No Offense Offends

no offense – A phrase used to make insults seem socially acceptable.

On Facebook, Greg Benford said:

When I ignore requests for drinks, cupcakes, palm trees, etc. to take part Mafia Wars it’s not a statement about the folks who are enjoying such pursuits. If I accepted this invitation to play in a space fleet game (how cool is that?) I would never get anything done. It’s so easy to get distracted as a writer which is why I’m declining all these lovely invitations. Now back to work.

I responded:

You are making a good choice, but you can’t avoid the fact that your choice is also a statement about the choices that others make.

Greg often faces a choice between playing and getting work done, and he seems to usually respect more the choice to get work done.  When he sees other folks choose instead to play, surely he must infer a substantial chance that they faced a similar choice but made the choice he respects less.  Even if he doesn’t think this way, and even if he explicitly says this, the rest of us must assign a substantial chance that he does in fact think this way.  Yes we can’t be sure, but even so, on average disagreement is disrespect.

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  • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

    Yes we can’t be sure, but even so, on average disagreement is disrespect.

    No.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1054626558129691997 Rob

    “What is there that insults more deeply, that separates off so fundamentally, as letting others notice something of the strictness and height with which one treats oneself? And on the other hand — how accommodating, how full of love the whole world shows itself toward us as soon as we do like all the world and ‘let ourselves go’ like all the world!” Nietzsche

    • http://www.churchofrationality.blogspot.com LemmusLemmus

      “(…) how accommodating, how full of love the whole world shows itself toward us as soon as we do like all the world and ‘let ourselves go’ like all the world!”

      Tiger Woods, for one, will be surprised to hear that.

  • Jordan

    Different strokes for different folks.

    I enjoy working more than playing games. Others don’t.

  • DPH

    Robin,

    You seem to imply that trade signals disrespect.

    One party, Bob, to the trade values X more than Y, by a willingness to trade to get more X, your thesis would indicate that the other party should assign some probability that Bob respects them less for their willingness to give up what he values.

    What are the implications if you are correct? Do people trade less than the optimum because of a fear of being seen as disrespectful?

    D

  • michael vassar

    Does division of labor equal disrespect?
    The existence of different identities?

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    I think that any disagreement (even the most subtle and remote, like not sharing a pastime) can register as disrespect, but how likely people are to take disagreement that way varies a lot.

    Just a smidge off-topic: No social group can be ideally comfortable for everyone. For example, some people love insults– discussion without insults isn’t interesting enough. Other people detest them, either because they’re just repetition, or because the level of anger and fear associated with insults is painful rather than entertaining.

    What happens is that socially dominant people set an emotional tone for the social groups around them.

    I was shocked to realize that this emotional tone will typically be defended as morally superior. Either people shouldn’t be insulting, or they shouldn’t be so sensitive.

    While my sympathies are with the former, I have a strong impression that people are just defending what they like rather than having developed a considered system for people to live well with each other.

    • lemmy caution

      I agree with Nancy. Different groups have different thresholds for offense.

      Also, groups have pressures to conform to group norms for good or bad reasons. But, not everything is a group norm. Most groups don’t care if you play mafia wars or not.

      • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

        The thing I want to emphasize, though, is that people are apt to see their group norms as moral standards. They don’t usually just say “this is how we do it here” and I’ve never seen them say “this is what a high status person or two feels comfortable with, so this is what we’re doing”.

  • Sigivald

    I disagree with Robin.

    No offense, though.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Rob, nice quote.

    DPH, I’m not saying all differing choices signal disrespect. Just ones correlated with standard status measures. These are very common.

  • Ed M

    I find this same dynamic at play when I attend dinner parties or other social gatherings where food is shared… I am currently on a strict ketogenic diet (near-zero carb).

    It seems every time I politely refuse a piece of cake or a plate of pasta, what the other people hear is “I don’t eat the crap you do, that is why you are fat and I am less so.” (I am not skinny by any means.)

    This reaction is almost universal across the board even amongst those that aren’t over-weight…

    I make it a point to not pontificate about “my diet” or anything like that… Nonetheless the reaction is the same… Defensiveness followed by questioning the sanity/health of my choices….

    –Ed

  • http://www.higherprocess.com/ Max Leibman

    I hadn’t really thought of this before, but I have some anecdotal evidence that could be explained by this model.

    I don’t consume alcoholic beverages on any occasion, though I am not, in theory, opposed to alcohol (and have never, to my knowledge, registered displeasure over others enjoying such beverages responsibly). Yet many friends, relatives, and acquaintances have at various times tried to excuse their own drinking to me by emphasizing how little they are drinking or how responsible they are about it. Sometimes people even apologize outright for drinking in my presence.

    No matter how often I explain that I am not anti-alcohol, there seems to be an unspoken rule that my choice reflects my judgment of their choices.

  • kebko

    Robin,

    Doesn’t your proposition imply that humans are much nearer to omniscience than we really are?

    I have spent much of my adult social life around people that I disagree with broadly. I would agree that in many cases there is an implied disrespect going both ways. But, if we realize that each of us is a vessel for a very limited set of experiences, and that we have very limited capabilities of incorporating the experiences of others, we can see each other as small pieces of the whole – different parts of the elephant, as it were.
    So, I might disagree with someone, even someone who exhibits a typical frustrating righteous ignorance of economics, and even believe strongly that they are missing a lot, and still recognize that they have many contra-experiences beyond my potential to understand, that mitigate against the paradigms that I am depending on in visceral, non-rational ways that would be hard to resolve short of a Vulcan or Borg experience with them.
    In the end, I’m not removing the disrespect for them, I’m just adding some for myself. And, after all, we’re really just mottled together biological Rube-Goldberg devices, what do we really expect from ourselves? It’s hard enough to see the BS we pull on ourselves each day, let alone incorporate all of someone else’s experiences into a dispute resolution.
    So, Mr. Benford could make his choices, knowing they are simply an outgrowth of his experience. He has a duty to his experience to make those choices. The foot of the elephant is meant to walk, but that is no statement on the choice of the elephant’s tail to swat.

  • http://lightskyland.com Matthew C.

    I disagree. 🙂

    When someone chooses chocolate ice cream and we choose vanilla, is that “disrespect”?

    Surely the fact that some people are more driven for work success, and others want to spend more time taking pictures of pretty mountains, is something that can be seen as a personal preference coming out of background or biology rather than a normative distinction.

    Then again, I see almost everything as coming from the “is” rather than the “ought” pole, so perhaps I am an outlier here.

  • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

    May I suggest that most people would feel ambivalent as opposed to being offended. Having someone decline an offer, when the expectation is that they normally accept, disables the intrinsic condition within us because it is a novel experience. This would give rise to feelings of both like and dislike.

  • axg

    > When he sees other folks choose instead to play, surely he must infer a substantial chance that they faced a similar choice but made the choice he respects less.

    This really confuses me. Do these others have the same skills, the same utility of work vs leisure (and at this very moment?! – do we know they are even in the same time zone?) , the same work habits, the same opportunity cost, the same distractability? Does Benford never stop working and if not why does he bother with life? Because the negation of this last question is that even _he_ does indeed find there are times when the work vs leisure question balances the latter.

    So isn’t there another hypothesis: “GB prefers to work at time t” vs “Some other stranger prefers to play at time t” are actually totally different questions, reflecting two people optimizing under entirely different constraints, and with respect to which on which there is no evidence for disagreement whatsoever.

    > Even if he doesn’t think this way, and even if he explicitly says this, the rest of us must assign a substantial chance that he does in fact think this way.

    Honestly this would never occur to me. I see the point if I were to assume that most people were extremely similar to Benford in terms of location, skills, and preference but — nothing against him personally! – I would never either expect this (evidence of the senses!) or wish this (comparative advantage and all that.)

  • Matt

    What if you behave enviously? Say you comment that you wish you had the skills to work so efficiently that you had the time to play Dungeons and Dragons eight hours a day- does this signal disrespect?

    Also, isn’t patronizing someone far more disrespectful? Wouldn’t this imply people see each other as starting off with negative value as far as respect is concerned?

  • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo

    Are people identical to their choices? Are they identical to their opinions?

    If a person is something beyond their choices and opinions, then one can disagree (or make different choices) without disrespecting them. It is precisely identifying the person as having no standing beyond their choices or opinions which is central to the nastiness of much political correctness, for example.

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  • Lord

    Is there anything less worthy of respect than fawning sycophants?

  • Miranda

    Lorenzo, I like your post. You hit the nail on the head.

  • Shae

    > When he sees other folks choose instead to play, surely he must infer a substantial chance that they faced a similar choice but made the choice he respects less. <

    This is often true, and it's why you "shouldn't" talk religion or politics at work. How can I politely decline your friendly invitation to church, when an honest discussion of the matter would reveal that I think you're superstitious… or whatever.

    But the example above confuses me. If Greg has 350 friends, each of whom goof off one day a year, and whom invite him to join them, he could end up goofing off every single day of the year. He may not be willing to do that because he goofs off only one day a year, just as they do.

    That's contrived math, but it is close to the truth. I have a couple dozen friends and so I am constantly dissappointing them.

  • Me

    Honestly, disagreement is not even remotely related to disrespect. If I say the sky I prefer cats, and you say you prefer dogs, are we disrespecting each other? Clearly not. We simply have differences of opinions, which is not only natural but healthy. If your self-esteem is so fragile that you offended by a simple difference of opinion, really the only option you have is to hide under a rock for the rest of your natural life, because clearly you can’t function without those around you making sure to tiptoe around your fragile feelings. That’s narcissistic, and clearly antisocial. Grow up.