Thursday, 8 January 2015


There's something I am often heard saying in debates on just about anything, and it's this:

There's a difference between an explanation and an excuse.

You'd think this would be really, really obvious, but I'll be damned if I don't have to remind people of it over and over and over and over.......

Example: I don't believe in the death penalty. I think it's foolish AND wrong. It doesn't work as a deterrent, AND it makes the executioner just as bad as the guy he kills. Killing is killing. Not only that, I don't think it's right to kill someone for being crazy. It is my opinion that the vast majority of those who end up being executed are crazy, or at least were at the time they did the deed.

(Yes, I said crazy. If you don't like the word, replace it. I chose it for a reason.)

Yes, yes, I know that in theory, they are psychologically evaluated to determine they were not crazy. But to me, by definition of having done it, they were crazy. Non-crazy people don't go around killing people. For the moment, please pretend you agree with that even if you don't.

Now here's the thing. The moment that I say "The guy was crazy" somebody will say "That's no excuse" and I never said it was. It's an explanation. Cause and effect, nothing more and nothing less.

It doesn't make it OK, and it doesn't let him off. Put him away for life, by all means, if he's dangerous. There should be a few more of them inside. But our modern western legal system is stupid, it imprisons people who could be treated, and leaves the crazy people on the street. We'll discuss that at length another time, I'm sure. That's not my point today, it's just an example.

I want to talk about bullies, and how we deal with them. No excuses. Cause and effect is just an explanation, it does not let anyone off. I'm so done with how the bullying issue is being dealt with in schools, but that's nothing compared to what happened in France.

I'm sure you've heard that in France a bunch of bullies killed some journalists for daring to publish things they didn't want them to publish. This particular bunch of bullies don't believe in free speech, so they don't give a shit about that angle. Right now a lot of support and solidarity is being shown by other people, but the question is how much will be dared by other journalists.

You won't remember this because the bullies in my next example weren't the right kind of bullies to make front page news, but this sort of thing happens all the time.

Eleven years ago a journalist in Mexico was walking home from work when he was stabbed 26 times, which killed him. It was no random attack. He was known for openly criticizing local drug cartels and the corrupt authorities who were at the very least turning a blind eye to their activities, but most likely aiding and benefiting from it. Not only did they kill him, they did an amazing job of not finding out who did it, if you see what I mean.

Since then, surprise, surprise, journalists in the area have stayed very quiet on that topic. So, yep, the bullies won.

And this is how it works. It has always worked. People are scared to speak because somebody was made into an example.

There are many examples of this type of bully, and have been throughout history. Sometimes they are actually governments, central or local. Sometimes they are organizations, large or small. Sometimes they are school directors. Sometimes they are individuals. It's the same story though. Somebody decides "you can't say that" for whatever reason, and then they bully people into not saying it.

And inevitably somebody brave says it anyway.

As things stand, in schools in many places today, to prevent bullying, there is a crazy (there's that word again) zero tolerance policy. If two boys get into a fight, they are both punished in whatever way is deemed appropriate. Nobody cares who threw the first fist, and nobody cares if one of the boys has a L-O-N-G history of starting fights, bullying, and generally causing trouble. I personally know many examples of unjust treatment of kids as part of this policy, and I oppose it with every fibre of my being.

Out in the real world thankfully we are still a bit more sensible than that. We look for something called provocation. We accept and understand that if you are being bullied there is a limit to how much you'll take before you strike back.

However we also have this idea of "don't poke the bear". If you were to walk into a pub in Glasgow, choose the meanest looking guy in the place, tap him on the shoulder and make fun of his accent, you'd probably end up minus a few teeth.

Here we have a perfect example of cause and effect. BUT, it's still an explanation and not an excuse.

Today, I'm reading various editorials on the situation in Paris. Some are hard to read as they are nothing more than rabid racism. But some are just as hard to read as they seem to suggest giving in to the bully.

They suggest, in fact, that it's wrong to provoke bullies like this. That perhaps these journalist should be more careful what they publish.

Should they? No.

Satirical publications exist to satirize. That's their purpose and their job. Satirists have existed for thousands of years (read a Greek comedy if you don't believe me, there's even satire in the Old Testament). They are a part of human society. You may not like them at all, but most people find them amusing until they are the target. We see this all the time. Isaac Hayes was on South Park, and worked happily on many episodes poking fun at all sorts of people and groups, but when they had a go at Scientology, which he's part of, he quit in a fit of pique.

Yeah, it's all clever and funny until it's YOU, right?

Was it likely that bullies would eventually get their knickers in a knot over the satire aimed at them? Yes.

So this was provocation, right? No. 

Because an explanation and an excuse are two different things.

Free speech is a complicated right, open to definition, and further argument. It has consequences, it can make you very unpopular, and some of it is horrible, but we have to defend it without exception or we have no free speech at all.

There is one problem, and we can't ignore this. Many countries now have "Hate Speech" laws. This makes things complicated, but it's not an insurmountable problem. There are careful definitions of what constitutes hate speech, and it doesn't infringe on free speech, because satire is generally excluded. That's our recourse, our outlet. That's why it's so precious. Something can be in very poor taste without being hate speech.

Some object to satire being excluded. They say it's a sneaky way of getting round it. Maybe. I'll still defend it because life without satire would most definitely be life without free speech. We'll work out the complications as we go.

Satire has a go at everyone and everything, no exceptions. Even if you don't like any of it (I don't believe you) there is no possible excuse for killing over words or cartoons, and therefore these are not just bullies, but crazy people. Non-crazy people don't go around shooting people. (BTW, the usual politically correct term for these bullies is "extremists". In this house we use the term "nutjobs".)

But there's more, isn't there? There's the risk of backlash.

Is it likely that some members of the public will get so upset about these killings that they may turn on people who share the same religion as the bullies? It has already happened. A mosque was attacked near Paris within hours of the shootings and other attacks have been reported elsewhere.

Quite what this is supposed to achieve I don't know. It's just another form of bullying. It's just as bad as the original attack, only more random. There's an explanation, sort of, but no excuse. And more crazy people. Non-crazy people don't go around throwing grenades.

Not only should we never give in to bullies, we shouldn't blame their victims. EVER.

I hope every journalist, every publication, every news station shows TRUE solidarity for the fallen by not kowtowing to the bullies, and I don't want to hear one single person say "well, they shouldn't have..."

Because that's like blaming the rape victim for wearing a skirt folks, all over again.

EDIT: Just stumbled across a mild example of "duct tape over the mouth" syndrome:


  1. "Not only should we never give in to bullies, we shouldn't blame their victims. EVER." --A very, VERY good point here.

    Yet, as the world hashes out the difference between excuses and explanations, we may as well look at other 'slightly similar' words, such as balance and justification in the midst of extremists. We all seem to be working as screens sifting through the chaos that surrounds us these days--thanks in large part to the faction that wishes to stir the pot.

    Who would benefit from trying to stifle the voices of dissent, or even sarcasm? May our discourse be mindful and purposeful, with explanation that seeks understanding rather than excuses for poor or unmindful behavior. Voices need the right the right be received and heard. Here's hoping we are receptive and not purposefully ignorant. ~ Blessings!

  2. As usual, very well said. Editorial cartoonists and their ilk exist to poke fun at current affairs. It brings a bit of levity into an otherwise serious topic and gets us to laugh at ourselves. Unfortunately there are those with no sense of humour concerning certain topics - religion being a big one.

    My blog this morning was on another angle, that bullies become such because they see a world that is stacked against them and they feel they have little recourse other than violence to get their point across.

  3. Shrug. Of course. I have a whole blog brewing on this phrase "well, they shouldn't have...", which is one of my pet peeves. I even have doubts about laws on hate speech. I know they are well intended, but they are easily misused. I would prefer to see hate speech countered with facts and ridicule. Ridicule is deadly to haters. Which is why they are so scared of satire.