Offensive. What does this mean?

I could post this on my work medical blog, but it’s work, and I may get into trouble, so I’ll post on my food blog. Because I can.

There has been a re-emergence of the Cricoidgate scandal of 2014, whereupon a most prolific and upstanding proponent of the FOAM world, Dr Cliff Reid wrote a brief discourse around his views of the continued use of cricoid pressure in emergency airway management arena. He used the acronym R.E.T.A.R.D to summarise this. I can’t even recall the exact expansion of this, but people were OFFENDED. Essentially, the equally prolific and wonderful Dr Minh Le Cong was not pleased as he was a proponent of it’s use based on current expert practice from our gaseous colleagues.

There was a lot of talk about being offended. I tweeted a Stephen Fry interview in there, and I believe Dr Nicholas Chrimes later suggested this ‘offensive’ discourse was ‘just semantics’. Or something like that.

Well, I would like to explore this a little further.

Nicholas has now ended up feeling the offensive wrath of EMS_junkie, who has shown equal disdain for his use of the word ‘zealot’.

Now, a quick disclaimer- my other half (SB) is a philosophy graduate, and we’ve spent 20+ years ‘discussing’. Incidentally, she’s irritatingly rather good at biostatistics, and I need to thank her for the romantic pillow talk on this very topic.

I’ll just pick a bone about ‘just semantics’, as Dr Chrimes has used it again in the recent twitter dialogue. I would suggest that phrase just semantics’ doesn’t make sense, given that (linguistic) semantics is about meaning, as well as other branches in psychology and computer science. I might need my French speaking philosophy other half to assist with the rest of the wikipedia entry.

Anyway, back to Stephen Fry’s comment, that the statement “I am offended by that” is essentially a whine; a statement with no meaning.

Here’s a situation we considered from an actual occurrence. A meal with a number of friends and colleagues, and someone at the table cracks a joke about paedophiles/ paedophilia. Where are we now on the Fry ‘offense is meaningless’ position?

SB raised the idea that really it is an emotional reaction. Being offended as an emotional reaction? So to deny that is as logical as to deny someone isn’t sad, or angry etc. I think this is a useful concept. We may not really understand the reason for the ‘offense’ but it is there. What about the dinner party case? Or indeed the casually racist remark in a hospital meeting, or a member of staff in an open area in the department, or a patient who states ‘I’m glad I’ve got you doc, at least you speak English?’.

The offence may indeed stem from anger, but here it is not really the anger of being offended, it is the anger of someone stating something you feel to be morally wrong, (to open a whole new can of philosphical worms).

And this emotional reaction should be considered distinct from the message of the argument, in the case of Cricoidgate, that the application of cricoid pressure is perhaps a position of dogma, but even worse, it is a position that is potentially doing harm. It is therefore understandable that to get the point across, to draw attention to the other persons seemingly contradictory  point of view, an offensive strategy might be required. Perhaps, to go on the offensive?

Of course it then reminds us of the military or sporting connotation, which is one of attack. And this was SBs point again, it can be (or perceived to be) an attack on a person.

And this where doctors might feel this differently to say a scientist, who might feel somewhat less invested in a certain ‘practice’. When that practice is critiqued, it is perhaps more likely to cause some kind of emotional reaction. In fact I bristled at a skull X-ray I ordered being critiqued the other day. Personally I feel there is a role, and it’s a well thought and logical decision process to me, so I reacted to this. We all do.

So what to do in the case of the racist remark at work, or the paedophile joke at the dinner table. I think the former is easier, unless you’re colleagues are drunk. But an immediate comment stating that is not a reasonable thing to say, possibly with an apology, is probably required, without the emotion.

The dinner table guest should probably get the same swift unemotional comment and not be invited again.

And the blog post/ Twitter comment?

Well, now we are in new territory, as the instant thought, witty cutback, etc etc becomes essentially irreversible and re-tweetable with countless edits and mis-contexts as woeful as an ABC radio news edit.

Let’s just have a chat over a pint……..




About willeats1

Primarily gastronomic explorer. Occasional father, emergency physician and mountain biker. View all posts by willeats1

3 responses to “Offensive. What does this mean?

  • Nicholas Chrimes (@NicholasChrimes)

    I think you may have misunderstood/misrepresented the issues raised (both over the weekend & in previous “cricoidgate” incident) in relation to offence/semantics.

    I’ve always interpreted Stephen Fry’s comments on offence as objecting to the notion that rigorous intellectual debate should be suppressed on the grounds that some people find the mere existence of views which contradict their own to be “disrespectful” and causing of “offence” (an argument which particularly surfaces in relation to religion). I don’t think the implication is that it is okay to make cruel, hostile or intimidatory remarks and I certainly don’t condone that idea.

    The reference to “just semantics” in the Twitter feed over the weekend was in relation to comments I’d made about the meaning of the FOAM acronym. They were a lighthearted jibe and were literally “just semantics” and of no real consequence.

    I share your opinion that semantics can be important. In the subsequent more serious debate that followed, the meaning of the word “zealot” directly impacted on whether it was forseeable that someone might be offended by it’s use. I think a lot of the offence that was caused related to a misunderstanding about the meaning of the word “zealot”. Some felt it implied some sort of hateful/destructive intent (in fact it was proposed that it invited comparison with terrorists!) whereas I had used it (I believe correctly) as simply one who pursues something with “excessive zeal”. Whilst it’s certainly a negative term, whether zealotry implies the desire to harm others, depends on what it is directed at. One can be a “patient safety zealot” or a white supremacy zealot – whilst the commitment to the cause may be equivalent for both of these, any hurtful intent is reflected in the nature of the cause, not the degree of zeal with which it is pursued.

    The point of the above discussion was to determine whether the use of the term “zealot” was forseeably hurtful (and therefore demanding of an apology) or whether the offence caused was due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of the term – and thus not something the user of the term could be held responsible for. I issued a qualified apology if in fact my understanding of the the term “zealot” was incorrect.

    My desire to move away from a semantic discussion about the meaning of zealotry was not due to a belief that it’s “just semantics” but rather that what I considered to be a more important issue in relation to FOAM was being sidetracked by the issue of whether it was reasonable to be offended by a particular word (especially given this point had been well & truly addressed in the thread).

    Finally, I’ve deliberately tried to leave names out when referring to “cricoidgate” (though clearly those who remember it will be aware of the individuals involved). Since you’ve mentioned Cliff’s name, I’d like to make a couple of things clear. Personally I took no offence to the “RETARD” term in Cliff’s post (though I acknowledge others did). My issue was with the tone in which that post (and others posts by other contributors) was written, not the implications of the acronym. In any case Cliff responded to the concerned raised with the utmost professionalism, immediately acknowledging the potential offence caused by both these things and altered the post.

    Coming back to the nature of “offence”, what was not reasonable was for anyone to be “offended” by the expression of contrary views in regards to the utility of cricoid pressure. Rigorous intellectual arguments put forward from a perspective of fact & logic should not be stifled because some individuals find the act of disagreeing with them “disrespectful”. Opinions shouldn’t go unchallenged simply out of “politeness”. I think that this notion is more in line with the Stephen Fry comments on offence/respect.

    • willeats1

      Hi Nicholas,
      After half a bottle of Brokenwood Semillon 2000, I should be wary of what I type. But as tweeted, I think we agree. I am really trying to hold up a ‘polite’ mirror to those offended as I thought it was a curious thing. Clearly not everyone has the same dermal depth though.
      And I know I named names, but firstly, not everyone would have been aware of ‘cricoidgate’, and secondly, I felt an aversion to carpet sweeping. Cliff wrote it, people were offended. I hopefully wrote about it fairly objectively.
      I wasn’t either. In fact I’m sure I smirked a great deal…..

  • valerie sargent

    Life seems to be taken to seriously or assiduously manipulated by so called clever people. Good reply Will and I will raise a glass and a smile….Love Mum xxxx

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