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The Importance of Speaking Offensively

Nov

18

Tabitha's last blog post, they're cutting WHAT?, was an impassioned call to action and thoughtful critique of the current choices of the university administration. Below it was a comment that read:
 
Tabitha. You make some valid arguments, but I would suggest that you remove the swearing from your article. Its serves only to disengage the reader from your, otherwise, well considered viewpoint.

Bullshit.

Speaking offensively is a very important thing to do.

As I recently read in Zittrain's The Future of the Internet, one danger of the internet—with its profusion of more publically accessible information about and by people—is a dampening of courageous, experimental, and contraversial speech, for fear of causing offense, or having it held against you later. This has to be fought. Zittrain mentions some technical possibilities, but the primary and best way of doing so is by standing up to it, and speaking boldly despite it. Sure, you will offend some people, and sure, you'll say some things you later wish you hadn't said. Some may find your choice of language difficult to take, but offensive language is powerful and important, and replacing it makes a real difference to the tone of what you say, moderating it in a way which substansively changes what is said.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't think carefully about what you're writing or speaking, and their possible consequences, both for you or for others. But it's really vital not to let these fears temper or silence your speaking out about things which are important to you.

The alternative, as Zittrain well points out, is that we all speak like politicians, that our dialogue becomes like one giant press conference. Places where daring, important, powerful and revolutionary ideas are rare indeed.