Blessed are Those Who are Unoffended

easily offendedIt’s no secret that I’m no fan of Mike Arrington.  I’ve been critical of him on several occasions, generally about some online temper tantrum he is having over some slight or perceived slight.  But this latest brouhaha over his response to a blog comment is ridiculous.  Some of it is, as usual, Mike’s own doing- gratuitously using the F word in a comment is unnecessary and reflects very poorly on Mike.  In some alternate universe somewhere, Mike didn’t capture lightning in a bottle with TechCruch and has been forced to learn how to act like a grownup.

But that’s not my point today.

I continue to be amazed over the number of people who seem to be standing around impatiently waiting for something to become outraged about.  Everyone’s a dealer, just waiting to toss out a winning (or losing) card.

First, a little background.  I don’t know anything about Lane Hartwell, and no one but her knows what’s truly inside her head with respect to the use of her photo in the Richter Scales “Here Comes Another Bubble” video.  Having said that, it seems a bit much to wage an offensive over the use of an image in a video, or two or three.  I certainly wouldn’t do that if one of my songs got sampled, but we have to assume she is genuinely concerned about her rights and not just after the mountain of publicity this issue has received.  What is without question is that people have a right, and should be expected, to question her decision and argue contrary positions.  Without going into the boring legalities of it all, the various commenters are basically arguing one of two points: what she ought to do or what constitutes fair use.  The point is that there are logical and likely heartfelt arguments on both sides of the debate.

So amid all the flutter and sway, Mike crosses paths with Shelley Powers.  Rightly or wrongly, Mike thinks Shelley (and I quote) “is a person who trolls TechCrunch about once per week accusing me of all sort of things, very often of being sexist. In my opinion she shifts her opinions regularly on issues to ensure that she supports the woman in any dispute.”   I have no gripe with Shelley and I have no idea whether she’s mean to Mike or not.  Though I appreciate the monumental irony in the mere asking of that question, it doesn’t really matter.   Mike can think whatever he wants, including this (and again I quote):

Lane’s attorney is abusing the DMCA for his/her own goals. And copyright has nothing to do with “giving credit.” It has to do with being forced to license work unless it falls under fair use, which this clearly does. *** But since Lane is a woman, it really doesn’t matter what she did as far as you are concerned. She’s a woman, so she’s right.

It seems, however, that some people (exactly how many is open to debate) have taken up torches and want to burn Mike at the stake and TechCrunch to the ground in the name of gender equality or some other noble cause.  Only that’s neither equality-producing nor noble, by any definition I’ve ever heard.  It’s just another knee-jerk reaction that will succeed only in conscripting the gender issue to some lesser purpose- publicity and traffic perhaps?  Ego-building?  The need for conflict?

This far too common rabid, demonizing, verbal vigilante reaction is the very reason I am profoundly apolitical and go out of my way to avoid political discussion.  Staunch Democrats and Republicans are so bound to their spoon-fed positions and so focused on demonizing the other party that it is impossible to have a meaningful debate on any political issue.  No wonder voter turnout is so low.  Both sides have lost credibility with the great middle.  When I read the so-called discussion surrounding Mike’s statement, I don’t see rational discussion.  I see name calling and conclusion jumping on both sides, along with a few opportunists along for the attention ride.

I’m all about political correctness.  But when someone – even someone as self-absorbed as Mike Arrington – can’t engage in a spirited debate without getting branded a sexist (or more accurately, accused of branding someone else one), we have gone too far.  When people mine prose for flammable content at the expense of addressing the issue, we have lost our way.  If all we do is move from one verbal skirmish to another, we are not making progress.  Mike tries to paint himself as the victim here, but he’s not.  Progress and the chance for understanding are the victims.  The wasted minutes of those who have to read all the inimical words to find the insightful ones are collateral damage.

When people get offended because someone wishes them a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Blessed Ramadan, we’ve gone too far.  At some point, we have to leave the semantics aside and deal with the important stuff that lies beneath.  When someone takes the time to wish me happiness at a time that’s important to him or her, I consider it a great honor.  It’s not whether I happen to celebrate the same holiday that matters.  It’s the gesture.

So if Mike thinks that someone is biased towards women, why isn’t that a valid arguing point, the same way the fact that someone may be biased against women is, and should be, fair game?  All the political correctness in the world shouldn’t support a position that you can have it both ways.  Rather than vilify Mike for making that point, show him where he’s wrong.  Either because his premise is flawed or because it doesn’t matter if it isn’t.

Shelley herself, who continues to address the real issue as opposed to the manufactured one as the world around her descends into chaos, notes the fact that people rushed in to spout their opinions without taking the time to look at the underlying issue:

My name is Shelley Powers. I have a weblog, Burningbird. I’ve weblogged for seven years. I write regularly on issues important to women.

I am a real person, though Michael has done his best to dehumanize me. What I don’t understand is why one of you didn’t think to ask him who I really am. You just all gave your opinions.

Why can’t we work as hard at not being offended as some people do to be offended?  Are our morals, philosophies and opinions so fragile that disagreement, even ridicule, can shake them?  Mine aren’t.  And I suspect yours aren’t either.  And if we really want to reach out to people and show them that we’re right, we have to do two things: stop yelling at them and give them the opportunity to change our minds.

Sometimes we need to just get over it.  Anybody with me?