The Fascination of What’s Difficult

No offense

Most of what I read is (unfortunately?) discussion of US politics and economics, and when you read discussions of US politics and economics, or, I would guess, any politics and economics, you start to believe that the world is quite simple. This is because most of the writing is about things to which there are easy answers.

Some of these are discussed because there is a need to publicise the issue since the government doesn’t pursue the correct position. Should the US allow gay marriage? If you don’t believe homosexuality is evil, the answer is obviously yes. (If you do, the answer is obviously no, but I don’t). Should the US continue with farm subsidies? If you don’t receive farm subsidies, the answer is obviously no. Should the US default on its debt? The answer is obviously no. What a good outcome is is not often questioned.

But even where there are disagreements about action (what to do to boost the economy? What to do to create jobs? How much should we do to stop global warming?), there is no real disagreement about what a positive outcome looks like (a quickly growing economy. More jobs. No global warming). Everyone knows what happiness looks like. (In case you were wondering: it looks like Alvin Wong).

But this false sense of security (and/or fury, because, after all, What Needs to Be Done is often not done) is incorrect. There are things for which I don’t think what a positive outcome is is obvious. One situation where it’s not obvious and at the same time very interesting to me, is the question of offensive statements.

It is certainly pleasant to have the right to make offensive statements. And at the same time, it is certainly unpleasant to be the target of offensive statements. For instance, there is a blog post earlier where I call James Altucher an entitled prick. I certainly enjoyed the freedom to do so, and would not want to give it up. At the same time, if Altucher had a post that said “zolltan is a douchebag” and then went on to explain why that was, I might be perversely happy to have gotten the fame, but actually I wouldn’t enjoy the situation at all. I think a lot of people underestimate the extent to which “offensive” things actually are. People of my generation have grown up with manufactured scandals and political correctness, so often we assume that “offensive” things don’t actually offend anyone, but are just cudgels in the armory of some opposing player.

I think a lot of the time it is easy to miss how difficult the question of offense can be because there is an obvious “good side” to the story that a reader’s sentiments line up with. Take, for instance, Dan Savage. Redefining Santorum and then doing the It Gets Better Project would normally not be very consistent. But actually it is easy to make sense of, because in some sense Santorum deserves it and gay kids don’t. And this is a viable answer to the question of offense: the Chris Rock answer of you can’t make fun of people unless they are in a position of power compared to you. So I guess by this logic it was fine to call Altucher a prick and Berlusconi a buffoon, but they can’t say anything back. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite right, either, though.

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One Response to The Fascination of What’s Difficult

  1. Zuuko says:

    ” so often we assume that “offensive” things don’t actually offend anyone, but are just cudgels in the armory of some opposing player.”

    Truer words were never spoken.
    I’m assuming you mean that those guys shouldn’t be saying something back had they read our posts previously? And that doesn’t seem quite right… right?

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