Saturday, 10 October 2009

Heckling

Earlier in the week, on my way home from a long day, I passed a group of protesters outside one of the hospitals here. The professional-looking signs and banners that they were displaying said "Pray to End Abortion". My immediate and cynical reaction, as both a supporter of abortion rights and an atheist, was one of approval: these people are using as ineffective a means as possible to support a cause with which I disagree entirely. Two of them had big pieces of cardboard with handwritten signs as well. One said "Today? Abortion - Tomorrow? Godless Anarchy", and that almost made me stop. I am a big fan of civilisation (see my previous post for more thoughts on that) and, Ursula K. LeGuin notwithstanding, I suspect anarchy to be its antithesis. I do not see the connection between abortion and anarchy, but was not tempted to ask the protester for details. Rather, I was more than a little incenced at the use of the word "godless" as a negative modifier. "What's wrong with being godless?" I wanted to ask. The obvious connection that the religiously deluded seem not to get over is that it is impossible to be moral without a belief in God, and I feel that this should be challenged vigorously and often.

But I had had a long day, which began with swimming for the first time in six months and at a time far earlier than I am usually out of bed, a surprisingly busy and productive time in the lab, and just now a soccer game, and I just wanted to get home. I passed the protesters without comment, but I thought about the possible consequences of heckling on the way. Would it be possible for me to make a difference that way? I would not attempt to argue for abortion rights, or make any snide comments about the efficacy of prayer: just challenge the notion that "godless" is a bad thing. Perhaps I might make the person think a little. Perhaps I might at the very least make him aware that equating "godless" with "immoral" ranges from annoying to offensive for a substantial number of people. Keep the topic focussed and the discussion civil, and maybe some good would come of it. That would be worth the effort. But I figured that the effort would have to be spent another day.

A couple of days later, as I got on the bus to go home, I was heckled myself -- by the bus driver! It was late, and it was windy, and I was cold. For those of you who have not lived here, Halifax can get impressively windy. It would not actually have been unpleasant except for the wind-chill factor. The bus pulled up, and I stepped in, grateful to start warming up, and the fellow that was heading out pushed by me. I flashed my U-Pass and headed back, and the bus driver barked at me to come back and "take those things out of your ears" (meaning my earhones). I figured that maybe he needed a second look at my U-Pass, but no, he asked me, "Why did you charge in here without letting that guy off first?" I told him that it was cold outside, and I wanted to get out of it, and he went on that I was supposed to let people off the bus before I got on myself, and that "you can't just push people around like that." I have no idea what made him think that I got some sort of satisfaction from bullying people, but there were people behind me waiting to get on the bus as well, and I did not want to keep them out in the cold, so I tried to shrug it off. But the bus driver was not going to accept that. He kept at it, insisting that I change my attitude to those around me. The fellow that I had bumped into was long gone, and did not seem to have made any issue of the matter: why was the driver so offended? Eventually I expressed enough flustered apology for him and he let me go.

I would have fumed had I not recently contemplated heckling people myself. But I think there are definite differences between the two situations. The bus driver was acting on an event that took only a few seconds, and did not consider the possibility of extenuating circumstances. The protester was, after a fashion, asking for a response. I was not about to give the protester the response that he was expecting -- and in fact I had made up my mind when I fist saw the sign not to address the issue that he was protesting. In retrospect, "What's wrong with being godless?" is a rather confrontational approach, but there are worse ways of addressing the topic, especially if one maintains a calm demeanour while doing so. Perhaps I am deluding myself, but the more I think of the two events, the less similarity I see between them, aside from a spontaneous interaction between strangers. Still, it had me thinking, and that is always a good thing.

4 comments:

Psi Wavefunction said...

You got it right - the protestors are ASKING for it, that's why they're out protesting. I'd hope they're aware enough of their surroundings to realise that if you push for some idea, some people will resist. So heckling them is perfectly fine, as they volunteered to take time out of their own schedules for this, and alternate viewpoints are to be expected at a protest.

The bus driver, on the other hand, srsly needs to stop playing moral police. Those people fucking annoy me, and I would so totally lash out back at them, were I in an awful mood. Also, he should realise that no everyone always acts optimally, and if you make a war over every act of not noticing something, or cutting in front of someone, or whatever, the world would be a much shittier place than if everyone *habitually* transgressed those norms. Meh, someday he just might end up heckling the wrong kind of person...

You guys call them U-passes there too? Totally ripped that off of us! XP

Psi Wavefunction said...

PS: Mystery micrograph, go do it, nao =P

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trog69 said...

Sorry, but as a long-time Chicago mass transit user, I'm gonna have to side with the driver. It's just common courtesy to let the riders off first, rather than they having to jostle around to make room for you.

Not a major life issue, but it does seem inconsiderate. Are you not familiar with public transportation, or perhaps you feel justified in inconveniencing others because you didn't dress properly for the weather?