Re: Plea (was ExI: Cognitive Extropians)

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Sat, 18 Jan 1997 15:09:42 -0800 (PST)

> I have also noticed in the course of my work that in most situations
> where the speaker makes statements to the effect that the listener
> should 'learn to develop a thicker skin', etc., the person on the
> receiving end usually hears something that quite legitimately stirs
> anger. Simply demanding that people develop a greater tolerance for
> what they perceive as ill treatment does nothing to promote a better
> world, nor does it address the underlying problems.

I don't doubt your perception, but I must say that mine is the
opposite. When I see someone upset by a statement, it is usually
a simple, straightforward statement of fact or opinion. A talk
show host in SF recently said on the air "I believe the ethics of
Jesus to be morally superior to the ethics of Judaism." Jews
everywhere were indignant, and demanded apologies or reprimands.
Why? They had no cause to take offense. He believed that, he
stated why he believed it. I as an atheist took no offense, I
merely disagree. He behaved entirely appropriately as a talk show
host by expressing his honestly held beliefs and explaing why.
I have no respect for those who complained about it.

Similar indignation arises any time someone makes a generalization
about some gender, race, or other group. Everyone knows that such
generalizations are just that: that they imply nothing more or less
than what is said, that there are always exceptions, that they make
no implications about different rights or priveleges, they're just

Sometimes, one must be deliberately provocative to shake out the
mental cobwebs of "common knowledge" with new ideas. Dry, plodding
arguments for slowly changing, say, the drug war, might eventually
lead the right direction: but wouldn't people be more likely to
hear and respond to more direct attack: It is morally repugnant to
jail an innocent drug user. The fact that tobacco is legal and
marijuana is not was racially motivated. You /don't/ have the right
to vote on what I can and cannot put into my body. The LP once
wrote a press release against the bill that mandated HMOs to keep
mothers in the hospital for two days. Knowing that it was one of
those meaningless feelgood everybody's happy kind of bills that
most people would give a second thought to, they titled the release
"Against Motherhood", to provoke thought and discussion.

I am not suggesting that one walk up to every stranger on the street
and say "Hey, you're fat and ugly." What I am suggesting is that if
someone asks the direct question "Do you think I'm too fat?", then he
has no right to complain when someone honestly answers "Yes." I am
suggesting that when a researcher finds an interesting piece of data
like "Men are much better at this certain test than women", it is far
better to examine the data, investigate its causes, and postulate
solutions than it is to take offense, dismiss the data and the man who
found it as nonsense, and ignore it.

When you say that simply suggesting that people develop a thinker
skin does help "the underlying problem", you evade the point I am
trying to make: thin skin /is/ the problem. It /is/ the cause of
reactions that get in the way of free inquiry. It /is/ the cause of
people who shut off communication instead of working to resolve
issues rationally.

I am sure there are also speakers with hateful motives, and that
may be a problem as well, but to automatically assume such when one
is offended is to avoid finding the truth: maybe your reaction was
justified, maybe it wasn't. But if the words weren't said in the
first place, we'd never know.

One of the saddest sights I ever saw was a grown man talking to his
mother. They were unfailingly polite; she baked cookies, he praised
them. She complemented how his house building was going. They
chatted about landscaping. They were complete strangers, and not
even interested in each others lives, other than to fill their duty
to each other as family and smile and nod.

My mother knows I like my sister's cookies better than hers. I know
she doesn't like who I date. She knows I'd like to have a different
job. I know her husband drives her crazy sometimes. We have a
wonderful, healthy, loving, complete relationship--and it is no
accident that neither of us feels the least restraint in saying things
that might be upsetting. She tells me I'm too fat; I tell her she's
too nosy. That's what a healthy relationship is.