Fuck Millennials

For context, this is what I hear every time I hear the word “millennial”.

Fuck the millennial generation! Screw them. They’re what’s wrong with the world right now, they’re the root cause of everything.

Of course, I mean, well… it’s not like they’re old enough to ever hold serious political office. But, it’s definitely their fault that laws are messed up. It’s the young peoples’ fault, definitely. Laws, the EU, the country! Young people today, that’s the fault!

And their voting record is terrible… they just… okay, fine, so anyone under the age of 23 has only been able to vote in one election in their entire lifetime so far, but it’s definitely how they vote and their lack of voting that’s screwing the world up. Damn their entitlement. If they wanted to vote they should have been born ten years earlier!

And they just screw the economy… I mean, none of them are old enough to buy and sell a house, hell, most kids barely can afford a car, but they’re definitely the cause of the economy flustering. Because. They are. Aren’t they? Just useless, the lot of them.

But what really hacks me off about Millennials is jobs. I mean, sure, sure… they don’t, by and large, have any hiring or firing experience…  They don’t run big companies or trade shares because people fresh out of school and college don’t do that sort of thing… they just… it’s clearly just their fault because. Because Millennials.

They’re just too self obsessed with themselves! They should be worrying about my problems, like my pension and whether my house price will go down and whether I’m allowed to call a coon a coon and not trampling my right to say how I want Muzzie-foreigners deported or shot. Because me, me, me… not the me-me-me generation!

Fuck their entitlement. I need my high house prices, I need my cheap fuel and cheap cars, I need my pension and to retire at 65. Why should I care that they won’t get that, the entitled whiny bitches…? What about me and my needs and wants? I’m entitled to things, they aren’t.

And screw their “activism”. If they were really anti-war or whatever, they’d have the good sense of doing something about it by being older and having actual political power rather than having to do their lazy protests and reading and sharing… I mean, come on, how pathetic is that? Why don’t they form their own opinions instead , and quit being so young and just do what I tell them because I’m right and they’re just stupid.

Okay, so they don’t have political power, they don’t vote because they legally couldn’t until recently, they don’t run big companies, they occasionally care about people other than themselves, they don’t sell houses for a profit because they’re literally not old enough to have had one for long enough, and they don’t get high powered jobs because they’re not old enough…

…but it’s still all their fault. Obviously.

Freedom, Responsibility and Privilege – the Trichotomy of Speech

Pretty much everywhere we hear the word “freedom“, we see it balanced by the concept of “responsibility“.

We have the freedom to own a car. But at the same time we have the responsibility to pass a driving test, learn to manoeuvre the vehicle, and not to knock anyone over. Across in the United States, the freedom to own a firearm is hotly defended by people who emphasise, above all else, their responsibility in owning one. Sometimes it’s a difficult balancing act; we pledge to use our freedoms, but to not cause harm to others in doing so. Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins, etc. etc.

But we hardly ever hear this talked about with one freedom: speech.

That freedom seems absolute. You can say whatever you want, whenever you want to, and it shouldn’t be impeached. Even when people say the most despicable things, outright wrong things, or lie, cheat and bludgeon their ways through facts, someone will come along and defend them because of “freedom of speech”. Criticism is responded to with “well, it’s their freedom of speech”. Or, at worst, the irony-busting version of “it’s their freedom of speech so you should shut up”.

Why is that? After all, freedom of speech is a principle to uphold, it’s not exactly an argument for something.

It would be as if someone had knocked over a pedestrian in a car, and they were defended because it was their right to drive. As if a gun owner shot an unarmed civilian, in cold blood, knowingly, and with zero provocation, and they were defended (and then went unprosecuted)  on the basis that it was their right to own a gun.

With freedom of speech comes responsibility to use it well, to avoid undue harm, and make the world better. It’s a responsibility to take your liberty without damaging the liberty of others. Not to, as one particular National Treasure™ did, to tell child abuse victims to grow up and stop seeking pity. Not to, as one National Disgrace™ said, to call for refugees to be gunned down by helicopters. Not to, one National Attention Seeker™ said, tell victims of rape that their suffering totally didn’t really count because they weren’t raped properly.

But to understand the importance of responsibility in exercising freedom, we need to look at a third angle ; privilege.

Everyone has the freedom to drive; not everyone has the privilege to drive a Bugatti. Everyone has the freedom to buy a house; not everyone has the privilege to live in a mansion, and many have to deal with a one-bed flat, a two hour commute away from where they work. Few begrudge privilege (earned or otherwise), but many do begrudge irresponsible privilege. Privilege on its own causes no problems – denial of it, blindness to it, and the inability to recognise under-privilege in others, certainly does. Because privilege-blindness drives irresponsibility, recognising privilege is a form of responsibility. A Bugatti driver needs to understand why the family in the Skoda simply can’t “drive a bit faster and get out of my way”. Someone living in a central-London mansion needs to understand that someone commuting in from a flat in the outskirts every day can’t simply “work a bit harder to afford a better house”. A wealthy boss who claims all her travel expenses on the company account might know the price, but fail to recognise the value of a car, fuel, a travelcard, rail fares… and fail to realise that her employees are disheartened, incapable of arriving to work on time and awake, and malnourished because their money all goes to commuting. Privilege-blindness stops her seeing that “work a little harder and manage your money better” is not a solution.

And while the majority of people recognise privilege when put into terms of wealth, and an increasing number actually understand privilege in other contexts, it also must be applied to how abstract freedoms are used.

Everyone has freedom of speech, but less than a percent of a percent have the privilege of being truly heard. They have platforms, they have newspaper columns, TV shows, and the wealth to ride out the rest of their lives in relative comfort even if, may the gods forbid, their careers are “ruined” by one hateful remark. Freedom of speech is entwined with both the responsibility when heard, and the privilege to be heard. And again, privilege-blindness drives irresponsibility. Someone with a newspaper column, a popular web page, and regular invites to talk on television needs to understand that their freedoms are absolutely not under threat because someone with all of 10 Twitter followers said something critical about them. If they’re blind to their position, they don’t realise how much they stamp on the freedoms and liberties of others when they push back. Their blindness to this will fuel their oppression of others. They view themselves as equally persecuted when someone criticises them, but their position is far from equal in reality.

And this is perhaps why we don’t hear too much about responsibility of speech in popular culture or the wider media – because we only hear from the privileged few who can be heard, and they’re so used to being heard that they can no longer recognise their responsibility.

I can write this down on a backwater blog, and someone else can write the exact thing down but have it published in the Independent, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Cracked… we would both exercise the same freedom, we’d both exercise the same degree of responsibility, but only one gets the privilege of an audience. Free speech is dominated only by those who can be heard – and the meta discussion about free speech is equally dominated by the few. That means it’s almost certainly in their best interest to not talk, at least not too much, about their own responsibility or their own privilege. Such things might be a little too self-critical, and might damage their position.

It’s these three things together, make up what we should talk about: a trichotomy of speech. Because freedom of speech on its own is just an abstraction, and such abstractions rarely survive a collision with the real world with actual people. When actual people are thrown into the mix, the need for responsibility arises – just like throwing pedestrians at the abstract concept of “freedom to drive” generates the responsibility not to mow them down indiscriminately. The need to consider privilege arises – just like throwing house prices at the abstract concept of “freedom to own a house” generates the privilege of being able to afford a bigger one.

There is freedom.

There is privilege.

There is responsibility.

Perhaps we should really start to see all three in action for a change.


One Last F**king Time – the Wage Gap Isn’t a Myth

There’s been a recent, sizeable traffic spike to this from Facebook – which means almost certainly some MRA idiot has posted it while flailing their arms around going ‘FLUERRURRFFILLUURRBBBAURRFEMINAZI!!’ or similar. Well, I dunno since I can’t search it publicly, but I’m playing the odds here, and the world has previous convictions for crimes against reading comprehension.

So, let’s go through this one more fucking time.

When you say “the wage gap is a myth” you’re almost certainly referring to the fact that if you take into account maternity leave,* hours worked, type of jobs worked, sector, time spent away from home, distance travelled, duration of employment, seniority and so on, then women earn only about 95% of what men earn, not the oft-touted 60-75% (depending on location).

Great. Have a prize. What you’ve just said is that once you take into account all the sources of sexism, misogyny and inequality; then sexism, misogyny and inequality don’t exist. That’s like saying “once you take into account the fact that it’s a hill, this mountain is actually quite flat”. It helps no-one and shows you’re not willing to discuss reality like a fucking adult.

We don’t need your ‘adjusted’ figures – not because that approach is invalid, and not because it’s mathematically incorrect, and not because it isn’t somehow interesting,** but because you’re not using those adjusted figures correctly.

‘Adjusted’ statistics are for when you know you’re not comparing like with like, so you need to iron out those problems to get a more reliable answer. If I’m working on kinetic studies of a new catalyst I know to be about five times faster than my previous one, I don’t ‘adjust’ for it by dividing its rates by five and declaring “Actually, the new catalyst being faster is a myth! Look, I even did the sums to prove it!” In the case of the wage gap, the on-average, over-all-women, unadjusted-and-unmolested data is appropriate because we are literally asking the question: do women, on average, earn less than men and why?

That’s the question, and that question isn’t answered by “taking into account” anything. Men and women are already like-with-like enough to get answers to that question. We’re not asking the question “well, if we take a lot of shit into account and ignore the sources of potential inequality do women earn less?” – and even when we do, the answer is still “yes”, for further interesting reasons.***

That, on average, women earn less is a fact that isn’t going to go away any time soon. And your pathetic attempts to sweep it under the rug and bang it down with a broom and pretend otherwise isn’t going to make that very real gap close any faster.

Now go away.

* It’s worth pointing out that the United States doesn’t have paid maternity leave like the civilised and developed First World does. So, by the coin-toss accident that says you’re the von Neumann machine responsible for propagating our species, you have to go a year of your life unpaid and perhaps never get that job back. So, Yanks, whenever you’re ready to grow up and join the rest of us, we’ll be waiting.
** Interesting because it can help point us towards things that we can fix to improve equality. Do we shove women into low-paying jobs, or do we pay less for jobs women are shoved into? It doesn’t unambiguously say we have equality. You can see the difference, right?
*** Namely, sub-conscious biases in the hiring process will start women on the lower end of an offered salary range, an effect that has been demonstrated in the lab and in the wild. This proves that even equal-pay-for-equal-work still isn’t 100% here. Now that really is interesting, dontcha think?

The Environment: Social vs Science

A thing I’ve long suspected, but have really only figured out and cemented after having to write some lecture materials on it, is that green chemistry, climatology, sustainability and environmentalism aren’t technological issues or scientific issues – they’re absolutely social issues. I apologise if this seems utterly trivial to people and that I’m a little late to the party – and I did say something similar regarding health issues a while back – but it really does seem like this is 100% social and 0% scientific.GreenChem_green

On one level climate change denial is entirely social – it sure as hell isn’t based on the scientific evidence or a through understanding of climatology. Merely presenting evidence doesn’t change minds, so it cannot be a simple scientific issue. Science can figure it out, science could save us from the ill effects, but it doesn’t convince and it doesn’t convey with relatable rhetoric. Instead of searching for the right evidence for people to believe it, we have to search for the right incentives for people to believe it – and those two things aren’t even in the same ball park when it comes to looking for them. If the climate changes irrevocably, we could survive through technology, that’s certainly true, but… only the ones that can afford the technology will have it, and therefore only the ones who can afford to survive can thrive. That’s a social, not a scientific, issue, and no amount of technological advancement and research will help with that.

We charge 5p for a plastic carrier bag now, even though carrier bags aren’t the biggest use/waste of plastic and aren’t as big a deal as you might think… yet that isn’t really the point. No-one sensible thinks this minor little thing will change the world. If you charge for it, though, it makes people think “maybe I shouldn’t use this material as a disposable commodity… hmmm, perhaps I should re-use an old bag instead”. It makes people think “this thing has a value, I should use it responsibly.. perhaps I could use other things responsibly”. Those are social incentives, independent of any technology – we could implement such a change, and have a real impact, without having to spend a single minute in a lab developing degradable co-polymers or decomposition photocatalysts. If a simple social incentive makes people think more about where it’s come from and where it’s going, and whether it can be reduced, re-used or recycled, then it will do more for the planet than any amount of technological development in biodegradable polymers will.

Decent incentives can make people think, because science can’t do that for them.

Sustainability_greenWe can recycle cow dung into vanilla, recycle water between toilets and sinks, and breed insects for the same amount of protein at a fraction of the environmental cost of cattle – all of which could have staggering benefits for us and the planet. Yet people (well, North America and Europe for the insect thing) may well go “squick” to all of it.

We expend vast amounts of energy to purify and sterilise drinking water and pump it into homes, then use about a quarter of it flushing shit into the sewers – and no one, here in the big, developed, supposedly-civilised first-world seems to think that this is maybe, just maybe, a little bit weird. We can purify waste water to a high standard but people either won’t accept it as drinking water without an emotional buffer in the way.

I can sit through presentations from students returning from work experience in the chemical industry and note that 10% of their efforts are expended in getting a product that works and 90% of their efforts are expended in getting a product that looks and feels like it works. We are quite literally blowing our technological advancement on placating social norms and pandering to conventions. That is absolutely a social issue to be addressed. Can we educate society to accept cloudy washing-up liquid and less-viscous shampoo in exchange for diverting our scientific efforts elsewhere? Can we de-brainwash people about what things should look like providing they still work?

None of these are technological issues. Grey-water toilet systems exist. Half the planet already consumes insects. Flavourings from bio-mass and waste already exist. Bio-derived and biodegradable surfactants already exist. But accepting them as solutions or potential solutions isn’t exactly trivial. They’re new, they’re weird, and sometimes they can be a little yucky. So should we should begin draw the line and say that it’s our responsibility to adapt to the better technology rather than the technology’s responsibility to adapt to our artificial preferences? Or is that solution just too difficult?

Sure, we need the technology to develop better approaches, but without the incentive to use them that’s nothing but a pointless academic exercise.

“Political Correctness” is a myth, now stop being dicks

Last night, I ended up briefly channel hopping (you know, kids, that’s a thing we used to do before Netflix) and came across a BBC Four interview where some old, white-haired bearded guy was talking pretentiously in an interview about some arts subject or other. I forget the details, but suddenly, and seemingly apropos of nothing, he launched into some great tirade against “political correctness”.

“I’m sick of political correctness!” he moaned, “Where will it end?!” he screamed, practically jumping out of his chair and being the most animated he had been so far in the interview. Someone had apparently done something (I dunno, something like casting an actual black guy as Othello, that kind of madness) and my, my, was he angry about it.

The details are mere salad dressing and not worth my time to check out via iPlayer, the point is that this was an absurdly over-the-top reaction against what is, actually, just the concept of not treating people like shit. The haughty sense of self-entitlement; the weird bewilderment that someone might think or do slightly differently to how it was in the past; and the tutting and scoffing, oh my you should listen to that tutting and scoffing, it’s something to behold. As I’ve said before, we’re not offended, we’re something else entirely – but the people who deride others as “offended”, well, that’s what mere offence actually looks like.

He seemed hellishly offended by not treating people like shit.

At this point, it’s worth just quoting Neil Gaiman (I’ve said a similar thing before, but I’m not a world-famous author so he wins regardless of who said it first).

I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”

Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.

You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.

I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!”

It’s quite enlightening to view it that way. A little mad-lib goes a long way, and “political correctness” as a pair of words is ripe for it.

And when you do that, you find that there’s no such thing as political correctness. Really, is it a thing that exists? No.

I’ve certainly never seen it used as a self-identity. Its use seems to be exclusively reactionary; it’s a title given to “not treating people like shit” (as I put it) and “treating other people with respect” (as Gaiman put it) by people who are offended by such crazy notions, as the white-haired interviewee above clearly was. We hear “it’s political correctness gone mad” and “political correctness has gone too far” from reactionaries far more than we’d hear, for instance, “in order to be politically correct, you must…” from liberal progressives.

In fact, if you see a related term as an identity, it tends to be “politically incorrect”, as seen with Bill Maher’s show of the same name. People identify as politically incorrect, and wear that as a badge of honour; almost as if their entire raison d’être was to go out of their way to offend, hate, insult and belittled others for their mere differences, and as if their entire motivation for doing so was nothing except “because we can”.

…someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.

So while “incorrect” is a form of pride for reactionaries and their love of dickishness, it’s almost invisible the other way around. Quite literally, people who supposedly “are” politically correct never use the term; because we understand that, actually, we just want to treat people with respect and not like shit.

But it’s not just the term that’s absent. There is no underlying philosophy or cannonical book of rules to follow to be “politically correct”. I’m certainly not aware of it. There’s nothing that can go mad, and nothing that is there expanding and enveloping the world in its iron grip.

What of it tangibly exists? Well, individual guidelines from disability charities exist. These guide us on how to talk to and treat people with respect and dignity, particularly as they might run into issues us able-bodied folk won’t even see as “issues” – these shouldn’t have to exist, but they do. Occasionally I hear someone say they’d rather be referred to as a person of colour rather than as, say, “a towel-headed sand-nigger”. Sure, we have those sorts of guidelines, but they’re not one unified source of political correctness.

And if they were, what is so bad about that anyway?

Still, “PC” is not really a thing. It’s not even a set of rules declared from on high. We just ask  a series of questions and get a series of answers – some of the answers even consistently agree with each other. This monolithic “political correctness” is, actually, just thoughtful people asking other people how not to be a complete dick, and figuring it out from there.

“Erm, hi, I see you’ve… erm… gone through one of those ‘sex-change’ things, what do you call that?”

“I prefer to call it a ‘transition’, and I’d like to be known as a woman from now on and as a ‘she’, thanks.”

“Okay, cool. Will do… oooh, pretzels!”

My my, it’s fucking anarchy out there. It’s political correctness gone barking mad that I now have to call a woman a woman because she said she’s a woman. Jesus, where will it end?! What next, toddlers dressed as gimps? Am I not going to be allowed to shout at a deaf person? Will I have to treat someone in a wheelchair like they’re still a member of Homo sapiens? Do I now have to go about talking to women’s faces instead of their breasts? Gods-forbid I have to put any thought or effort into how I treat other people; that political correctness thing has just gone too far!

Look, guys, I get it. I really do. I understand that you’ve never had your position challenged or even pointed out to you before. That gives you a sense of what the “default” should be from a perspective, and it’s a valid perspective, but it’s limited to one only. You go around hopping up steps all day on your perfectly working legs, so you don’t get to see what it’s like to get up those steps with a crippling injury and the necessity of a fucking ramp. You read “inspirational” quotes next to pictures of Minions on JPEG files and think literally nothing of it because, thanks to functioning eyeballs, you don’t have to use a screen reader to interact with your computer. You’re completely de-sensitised to churches being everywhere in the country, but get antsy when it turns out there’s a mosque within a ten mile radius of your house simply because it’s unfamiliar, and strange, and it’s new so must be an encroachment of some kind. You’re male so you haven’t had the demeaning effect of wolf-whistling thrown at you, but you imagine it happening and you think it must be a compliment, and you’d love it to happen to you because your life doesn’t have the background context of conflicting pressures to be raucous-but-not-slutty, prim-but-not-prude, and nor do you feel the effects of tangible sexual assault statistics so you wonder what’s the harm as you shout “Smile, luv! You’ve got nice tits!” at someone for no fucking reason at all. You can hold hands with your heterosexual partner without consequence every day, and so not see the irony when you declare that two men holding hands in public counts as ‘ramming it down our throats’ because you’re not against gay people per se, just that…

You don’t get it because you’re not exposed to it – and when we ask you to think about it, it feels like effort. It feels like an affront to your fundamental rights to go about your business without thinking. It can be hard to jump out of your skin and think like someone else for a change. I’m one of those cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied white guys, too – I know the unending struggle of culture treating you as the baseline for normal, the default for every entity, and the core market to tailor everything towards. And a brave new world that doesn’t put you in the middle can seem pretty scary, so it’s perfectly understandable if you don’t want it to change.

And that’s okay. It’s fine. We understand. It’s easy to change nothing, do nothing, and dismiss the other side as “politically correct” when they ask you to do something as outlandish as consider your behaviour, or to reflect upon your attitudes.

But understand that, by doing so, you’re being a dick.

If you want to wilfully and knowingly push back against “treating other people with respect” and “not treating people like shit”, then you’re being a dick.

If you want to make up this phantom rulebook that’s oppressing your ability to bluster about the world like you own it, no matter how it affects others because fuck them, you’re being a dick.

No-one is demanding perfection first time (fuck, I’m far from it and I know it), but if you don’t at least take it on the chin and think, and instead double-down on your position, decrying “political correctness” because we told you to stop saying “coon” all the fucking time, you’re being a dick.

If you think it’s political correctness gone too far simply because in 2015 we don’t think it’s appropriate to replicate the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, hate, disgust, mistrust, abuse, and horrible attitudes of the past, you’re being a decrepit old dinosaur who needs to die of old age already so us smart people can get on with fixing things. And you’re being a dick.

Can we please all stop being dicks?

As a Matter of Fact…

Just to clear something up.

According to some (mentioned in a Breaskfast News piece) David Cameron referring to asylum seekers as a “swarm” is just “plain speaking” and “telling it like it is” – those phrases being the world’s most common euphemisms for assholes to excuse their asshole-ness.

But no.

No it isn’t.

Plain speaking, if it has to be anything, is factual, non-emotive, and free from connotation, simile and metaphor. It doesn’t have to be restricted to the most common 1,000 words in the language but it should stick closely to a few simple verbs and nouns common enough to be used without ambiguity, as close to their literal definitions as possible. And since humans can’t literally swarm because the primary definition of “swarm” refers to insects, calling a group of a people a “swarm” isn’t plain, nor matter-of-fact.

The connotation of the word is that people are now insect-like, insignificant, worthy of extermination and brutal inhuman treatment. Anything in “plain English” shouldn’t have such connotation.

I have no problem with David Cameron calling people a “swarm”. I have no problem with people using words outside their literal definitions for effect – it’s the joy of speaking something as wonderfully incoherent as English. But don’t deny this is what you’re doing. Don’t pretend that you’re not doing it, or pretend that you’re speaking plainly when you’re riddling your rhetoric with bullshit.

“The cat sat on the mat” is plain, matter-of-fact speaking. “The bloody mongrel dragged its scabby, sordid arse all over my nice new rug” is not, quite obviously. “The cat squatted on the mat” alters it less with a slightly negative connotation, “the cat postured on the mat” alters it for a slightly positive connotation – yet the facts do not change. It’s also no accident that the terms “climate change denialist” and “climate change skeptic” are used on different sides of the fence (though I’m obligated at this point to mention that one of those is more appropriate than the other).

“A group of people”, “many people”, “people,” or “X-thousand people” is matter-of-fact. “A swarm” or a “hoard” is something else that implies more by association of the words with concepts outside of the mere facts at hand.

So if you’re one of those people who likes to “tell it as it is”, I hope this helps.

We’re Offended?

There’s a word I’ve seen thrown around a lot in recent years. That word is “offended”.

I’m sure this word used to mean something. I’m sure if we run to the dictionary we can find the original archaic definitions, and think “ah, that’s what it means!”

But those meanings hardly reflect reality as it is now. A one-line definition in a dictionary isn’t much use when a word represents a concept, and that concept is underpinned by culture, and context, and society and millions of people using it every day in countless situations.

Meaning-is-use, as Wittgenstein might say if pressed for a sound-bite – so how is it used?

If you see “offended” written down anywhere on the internet in 2015, its usage and context more likely mean:

“You there, shut up. You shouldn’t have a voice in this! Stop challenging me!”

Because rarely, if ever, does the phrase “you’re just offended” actually mean that the targeted person possesses the property of “offence”.

Let me illustrate, and boil it down to the simplest of examples.

Person A: “Fucking trannie-fags, amiright? What’s’ with them? Grown men pretending to be chicks. Eugh.”

Person B: “You know, that’s really demeaning to trans/trans* people for no other reason than they’re different to you. You really shouldn’t say that sort of thing since it makes their lives worse.”

Person A: “Oh, MY GOD! What is it with you people being OFFENDED ALL THE TIME?!”

It’s there to de-legitimize an argument. To reduce and trivialise an objection, no matter how valid, by painting it just as “offence”.

And that’s without getting into the “it was just a joke” defence; an equally insipid defence used by idiots to justify themselves. It’s strange that the “ha-ha-bonk” attributes of someone’s speech are only ever brought up after the fact, but there you go. “Have a sense of humour!”, and “It was a joke!” usually come as a knee-jerk response (shame it rarely works both ways). The “just a joke” defence usually fits the pattern, but a more thorough treatment of that is also something for another time.

Further to this pattern, if this kind of exchange goes on long enough, you’re bound to see the following quote (mined) from Stephen Fry. You’ll see this, sure as day follows night, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd-numbered Star Trek movie is shit:

It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that,” as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be repsected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?

Given that, at the time, Stephen Fry’s quote on “offence” was in the context of anti-blasphemy laws in Ireland, freedom of speech with the background context of religious persecution, and also given that Stephen Fry is openly gay, and also openly battling mental illness, it’s pretty clear that he isn’t talking about defending your right to be an utter prick to people for no other reason than because you can.

As much as I am a fan of Stephen Fry, the national treasure that he is, that quote out-of-context has done way more harm than its in-context poignancy ever did any good. At worst, I could accuse him of utter hypocrisy as he’s usually the first to throw a wobbly and leave Twitter, never to return, upon hearing any slight against him… But this is getting beside the point.

The o-word is simply trotted out to shut people up – it just dismisses someone’s views as “offence” and therefore, as Stephen Fry said, “so fucking what?”

To me, that’s just plain lazy thinking. It’s an excuse to avoid thinking about and self-reflecting on one’s own beliefs, ideas and speech – as if to say “You’re just offended, so I’m not going to bother understanding your criticism”, and it says it regardless of the validity of that criticism. Self-reflecting on whether the words you say contribute to a wider stigma, or whether your behaviour is making the world worse, is a vital part of growing up. And you don’t do that simply by dismissing your critics as merely “offended” by your position.

“You’re just offended” skips whether the only thing at stake is if someone is merely “offended”. It discards the actual opinion and goes straight towards “but you shouldn’t have any special rights for feeling that way” and “I therefore won’t pay attention to you”. And that’s really the core problem – in skeptic jargon you can call it a “straw man” argument. It boils down quite a complicated series of objections to a simple, and unrealistic, version that is easy to knock down.

(Of course, it’s very good to phrase it with skeptic jargon, as self-defined skeptics do this frequently when they refuse to engage with active social issues and instead want to simply debunk homeopathy for the millionth time. “Oh you’re just offended” comes from those with self-declared intelligence as it does from the more-broadly ignorant.)

Mostly, however, no. Stephen Fry is quite factually wrong in his quote – as are the people who bring it up as they build their dismissive straw man. It’s not all that common to hear people say “I’m rather offended by that” – or anything remotely similar. Very rarely is anyone ever actually just offended by uncouth and unthinking remarks.

Do you even recognise what “offence” is?

Did you bother to check if someone was actually offended, first?

Or are you using it just for the connotations of “offence”, so that you can dismiss a view without further question?

Let’s put it another way:

  • Am I offended that rape victims get treated like shit, and told that they deserved what they got for dressing the wrong way? Fuck no – I am fucking livid that this is a thing.
  • Am I offended that Britain First gets away with treating Muslims like shit and want to boot them out of the country? Nope, I think it’s an affront to human intelligence that such people are supposed to get respect for their idiot opinions.
  • Am I offended that someone says “cockfag” and uses “gay” to mean “bad”? Christ no. I think you actively equating a demographic of people with negativity causes actual factual harm to people, and that should be enough to curb that behaviour because we all should make the world better, not worse.
  • Am I offended that you shoved your able-bodied ass into a disabled parking space? No, I think you’ve just made life worse for someone who can barely walk who will be along in ten minutes for no other reason than because you’re a self-indulgent asshole.
  • Am I merely offended by… well, anything that has been cast as “offence”?

No, I’m not. In fact, I think it’s pretty difficult to offend me. If I – and countless others – tell someone that they’re talking out of their arse, it won’t be due to mere offence.

The reality is that “offended” means nothing today. It’s simply a cheap and easy way for people to dismiss the valid opinions of others, to continue to unthinkingly treat Others like shit. When we want to finally say “enough, e-fucking-nough!” to this, it’s trotted out to dismiss the complaint. It’s an excuse to continue on with an unthinking lack of self-awareness. It’s a quick, thought-terminating cliché that absolves you from taking criticism seriously.

Maybe someone believes that I feel offended by what they say and think. So I’ll end this with a far more accurate word, as language can have some power when it’s laconic. It’s not offence, it’s more like pity.

I’m not offended that you think that, I pity you for it.

A Graphical Explanation of Consent

Apparently, explaining basic issues like “consent” to the internet is like explaining “descent with modification” to Duane Gish. Except Gish is dead, so at least you’ll have his corpse’s undivided attention.

asking for it

So there we have it. Any questions? No? Good. It’s 20-fucking-15 already, why in the unholy fuck is this conversation still apparently necessary?

Yes, You Are Allowed to Say Whatever You Want – You’re Asking For Something Else

Whenever something like Tim Hunt’s clusterderp happens in the world, there’s one phrase I can absolutely count on hearing almost immediately. It’s so unavoidable, so foreseeable and so inevitable that I can close my eyes, count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and hear the words…

“You’re just not allowed to say anything these days!”

This isn’t just some generic wry observation of Twitter. It isn’t some modern social media phenomenon by a long shot. I hear this from all corners, including from work colleagues while they sip their instant coffee and read the broadsheet-du-jour. It’s the most infuriating cliché – a close relative of “it’s political correctness gone mad”, although more likely to be found in natural verbal conversation, whereas the lesser-spotted Politicus correctnessgonemadius can be found limited only to the dry wilderness of right-wing tabloid letters sections.

What makes it so infuriating is that it’s simply not true. You are allowed to say anything in nearly every first-world democracy. If you’re American, it’s enshrined in constitutional law. If you’re British, it’s retained in a complex series of traditions and precedents. You absolutely can say whatever you want.

Where were the people who supposedly don’t allow you to say these things when Katie Hopkins said, in a national newspaper with a circulation of millions, that she’d happily gun down refugees in cold blood? Where were these Thought Police when Nigel Farage mouthed off at an audience, accusing them of being left-wing shills? Were they napping or looking the other way for the last decade or so of Jeremy Clarkson’s existence? And everyone remember when someone went up to David Starkey and said “nope, you can’t compare the Scottish Nationalist Party to the Nazis” with a gun against his head? Because reality certainly doesn’t.

For illustrative purposes only.

For illustrative purposes only.

The world absolutely agrees – you are allowed to say things.  Not “except for”. Not even “within reason”. You can say anything.

It’s what happens next that’s the free for all.

While the “political-correctness-gone-mad-lite” types bark about the long and prestigious tradition that western democracies have for freedom of speech, they resolutely ignore the equally long and prestigious tradition of people being held to account for what they say, for what they incite, and for what they tell others to do. I shouldn’t even have to raise the “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” test. Or point out that you can be convicted for murder even if you hire a someone else to do the killing – even though your orders are nothing more than an exchange of words. I shouldn’t have to tell you all about slander and libel laws, which hold people to account for their words – quite literally just their words, spoken or written. These are things you all, including the “you can’t say anything” crowd, should be fully aware of. We have a very grand tradition of policing words – it’s not a new thing.

You’re allowed to say what you like, you’re just not free from its consequences. If you incite violence through your speech, the law and society will punish you for it. If you slander and damage someone’s reputation through lies and deceit, law and society will punish you for it. And society does that because words aren’t just isolated things; they convey information and ideas, and they can cause actions to come about. They’re far from harmless, so society and law treats them appropriately. What might just be a newer phenomenon is that increasingly, although the law still rarely gets involved, if you start making life hell for people who have had enough of your shit – insert countless examples or misogyny, racism, homophobia… – society will now scrutinise you for it. Because we’re realising that words can have a knock-on effect and consequences far beyond the obvious of slander and libel. You might think that the odd off-hand comment here and there can’t hurt, but the layers upon layers of micro-bullshit add up to a real effect eventually. We all accept that lies and slander about an individual is something where speech should be held to account – and so should lies and slander, in the form of slurs and “jokes”, about groups of people. At last, the more progressive component of society have said “enough” – “e-fucking-nough” – and aren’t going to take it any more. We’re going to call it out and we’re going to make a fuss.

And why shouldn’t we? After all, we are allowed to say what we want. That’s a freedom that absolutely extends to telling people that they are full of shit. We reserve the right to say that, in reality, words cause real damage and people need to answer for the damage they cause – one might lament that the career of one 70-year-old Nobel Prize winner has been “destroyed” (insomuch that you can “destroy” a career at that stage), but what about the number of women who would have heard those comments and thought “nope, science isn’t for me, that University isn’t for me, that career isn’t for me”. What about their careers? Wait, are you saying we’re not allowed to stand up for them? Are they just the wrong kind of people? Are we not allowed to criticise outright idiotic misogyny to help encourage them (or at least counter the incessant discouragement), and to stop their careers from being truly destroyed before they begin?

Because when someone declares “you’re not allowed to say anything these days!” that’s exactly what they’re demanding. They’re asking for special immunity from criticism. They’re asking for other people to roll over and shut up about it. They want special treatment, and to be put in a nice padded box where their opinions can get out but no dissenting opinion can get in. They want to say whatever they like and get away with it.

Why do they want that? Ironically, Tim Hunt said it best – “when you criticise them, they cry”.

“Women are Privileged Too”

Apparently, the phrase “women are privileged too” is a search term that drove traffic to this blog.

To help with that, should anyone else want to arrive here via the same route, here is a comprehensive list of female privileges.

  • Having grow a new life inside you
  • Taking your clothes off without being thought to be a pervert (not a personal experience)
  • Being able to bitch about the other gender wanting to help you.
  • Being able to make a conscious choice to be inconsistent on the above point, because the other side is afraid.
  • Getting a free meal a lot more often than man.
  • Being able to manipulate men into giving you things (and I want to stress that that ability, not the pattern, is there)
  • Being able to do a lot of sports without being thought of as a jock.
  • Being able to talk about your feelings with same-sex friends without having the asshole around complaining that’s gay.
  • Not getting the constant bullshittery of the compensating-for-small-penis argument.
  • Your gay sex is popular.
  • Having A LOT more freedom to experiment sexually without half of your family having a heart attack.
  • Always having the ability to give the middle finger to a possible career for having a family without having to answer 20 years of questions.

Okay… so they’re not really female privileges. They’re not really anything of the kind in the slightly. And the “your gay sex is popular” one just cracks me up with how spectacularly terribly it misses the entire point.

Full disclosure, now: This list was actually culled from something dropped on a RationalWiki discussion page by a user who shall remain nameless. Eyes were rolled at the time, and I feel I should just copy/paste it just to keep it on hand because I think it comes in useful for illustrating terrible misconceptions of social privileges. These misconceptions of privilege are ingrained in people and they seem to crop up frequently. People get tired of hearing the dreaded p-word (I know I do on occasion) but it’s no excuse for typing out crap like this without any hint of irony.

Social privileges are almost all about what you don’t experience rather than what you do experience – a lack of rape threats, a lack of discrimination over having a perceived “ethnic” name, or a lack of having your right to marry actively oppressed and so on and so forth. And they apply universally at a systematic, social level, not on individual cases. So, for example, a wealthy woman like – to pull an example not-at-all at random – Phyllis Schlafly may indeed have advantages over poverty stricken homeless men, but it’s a class-based privilege and a wealth-based privilege, nothing to do with her being a woman (and this perhaps is what causes Phyllis Schlafly to hold some of the most detestable opinions about women possible).

It’s something people need to get into their head before they ever criticise the p-word or bring up counter-examples: we use privilege as an expression of class-based and on-average experiences, and individual examples don’t invalidate the overall trend.

Ideas like “women get more free meals than men” is just… well, that’s just being a whiny little asswipe for no other reason than being a whiny little asswipe. Ideas like “your gay sex is popular” and “you can experiment with your sexuality” have got nothing to do with supposed female privilege and everything to do with excusing latent homophobic tendencies in society. And the “compensating-for-small-penis argument” is all about the male power fantasy that penis size equals power – I don’t really think that has anything to do with women at all.

So, the idea that “women are privileged too” misses the mark a lot. It really ignores what is going on underneath all this on a social level.

If anyone can find a female privilege that doesn’t straw man the concept, miss the point, or can’t be ultimately attributed to a patriarchal (the other p-word) society, I’d be very interested in taking note of it.