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Posts Tagged ‘offended feelings’

Honestly. Can this be real?

A criminal case was filed in a court on Thursday accusing Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh with ‘hurting’ fans by staying away from the Padma awards function.

Dhoni and Bhajji were to be honoured with the Padma Shree by President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Senior advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha filed the case in the court of the CJM Ramdarash seeking to book the cricketers under sections 499 (defamation), 500 (punishment for defamation), 503 (criminal intimidation) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).

Ojha alleged that the two cricketers insulted fans and dishonoured the prestigious award by staying away from the function.

The comment section is depressing to read. This one, by someone called Kapil Sapre, is probably my favourite:

This is not insult of fans but this is insult of our Honourable President who honours the celebrities with such awards. It is also insult of our nation. Showing such attitude those have made our country to fall on face at international level. No celebritiy henceforth should be allowed to do so and to prevent this those should be fined in terms of money like 25 crores as they also earn that much and imprisonment for at least 3 years. There should be no case and nothing direct punishment. Why because such people are idols of rising youth. If they do so, youth will also tend to do so.

(Hat Tip: Aristotle the Geek)

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The Mumbai terror attacks were remarkable, not just for their audacity and horrifying elements, but also for the spontaneous reaction it elicited from the public. Citizens across India demonstrated in massive numbers and expressed their outrage against terrorists and politicians. There were posters and sloguns and an atmosphere of common purpose. The numbers were massive, the intensity electrifying, the cause just.

However I wonder.

I wonder what those protesters, proud Indians all, who presumably are outraged at Pakistani terrorists killing our people and overjoyed about our economic growth and rapid urbanization, feel about Raj Thackeray’s dictats to out-staters, the culture of entitled offendedness that pervades our society and makes people force their beliefs on others, the recent incident where a Pakistani girl studying in Mumbai was assaulted  for having an Urdu tattoo on her body or this other incident where Ram Sena activists beat up pub goers for behaving ‘immorally’.

I wonder if they think twice when they read about Sania Mirza getting harrassed for keeping her feet too close to our flag, Taslima Nasreen being told what she cannot write, M F Hussain’s paintings being vandalized, Tamil movies being ‘banned’ in Karnataka, arrests made for writing derogatory stuff about politicians or Harbhajan Singh being dragged to court for dressing up as Ravana in a TV show. If they do, they certainly do not show it.

So, while I am happy that my country has been recording good economic growth and all that, I fail to muster up enough enthusiasm about the grassroot protests that took place after the Mumbai attacks. There is little to argue about a terrorist attack; we all agree it is horrifying and wrong and that the perpetrators should be punished. Protests and all are fine and good, but there is hardly much moral ambiguity at stake there. On the other hand, the incidents I mention are commonplace and related in that they all involve a complete disregard for individual liberty. There are principles at stake there, principles worth fighting for. So, when I see that my countrymen, who proved their amazing ability to gather together  and protest less than two months ago, display little or no outrage at all these incidents I have mentioned above, it tells me something — their values are not really pro-liberty, their conception of morality not necessarily mine.

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So apparently there is a raging controversy about Prince Harry’s use of politically insensitive terms during his military stint (he jokingly called a friend a ‘raghead’ and referred to another of Pakistani origin as a ‘our little Paki friend’). The army has announced it will commence an inquiry and newspapers are calling for Harry to be severely disciplined.

Ah well. I cannot help but agree with this blogger at Samizdata:

Sounds like a great guy to me. Sure, I am all for abominating racism like any other form of odious collectivism (like socialism for example, which is tyranny for all rather than just tyranny for certain racial groups), but this hypersensitivity to any politically incorrect use of language is really annoying.

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David Bernstein has a fine post where he explains the perils of having ‘reasonable restriction on free speech’ such as hate speech laws:

When I was in law school, advocates of weakening First Amendment protections to restrict “hate speech” pointed to Canada as a shining example of how egregious expression could be banned without threatening freedom of speech more generally. At the time, the Canadian Supreme Court was holding that Holocaust denial and violent, misogynistic pornography are not protected under Canadian constiutitional law. And, really, who wants to defend Holocaust denial and violent pornography? Yet, less than twenty year later, we have Canadian citizens being prosecuted for quoting biblical injunctions against homosexual activity, or for merely reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons. (For the latest outrage, see here, courtesy of Instapundit). So the Canadian example hasn’t quite worked out as its prior advocates had anticipated. Instead of being an example of “reasonable” restrictions on freedom of expression, it has become an example of the slippery slope problems inherent in allowing restrictions on freedom of expression based on subjective views of what is sufficiently offensive or problematic to be banned.

I have pointed out the same thing in several old posts. And even leaving aside the slippery-slope argument, there is something fundamentally immoral about censoring someone’s opinions because it is distasteful.

Bernstein’s post also goes into other issues, such as the intrinsic arbitrariness of tribunals that end up enforcing such laws. Read the whole thing.

By now, the most important truth ought to be obvious to all — freedom of speech needs to be absolute in order to mean anything. Thus one cannot have a thing such as a “right to never have your feelings hurt”.

Unfortunately, as Orwell famously said, to see what is one front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

So I repeat myself, ad nauseum, for that is all I can do really.

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Here’s the link.

The following sequence occured in an alternate universe that I would love to belong to:

Judge: Before I ask for the other evidence I would like to ask you a question that I always do; what was, in summary fashion, the intent and purpose of the Ravana dance that you did with Mona Singh?

Bhajji: Why is that a relevant question?

Judge: (Damn, this Bhajji guy is slippery) I need to know whether your intention was to hurt religious sentiments of others or simply to, ahem, get closer to Monaji. Because, according to our law, no one has the right to offend religious…

Bhajji: My dance and its coverage speaks for itself; I did what I did. So when you ask my intent, are you saying that one answer is wrong and one is right? Is a certain answer contrary to law?

Judge: Oing?

Unfortunately, around this time, the worm-hole connecting our two universes evaporated and the transmission stopped. However, you can get a rough idea of what happened next by viewing this video from our own universe.

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After Canada, it is Australia.

Australian gun lobbyist Ron Owen has been told he is entitled to express his homophobic views, but that he went too far with the bumper sticker: “Gay Rights? Under God’s law the only rights gays have is the right to die.”

Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found Owen guilty of inciting hatred against homosexuals with the bumper sticker when he parked his car outside the Cooloola Shire Council offices in Gympie, north of Brisbane.

[…]The former president of the National Firearm Owners of Australia was taken to the tribunal by several local lesbians, who claimed they had been offended despite only one having seen the bumper sticker.

Two of the women were awarded $4,195, with a third awarded $2,000 in damages.

The problem with a hypothetical “right to not get offended”, indeed with any hate speech law is that it not only contradicts the more important right to freedom of speech but also that offence is an incredibly subjective phenomenon. For example, it is a fact that I am extremely offended at the tribunal’s decision. It insults my deepest beliefs about human rights. It makes me cynical about the state of the world and the future of liberty. Indeed the commision’s decision makes me and other libertarians feel insecure and hated.

Now, can I have my money too?

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says Quirky Indian.

I agree.

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No, it’s not the Taliban saying this, but the senior-most judge in Saudi Arabia.

The most senior judge in Saudi Arabia has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes. […]

“There is no doubt that these programmes are a great evil, and the owners of these channels are as guilty as those who watch them,” said the sheikh.

“It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil can not be stopped by other penalties.”

Have a good life.

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This is what happens when political correctness is taken too far.

The ordeal began last week when Hensley’s wife sent him to a local grocery store to buy ground beef. While there, Hensley encountered a woman with her two nieces, ages 11 and 13. “I offered to trade her a fattening hog for those girls,” Hensley said. “I meant it as a joke. I’ve said it a million times. Most people get a kick out of it.”

The woman didn’t laugh. Instead, the family obtained a warrant for Hensley’s arrest from the local prosecutor, claiming the comment was intended to entice the children into illegal sexual activity.

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Check out Ilya Somin’s post at Volokh about the United Nations campaign to create a new international law norm banning “defamation of religion.” Money quote:

Given the broad scope of religious ethics, almost any political or ideological statement might be seen as offensive to the values of one religious group or another. To some theologically conservative Muslims and Christians, advocacy of gay equality is just as offensive to their religious sensibilities as a negative portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed. And claims that Muslim nations mistreat homosexuals might be viewed as no less “defamatory” of traditional Islam than the Mohammed cartoons. […] The right place to block this particular slippery slope is at the very top of the hill.

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When I first read about P.Z. Myers’ decision to destroy a consecrated communion wafer (which he followed up with actual action), I was appalled at his lack of regard for the feelings of a billion people who had never personally offended him. I was inclined to agree with Andrew Sullivan’s characterisation of his action:

It is one thing to engage in free, if disrespectful, debate. It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people.

Let me make it absolutely clear though: I never disputed he had the right to do it. However, having a right and exercising it are not the same thing. For instance, we have the right to be unfaithful to our spouse but we usually condemn those who indulge in such behavior. (This is why libertarians correctly distinguish between the legal and the moral.)

Thus, while I viewed Myers’ action as an exercise of his inalienable right to free expression, I did think it was an uncivil and hurtful act that did nothing for the cause of atheism or rationality. However the angry reaction of fundamental Catholics (who are now calling for a law against blasphemy) has tempered my view of the matter. Being nice to people is a wonderful trait but there can be no real compromise with those who believe in enforcing niceness through censorship. Unfortunately there is ample evidence that this kind of thinking is not limited to fringe groups (see, for instance some of the comments below Eugene Volokh’s post on the matter).

I am not sure what the appropriate reaction to religious fundamentalists is. Myers’ way — which I certainly sympathize with —  may not unfortunately be the most effective approach to quieten them.  However, I happily welcome attempts to convince me it is; anyone who succeeds in doing that earns a photo of me destroying a holy cracker. No kidding.

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Hanging a noose has been a symbolic expression of hatred towards blacks since the days of the Ku Klux Klan. However, noose incidents have increased substantially over the last year, prompting some states to pass hate-crime style laws against it. According to DiversityInc,

To date, three states have passed laws to punish those who use nooses as a means to intimidate. Connecticut and New York passed laws in May, with prison sentences ranging from a year in Connecticut to four years in New York. Earlier this month, Louisiana, the state where thousands of protestors marched in support of the Jena 6, became the third state to pass such a law. So far, no one has been sentenced under these new laws….

Louisiana’s law makes hanging a noose, or an image of one, on another person’s property or on public property with “the intent to intimidate” illegal and punishable by up to $5,000 and up to a year in prison.

Lawmakers in Florida, Maryland, Missouri and North Carolina are considering similar legislation.

There is no doubt that the noose is associated with racial bigotry and intimidation and those who display it to show their lack of regard for others deserve contempt. But do they deserve legal action?

As Mike Riggs points out,

The noose’s negative cultural significance is not sufficient justification to ban it on public property. Why is a group of hicks waving images of a noose—or actual nooses—in the middle of a public park any less deserving of 1st Amendment protection than thousands of Ku Klux Klan members staging a rally on main street? Afterall, in order to allow groups like the Klan to march, cities must be able to differentiate between a protest rally and a mob hell-bent on peforming a lynching. That same rubric should be applied to displays of nooses on public property.

I have similar views on the matter. Expressions of contempt or hatred, provided they are undertaken in a non-violent manner, are consitutionally protected in the USA; there is no need to make an exception for nooses. Of course, if the noose is merely a precursor to an actual lynching or violence, the law has to step in. That would however be true for any similar act that does not involve nooses; as Riggs points out, cities ought to be able to differentiate between the two cases.

The greatness of the First Amendment lies in its absoluteness. Other countries that had incorporated weaker versions of free speech protection, — i.e. with caveats — were ultimately left with no  real  free  speech at all. As I have often pointed out, it is only speech that offends that requires government protection. Recent events in Canada and Europe have amply displayed the chilling effects of hate-crimes legislation.

Notwithstanding the offense-quotient of nooses, banning them, even on public property, does much more harm than good. Offensive or false speech is best countered by forcefully articulating the opposite point of view. It took a long time for mankind to realise the most important truth; let us not go back to the dark ages.

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Ed Winkleman writes:

My personal take on political correctness is that it’s an artificial construct that has benefits in the short run, but will outlast its usefulness and eventually become harmful. What I mean by that is shaming people into considering others’ feelings (or at least keep their hurtful opinions silent) long enough for those others to gain some power socially is a good thing, but for everyone to truly be on an equal playing field, that pseudo-politeness eventually has to end. It’s foolish to think you’ll ever get everyone to like/accept each other. The only practical thing you can hope for is that people have equal opportunity and equal protection under the law and that with those protections they can fairly fend for themselves.

I am no big fan of political correctness. I articulated my thoughts recently in a comment at Quirky Indian’s blog:

Personally, I dislike political correctness and think it does more harm than good.

It is of course a laudable trait to keep in mind other people’s feelings. And I have nothing against those who choose not to use phrases that might demean certain groups of people. However, there are pitfalls to taking these kinds of things too seriously. Today, we are in an era where political correctness often takes precedence over accuracy or truth, or where it is deemed right to suppress free expression simply to avoid hurting certain people. Or, it leads to situations like you mention, where certain groups get worse treatment than others. It leads to other absurdities too, with alarming regularity.

The better alternative to political correctness is a culture where people are — well — less sensitive. I am not saying this lightly. I am fully aware of the historical suppression of certain peoples and also of the power that words can carry. But everything is ultimately about striking balance and it seems to me that if people display a little less offence and a little more humor in dealing with perceived slights or offences, and able to, for instance, laugh off a politically incorrect joke rather than get worked up over it, we will all be better off. And the kind of culture I am proposing would also be one in which freedom of expression is accorded more respect than it is today in much of the world.

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I have seen a lot of absurd things but this one is king. The last sentence of the excerpt below is possibly the greatest example of WTF-ness ever.

An eight-year-old boy has sparked an unlikely outcry in Sweden after failing to invite two of his classmates to his birthday party.

The boy’s school says he has violated the children’s rights and has complained to the Swedish Parliament.

The school, in Lund, southern Sweden, argues that if invitations are handed out on school premises then it must ensure there is no discrimination.

The boy’s father has lodged a complaint with the parliamentary ombudsman.

He says the two children were left out because one did not invite his son to his own party and he had fallen out with the other one.

For those who are unaware, Sweden is also the remarkable country where prostitution is completely legal from the standpoint of the girl offering it, but illegal for the john buying the service…

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Adult film producer John Stagliano — facing up to 40 years in jail if convicted in a currently running obscenity case — debates Pepperdine Law School’s Barry McDonald on free speech vs obscenity. Money quote from Stagliano:

Barry, your point is that people must be forced to not think things that you don’t like, and for that you’d have me put in jail. Your comment that it “seems” to you that viewing images “to obtain sexual pleasure cannot be the healthiest way of experiencing sex” seems not a good enough reason to imprison me for 39 years. In fact, using a proper concept of morality based on individual rights, it is you and those who would put me in jail when I did not infringe on anyone’s rights who are behaving immorally.

(Link via Reason Hit and Run)

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