The best offence is a good defence, right?

Kind of as corollary to yesterday’s post, the discussion with my friend about comedy, punching down and causing offence continued. A bunch of it is too specific to be of use here. One thing that stuck out was my friend saying that in his opinion, being offended is a choice. I disagreed.

“As for “being offended is a choice”. That stance is a luxury that not everyone has. As far as the two of us go, we have enough cultural capital to inoculate ourselves from a ton of stuff. We’re both white dudes from affluent, supportive, loving families. We didn’t have to struggle with issues of inequality in the same way others probably did. We weren’t beaten or relentlessly tormented for who we loved. We never had to fear for being shot because of the colour of our skin. It’s very easy to be unaffected by issues that don’t affect you, y’know?

At the same time, just because I don’t feel personally attacked, insulted or used as a punchline by a lot of comedy that punches down, that doesn’t mean to me that people can’t or shouldn’t be. I’ve got no place to judge how others react to anything based on their life experiences. If someone feels hurt by something, I’ve got no right to say that they’re not allowed to feel that way. I haven’t been in their shoes. For a lot of people it’s not a choice, and I don’t think it’s charitable to judge other people based on our own metrics.

As for being offended, it’s rare that I really am. What does happen though, when I hear lazy, sexist, homophobic, racist, etc etc etc content, is that I get disappointed or disheartened. I feel shitty for the people who feel like their struggles are being mocked by someone who has never lived them. I feel sad that people don’t understand the inherent power structures in our society and care more about trying to get cheap laughs by catering to the uncaring majority than considering how to more adeptly structure what they’re saying. Because that would require too much thinking. That’s lazy.”

The thing is, this is all a learned response. It’s not like most of this would be apparent unless someone pointed it out. Has anyone ever done that to you? Made you aware of something that you then couldn’t ignore? A friend once told me that Matt Bellamy, the lead singer of Muse, inhales sharply while singing. I couldn’t help but notice it every goddamn time after that. I’m not gonna say it ruined their music, but it definitely changed how I experienced it. This desperate gasp at the beginning of every sentence. How could you not?

Look, I’m a big ol’ loudmouth know it all. It sure is fun to spread your opinion all over the world wide web in a feeble attempt to get Internet Points. I’ve also, as I’ve aged (rapidly), learned a lot more about what feels worth speaking up about. Comedy, language, and progress are important to me. I’ve put a ton of effort into recalibrating my views on the world and figuring out where the disparity between my perspective and others’ lies. I know that there’s a heap of animosity between polarised political ideologies and, while I’m generally heavily left leaning, I don’t think anyone is totally right all of the time.

There’s a phenomenon we see in progressive circles quite often, where someone will learn something, then turn around and chastise others for not knowing what they themselves just learned. I don’t know what part of this is tolerance or progress. It directly feeds into the notion of holier than thou, ivory tower academia and it’s serving nobody. Learning isn’t always a one way street. Having conversations enables us to teach one another by sharing perspectives the other may not have considered. For this to work though, we have to be open to our own fallibility and view this as a strength.

The thing is, that’s hard. So much of society teaches us that to succeed, we need to be confident. For many of us, we take that to mean steadfast obstinance. If you don’t believe in yourself, your growth will wane. In reality, confidence includes openness to criticism. If you’re confident, you’ll know not to take it personally. That adaptability is a huge strength. That criticism is not an insult, but an opportunity. It’s difficult to hear that you’re not always right, y’know?

Be pensive, not defensive.


No steps forward, ten steps back

I just don’t know.

Many things, really. I don’t know what to write about right now. I’m sitting here like a stunned mullet after hearing the latest regressive transgression from the Ontario PC Party. They’ve decided to renounce gender theory province-wide. Why? I dunno, because they’re all withering white dudes who just want to return to the golden ages when they didn’t have to consider any other viewpoints than their own. I have no doubts (despite the title of this site) that they’d be pleased as punch to withdraw women’s right to vote, outlaw abortion, remove protections for any from of vulnerable people and cut minimum wage back to like $8 an hour. It seems right up their alley. This whole gender thing is right on the heels of their decision to remove rent control from any new rentals from this point onwards. Ostensibly they’re saying it’s gonna create more affordable housing, which makes sense right up until you think about it at all. As far as I know, their master scheme is that, without rent control limiting profits, it’ll incentivise developers to make more new properties, thus making available these properties for those in need. But, I mean, if limited profits were the factor preventing developers from making new properties, how are these properties going to become affordable? Clearly smarter people than me know the answer, because so many Ontarians gleefully voted them into power. What was it? Party for the people or something? What was it they were saying back in May? Oh that’s right. From the Ontario PC Party’s official website:

“I have criss-crossed the province, and from one corner to the other, the people of Ontario have told me they are struggling. I have listened to the people, and I won’t take rent control away from anyone. Period.” said Ford. “When it comes to rent control, we’re going to maintain the status quo.”

Welp. Seems like someone with gumption sticking to their guns.

I should be angry right now. I should be furious. I know I will be, but right this second I’m still stunned and dumbfounded by this whole anti-gender theory bullshit. This going to have repercussions for so many already marginalised folx. Generations of children growing up without being taught to respect and welcome those who don’t fall into the binary. Trans folx who’ve fought so hard to have their rights and freedoms recognised. Those in transition who will lose access to medications and resources. It’ll create infinite microaggressions for those who finally thought they could relax a bit. Of course this is going to stoke hateful rhetoric, leading to a rise in verbal and physical abuse for NB (non-binary) and trans folx. While this may seem like a “sky is falling” mentality, I feel like I’m probably not off the mark. There are already so many people who feel “threatened” and “oppressed” by the notion that people might not identify with their assigned gender at birth. Why? I honestly don’t know. Having more options doesn’t diminish or take away their own recourse to identity. Having gender neutral bathrooms does not impugn their rights. I get that progress is scary for some people who want nothing more than to be complacent, but there’s a level of menace behind anti-gender theory that’s downright frightening. ALREADY. Without repealing these protections, trans and NB folks are already harassed, beaten and killed for being different. Once you remove them, it only serves to reinforce its opponents’ beliefs that it’s fine to trample on vulnerable folx right to humanity.

AND FOR WHAT? So privileged pieces of shit can feel affirmed that they’re gonna keep their dominance over society? To try and stave off progress for as long as humanly possible? To hold on to whatever vestiges of smug self-satisfaction they can before inevitability evens the playing field as much as it can? To try in vain to retain an unearned and invalid sense of superiority? So they can laugh at people who are already suffering? Cool man, cool.

There will be suicides because of this. People who have been barely holding it together will sadly no longer feel welcome in this life. I hope the PC party is proud, ’cause there’s gonna be blood on their hands.

Okay, now I’m angry.

What’s all this commode-tion then?

I knew my day would be better without eating more of that fucking cookie. I was like, I won’t sugar crash. I don’t actually want anything sweet right now, this is probably gonna make my throat feel weird before a big long weekend, I lose nothing and only stand to lose by eating more of this goddamn jumbo cookie. “It’s there” is a flimsy excuse and this path only leads to instant regret.

So of course I ate more cookie, because self respect is not something I possess. At least my tongue didn’t turn blue today.

On the topic of shitty decisions, I was thinking in the bathroom last night. Isn’t it crazy that plumbing came to be? Like, there were so many steps to get to a flushing toilet. We had to acknowledge that weird stuff was coming out of our bodies that served us no further purpose.  We needed to find somewhere to put that stuff. So maybe we put them in dumps, watering holes, etc. Then we were like “oh shit, I think this is making us sick. So we found places further away that would make our shit somebody else’s problem. But we needed it to be more efficient, so we created pathways in which our effluence could flow away. But then those got in the way of roads, and we needed those to distribute goods. So we went, where do we find space that won’t get in the way? Oh that’s right, there’s an entire world under our feet that we never use. So we created the technology to ferry that along without poisoning the surrounding soil. Then we discovered we needed to do it in larger quantities and big underground reserves would help. So we created an entire underground fucking city just to move our shit around. Then we harnessed physics and pressure for convenience’s sake to make toilets so we could get rid of our shit from the comfort of our own home. And someone figured out how flushing worked. And now I work in an office and I don’t even need to flush manually, a little robot sensor does that die me too. And I’m sure there are many steps I’m ignoring and my understanding is pedestrian at best, but still, egads, right? All of this happened so I could sit in the commode and make dumb puns?

I dunno, isn’t it amazing how many infinite decisions had to happen to get us to this point in history where we take everything for granted? Isn’t it nuts just how much goes into our daily existence? Don’t you feel constantly cowed by the world surrounding you, it’s depth and the wonder that rewards endless curiousity with more to learn? If I really wanted to find out how plumbing came to be, I could. I could understand practical concepts to fix my toilet if it ever broke. This is all documented in depth and easily available at the end of a couple of keystrokes and mouse clicks. I could do any and all of this and become a more worldly person who navigates the planet I’m a more conscious, informed manner any time I please.

But instead I do dumb shit like senselessly eat that fucking cookie. Are we sure the inevitable demise of humanity is really such a bad thing?

All in a day’s doom

I want to talk about Pittsburgh.

Well, let’s take one step back from that. I don’t want to talk about Pittsburgh, but I feel like I need to talk about Pittsburgh. I feel like I need to talk about Pittsburgh because, somehow I’ve gone from basically forgetting Pittsburgh existed to that word bringing me roughly three seconds away from tears at any moment. I feel fragile and volatile and furious and scared. I’m reminded that there are myriad people in this world who have not met me, but want me dead. It’s not personal, but is an intensely personal feeling. It’s not about me. It’s not about most anyone alive today, but it’s very real. It’s about a legacy of hate charting back centuries that’s somehow survived nigh universal public condemnation. But private and public are very different things, and none of us can really know what’s bubbling between the surface at any moment.

Few people around me would know that for the past few days, even thinking of Pittsburgh has made my skin flush. You know that prickly feeling where you’re teetering on the edge of breakdown? For me it’s been an almost constant sensation. Why? I don’t live in Pittsburgh. I don’t live in America. I don’t interact with people who own guns, who hold open prejudice. I don’t interact with violence in my life. I don’t. I live in a bubble that innoculates me against the worst of humanity.  At the same time it’s knocking on my door constantly. I know that hate exists. I know that prejudice exists. I’m taught to fear. I see it every day on my social media feeds. In the news cycle. It’s hate, prejudice and fear all day long.

I don’t have personal reason to fear. Really. I live in a privileged position of security. I have a job that keeps a roof over my head, food in my stomach and my health in check. I live in a quiet neighbourhood with nice families around me. I don’t deal with outward aggression, unwanted advances or any kind of substantive threat. I’m a straight white cis male who hasn’t known the sting of real prejudice as so many others do daily. I always felt different, growing up Jewish in New Zealand. I was basically the only Jewish kid at my school. I hated it. I didn’t feel special, I felt weird. Mismatched. Unwelcome. It’s not like anyone really went out of their way to make me feel this way, I just did. Anti-semitism had a hard time surviving in a country where we had maybe 8,000 Jews max. We were statistically insignificant enough not to matter. Who would care? Auckland was a cultural melting pot of foreigners and misfits. I’m sure we all felt like outsiders. I was gently forced to go to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings. I hated it. I didn’t want to be Jewish. I didn’t want to feel different. I never connected to the religion and had no interest in it.

I felt connected to suffering though, with no real idea why. Holocaust stuff didn’t really have much to do with me, but it stung in a way that made it feel personal. It always has and I trust it always will. Anti-semitism seemed abstract, so far from my lived experience. I didn’t know why it hurt so innately, considering I’d never felt it tangibly. But it did. It’s always felt that way. I’ve never had a Jewish slur thrown my way with any form of malice. Still, I don’t know that it’s possible to be Jewish without the ever-present awareness of the legacy you’ve inherited. It’s just a fact of life. There are people out there who wished the Holocaust stuck the landing. I don’t even think they know why. I’m not sure they’ve had much real interaction with Jewish people beyond obnoxious sterotypes handed down from their forebearers. Hate is taught and I’m not sure if it can survive empathy.

Of course I’m not saying that suffering is uniquely Jewish. Far from it. Whether you’re black, Muslim, queer, outside of gender norms or in any way divergent from the paper thin definition people use for “normal”, you deal with it daily on some level. So many people out there have to tolerate far worse than me on a more regular basis. Suffering is known by too many and tolerated by many more. The worst thing is, it’s not going to get better. These feelings I’m sitting with, that people sit with constantly, they’re only increasing. It’s all reaching a fever pitch, which will only rise. As bad as we think it is, that’s how things are trending. We’re not there yet. Suffering will continue, as it always has.

We’re diverging day by day and I don’t know how that rift heals. There are sides and we all draw lines in the sand. We retreat from those who disagree. Why engage with them when we could have our own views reaffirmed? Now it seems like we’re living in dichotomous realities where we’ve each made monsters of the other and are jumping at shadows. We’re all scared of losing what we have, that everything is temporary. We don’t bother trying to foster understanding, because what’s the point in wasting effort? Empathy is trying and it feels impossible to teach someone how to care. I don’t know if we’re minutes from midnight, but it sure feels that way.

The weird thing is, we’re probably statistically in a better place than we ever were. Terrifying as the world seems every day, it’s likely not that way for most of us. The resonance of fear and hate has been amplified by connectivity. The more it resonantes, the more we hear of it. It’s not going anywhere either, because it sells. Suffering is something we can all connect to, so we share in it. We see more of it, because we’re attuned to it. Because we’re all attuned to it, it’s what we’re shown from all angles, but not with any nuance. We get soundbites and snappy phrases, but not depth. Because we live in a constant news cycle and we don’t have time for in depth journalism. Plus nobody really wants it anyway, when they can “understand” a headline so much quicker. And we’re not seeing principled journalism ethics at play, because news is just something to sell advertising by. They have overheads too and really, they’re just trying to do their jobs with what they have. So we’re all scrambling to hear from opinion leaders to let us know what to believe, but nobody knows what to say that helps. Everyone just wants to put their head down and get by. Plus we just want to hear what reaffirms what we already believe anyway. It’s all so much bigger than us, that doing anything about it is overwhelming.

So what am I gonna do about it? Probably nothing. It’s so fucking hard to deal with this stuff at all when it’s so simple to disengage and distract myself. So instead I’ll likely stay where I am and nothing will change. Despite any differences between myself and those I disagree with, we’re mostly the same in that regard. It’s more difficult to think about how to help than it is to do nothing.

So nothing gets done. And this is amplified. And we’re all doing nothing. And we’re all suffering. And we’re all distracted. And the ones who act out are scared and suffering too. And we’re all fucked until something shifts. But it won’t. So we won’t. So more will die. And this will continue. Until someone does too much. And there’ll be nothing left to talk about, because nobody is listening. And that’s why I don’t want to talk.

Because mostly, I’m scared. And it won’t help.

It could be worse, people could be influenced by me

I feel old all the time. It happens with age, y’know?

Superfluous statements out of the way, a better way of qualifying it is that I feel increasingly out of touch with certain parts of society. I’ve been thinking of that absurd Gymshark line up over the weekend and having trouble working through my mental and emotional responses to it. I wonder if they’re indicative of being too judgemental or discounting large subsections of society unfairly. This is garble. I’ll try to do better.

I don’t Instagram. At a stretch you could say that I did briefly when I ran the Air Bud Pawdcast social media account. Really though, I posted and didn’t bother to look further into the platform. I’m not much of an image based person. I like reading and audio a ton, but there wasn’t a ton of appeal at looking at photos. This is no admonishment of anyone who uses the service, it’s just not for me and that’s fine.

I feel deeply unsettled by the rise of Attractive People Fame. Don’t get me wrong, attractive people have prospered since the beginning of society. This in itself is nothing new. It’s not like I woke up in 2018 and suddenly discovered that celebrities were pretty. Attractive People Fame takes this to another echelon. With the rise of the Kardashian Clan and the words “social media influencer”, being famous in itself has become a career trajectory in a whole new fashion. I’m not breaking ground saying this. There are a lot of people making money for being popular and attractive. There are corporate tie ins and sponsorships. These people a) being alive and b) using products has become a very visible avenue of advertising. I’m not trying to stand on a rickety pedestal and say this isn’t work. I know that a lot of effort goes into scheduling posts, cultivating an audience, reshooting and retouching photos until they’re perfect. It’s a real job with a ton of hours and thought. This isn’t my issue.

Cult of personality has become a career in a whole new way. Yet again, I don’t see that in itself as an indication of crumbling societal values. Take me as an example: I follow a lot of Dan Harmon’s stuff. I was a big fan of his show Community and began listening to his podcast Harmontown way back in The Year Of Our Lord (aren’t they all?) 2012. I’ve paid actual dollars to go to live podcast recordings. I bought a limited release book that his ex-wife put out of his Tumblr writings collated. I met him and got him to sign my book. I’ve interacted with other Harmontown fans in the online community. I’ve met some of these people out in public; When I was visiting Portland and sought out fellow Harmenians because I thought we might have similar interests. It’s not blind adoration. I don’t personally see Harmon as an aspirational figure in all manners. He has issues and views I don’t agree with. I do, however, think that he’s an incredibly good writer, is hilarious, talented and unbelievably sharp. I like a lot of what he does and the kinds of guests/friends he brings onto the show.

It might be a personal bugbear, but I have a ton of difficulty reckoning with Attractive People Fame. This might be rich coming after the past paragraph, but Attractive People Fame and its societal influence feels different to me. I don’t listen to Harmontown and ache to be those people. I’m not out there buying the products they shill to keep the lights on. I’ve met Harmon and other show members a couple of times, but it’s not why I follow the show. It’s entertainment, and the way its errant observations bring joy to my life can’t be understated. My mind sees Attractive People Fame and it worries me. Why? Because it seems irredeemably predatory.

Attractive People Fame is enormous in younger demographics. Teens and tweens following a collection of Influencers and their daily lives. I’m talking Instagram Models, Fitspo people, etc etc. It’s an industry that’s driven by aspiration porn. It’s telling these impressionable kids that this could be them. They could be hot, rich and successful by imitating these people. They see glimpses of these Attractive People at their best. They see all the rewards, but not the hardships.

They don’t see the 50 takes required to get that perfect shot. They don’t see the intentional angling of the model’s thumb right below the label. They don’t see the meticulous diet complete with calorie counting and a-z macronutrient content worked out. They don’t see the personal stresses and anguishes behind the scene. They don’t see the marketing team creating spreadsheets of release schedules. They don’t see the sales people hunting out sponsorship opportunities. They don’t see the Attractive People being told exactly how to cultivate their Brand. They don’t see what it’s like for your personality to be A Brand and how all consuming and dehumanising that is. They don’t see the hundreds of thousands of kids who don’t make it and spend their lives chasing a dream that’s so far out of their reach. They don’t see that no matter how many products they buy to emulate their role models, 99.9% of these kids will never be their heroes, never be friends with them. They’re a revenue stream to an industry which is so much larger and more brutally cynical than the heroes they look up to.

I see kids eschewing valuable life skills and experiences in order to aspire for something they don’t realise is entirely beyond their reach. I see kids developing eating disorders or dangerous health initiatives in order to have these perfect bodies. I see kids desperate to be noticed and adored without an understanding of the pacts that come with fame. I see a level of superficiality qualified as a goal that opposes true human connection and understanding. I see values shifted to an extent that growth really will suffer. I see a future with a much larger quotient of adults who will eschew compassion for Their Brand.

I already saw a 5-8 hour line comprised of thousands of individuals, waiting to be let into a warehouse with 19 different clothing items so they could take photos with Attractive People leading lives they themselves will never come close to. I’m not scared of who these kids will be, I’m worried for the people they could miss out on becoming.

Which is what I’m sure a generation said when MTV created VJs.

More like “cumtries”, because they’re a load of wank, geddit? Also, am I 12?

I’m in a pissy, unrelatable, First Year University Student mood. Blame coffee.

For some reason today I’m inexplicably mad that people think nations exist. They don’t. They’re just very popular memes. A “country” as we see it is a fictional concept. It’s a handy way of collectively grouping a series of people who settled on a landmass and then telling them what being part of that group entails. It’s all fabricated. It’s a very functional method of rallying people behind a cause or getting them to follow orders. Want people to go to battle for something imaginary? Tell them they’re fighting for nationhood. The enemy force? They hate your claim to your nationhood, so you should die to defend it. But wait, the enemy force is a cluster of individuals galvanised in the same manner, also fighting in the name of a fairy tale. That’s all it is. If you tell it often enough and in an impassioned enough manner, they’ll start to believe it. There’s no real reason why a person born in Canada would be innately polite. It’s a social construct. Just read Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities”. While we’re at it, gender and money are also fictional concepts that gained a lot of ground because they’re useful tools for controlling people.

I’ve always fucking hated the idea of nationality and patriotism. They don’t make any sense. I was born in New Zealand, so I was told that I had a natural connection to those around me. A shared consciousness. Why? Our heritage all comes from different places anyway. The only reason why any kind of collective identity exists in a hypothetical sense is because we’re told it does. We’re told that being a Kiwi means you like rugby or that if you’re a real American you have faith in a fucking gaudy piece of fabric emblazoned with stars and stripes. Why? If you hate flags, are you not a true American? Maybe you’re more into stonework than fabric or something. I don’t like sports, I’ve never lived on a farm, does that disqualify me from being a true New Zealander? It’s fucking insane.

Also while I’m on this tear, I can’t believe how long it took me to realise that “The Star Spangled Banner” is a fucking terrible national anthem. It’s a convoluted mess. The song is difficult to sing for those who aren’t exceptional vocalists. Why would that be appropriate for something that’s meant to be accessible to millions of people. Much like the majority of American culture it celebrates exceptionalism and individualism, while effectively telling anyone facing difficulty to go get fucked. If you can’t sing it, too bad. Guess you should’ve been born with a better voice. Oh, you don’t have the exorbitant amount of money necessary to pay for health insurance? I guess you just go bankrupt or die. Too bad. Oh, you can’t afford talented lawyers to defend yourself legally against the ill deeds of large corporations? Whoops, sorry. I guess you don’t have rights after all. Justice has a high barrier to entry.

The worst thing about all of this fictional nationhood bollocks is that it takes advantage of the needy and less fortunate. Of course it’s not the rich and powerful dying on the front lines or forfeiting their right to life and liberty over unpaid hospital bills. It’s those who don’t know any better laying themselves down for an ideal that’s only used to manipulate the powerless. It’s no wonder that American patriotism and Christianity are often so inexplicably linked. They’re archaic systems of control that lead the most vulnerable to follow the desires of those who aren’t.

Maybe I’m just bitter Laser Kiwi didn’t become the new NZ flag.

At this point, this project has basically become a second Facebook

Look, this is probably cheating, but I wrote this piece yesterday. I spent a really long time on putting together a rebuttal for a Facebook debate (it reads more like an essay) and I think I’m okay with posting it as my “today” piece. It centred around a Facebook friend’s “unpopular opinion” that being offended is a choice we make. That we should “grow stronger than any of your traumas and history and simply rise above it. Work towards better things.” That free speech should be fine up to the point where it causes violence. That hate speech, while disgusting and awful, should not be governed by hatecrime legislation. That people have the right to say whatever they want and face the consequences. I want to emphasise that I don’t think he’s a bad person in any way. I do, however, vehemently disagree with his opinion in this instance. I feel like I care strongly enough about it, that I want to have it publicly posted in this space. Here’s my response:


You’re right that I disagree with your unpopular opinion. The reason why I don’t think dealing with hate speech is as “simple” as choosing not to be offended, or growing stronger than your traumas and history, is because not everyone is you.

You’re a physically able, tall, straight white male. You’re very capable of taking care of yourself. People of course are able to threaten you, but it’s much less likely than it would be for some others. Threats of a sexually aggressive nature are unlikely to be as impactful to you as they may be to a physically smaller person who presents with varying gender or sexual orientation. People of course are still able to physically attack you, but it’s less likely that people would engage in violence against you for fear of reprisal.

Of course you have been threatened in your life. I’d argue that very, very few people have gone through their life without physical, verbal or emotional abuse. You also say that you’re a bouncer, which is a position that comes bundled with the potential of abuse. You enter into that situation knowing that it’s an outcome. There’s a level of consent there that says, while you don’t necessarily welcome it, you understand that it comes with the territory. You make that choice when you take on the job. What about people who don’t consent to facing abuse?

What about outside of your job. How often would you face bouts of abuse in any form? I’d wager that the frequency or incidence at which you face this abuse is exponentially lower than it would be for some others. How are you to gauge how hurtful and oppressive hate speech feels when you most likely very rarely face it? What about sexual threats? I’ve had numerous femme/NB friends tell me about the constant barrage of unwanted sexual attention. Sometimes it’s loud and frightening. There’s often a disparity in physical dominance. My girlfriend told me she got hit on four times the other day and it made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe. She said that wasn’t even a high number. What if that was happening to you every day, multiple times a day? What if sometimes the manner of the other person was so threatening that you were afraid for your life?

What if you were of some minority in a workplace where hate speech was allowed? What if the use of it by even one co-worker on the regular made you feel frustrated or hurt? What if it was multiple co-workers? What if your boss spoke to you like a lesser life form because of your cultural background? What if you felt threatened by this behaviour and felt unsafe in the workplace? What if people with higher status than you felt that it was okay to try and make you miserable on the regular? Sure, you could brush it off, swallow the pain and just go on with your life. It’s just work, right? What if it followed you home? What if you were being belittled in the supermarket or other social spaces? What if people decided they didn’t want you around and felt comfortable expressing that? What if there were just some bars and restaurants where you knew you’d be regularly harassed? Or parts of town? Would that be something you could “simply rise above”?

Look, I’m gonna pull the Jew card, not because I especially want to invoke Godwin’s Law, but because it’s relevant to my day to day and I think it might be a decent way of highlighting how it’s not as simple as being bigger than words. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a physically able, straight white male too. Still, when someone uses the word Kike, it makes me feel fucking terrible inside and out. It reminds me that there are a lot of people out there who think that I don’t deserve to live. That word reminds me that for a lot of people, my personhood, achievements, personality, deeds, friendships and romantic connections are less important than the fact that I’m of Jewish dissent and as such, would be better off dead. This transcends people not liking me, this is ‘you should be culled’ territory. These sentiments exist out there and I know it, but I’m not always reminded of them. Which is a good thing, because despite being a physically able straight white male, I know that if these sentiments were given enough support, I would be given cause for concern.

I rise above a lot of it. Whether it’s jokey comments reinforcing stereotypes or my culture thrown out as a casual disparaging epithet that remind me that for some people, a religion that I don’t even follow is a large component of how they view me. That for others, noticing that aspect of me is enough to want me to be killed. I’m not an incredibly sensitive person, (despite how it might sound from the fact that I’ve been pointedly debating for hours) I’m really not. For the most part I live my life without major issues or cause to feel threatened. I have a pretty positive outlook a lot of the time. I try to be a friendly person and kind to strangers. I truly believe that people are more often ignorant than malicious and as such, I try to assume the best of most people/outcomes.

Still, it’s very hard to hear some of the recent alt-right sentiment and not feel at least a sliver of doubt that, if given more weight or the wrong people running with the sentiment, the floor could cave out and society could turn on me. That the words could become more than just words and people could act on them. That it could reach the tipping point where more of society decides that violence against me is okay than those who oppose this idea. That the overwhelming sentiment is that I’m a lesser life form and I don’t have the right to personhood. That it’s like killing an animal or something. That I don’t deserve the same rights as others.

It’s very rare for me to feel this way, because it’s not often reinforced. People are discouraged against this kind of hate speech, so the rhetoric stays bubbling under the surface. How often do I feel this? Not often. Most days and months go by without the thoughts even entering into my head. In fact, they come up so infrequently that for the most part I can ignore them and brush them off. It’s because hate speech is discouraged that it’s 99.999% easier to choose not to be offended, as you say.

I have a ton of resilience. If I faced hate speech day by day, I don’t think it would be as easy to be as resilient. I think that if people openly used racist words against me day in and day out, that my resilience would crack and it would be harder and harder to not be offended. I would be reminded a lot more often that a lot of people would be quite okay with me taking a gas shower. That my family, too, should all be dead.

But because hate speech is widely condemned, I don’t have to deal with all of that.

I honestly don’t think that most people out there are antisemitic. I do think that hate speech has a habit of multiplying negative sentiment. I think that people who have no horse in this race could be swayed to follow the hateful rhetoric. I think that a lot of people with these extreme feelings would feel strongly enough about it that they would try to amplify hate speech into hate sentiment, that things that were just words would become more than just words. I feel like the absence of hatecrime legislature would not lead to situations in which it would be as easy to rise above and not be offended.

I can envision these scenarios being played out over a myriad of cultural/sexual/gender identities that don’t affect me, but I sure as hell don’t want others to have to face a higher likelihood of dealing with this kind of thing. That sounds like a lower quality of life for all of us.