Throwing away the instructions

Posted: 20 October 2011 in world
Tags: , , ,

Reading Amanda Palmer’s latest blog entry set my brain a-running in various directions, always a dangerous consequence, but not necessarily an unpleasant one.

In the entry, Amanda makes the point that

often blogging is just mind-shitting. sometimes tweeting is just soul-puking.

but when it’s not?

art-making, writing and music-making have never been so DEMOCRATIC.

I can’t disagree, with either statement.

And that started me thinking about the plethora of instructions handed out or made available to users of that new-fangled invention: the telephone.

A good summary of phone etiquette through the years is here, courtesy of ars technica.

Included within the above link is the glorious image you can see to your right, an advert from 1910.

Now I started blogging in 2002, long after some people reading this, and long before many others. Nine years. And I joined Twitter in January 2007, although I didn’t start regularly tweeting for about eighteen months.

Thing is – no-one told me there were any rules.

Because, to a large extent, there aren’t. If any instruction manual was given to me, showing what the etiquette was for online communication, I threw it away years ago, relying upon my own common sense to judge what was (I felt) appropriate and inappropriate.

Now if only everyone agreed with me as to what was appropriate and inappropriate, there wouldn’t be any problems. But people will insist on having their own ideas, morals and ethics.

And immediately after they threw their own instruction manuals away, they started showing those differences.

There are consequences to posting either on a blog, or on Twitter, sure. And they’re the same rules, by and large, that apply to any form of communication. You’re still liable to defamation of character law-suits if you do, indeed defame someone. You’re still open to attacks in response to your words if you offend, as Ricky Gervais is discovering this week.

I’m not about to debate the rights and wrongs of his position here, just to reassure you, although feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll answer direct questions.

However, on the subject of offence, Jerry Sadowitz’s line

Being offended is a tax you pay so you can laugh at jokes that offend other people

is being bandied around as if that’s the be-all and end-all of discussion. Leaving aside that Sadowitz was specifically discussing humour, taking his position to its logical conclusion would imply that it’s quite ok to use, say, the ‘n’ word any time you want to, as if you offend someone, so what? They get the right to offend you in return. No further consequences should follow.

Life doesn’t work that way, and nor should it. You don’t make gags about child murder to the parents of murdered children; you don’t don’t (factually correctly though it might be) call me “Jew-boy”, and you don’t use words that are generally acknowledged to be offensive words deliberately to inflame those who find it offensive.

This isn’t legislation-requiring. This is common courtesy and decent humanity.

But then, of course, we come to offence, and the taking of it, itself.

Is there a meaningful difference between when it’s intended, and when it’s not?

Does offence occur only when offence is intended? Suppose offence is intended, but then that intention is denied?

A says something. B is offended. A denies any intention to offend. C – It’s always that bastard C that causes problems, you note – C says that he can’t see how anyone could take offence at A’s comment.

Who’s right?

And, if your answer is, “it depends”, then who makes that judgement as to whether an item has ‘crossed the line’?

This entire subject does have a history for me, going back some years. On an online message board, someone asked whether the Blood Libel could actually have happened? The person concerned had a history of posting anti-Israel, rather than anti-Jewish messages. (Note, not anti-Israeli Government, but anti-Israel, suggesting that the country had no right to exist, and should be destroyed.)

I, along with other Jewish members of the message board took offence at the question (“Can we even be sure that these supposed murders didn’t occur, in some bizarre sectlet of Judaism”) since, as far as we were concerned, it gave credence to a base canard. However, the person who asked the question defended it as merely asking a question and ostensibly, at least, believed that the question itself was neutral, since all that was required was a “no” in reply.

So where does the middle path lay? Or should a middle path ever exist?

And that’s ignoring (we’re back here again, folks) the whole area of humour: if A cracks a gag that I find offensive, does that mean the gag’s not inherently funny? Of course not, any more that it means that a gag I find funny is inherently funny. After all, you might not find it humorous. Indeed, you might find it offensive.

Does it all come down to courtesy? I don’t tell gags that you find offensive in your hearing, and you don’t tell gags that I find offensive in mine? What if you find the very notion of the joke offensive (say you consider it racist). Do you try to stop me telling the joke, even if you’re not around to hear it?

But even leaving aside the humour element, in a democracy isn’t it everyone’s right to be offended? Does that give people the right to offend? And if so, shouldn’t the work be criticised rather than the person producing the work? (A bit like the difference between me doing or saying something stupid… and me being stupid?)

And if so… is there a point where what I do or say denotes a trend (personal or wider ranging) and if so, who gets the right to decide when that occurs?

Damn, this could get complicated…

I need an instruction manual, I think.

If only I hadn’t thrown it away.

  1. Clara says:

    I often find myself offended at how easily offended people are. Generally I think people should err on the side of not being offended. No offence.

    • You made the point, though:

      “No offence [intended].”

      Everyone has their “buttons”, and while I agree that it’s far better not to be offended, of me has the choice, on other occasions, that choice isn’t so obvious.

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