Patterico's Pontifications


Giving and Taking Offense: A Boy and His Dog

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 12:37 pm

I think we’ve hit on some examples that will help us explore the issue of responsibility for the meaning of words, misinterpretation, and giving offense. Thanks to Craig R. Harmon and Jeff Goldstein in comments for the precursors to these examples.

1) A boy has a dog named Rover. At night, he typically calls the dog into the house from the field by either calling out: “Come here, boy!” or “Come here, Rover!” The dog responds to either; either is equally effective.

The boy learns at school that there is a racial history associated with the word “boy” such that black men are offended to be called “boy.” That night, he starts to call out: “Come here, boy!” when he sees Rover out in the field. But then, the boy sees a black man near Rover. The boy thinks to himself: if I yell out “Come here, boy!” that black man will be offended. But then the boy thinks: I don’t care. That’s his problem. And he yells, “Come here, boy!”

The dog and the black man come over. The black man is angry. The boy explains that he was just calling his dog. And the black man calms down and says he didn’t realize that; he hadn’t even seen the dog out there when he heard “Come here, boy!”

a) Has the boy done anything wrong? Should he have done anything differently?

b) Was the black man wrong (unreasonable) to be offended at the beginning?

2) Same facts as #1, but before the boy calls out to the dog, the boy’s dad advises him: “Say ‘Come here, Rover!'” The dad does not want the boy to offend the black man.

Has the dad done anything wrong? Should he have done anything differently?

3) Same facts as #1, only the boy had been preparing to call out “Come here, Rover!” and changed it to “Come here, boy!” when he saw the black man. The boy changed his phrasing, not to offend the black man per se, but to make a point about language. His thinking was: I was about to say “Come here, Rover!” but instead I will say: “Come here, boy!” By saying it this way, I am making the point that I will not have my choices limited by the reactions of others.

Has the boy done anything wrong? Should he have done anything differently?

4) Same facts as #3, only the boy isn’t making a point about language when he changes the call from “Come here, Rover!” to “Come here, boy!” He’s trying to make his friends laugh. He’s not trying to offend the black man, remember; it’s of no importance to him whether the black man is offended. He just wants to amuse his friends.

Has the boy done anything wrong? Should he have done anything differently?

5) Same facts as #4, only the black man sees the dog. He hears “Come here, boy!” and knows the child might be calling his dog. But he also hears the boy’s friends laugh.

Would the black man be wrong (unreasonable) to be offended?

6) Same facts as #1, except that this is a more real world example: we don’t know the boy’s intent. All we know is that there is a black man in the field with the dog, and the boy calls out “Come here, boy!” and the black man gets offended. Oh — and add one more fact: before the boy yells out that phrase, he turns to some friends and says: “Watch this!”

Then the black man gets offended, and the boy — wide-eyed and innocent — says he was just calling in his dog. His friends suppress giggles.

a) Has the boy done anything wrong? Should he have done anything differently?

b) Is the black man wrong (unreasonable) to be offended?

Give your answers in the comments, along with your reasoning.

Obama’s Second Verse: Same As The First

Filed under: General,Obama,Politics — Karl @ 11:39 am

The Politico reports:

The White House on Sunday began harnessing  every part of the Democratic Party’s machinery to defend President Obama’s budget and portray Republicans as reflexively political, according to party strategists.


[O]fficials throughout the party plan to hammer the idea that Republicans are just saying “no” to the president’s budget plans without offering their own alternative.


David Plouffe, manager of Obama’s presidential race, helped design the strategy, which includes the most extensive activation since November of the campaign’s grassroots network. The database—which includes information for at least 10 million donors, supporters and volunteers—will now be used as a unique tool for governing, with former canvassers now being enlisted to mobilize support for the president’s legislative agenda.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pushed the “Party of ‘No'” line with respect to their party’s massive spending package in January.  The same spin turns up time and again in the establishment media. 

Although I once opined that Barack Obama’s netroots could be the most important tool in US politics, his last netroots appeal was widely seen as a failure

Beating the “Party of ‘No'” drum has not stopped Pres. Obama’s approval numbers from dropping below where George W. Bush was in an analogous period in 2001.  Nor has it stopped the establishment — now including David S. Broder — from declaring The Oneymoon is over, well before the end of the traditional 100 days.  The Democrats must be hoping that pumping up the volume will distract people from the substance of the Obama Administration’s plans.

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