Why is my liberty judged of another’s conscience? - 1 Corinthians 10:29
In the discussion following last Tuesday’s column, there was a subthread which began with this comment by reader “M” in which she said that even though she might have been a bit put off by the joke which caused so much controversy (if you haven’t read that column, it’s best you do so before proceeding), she certainly didn’t approve of the way Dr. Greenfield was treated. I agreed with her, saying “Bad taste isn’t a crime, nor should it result in a professional death sentence.” Reader Tony replied to that, saying “I do not see what he wrote as tasteless or vulgar. I mean, if he had given some lurid depiction of a graphic sexual act that ended with a specific delivery method of giving semen to a woman, ok, that would be vulgar.” I replied to him within that commentary, but I’d like to expand on that answer because the issues raised in my reply relate not just to the specific subject of that column, but the whole issue of prohibitionism.
Every person is an individual, with individual tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes. We all have our turn-ons, turn-offs, comfort zones and pet peeves, and though some of these are influenced by gender, cultural background and life experiences, others are innate and often inexplicable. I don’t have a clue as to why I’m so averse to green, leafy vegetables; my sisters aren’t and my brother loves them. I was raised in the same house and fed the same foods, yet there’s something in my brain or biochemistry which causes me to find spinach, cabbage and the like so nauseating that even the odor of them cooking causes me to lose my appetite. Clearly, it isn’t the fault of the foods; millions of people eat and enjoy them regularly. My dislike for them is my problem, and I have no right to demand that others stop cooking or eating them merely because of my individual preference. At the same time I have the right to have that preference, and one really easy way to wear out your welcome is to start lecturing me on how even though I’m extremely healthy and the perfect weight for my height and build, I “should” eat green leafy vegetables because they have some esoteric health benefit which I have yet to miss in over four decades of avoiding them.
I found Dr. Greenfield’s joke just a tad annoying; not nearly as annoying as rap or stepping in chewing gum, and not remotely as annoying as getting stuck behind someone who thinks it’s reasonable to drive at twenty miles per hour below the posted speed limit, but slightly irritating nonetheless. That’s because even before I turned pro it always annoyed me when men try to pitch sex as something the man “gives” to the woman rather than vice-versa. But like my aversion to greens, this reaction is something resident in me rather than in the comment. The modern “Catechism of Offense” to which neofeminists subscribe, however, teaches that offensiveness is a property of the offending person or object rather than of the one who is offended; in other words, if a flower is yellow and you hate yellow, it’s the flower’s fault for “offending” you. And if a dog’s breath smells bad, that “badness” comes from the dog rather than your intolerance for biological odors. Once one accepts the absurd initial premise, attacking the offender for “causing” offense is completely logical, and all neofeminist legislation deriving from that assumption makes perfect sense; e.g., since a man who compliments a woman is responsible for her unpredictable reaction he should be punished by a “sexual harassment” accusation, and since the very existence of porn and prostitution offend some women they must be banned. It doesn’t matter that neofeminists don’t know any individual whore from Eve; it is her fault they are upset by the concept of prostitution, so she must suffer the consequences.
Of course, any sensible person recognizes that my aversion to spinach, depictions of male homosexuality and “I’m gonna give it to you” comments derive from my personality and not from the things I’m repelled by, so I therefore have no right to force cafeterias to stop cooking spinach, gay dudes to stop making porn or doctors to refrain from spooge jokes. By the same token neofeminists have no right to demand the prohibition of prostitution, teetotalers have no right to stop others from drinking or doping, fanatical Christians have no right to stop others from having kinky sex, and legislatures certainly don’t have the right to send armed thugs to stop anyone from doing any of the above. Though the Enlightenment Police may disagree, any individual’s right to dislike something is just as valid as his right to like something else; he even has the right to talk about it, to insult people who do whatever it is he’s opposed to, to tell them they’re going to Hell or to set up sick websites detailing how disgusting he finds whatever-it-is. But his rights stop where others’ start: As soon as he moves beyond mere talk to action (and that includes demanding someone be fired or agitating politicians to make laws against whatever consensual behavior offends him), he has infringed on others’ rights and therefore committed an act of evil. This is what the principle of tolerance is all about: You don’t have to like me or what I do or say, and vice versa. But neither one of us has the right to control what the other wants to do with his body, money or time, no matter how badly it offends us.