to take it as important for your character.

Why do universities have a moral obligation to let the most radical ideas get discussed? That's not what universities should be for! I don't know why you think it is. Even more, just because students want a speaker doesn't mean it is smart for education. There is no moral obligation to provide it, a university, if it is to educate, must say 'no' at times. Defining offensiveness is a key step.

I'd say the problem stems exactly from making all students feel entitled to decide what they want to learn. You basically said a university has an obligation to a student's wishes for education, at least for speakers. -This- is a scaredy-cat approach, as though faculty need to obey students' wishes.  Afraid students won't want to show up anymore. To be sure, you should dismiss ideas for yourself, but it doesn't follow that students always deserve a say in how they learn.

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On offensiveness. The context I assume is something like this: students are able to book a lecture hall of a size that fits the expected audience-size. That's the typical way its done. (There may be posters to advertise the event: and there may be some rules around the displays of those.) There's therefore zero chance that anyone being reasonably offended, since they can simply not attend.

On letting students decide on their education. Not in any fundamental way since the entire curriculum, grade, and so on are controlled by the faculty. 

Of course, students ought to take more of a role in the direction and scope of their education as they progress through high-school and then in college, and colleges already allow them to do so within some broad guidelines set by the college. However, calling people to speak on college is incidental as far as curriculum etc. goes. 

Students at this stage must challenge all standard thinking. This is not just about the humanities. If the software-development class is teaching that we should follow agile methodologies, but students are keen to listen to a lecturer who wants to explain why that's the worst thing ever, the university has a moral obligation to help them explore the alternative ideas. This does not mean the professor has to be positive about the alternate ideas: if the idea seems odd and crazy but intriguing, the professor might decide to attend, if the professor has encountered the idea and thinks its wrong he can point the students to some reading that says why... or even take the time to say why. 

Already in high-school, students need to be encouraged to look for ideas out there in the world (I'd say sooner, but let's not get too ambitious). This does not mean that the teacher must then treat every such idea with "well, that's your opinion and that's just as valid". Schools exist to teach stuff: facts etc. However, they also exist to teach students how to be life-long learners. This means they should encourage exploration of ideas, they should encourage listening to uncomfortable positions, and they should encourage intelligent, reasoned criticism of ideas. This should start in high-school.

In college, one would expect students to be far more independent in their status as self-learners.

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A few days ago, Michael Bloomberg gave the commencement address at U of Michigan. It could be read as an anti-Trump/anti-Bernie speech, but in his argument he tried to tie this in with ideas like "safe spaces" and "micro-aggression".  His argument goes thus:

Silencing offensive speech in college in favor of "safe-spaces" has a parallel in the adult world where different groups watch TV channels that reflect their beliefs, and in political demagogues who demonize their opponents. 

Quote

In 1960, only 4 to 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they would be upset if a member of their family married someone from the opposing party. In 2010, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans said they would disapprove of such a marriage. 

The causation does not work from college to the adult world, but they're both reflective of the same bad cultural phenomena: a reluctance to open oneself to contrary ideas. (Objectivists too should take this lesson to heart.)

Edited by softwareNerd
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Today I learned of the "Chicago Principles". This is the University of Chicago's statement on its principle of free-expression.

A quote:

Quote

For members of the University community, as for the University itself, the proper response to ideas they find offensive, unwarranted and dangerous is not interference, obstruction, or suppression. It is, instead, to engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of those ideas and exposes them for what they are. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

 

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On 17/4/2016 at 3:09 AM, Not Lawliet said:

In the case that you are told that what you are saying is "offensive", and that you should therefore stop speaking, what would be your response?

I haven't quite had that experience yet myself, but witnessed it around me. My response would have to be replying that such a criticism of what I have said is offensive. I would go on to be sarcastic, saying that I feel attacked and marginalized.

I'd stop and think what  just said and try to find the offensive part, if I find nothing offensive then I would ask why did the find what I said offensive. In my opinion people shouldn't prevent you from saying what you think, and nowadays anything may offend anyone. Even the most absurd comment would get someone going ranting about why are you saying such a thing. So like I said, stop, think, and continue speaking, don't let anyone prevent you from saying what you feel.

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