Article > Baring it all
Description :: Do we have to go there?
Ensis is leading me into this one, taking the initiative (at least here.) What's missing from his article is the comment that started our initial discussion: someone on slashdot (yes, I read slashdot) saying "America got its butt kicked by a nipple!" or something equivalent. It amused me, I sent it to Ensis, and things got out of hand for a few hours.

The butt-kicking Ensis received
I might as well let you in on what Ensis meant by this: he had attempted to show that public nudity was wrong for legal and moral reasons, and eventually said that it was an edict of God. So we searched an english-language version of the Bible online for words like "naked", "nudity" and so forth. The results were less than stellar.

Adam and Eve weren't told that being naked was wrong, they decided that for themselves. In fact they were hiding from God and from each other: they weren't just clothing themselves before God, but before each other. That tends to contradict the "but they're married so it's okay" idea. They were married (or something like it) and they still, without God or anyone else around, decided to put clothes on.

References later on pertain mostly to not engaging in sexual intercourse with family members. If taken without this assumption, they'd be saying you shouldn't be naked around family members, without saying anything about being naked around random strangers. Your mileage will vary.

Another reference is to a guy being drunk off his arse, and naked to boot. His sons put clothes on him to try to "make it all better" -- he was alone in a tent anyway, it's not like he was wandering the streets naked, singing, and sloshing a bottle. A son was in trouble for looking at him (naked) too long -- I tend to see that as a "what are you looking at?" thing, where the father obviously wasn't too proud of being drunk and naked, and would rather have not been seen. Again, your interpretation is your own.

Later passages deal quite often with nakedness in terms of poverty: armies running away naked, beggars being naked, and so forth. It's not a terribly great sign of wealth to be walking around naked, or running away from a battle naked. Yes, they were running away in shame -- but I think the shame was that of defeat (to the point of not even having clothes left) rather than of being in the nude. Further, Jesus tells people to give their clothes to poor naked people. He doesn't say they're immoral for being naked and letting people see their skin -- he asks others to be charitable and give them what seems to be the obvious "bare necessity" of clothing. (If you went from having nothing to having something, wouldn't you likely start with clothes?)

There were a few references also to people being stripped naked, to reveal their shame (sins) to everyone: I doubt their skin was at fault, and I take this more metaphorically. Have I mentioned that this is all just my understanding of things?

Going back, there are prophets who purposefully remove their clothes, and give their prophecies while entirely naked. Those would be prophets of God, by the way. I would tend to assume that they'd get fired (lightninged) for that kind of behavior on the job if God really disapproved, but that's just me.

I will spare you the conversation that followed, but it basically came down to this: the Bible wasn't saying "don't walk around naked." Personally, while I may prefer not to see very large ladies walking around naked, I'm not going to curse them for it. My eyes will survive the ordeal. If someone's naked because they don't have a choice, I feel I'm much more likely to hand them my clothes and go naked myself (I've got more at home) than to throw stones at them for daring to show themselves to me that way.

So then it came down to being offended. I didn't point Ensis in the direction of the "stumbling brother" argument, though Insignis did bring it up, and we wondered (quietly) why he hadn't gone there yet. Another thing you can bring up (that Ensis didn't) that is fairly related is the "appearance of evil" argument. If you haven't heard either, go use those incredible internet-searching abilities that brought you here, and look them up. We're lazy bastards.

It all comes down to political correctness. That's one reason I've been terribly amused by Ensis' position: stereotypically, the touchy-feely liberal should be all about offending no one, while the conservative should be laughing at political correctness. It seems that at least today, free speech is more important for the liberal in me than not being offended.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I was the typical idiotic kid who got bruised for saying such things. I never learned. The point of that phrase is that you can decide to ignore words that offend -- no matter what names the bullies at recess may call you, the hurt felt is internal, based on how you choose to take it. In and of itself, the experience doesn't harm you.

That's with a direct, frontal attack. Free speech, generally, argues that you're welcome to say whatever you like, with no guarantee that anyone is watching or listening. The flip-side of this is that no matter what you say, people can ignore you -- in fact, they choose to listen to what you have to say. If they're offended, it's their own fault.

To get around this, the argument is typically includes: "we weren't expecting it", "it was a public place, we have a right to be here too without being offended", or "you should have known it would offend someone". The issue of "offense" deals with interfaces, meeting places between people. Any time people are around each other, "public" or not, there's a danger of offense. There are some things we expect may offend others: certain language (try any of the "seven words you can't say on television" around Ensis, and watch him turn bright colors you never thought you'd see) or movements (just a hint: don't show the bottom of your feet to arabs!) or even ideas (try having an open discussion about some topics involving children while around parents) -- and there are plenty of things we simply don't see coming.

Should the television networks have broadcast a warning ahead of time saying "warning: naked breasts may appear during the course of this show"? Some people would take offense even with that -- and if nothing else, you may hear "they ruined my ability to see the rest of the show by including a naked breast!" I suppose I can put a sign on my door warning guests that crude language may be heard in my presence, or even stamp such a warning on my forehead, and yet still I would forget to warn someone about something that offends them.

Being offended depends on the receiving side of the equation: unless everyone posts a list of things that offend them, it's hard (impossible) for anyone else to avoid such things all of the time. You can't post ahead of time a warning including a complete description of the things that may be seen or heard, as such a complete inventory would be practically equivalent to the thing itself. (Imagine the detail required to describe everything that might be offensive to someone, without knowing what that might be!)

I propose that there are two solutions to people being offended: people should stop being such whiny babies, and areas of expression are needed.

The first solution is simple, but the second might require explanation. The idea is that we can define zones of limited expression, where some things are explicitly forbidden. Those who know their own limitations, and know what offends them, can make sure they subscribe only to areas of expression that ban all the things that offend them. This may involve entire countries requiring that your freedom of expression be limited not to include such things as walking around naked. Beyond that, within that nation, nothing would be able to present such an idea, ever. This should help with the problem. And the cost, I think, is obvious.

How does this relate to the consent-based ethic? Easily: people are offended by unwanted interaction with others, involving language or visuals or ideas. It is difficult to acquire consent for such things as "A seeing B naked while they both walk opposite directions down the same street" ahead of time. The idea therefore is to create something akin to pre-paid phones: pre-screened areas of interaction, where consent is implied.

This might, however, require that babies sign, immediately at birth, a document stating that they agree to this arrangement, and promise not to be offended by the things they may see or hear in the zone they are arriving in.

Or you could turn the television off. And never go outside. And never talk to anyone. It's much easier for a single person to refuse to see things that offend (gouge your eyes out!,) than for everyone else to tiptoe around, trying to avoid creating any offensive situations.

And now, for the record, I will write a word here, a naughty word, specifically the word "fuck", which you should avoid looking at if it offends you: "fuck". Did that disclaimer help?

Response (unavoidable?)
Ensis is correct: absense of evidence is not evidence of absense. It was his idea to look for verses about nudity via a concordance (electronic) but now we'll go back to "looking at the big picture." That's fine, I'm not going to go through every verse of the Bible, in every language, looking for any way to apply the verse to the question of nudity. There's a second principle to be remembered: sometimes, if you can't find it, it's because it's just not there. He can go hunting again, I think I'm done. Maybe God is offended by nudity, and just didn't tell us. I have no way to disprove this, but it really doesn't matter. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absense, but it's not proof of presence either: so deal with what you have, and move along.

Rather, let us look at Ensis' complaint: I'm not trying not to offend. In fact, I'm doing it on purpose. Admittedly, the example above using a word I won't repeat unnecessarily here was designed to prove a point; I happen to already know at least a few of the things that offend Ensis, this was an easy one. Did I offend everyone? Likely not. Did I offend a majority? That, I couldn't tell you. (We have yet to hear back from our readers, if they exist, to know what our audience looks like.) Did a mostly-naked breast offend most people? Was it intended to offend? Are we now angry about the intent, or the act itself?

So here it is: it's not even about what you do, is it? It doesn't matter if it's being naked in public or putting your finger up your nose or saying the word "trunk" -- if you do anything knowing it causes offense in the people who will notice you doing it, then you should be ashamed of yourself.

To a fair extent, I can actually understand this, and be sympathetic to the idea. If I tell a kid to stop yelling (as is often the case around my mate's little brat of a brother) and the kid doesn't stop (or even starts doing it more) then yes, I'm offended. I'm a reasonable guy, it's a reasonable request, and the kid has no reason for doing this than to irritate me. His intent offends me, more than the act itself. Because we don't have direct access to the minds of the people around us (well, I don't, maybe you do) we're actually just guessing about intent: if an action doesn't have any useful purpose in our own minds (that is, it's not something we would ever do) and it seems directed at us, then we're quite likely to find there to be intent to offend.

We're offended by knowing that we have a weakness, and that someone else is exploiting it on purpose.

So there's a naked breast visible on network television. Was it intended to offend you personally? Did the perpetrator know your weakness? Was it intended for you, for everyone, or for people who wouldn't find it offensive? Should they show some respect, and go for the lowest-common-denominator (which I would argue, of course, would be a blank screen) just to avoid offending anyone who might possibly tune in?

They don't know you personally. It's television -- you should know by now what kind of stuff they might show. And if not, then maybe we do in fact need disclaimers everywhere (but I still don't think those will achieve the desired effect) -- but regardless, being offended is now in the domain of intent. We're getting quite close the "poisoning the well" by judging the value of actions (such as showing a naked breast) based on intent.

Ensis: there are likely going to be more naked breasts on television. Stop watching. You have every right to do so. If you don't watch, you're not part of the audience, and their lewd acts are no longer even remotely likely to be directed at you.

And as to lust, I'll say this: I don't get turned on by any naked women walking past me, sorry. If you can't control yourself, that's your own problem. I believe the Bible verses that would be relevant here are the ones dealing with gouging your eyes out and cutting your hands off if you can't control them; in the case of the eyes, I believe it was specifically about lust? If you can't deal with it, that's a discipline problem, which puts it back in your camp, what I would call the camp of "giving money to the poor makes them undisciplined, thus we shouldn't give them money." It's a simplification, but not an inappropriate one. You want discipline? Start with yourself.