Certain topics are so imbued with social radioactivity that we have learned sharing our curiosity or our thoughts about them in most social environments and in most person-to-person interactions is unsafe, emotionally or psychologically. What are these topics? The sex act. Homosexuality. Body functions. Cannibalism. Incest. Suicide. Body parts. The list goes on and on.
I don’t think our reluctance to hear about, or to participate in conversations about, these topics is natural; I think it is trained into us. Some of the stuff, like cannibalism, is probably naturally offensive (simply because we don’t like the idea of being eaten by another human, nor of eating one), but maybe not. I wonder why most of these (and many other) topics make us so uncomfortable or, in the case of some people, paranoid to the extent that we take aggressive action to prevent conversations from taking place.
Here’s what got me thinking on these matters: a local writer and former professor shared with me some information about her experience in fighting an effort to remove two children’s books that addressed the subject of gay parents from the Wichita Falls, Texas library. After reading the court’s review of the case and the final judgment (overturning the effort to ban the books from the children’s section), I considered all the ways in which our “morality” is guided or challenged or twisted by people who think they should control the way we think. The number of ways is staggering. Mind-boggling. Deeply offensive and frightening.
But maybe those descriptors apply, from a different vantage point, to my position on the evils of banning books or, for that matter, treating gay parenting as legitimate and unthreatening. I do my damnedest to understand positions that fly in the face of my own personal, fervently-held beliefs (beliefs may not be the right term—assessments or determinations or conclusions might better describe them). But that willingness to acknowledge that others’ perspectives that differ from my own could be right–and mine could be wrong–don’t serve me well when I find something morally offensive. Something like treating people whose world views conflict with my own as lesser humans.
That ‘s when it gets difficult. My acceptance of the legitimacy of others’ moralities runs into problems when I reach the limits of acceptability. For example, the brutality of ISIS and its slaughter of people I consider innocent bystanders goes beyond the pale. So, then, where do I draw the line?
The same question applies, I suppose, to the sorts of topics that started this piece. What topics really are, or should be, “off limits” in polite company? (And what in the hell is polite company?) Where is the line drawn between intellectual curiosity and offensive or unwelcome interest?
Speaking of people who want to control the way we think, I read a truly interesting piece about which a friend had commented this morning. The article, which appears in an online publication about religion (Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith), challenges the legitimacy of people using religion and the church as justification for engaging in hurtful or discriminatory practices.
Offensive and unwelcome attitudes and behavior come and go in all directions.
Yes, I know this post goes all over the ballpark. That’s what stream-of-consciousness writing does, sometimes.