Thomas Thurman

An author of magical realism and a formalist poet. When he was a child, his ambition was to write storybooks. Many other things got in the way, including owning various cats, ringing tower bells, writing sonnets, moving to Cambridge, unexpectedly emigrating to Pennsylvania, learning to make fudge, maintaining interesting but obscure parts of computer systems and unexpectedly moving back to England. Nevertheless, he is still writing.

Controversial and offensive

Some Michigan lawmakers have a plan to forbid funding for abortion, even after rape or incest, unless women have paid an extra healthcare premium beforehand. This is unjust for several reasons: it’s a penalty on women that men don’t have to pay; it’s a regressive penalty, hurting the poor more than the rich; it’s a penalty paid particularly by the victims of violent crime because they are victims. Passing such a law would be an immoral act.

It’s unjust for several reasons, but not because it’s controversial, nor because it’s offensive. And today I want to ask my comrades to consider avoiding these words in political discourse, for the sole reason that they cause people to stop listening.


The petition on about this subject begins:

The Michigan Legislature: Don’t Pass Controversial “Rape Insurance” Plan Into Law

If you’re sending in a petition with thousands of signatures on it, of course it’s a controversial subject. The word is just noise.

It goes on to say:

Put simply, this idea is offensive

Every single thing a legislature does is offensive to someone. If they listen to this petition, as I hope they do, plenty of people in the Republican party may be offended: that’s no reason not to do it. People can and will reply, “So you’re offended? So what? Nobody has a right not to be offended.”

Why do I care so much? When people who haven’t heard about the issue read the petition page, if they see that it’s against something “offensive” and “controversial”, they’ll say “Oh yeah, the left’s getting upset about something again” and move on. If we use that valuable space to say that it’s “unjust”, “regressive”, “sexist”, or anything that wouldn’t apply to every other issue anyone writes a petition about, we have more than half a chance of making them listen.

  • 11 December 2013
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