SMBC Comic 2164: “I’m Offended” vs. “It’s Offensive”

The latest in a category I’m calling:  “something on the internet is WRONG!”

(I self consciously suppressed writing about these kinds things for a while because I thought, and still sometimes think, that they may be relatively unimportant.  (Relative to working, sleeping, saving lives, making money . . . ) Also, when I first heard the description “angry behind a keyboard,” it was used as a pejorative and it did bring up the image of a ridiculous looking person.  But, like my close and patient friends already know, these are things that I will really dwell on.  I’m also increasingly considering content created for the internet to be as fully worth critiquing or commenting on as non-online content.  Finally, I like talking and I’m compelled to share things that I stress out about and when I’ve depleted the receptive ears around me, I start shouting into the internet.)

SMBC comics just about always strike me as witty, insightful, informative, and funny.  This one, however, me unsettled.  After closing my laptop lid and tossing around in bed for a while, I’m back up to write why I thought it was off mark.

One of the points is that “offensive” is meaningless; it’s an entirely subjective judgment; there is no way to verify whether something is objectively offensive or not; nothing is demonstrably offensive.  We should say that we are offended, not that something is offensive.

However, something can offend because it is racist or sexist or cruel.  Words like these are meaningful and verifiable.  We can define racism–a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race (Merriam-Webster)–and then confirm or deny that a statement like “Black people are mentally slower than white people” demonstrates racism.  (A more fruitful distinction to remember in conversation, I think, is between “that’s racist’ and “you’re a racist.”  Jay Smooth has a great videoblog about this.)

Also, I think you can think of offensiveness is a cultural construct informed by what offends many individual people in a society.  Offensive can describe when something violates a social norm within a culture enough so that people of that culture are offended by it.  We can say: in Japanese culture, it is offensive for a subordinate to maintain eye contact with a superior at work and have it hold as a general truth without it needing to be true in the opinions of all Japanese people.

I get that it’s sometimes not productive to take something that offends you and say that it offends everyone ever.  But, if you say “that’s offensive because it’s racist,” even a listener who is a racist and disagrees with the idea that racist speech or actions is wrong understands that you have expressed a general truth about a social norm.

The Future of Money Project

The Future of Money project has infectious optimism about the growth of collaborative consumption, crowdfunding, and alternative currencies.  All things that I’m always hopeful for, but not without caution. (Because I am a total grump.)

The project summed up in a nice infographic:

Infographic: New Lenses of Wealth

(Flickr: Venessa Miemis, Design by Patrizia Kommerell)

via emergent by design

You can read the A-Z initiatives text on a large PDF that’s found on the post at

And the final video which features interviews with the founders of many web based social value exchange tools.  Most of which were new and awesome to me.

Seeing the kind of value swapping platforms that are out there and are being developed makes me really excited.

My Favorites: – Allows fans to make small payments to web content creators. –  Classifieds for everything – Advertising free things
Yard Sale Treasure Map – Maps yard sale data on Google Maps from – Non-profit microlending platform – Crowdfunding platform – Knowledge sharing in question and answer format

Developing: – Localized trading platform. – Organizational tool for share networks.

Offline, I look forward to seeing the expansion of cooperative services like food co-ops (Wheatsville Co-Op), credit unions (University Federal Credit Union), childcare co-ops.  I have really great hopes for resource sharing opportunities like bike sharing, car sharing, tool sharing (especially camera equipment sharing!)  It’s cool to notice what established sharing institutions look like (public libraries, public transportation); and how for-profit rental companies (movie rentals, car rentals, appliance and tool rental from hardware stores) can be subsumed by web based share networks.

Privilege Denying Dude Meme is Back. Features Good and Bad User Submitted Captions.

(Funny! Agree!)

I never got to see the original Privilege Denying Dude tumblr page as I became aware of its existence after the tumblr pages shut down due to copyright infringement of the iStock photo the meme employed.  So my exposure to meme involved flipping through 20 pages or so of everyone’s take on the theme on  Strewn between the really awesome ones were captioned images that did not really resonate with me for the following reasons and more: obvious trolls, non-English captions, meta-PDD jokes, non sequiturs, bad arguments.

I was excited to find this morning that the PDD tumblr is back with a new, fully consenting male model.  Now that I’m introduced, I’m disappointed to see that the tumblr and it’s however inspired and admirable creator doesn’t seem to do much to restrict false claims and bad arguments from making it onto the tumblr page.  Some images are great and speak to a truth about privilege denying dudes, but others, I found unrelated and wrongheaded.


I found that this contributor is one of a group who seems to equate Islamophobia with a perceived “Atheist Privilege” and have compiled an atheist privilege checklist. This is a weird argument to me for a couple of reasons.

First, a hypothetical: could a man in a woman-suit get male privilege?  Privilege in the sense that I’m aware of, refers to unfair benefits systematically gotten by groups of  people because of their perceived identity.  You could say a man has white privilege in an instance like this.  He is pulled over for speeding and when he reaches into the glove compartment, the cop assumes that he’s reaching for his registration and not reaching for a gun.  We identify this as white privilege and not brunette privilege or red car driving privilege when we identify that non-criminal is an association broadly made with white people, not just some brunettes or red car drivers and that the association is denied to non-white people throughout society–when the unjust belief is systemic.  This is the first problem.  The group: atheists, like Republicans, vegetarians, cat people, or dog people is a grouping based on personal beliefs or preferences.  Being an atheist generally isn’t apparent to others the way that race, age, weight, or sometimes, religious belief is.  So, before we talk about whether atheists have privilege, we should investigate how they could get it.  I’m doubtful that they could.

Secondly, because atheists don’t suffer some of the injustices towards Muslims doesn’t mean that atheists benefit from “atheist privilege.”  The comparison is one of apples to spaceships in the contest for “most derided fruit”, or alternatively, “least likely to be launched into space.”  Some of the completely justified grievances of Muslim oppression that are given on the “atheist privilege checklist” are not really things that atheists evade, but all non-Muslim-appearing-people are not subject to.  Like: “religious persecution on the street never happens to me” or “I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my likeliness to blow something up.”   Yes, this is something that atheists are not victim to, but not in virtue of their perceived atheism.  This is something that Catholics and Jews also aren’t subjected to by equally not being perceived as Muslims in certain places.

The writer makes some points under another PDD about people who identify as both Muslim and feminist being denied inclusion in some mainstream feminist groups.

“Why of course there’s no such thing as atheist privilege! That’s why Muslim feminists who try to be part of the mainstream feminist community are never told they can’t be REAL feminists by atheists, never have their religion mocked by atheists, never have their clothing demonized by atheists, are never expected to provide an education on hijab, niqab, or Islam in general to atheists, are never dismissed as being too “uneducated” or “ill-informed” to speak about their own religious beliefs by atheists, are never accused of being “socially irresponsible” for observing hijab or niqab by atheists, and are most certainly never regarded as invisible by atheists.”

The argument is that because most feminists disagree with the Muslim feminist (though I assume that they can be atheist feminists, feminists of non-Muslim faith, or a combination of both), atheists have atheist privilege.  This doesn’t follow.

Like beliefs about which is the best football team, religious beliefs can be supported and verified with evidence.  If one party’s argument doesn’t hold out after critical inquiry, it may mean that it’s not a valid candidate for being true. Feminists who believes in alchemy may be in the minority but it doesn’t need to be because society systematically gives unjust privilege to alchemy-deniers.  It’s not right to say that both are equally verifiable views about the natural world and should deserve equal respect as truth when they do not.

Maybe more to the point, “mainstream” feminism, at least the iteration I’m familiar with, is a strain of humanism that contains some ideas that contradict ideas I understand to be contained in Islam (and Christianity and Judaism.)  “Women and men are equal” vs. “The sexes are unequal” can only be bridged by a heaping spoonful of cognitive dissonance or abandonment of one or the other belief.  I’m sure there is a way to create an internally coherent set of beliefs by the cafeteria method (picking up some beliefs and refusing others) but the result may not immediately look like a synthesis of feminism and Islam.  Like how picking up a side of rice from the Chinese food line and a side of rice from the Mexican food line doesn’t make your lunch look like fusion cuisine.  I won’t object if you claim it is but neither will I congratulate you for your innovation.

Related: There (edit: used to be) a Privilege Denying Feminist meme which characterizes the feminist not by her privilege actually, but by her sometimes bad arguments (or argument stoppers.)   Even better, there is a Critical Feminist Corgi meme that is absolutely brilliant.

If I ever have privileged children . . . cont.

After processing my initial thoughts, the conflict, in sum, is this: either I encourage my children to take advantage of their privileges, which means perpetuating systems that arbitrarily favor and disadvantage people; or I encourage them to actively deny their privilege (it does have to be active), denying what could be a leg up for them if they wanted to participate in hierarchical, predatory, and brutal systems of power.

There is, tragically, no neutral ground.

This neutral ground doesn’t exist for me or anyone else either.  I think, what I didn’t so clearly express at first, was that with children there is a  distinct problem of having a child make informed decisions before they act according to either ideology.  Living in the hegemony means that they will passively be perpetuating the hegemony.  So without any intent, they find themselves participating in systems that cause a lot of human suffering.  (Like their first act of consumption in a capitalist society.)  And because they learn this is “how the world works”, rather than considering their actions as complicit in brutality, they will more likely believe that what they do is natural and reasonable.  (Which I don’t necessarily deny.)  Activism, necessarily comes later and isn’t done easily (see: teaspooning).

As far as activism or revolution in practice, even if one person wanted to make things better for everyone at the possible expense of him or herself–by getting rid of things like patriarchy, hierarchy, institutions, ownership, statehood–he or she will be faced with the problem of magnitude: of his or her relative size to the size of the world.  I can’t get around the logistics of a one person driven worldwide revolution of everything.  (Especially without lots of violence.)

So it’s a horrible choice any way I look at it.  What comes easily is cruel and what comes hard is really quite hard.  I do hope that if I ever do have children, they have access to a lot of knowledge towards solutions that I don’t have.

(Or! Perhaps, Noam Chomsky could write a parenting book.)

Update on Contrail

The developers of Contrail are launching a small production run of 2000 parts half of which will be donated to bike related non-profits.  Cool!

They’ve updated their website and created a kickstarter page which is looking for backers to fund their production cost.

My thoughts on Contrail and The Copenhagen Wheel in my previous post.

Hoard, salvage, re-purpose, thrift. Stories about my Dad’s ingenuity.

Geez, James, of, I admire your lifehacks and blog a lot.  Particularly, that you Mcgyvered a wifi antenna, talk about rare earth shortage, ditched fabric softener, and introduced me to a sweet and beautiful piece of engineering: a wind powered scarf knitting machine.

(found via

Also, thanks, for writing on how to fix an umbrella.  Mine had a few more fractures than yours, but after some time, and a little bloodshed, I did fix my favorite umbrella.  On one stem, there is a red heart from a bent paper clip that reminds me not to rest the umbrella on that stem, also, it’s a symbol for love.  The thrifty, hoard-y, waste fearing parts of me are loving this blog.

One thing that browsing through made me think of was my Dad.  These sorts of projects are sort of all I imagine him doing after retiring–minus dumpster diving–plus watching  He already grows his own veggies in his suburban home’s backyard and makes furniture out of furniture.  (My dad got custom shelves for the garage when we got rid of my old bedroom furniture.)

Ecopunk James and my Dad also have what I think is a really admirable quality in common.  It’s the way of looking at things in the world and not seeing limits to uses for them.  All stuff is stuff.  For him, there are few distinctions between bathroom stuff and kitchen stuff; girl stuff and boy stuff; and importantly: valuable stuff and trash.  It makes sense that he thinks this way because a lot of these distinctions are products of the sort of capitalism that has circulated through the developed world and for the first half of his life, my Dad lived in and was a Chinese national.

In sum, he doesn’t see quite as many things as instantly and irrefutably trash as the average American of a certain class.  While he is in many ways actively a consumer of consumer goods, he also doesn’t look to retail as the only place to consume stuff.  He finds useable stuff everywhere.

For example, last time I was at my parents’ home, I took my old bike out for a ride.  I found that the basket needed to be attached to the rack.  My first thought went to the conventional solution: zip ties.  Did we have some?  My dad went looking through his “junk drawers” and came back, instead, with plastic coated wire.   To my surprise and great delight, the wire came from the spiral binding of one of my old school notebooks that he had saved.  We snipped off some pieces and use them like twist ties to secure the basket to the rack and it’s never been more secure.

I love finding other people that are hardwired for DIY and salvaged materials.

Low-Tech and High-Tech Designs for Crowd Sourced Bike Maps

I’ve recently seen a lot of the Copenhagen Wheel, created by the Senseable City Lab at MIT.  It’s a rear 3-speed hub that can retrofit onto just about any bike.  It stores energy from cycling and braking in a battery which powers a motor for your bike when you need it.  The Copenhagen Wheel communicates with your smart phone so you can adjust the motor setting, changing gears, and even lock and unlock your rear wheel using your phone.  Finally, the Copenhagen Wheel takes measurements of Carbon Monoxide, NOx, noise, ambient temperature, and relative humidity which you can use for your own route planning purposes or you can share with others, creating a large crowd sourced bike map.  The latter option is what the creators call “the bigger contribution.”

The coolest thing about the Copenhagen Wheel, I think, is the electric motor powered by cycling.  Absolutely awesome.  It’s a big improvement from the last thing we powered with our pedals, which to my knowledge, were our headlights–which we started doing over a century ago.

One think I’m skeptical about is how controlling your bike with your smart phone will be intuitive, like a  “natural extension of your everyday life.”  Actually, no, it’s not intuitive at all to use a phone on your bike.  At the least, it’s not something I do.  And maybe not even very smart or safe.  My shifters and brakes are within fingers reach.  I don’t have to look at them.  I don’t have to move my hands from the handlebars to operate them.  They’re actually pretty intuitive to use.  I think the press release here wrongly assumes that we use our smart phones everywhere.  I wouldn’t be convinced that a smart phone operated shower would be a “natural extension of [my] everyday life” for the same reason.  I don’t use my phone in the shower or on my bike.  Furthermore, using my phone to turn on my shower or shift gears on my bike would most likely make my life harder, not easier.

Similarly, the problem of smart phone ownership puts limits on which parts of the bike riding population can contribute to crowd sourced bike maps and can benefit from all the resources the Copenhagen Wheel offers.

Here’s an idea I really really like.  It’s the Contrail, designed by Studio Gelardi, which is essentially a piece of chalk attached to the frame so that the rear wheel of the bike carries chalk onto the ground, leaving a coloured trail.  The main disadvantage of this analog method of crowd sourced bike trail mapping is that it’s not waterproof.  Rain, of course washes it away.  The upside is that visible markings can be put on streets legally.  The bike map is periodically erased and has to be regenerated, whereas the Copenhagen Wheel and any bike route tracking app on a smart phone or GPS stores and aggregates data.  One thing I like about the Contrail design is that use is actually very intuitive.  You don’t need to look at a map to see what a good route is.  The information is exactly where you’re already looking for potholes and rocks.  This is pretty cool.

My greatest dream would be for the best parts of the Copenhagen Wheel and the Contrail to be packaged together and distributed (or maybe even pre-installed) so that the map data really accumulates fast.  They’re both such cool designs, but ultimately are opt in devices  that are hardly cool without everyone else doing it.  (The Copenhagen Wheel is also something you opt in if you own a smart phone and have $600 to spare–a qualification that may exceed the abilities of the large number of people who own far less expensive bikes.)  Perhaps bike rental places could take the initiative to jump start the map making.

In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on our subjective experience with our terrain, friendly advice, or the maps of super dedicated rider/cartographers like this person’s huge bike map for Dallas.


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