Arguments That Give Me Pause: On Opinions and Their Consequences (Part 1)

I begin this post with a quote:

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

— Stephen Fry, “I saw hate in a graveyard,” The Guardian (5 June 2005)

I believe this is the quote on political correctness I once read a number of years ago. I know I sharply disagreed with it, but didn’t know the full context. It comes from an article which talks about the Religious Hatred Bill that was being proposed at the time. This not to call out the comedian/actor/writer/public speaker Stephen Fry ─ a man with a number of brilliant quotes ─ but to say I don’t completely agree with it nor do I like how this quote is sometimes used.

My main point is not the quote but the general message of one who would misuse it or complain when there is backlash to certain opinions. It’s not just about the idea of political correctness or its misapplication, but that perception of it the other extreme.

When we live in a free society or use a forum, we have the ability to say or post whatever we want, albeit with limits. Slander and libel can lead to lawsuits, and treasonous speech can lead to arrests and prison sentences in real life. One can be rightfully banned from a forum for breaking certain rules and generally being an asshat. Other than that, we are free to speak our minds, use blog posts, and respond to each other. It’s the last part which some people want to ignore and protest.

Say if I were to say something dumb and disrespectful. I should be called out on it, right? When I’m out of line, someone should tell me.

If I make an honest mistake, someone should correct me without being a dick about it.

If someone simply disagrees with me, they are free to say so and explain why, right? Personally, I respect a response with a full explanation. No one should just scream at me like a bitch nor should they expect me to connect the dots to their way of thinking. I’m not a mind reader and I would like to have a calm, thoughtful discussion. Perhaps we both need to refine our arguments.

Anyway, the people who scream their points often protest when someone else would have the nerve to counter them or their ideas. Often, you will see quotes like these:

  •  “Political correctness is the new fascism.”
  • “Oh my God, why are you people so sensitive?”
  • “Stop whining.”
  • “Why do those people love to play the victim?”
  • “You’re using the race card.” or “RAAACE BAAAITERSSSS!”
  • “If we should tolerate them, they should tolerate our opinions.”

Quotes 2-4b have an interesting irony to them when you follow other statements made by the people who say things like it. Often, when someone tries to call out someone they see as a race baiter, the first person is often found hanging around discussions involving race. The same individual, while bristling at people he claims to act like a victim, is in turn acting like a victim for even being countered on his opinions. The other side “whines,” but the first guy isn’t doing the same, especially when he heavily relies on strawmen? The guy who brings up feminism when the discussion has nothing to do with it isn’t being a whiny little bitch?

Before I get to the last quote, I want to talk about what happened some time ago with Elton John and Dulce & Gabbana. Apparently, the latter two were giving and interview and Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce made comments about children being raised by straight parents. He basically said that’s how it should be ─ vs. gay couples raising children ─ and called the children conceived for gay couples “synthetic.”  Elton John responded with an angry Instagram post and threatened to boycott Dolce & Gabbana. Other celebrities threatened to boycott. This angered the designers and some of their supporters, with the former acting like petulant children. In any event, it looks like Elton John broke his word, but the anger at the comments was justified.

Regardless of how one feels about gay rights, Dolce and Gabbana’s was a thoughtless statement, particularly what was said about the children conceived via IVF. Straight couples use IVF, and were to the first to use it I might add, so should they call their children synthetic, too?

The small backlash brought up the question of tolerating all speech. The right of someone to boycott was also questioned. That reminds me of the dust-up over Chick-Fil-A, when it was discovered that the CEO was donating to anti-gay organizations. “It’s just chicken.” Sure, anyone has the right to give the chain their patronage, but others have to right not to for whatever reason.

Now, the quote about tolerating offensive speech is really facepalm-worthy. It is basically someone making an admission of guilt while simultaneously trying to hide behind the notion of free speech. First, it is not enough just to “tolerate” someone. Personally, I have always hated the word “tolerance,” because the general idea was to “put up with” someone or something. An actual human being needs to be accepted, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has to be buddy-buddy with that person. Just extend the same general rights to everyone and let them live their lives. Second, supporting free speech doesn’t necessarily mean all ideas are equal or should be given equal consideration. When someone says they don’t care for gays, they are effectively writing off a section of society. That’s bigotry. When someone says they hate blacks because they think blacks hate them, that’s stupid and a projection. Discrimination, prejudice and statements like the above should be called out for their absolute bullshit.

What’s more is that people can also protest a business if they are offended. We do not have “new rights,” but we always have the right to pick and choose where we give our patronage. We can protest unsanitary work conditions, unfair pay, and yes, donations to harmful and discriminatory organizations. Deal with it.

I just think that at times, people make arguments while not expecting to be called out on them. Then they cry foul and say that political correctness has gone too far when rightfully challenged. Again, anyone is free to say what they want…but that doesn’t mean that anyone is free from consequences.

The fact is everyone has a right be offended, especially when they are the target of hate speech. Who wants to be called a slur and be pigeonholed by its derogatory implications? How is it not fair to ask for common decency?

So no, I cannot support how the quote by Stephen Fry is used by some people, people who likely have their own poorly hidden prejudices. Whereas Fry was more specifically alluding to how a side could endanger the rights of their opponents if given too much power — and the religious hatred bill would have that effect — the people I’m alluding to just want to be unchallenged in their opinions, regardless of the effects of their implementation or acquiescence.

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