25 April 2015

A ridiculous piece of cloth

Most people who have encountered writings of mine over the years will know I am not much sympathetic to nationalistic displays. Indeed, the primary reason I oppose the pledge of allegiance isn't the "under god" element, but the odious nature of having children recite some words presenting themselves as aligned with the government of the state and its goals (this was its initial purpose was to force immigrants to declare themselves loyal subjects of the American nation-state, the god stuff came much later).

I am not unsympathetic to the idea that people should try to avoid being offensive to others. I find it is often counter productive or at least not that persuasive versus the amount of negative attention it creates. This applies to people protesting abortions or protesting police shootings, gay weddings, or whatever (the ideological disposition of the protest is irrelevant). It doesn't mean it is never effective and it does not mean I would prefer to see offensiveness stamped out with coercive forces, like threats of violence, deportation, job losses, etc. Simple disagreements over the manner and content of expressions by other people, even if they are offensive to other parties, are not really sufficient to place people in diametric conflicts that they need to be removed permanently from each other. These disagreements can be investigated, and at times where people obviously diverge from each other's basic worldviews, perhaps then a polite removal from each other's company suffices. On social media, block-banning people for whom there appears to be a permanent state of disagreement and disharmony works quite well enough to ignore people who would needlessly be getting up the blood pressure to work up on a topic.

I don't have much tolerance for most personal expressions of sexism and, especially, racism, but I'd at least engage the topic first to assure that is the basis of these expressions is some deeply held position about the nature of gender or racial disparities rather than a poorly tasted joke or some other implicit bias that could be confronted and identified, or perhaps a general ignorance of the subject being argued on which it came up in the first place. I also don't have much tolerance for expressions of nationalism (again, as I've repeatedly indicated, distinguished from patriotism), and some varieties of religious expression. Neither to me is particularly interesting to investigate very deeply.

Nevertheless, none of this inspires me to say that my disinterest or disagreement means that anyone evincing support of these opinions, perspectives, or beliefs should be silenced and shunned by everyone every where. I can sometimes find fault with the manner of expression, if it constitutes harassment of others for example or otherwise presents as menacing and threatening behavior. But this is potentially harmful behavior, not speech and expression. People invoking in your face methods of demonstration (burning a flag, putting up signs with dead fetal tissue, blasphemy of religious beliefs, "foul-mouthed" language, etc) doesn't rise to this level. It is annoying. Perhaps disturbing to some. Disturbed sensibilities are however often the point of such activities. Attracting attention in order to have a wider audience of people paying heed to your words and actions is the goal.

There are several ways to respond to this I find well below the common public's reactions demanding violence and arrest or other criminal or civil penalties.

1) Ignore it. If the goal is to attract attention, deny the attention that is sought. Change the channel, look away, listen to something else, engage a friend in conversation, find something else to do with your time in general. I find much of the things people are that worked up about to protest I don't care very much about, or at least, don't care very much that they are worked up about it and don't think it will amount to very much mind-changing on the issue if I do care very much about it. This makes most of it fairly easy to ignore and move on with my day. There are rare exceptions. It's really easy on the internet. Putting up a blanket status update about how awful people are to each other in comment sections or message boards/threads is sufficient to excise any reaction that occurs to the perspective of the general public on some topic for which they are ill-equipped to argue with one another.

2) Put forward one's own point of view. Counter-protest in other words. Try to persuade or argue with an unconcerned majority why they should find the other side of people to be nutcases and agree with you and your wise ideas instead about a particular problem or what should be done about it.

3) Confront people doing things you find offensive and try to find out why they do so. People displaying actions of blasphemy toward a nation-state by torching that country's flag or standing on it, etc, are typically provoking the idea that something is, in their mind and perspective at least, deeply wrong with that country and its operations as a people or legal state. They have a perspective and point of view they are trying to get attention for and speak upon. The disagreement one has may only be about their methods of expression rather than the core of the message. Listening to other people has the probability that one can learn something, or find a topic worth investigating further.

4) Confront people doing things that are found offensive and mock them. "Offend back". This isn't very respectful and polite and probably will make you look like an asshole too, but it has the possible effect of getting people to reconsider their tactics of discourse. (Don't threaten them or harass them. Mock/ridicule/laugh at, not endanger, is the suggestion here). In general the idea would be to communicate that this person is being offensive (and doing so stupidly and unproductively). I suppose it has the effect of being possibly satisfying on an emotional level, briefly, for reacting to the offense in kind.

And so on. None of this requires we provide people with the abject horror and displeasure they may intend for our reactions, or that we respond with violence and intolerance. Nor that we are somehow providing tacit agreement through our silence and permissiveness for free expression. Nor even that we should punish people who have made unpleasant mediums or content of expression by expelling them from polite society for any single transgression of speech and expression and demand they be removed from their jobs or company position. Economic boycotts have their place in response to acts of discrimination. Responses to people committing acts of fraud or spreading salacious falsehoods about others in public also have considerable merit to do likewise. But a general expression of opinion on a matter of religious or political construction is not fraud or salacious falsehood on the level of libel or slander. No matter how offensively it is presented.
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