On giving offense

Alright, I've got something to write about, and I feel like, since I didn't offer up a proper blog post today, I owe it.  I want to talk about offense -- giving offense, taking offense, accountability for offense and validity of offense. First, the necessary backstory.

I have an arch-nemesis.  It's official.  We've known each other for years, we're of similar levels of intelligence, and we each stand staunchly in opposition to everything the other stands for.  It's a bit like the Magneto/Professor X relationship in X-Men.  Ready to go to war against each other, but still invite each other to parties.  (Or, he invites me to parties.  I don't throw parties.)

We had an argument earlier, when I called him out on being overwhelmingly offensive about my sexuality and gender identity.  And I want to unpick his incredibly stupid argument, and I want to do it in as organized and coherent a manner as I can, because there are a number of levels in which he's incredibly, stupidly wrong, and I want to focus specifically on four of them.

If there's anything else about his idiotic argument you'd like to attack, feel free to do so in the comments.

First of all -- in response to my bisexuality, he insisted upon calling me gay, and on using that claim about my sexuality -- that false claim about my sexuality -- to attack me with stereotypes about gay men.  I am not a gay man.  I'm a nongendered bisexual.

Already, we're at the first thing that's horribly wrong about his position -- that he was deliberately and consciously refusing to acknowledge my actual identity in order to attack a different one, for his convenience, and we're just gliding past one of the many horrible things about his position that I'm just not addressing at all -- his bigotry towards gay people.

On to number two.  I called him out on it, and he defended himself, first based on the claim that it's valid to assume bisexual means gay, and that having a penis means you have to identify as male, then, when I comprehensively demolished those claims, insisting that he didn't need to be intellectually honest about that, because honesty is irrelevant to the goals of making fun of someone.

In case you're having trouble parsing that -- he defended his bigotry by shifting the argument to a defense of making personal attacks, as an end unto itself.

So, that's thing two.

Thing three: his defense of personal attacks is based on his moral stance that taking offense is wrong.

So, it was my fault -- I was the one committing a moral, ethical, social wrong -- in being offended at his insults.

Apparently, he sees it as his moral imperative to attack the people close to him in whatever way he thinks is likely to be most offensive, based on the principle that flooding the cultural landscape with constant, unmitigated personal attacks will likely cause the cultural construct of being offended to collapse, worldwide.

This is not an exaggeration.  That was his explicit argument.  In his phrasing, he thinks being offended isn't "Useful."

And, on to thing four.

The reason being offended isn't useful is because negative emotions are wrong.  People shouldn't feel anger, because anger is always a bad thing.  Sure, we should feel passionate about things, but it's wrong for that passion to ever, even in the slightest, most circumlocutory way, manifest as distaste towards things that stand in direct opposition towards our preferred subjects.

We should, in his words, re-calibrate, so instead of love and hate, we have love and neutral.

Because that's possible.

Because we can just cut out half of our emotional spectrum, like each different emotion is just a separate object in our brain, and we can remove any one of them without having any effect on any of the others.

Like we can remove any emotions at all, on a species-wide scale, and reasonably expect to foresee enough of the consequences to justify making the decision to do so.

And, not just that, but the person best equipped to make that call on which emotions we can safely eject from the species is a freaking 23 year old hipster guitarist.

There's a lot else that pissed me off about that conversation, too.  That language is intrinsically damaging to society.  That racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry are okay as long as they just involve making generalizations, not attaching value judgments to them.  That it's unreasonable to attempt to agree on what any given word means, even for the purposes of a single conversation.

I am so, incredibly pissed off right now that I can hardly gather my thoughts.  I realize I haven't gotten into the abstracts I plan to draw from this, but I've got other work I have to do tonight, and I'm getting more pissed the more I write about it.  So I'm going to go cool down, have some juice, and work on my novel.

Tomorrow, I'll get into the complicated issue of offensiveness, and the values, dangers, and balance-issues involved in societal and cultural norms towards not being a total ass sometimes.