Friday, June 15, 2007

Giving Offence

Via email, the impecunious Athenian boy points me to this mildly worrying story.
Prison warning to 'shock blogger'

A supermarket worker who set up a website mocking minority groups has been told he could be jailed.

Economics graduate Andrew Love, 22, "blogged to shock" on the site and invited staff at the Falkirk Morrisons branch where he worked to view it.

Love directed his insults at groups including black and disabled people, Muslims and homosexuals.

Alistair McSporran, prosecuting, said that at first the website featured only "amusing or supposedly amusing stories and anecdotes", and nothing particularly offensive.

However, in time Mark Kerr, an administration manager at the branch, became concerned.

Mr McSporran said: "Mr Kerr had accessed the site reasonably regularly and was amused by it. But around December 2005 the tone had changed.

"The site had started to take on undertones of racism and homophobia and contained derogatory remarks about disabled and unfortunate members of society."

Since when did giving offence become a crime in this country? Probably some time in the last ten years, I'm guessing; this is, I think, something of a worrying development.

Was Love (I do like the irony implicit in that name) inciting anyone to violence? Not as far as the BBC report goes, so is this not a curtailment of free speech?
Love, of Maddiston, Falkirk, pleaded guilty to committing a racially-aggravated breach of the peace between June 2005 and 16 January, 2006.

Defence advocate David McLeod said the views on the site were not Love's own, but had been intended to shock.

Um, breach of the peace? Where? Where was the racially aggravated riot—did I miss that piece of news?
Sheriff William Gallacher deferred sentence for a social background report and an assessment of Love's suitability to perform community service as a possible direct alternative to a jail sentence.

Releasing Love on bail, he added: "This was disgraceful conduct, very serious and unpleasant.

"You should be under no illusions that this is a charge of great gravity.

"The offence you caused, and might have caused, was very grave indeed, and may need to be marked by the court."

Very serious? What? Murder: that's serious. Rape: that's serious? Posting some jokes—which were not even, apparently, his own—on a blog is not "serious". Can we get some fucking proportion, please?

Cleanthes, when writing as the Pedant-General, wrote a very fine piece on giving and taking offence which I reproduce here, in full (since the blog is essentially defunct).

Offensive Spirit

In the wake of this piece of abject lunacy [thank you DK...], reported and commented upon ad nauseam, one would be tempted to roll one's eyes, shrug one's shoulders and mumble "whatever" in response to this.

You will get no such behaviour from your doughty Pedant-General. We have come to expect similarly doughtiness from the EU-Serf. He hints at the right answer in this comment to the Drink-Soaked Trots posting.

But where lesser mortals merely have a glimpse of the truth, your infallible Pedant-General sees the whole: I shall take a lead from Deogolwulf's excellent general case answer to the "root cause" rubbish put about by the apologist morons who beset this and other free societies.

Here, then, is the general case solution to the giving and taking of offence.

Giving and Taking Offence. The Correct Approach

People who are easily offended should be told to piss off until they can become civilised, rational, sensible people who understand that offence has to be intended. It is the intention of the person allegedly giving 'offence' that counts NOT the attitude or chippiness of the "victim" who goes out looking to take offence.

P-G Prescription: Gratuitous and unjustified takers of offence badly need a custard pie in the face. This has two starkly obvious merits:
1. It might cause said taker of offence not to take himself so seriously and
2. It allows the rest of us to point at him and snigger.


Oh alright: I need to justify this:

Giving and Taking Offence. A bit more detail

It is actually offensive to take offence gratuitously: it transforms good faith (no offence intended) into bad faith (an attempt to give offence).

Consider the following scenarios:

The Canyon Sundown Showdown
[We are standing on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. (Bryce Canyon would work extremely well in this regard also, probably better but for the fact that the great unwashed have not heard of it.) The sun is setting and, as its lower edge appears to touch the horizon, the sky appears to be set on fire. The Canyon visibly changes colour to reflect it.

Two strangers stand, awestruck. They have not met and are ordinarily dressed (for the demands of the location - you won't find any bumbags or dusty sneakers in the Grace and Favour apartment, I can tell you).]

Stranger A [Filled, as he is and because of the natural beauty of the scene before him, with a general feeling of goodwill toward his fellow man and thus attempting to start a conversation]: What an amazing orange glow the sun gives off.

Stranger B [Who happens to be from Northern Ireland and of Catholic extraction and/or persuasion]: You Unionist b*st*rd, evil spawn of King William III! Are you trying to ruin my enjoyment of this scene, just like you trample down all the rights of my fellow men?

etc. etc. etc. Continued p94.

A: ???

The behaviour of 'B' is clearly out of order. This would be the case, even if 'A' knew that 'B' was Catholic and possibly even if 'A' knew that 'B's mother had been hacked into small pieces by those friendly neighbourhood representatives of the UFF or whoever. Why? Because the fact that the sunset is 'orange' is not loaded. It has no cultural significance. Sunsets would continue to be orange at the Grand Canyon, and possibly even in Limerick, even if the 6 counties were to come under the governance of Dublin.

Crucially, 'A' acted with goodwill and in good faith. 'B' chose to ignore this, assumed bad motive on the part of 'A' without clarifying that this was the case and attempted to portray him as an aggressor of some kind. As far as 'A' is concerned, an amicable gesture has been rudely rebuffed. 'A' has clearly been maligned here. Indeed, 'B' has deliberately caused offence.

But what of a flag? It cannot be said that the flag of any country or organisation has no symbolism or cultural context.

Let's try another example:
The Bacon Crisis
Stranger 'A' cowers inside a small bothy in the Scottish Highlands in the depths of winter. This bothy is the only evidence of human habitation for many miles around. A storm rages in the night outside. It is bitterly cold. Stranger 'B' staggers up to door. He is half starved and on the point of losing consciousness as a result of hypothermia. Stranger 'A' opens the door, helps him inside and sits him down in front of the fire.

Once gently and carefully warmed up [as we all know, many deaths from hypothermia are caused by warming the victim too quickly], it is clear that 'B' needs food.

However, 'B' just happens to be an orthodox Jew. To compound the problem, 'A' has been stuck in this bothy for some time and is running fearfully low on rations. He has only a single pack of streaky bacon left and there is no hope of replenishment for the next 3 days (or whatever).

'A' will survive this period without food. 'B' will not. They could just both survive if the food is shared. Oh, and there is a highly resilient independently powered web cam, hooked up to the internet broadcasting sound and video to the world - both know that their actions will be public knowledge.

So, given this scenario, and given that 'A' knows that 'B' ought not to eat the bacon, would it be offensive:
  1. For 'A' to offer 'B' any, or indeed ALL, of the bacon because he can see that 'B's need is greater?
  2. For 'A', mindful of 'B's abhorrence of bacon, to eat it himself and wring his hands whilst 'B' dies of starvation?
  3. For 'A' to refrain from eating the bacon to show solidarity (or whatever, in this case the guy must be a total fruit loop) with 'B'and wring his hands whilst 'B' inevitably dies of starvation?
  4. For 'A' to offer ALL the bacon and for 'B' to accuse 'A' of tempting him or otherwise acting in bad faith?
No need to send answers on a postcard for this little quiz. The answers are, I believe,
  1. No. 'A' is acting in the best interests of 'B'; namely to save his life. This is true whether or 'B' accepts the offer.
  2. Yes. This is true even though 'A's aim was NOT TO CAUSE offence. 'A' has allowed 'B' to die, which is a far greater offence against the person. 'A' is kidding himself if he thinks he is doing the right thing. Worse still, by refraining from offering, 'A' forces the dilemma onto the weaker party 'B': 'B' must now choose whether to ask for some bacon in order to save his own life which is a VERY different class of problem. 'A's behaviour is reprehensible.
  3. Well the answer is in the question: 'A' is clearly a nutcase. Either way, 'A' has allowed 'B' to die, so case 2 applies.
  4. Yes. 'A' acts in good faith and very obviously for the benefit of 'B'. 'B' is being monstrously ungrateful. One might even have a measure of sympathy if 'A'if he were to shove 'B' out of the door into the storm and tell him to take his chances with the weather.
So symbolism is not the key here: It is obviously offensive knowingly to offer a bacon sandwich to a rabbi, yet we have constructed an entirely plausible sequence of events where this 'obvious' symbolism counts for nothing. Indeed the deference to symbolism becomes a very real affront to human decency.

'A' ought not have to have the death of 'B' on his conscience for failure to offer. 'B', for his part, is under no obligation to accept. If his conscience dictates that he cannot take it up, that must be his choice and it would be frankly disgusting for him to project guilt onto others for that choice.

So we have now established that context and the spirit of the offer must be your guides. With this in mind, we can now examine the murky business of the English national flag.

We need, I think, to use another little parable.
The Grundies and the Grabbers
A long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived two families, the Grundies and Grabbers. Each had a substantial castle and surrounding lands, so that each family was able to support its members and hangers-on without needing to encroach each upon the other.

The Grundies lived a blameless existence, in tune with nature, caring deeply for the farmhands and giving much to the community, yada yada yada. You get the gist. The Grabbers however, whose castle lay just across the valley from Grundie Castle, were lawless good-for-nothings of the first water. They staged raucous "house-party" weekends and invited similarly objectionable friends to stay. The days would be spent hunting and shooting and fishing. The nights were given over to debauchery, drunkeness and defilement.

Thus would affairs have continued, until one day, following a dreadful misunderstanding - whose precise nature is lost to folklore - the Grabbers felt that they had been wronged. The next party staged in Grabber Castle was turned on its head: the hunting was done by night. Under cover of darkness, fuelled by grog and loathing, the Grabbers crossed the valley and murdered the Grundies in their beds.

For generations, the feud continued but time did its healing job and over time, friendly relations were restored. Centuries passed and the dastardliness of the Grabbers lived on only as a story, a dark chapter in the history of the family. Indeed, they had mended their ways. For almost a hundred years, the incumbent at Grabber Hall was expected and known to be charitable, generous and welcoming.

(How close this is to the history of the P-G clan, I will leave others to speculate. I never mentioned anything about boiling up awkward local officials to make soup.)

So to the ante-penultimate generation and the marriage of a daughter of the Earl of Grundie to the eldest son of Grabber. Grand-Grabbers ensue, all living in or around Grabber Hall and in houses built by previous generations of Grabbers to bring us to the present day.

Then one day, the estate manager, a man whose forbears had been in the employ of the Grabbers for centuries, suddenly bursts into the great hall as the family sits down to supper. They are having a (civilised) party and the Earl of Grundie is present as a guest of honour. "I think there is something dreadfully wrong!" he stammers. "Many of you are descended from Grundies."

"Yes.... So what?" replies the great Grabber of Grabber.

"Don't you see?", he continues. "The Grabber crest is everywhere: it has been chiselled into the lintel above every front door on the estate. The crest of the man who murdered the Grundies in cold blood. We have to tear it down and replace it with something...
"not associated with our bloody past and one we can all identify with."

[end of parody]

The action of this, no doubt well-meaning, gentleman has precisely the opposite outcome of that intended:
  • It reminds the Grundies of long dead injustices;
  • It suggests that, despite centuries of peaceable relations, the Grundies should still be offended by the Grabber crest;
  • It would cause the Grabbers, fine and upstanding though they may have been for generations, to doubt themselves for no purpose;
  • It would cause every member of both families to question whether he or she is really a Grundie or a Grabber at heart; is one an offender or a victim? Is it possible to be both?
This is, in effect, what Chris Doyle is doing. He is inviting others to take offence at a symbol. As I have shown above, this is entirely self-contradictory, for three reasons:
  1. Offence cannot (or should not) be taken - only given.
  2. A symbol is offensive if and only if its use is intended by the user to be offensive, but his offer shows that he bears no ill will. Conversely, if he does bear a grudge, changing the symbol does not alter that fact.
  3. Anyone taking up your genuinely offered invitation to be offended is reacting negatively to a peaceable offer. This is, in itself, offensive.
That the filth of the BNP and others may have subverted the flag may be. Changing the flag for the rest of the country will not change their attitudes.

It is dangerous nonsense. It is madness.

That about sums it up, I think. And our law is, increasingly, becoming out of touch with these common sense ideas.

This country really is going to the fucking dogs socialists.


Anonymous said...

Freedom of speech MUST include the freedom to offend, annoy or disagree otherwise there is no freedom at all.
We, as a society, appear to have forgotten this.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely outrageous. Who the hell dobbed him in anyway?

What Lurch said.

Anonymous said...

"Since when did giving offence become a crime in this country? Probably some time in the last ten years, I'm guessing"

Very much in the last ten years. After a decade of NuLabour, thought crime is a now a reality in the UK, and we all have to be very careful what we say, write or even think. I don't think even Orwell really believed that this would happen in Britain - it was all meant as a terrible warning - but it has. Sad. And no foreseeable UK government, let alone our EU masters (cf. new criminal offence of 'xenophobia' planned) are going to do anything to reverse this; quite the contrary.
Still, people in the USSR and elsewhere had to develop ways of resisting this sort of thing, and did - unfortunately a lot of them ended up in labour camps or dead in the process, before the whole rotten edifice collapsed.

Roger Thornhill said...

If someone does not give offence, how can another take it?

Clearly the offended party is creating an offence (from nowt) and that surely means they are the ones who should be criticised.

p.s. I note that the prosecutor was Alistair McSporran. Good to see a great Scottish name now and again.

Anonymous said...

[Inspects nails and looks vaguely into the distance]

Yes, it was rather a good post, wasn't it?

Always nice to know that some have filed it away for reference.

Keatonmask said...

I cannot contain my rage.

How have we allowed this to come about?

I will be honest, this does offend me. This descent into pseudo-communist hell is a perfect example of the insidious, creeping evil that inevitably comes with any leftist government.

If you are genuinely offended by such trifles as somebody elses blog then don't read it. You obviously have no real issues in your life.

As ever Mr Kitchen, good post....but upsetting.

Did you perchance read the book I gave you?

Unknown said...

I've been to Bryce Canyon.

Anonymous said...

"Since when did giving offence become a crime in this country?"

Don't know about being a crime, but the attitude has been around a while:

A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person
[Para 45.17 of the Macpherson report into death of Stephen Lawrence, 1999]

What more needs saying...?

Unity said...

Alistair McSporran?


I must admit I have expected that the link to the original story would lead to The Onion, not the BBC.

Okay, so there's serious issues here, but fancy being prosecuted by a barrister with a perfect comedy Scotsman name as well?

The guy sounds like he should be appearing in the Balamory Magistrates Court.

Mark Wadsworth said...

"First they came for the racists, and I did not complain because I was not a racist ..."


Is not calling the BNP "filth" offensive?

Unity said...

Is not calling the BNP "filth" offensive?

No. Just common sense.


In what way is this "common sense"or is this "the right to offend"?Thank God that your lobotomy excludes you from any kind of leadership.

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