I used "dangerous" to mean "destructive of reason, and counter to the
goal of human progress". Perhaps "destructive" would have been a
To clarify what I mean by the "people can be hurt by words" meme, I
mean to say that when a listener suffers emotional pain, anger, or
other distress upon hearing certain ideas, this meme assigns "blame",
or moral culpability, to the speaker, rather than investigating what
mental process of the listener actually caused the reaction.
One of the most interesting studies of emotional response I have
seen shows that infants often look to their parents to determine how
they should react to certain stimuli. They become upset because they
see their parents upset. I have a good friend with a very accident-
prone son. Whenever he falls, my friend bends over, spreads his arms
like an umpire, and calls "safe" with a grin. I've seen this kid
with scrapes and bruises that would cause other parents to recoil in
horror, and most kids to scream their heads off, and he just laughs
while you clean and bandage him.
In this particular case, it might do the kid some good to be a bit
more concerned about his safety, but the point is that even so basic
a reaction as crying at physical pain can be /learned/. To react to
words and ideas that way is certainly /more/ volitional than one's
reaction to physical pain, so why do we assign culpability to the
source of the words instead of the source of the reaction?
Please don't misinterpret me--I'm not say such reactions are bad,
or that they should be supressed. I've reacted negatively to certain
ideas myself (I remember the words "I'm moving in with Kevin" with
particular attachment). I merely suggest that we give credit where
it is due. My emotions are mine, dammit. You don't cause them, and
I don't cause yours.