Monday, 19 January 2015


In all the discussions recently on free speech there is an unprecedented amount of use of the word "BUT".

So you have people concentrating on the idea that people should be careful what they say, then just in case they sound like they are supporting terrorism or whatever, they will quickly add "BUT, there's no justification for violence".

Then you have people concentrating on the idea that violence is totally unacceptable, but just in case you think they approve of racism they'll quickly add "BUT, people shouldn't deliberately offend".


Relax. It is perfectly possible, and perfectly OK to believe two things at once. You don't need the disclaimers. Your problem began when you chose just one aspect to stand up for, and assumers read more into that than was there. So it's really their problem.

Assumers are very silly and very annoying. I like to mess with their heads a lot, because it's so easy. I will deliberately leave something out so that they think they see a plothole, and they jump right in. Then they look very foolish later on. That's very mischievous and naughty of me, I know. I've been called out on it, being accused of leading people on. Did no such thing. If YOU assume something, then you are committing a great intellectual faux pas. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you need help understanding what I mean, try this:

This sort of thing happens all the time in debates, and the usual reaction is "I never said anything of the sort!" Tabloid journalists thrive on it. "He never denied that he was drunk". Well, that doesn't mean he was. But they'll make a front page headline out of it, just the same.

Believe it or not, I'm actually very careful with what I say. It probably doesn't look that way, but I can edit myself so fast that I can even do this in normal informal conversation. Years of practice. I wasn't born tactful. I spent most of my young years getting myself into trouble every single time I opened my mouth. It wasn't malicious, just a rather gauche honesty.

I learned that most people don't want to hear the bare truth, even when they say they do. Over time I have carefully developed a way of saying what needs to be said without hurting feelings (with the exception of those who seek offence, there's nothing you can do with them). I will sometimes say nothing, or VERY carefully phrase things to avoid verbal harm.

I don't expect you to. This is a unilateral decision. I chose it for myself, I think it's a good idea, but I don't demand it of others. You have to find your own way through life.

I balance this out well, because I'm very hard to offend. That came first actually. If you are going to be outspoken, you'd better be thick-skinned too, because people often give as good as they get. I think being offended is a waste of time and energy and on the rare occasions that it happens, I give myself a bloody quick reality check. It's all ego anyway.

The important point here is that it's all choice. I choose not to take offence, and I choose not to cause it, if I can help it. I choose to speak/write with care, AND I choose to read carefully, so that I don't make an arse of myself.

As we all know, some people take offence easily. We all also know that certain things are hot buttons, such as religion. When the pope said that freedom of speech doesn't extend to religion, he was wrong, but he is the pope so he's going to say that.

There must be equality in the deal. Either we are free to speak our minds or we're not. After that we can choose whether or not we'll say what we're thinking. We can't make that choice if that choice is not available to us.

This isn't right. We can't have it all going one way. Either we criticize all or none.

I've been accused of being anti-semitic for opposing Zionism. I was told that criticism of Zionism is just anti-semitism in disguise. This isn't true. Zionism is extremism. I oppose all forms of extremism. I believe in balance.

Balance is very important. I cannot emphasize that enough, and I know not everyone agrees with me, and that's OK too. Sometimes it takes two extreme POVs to create balance. But until we end up with balance we'll continue to argue and fight.

And accuse.

And assume.

I could explain this until the cows come home, and there will be those nodding at some of my comments and not others. They may draw the line at my view that religion can be criticized like anything else. They'll say BUT. I will nevertheless continue to explain, continue to criticize, and continue to try and find the right words to use to cause as little offence as possible. I will continue to be criticized by those who seek offence, and whose limit, whose hot button is religion. Sometimes, occasionally we'll see eye to eye, and sometimes we won't.

If the BUTs stop, we'll start to understand one another.

1 comment:

  1. Kudos for the 'exception'al message today. In writing, I have tried to monitor and purposefully edit my use of the word "but" for the very reason that it usually provides some sort of rejoinder or exception to whatever is presented with it. If we are to be inclusive, we do need to find that understanding balance you mention, not just write it off with a disclaimer.

    If we are to be in balance, all those buts are fulcrum upon which we hinge or suspend noticeable differences. Remove the buts, and then find some real inclusion. ~ Blessings! :)