The bare facts



Let’s talk nudity.

This picture is the front cover of the Nirvana album Nevermind. It is perfectly legal to own this picture. But it would not be legal – in the UK at least – to own a collection of images like this. That would be bordering on child pornography.

So one image is okay but several similar images are not? Hmm.

Then we have Stephen Gough, the naked rambler…


He has been prosecuted several times for hiking in the nude, wearing nothing but a pair of boots and a rucksack. And a beard. He insists that he has a right to individual freedom.

Compare and contrast with this magnificent chappie:


This is Michelangelo’s David, arguably one of the finest sculptures ever chiselled. And he is even more naked that Mr Gough because he doesn’t have a beard. Or a rucksack and a pair of boots.

But while Mr Gough has been thrown in prison, the statue of David is in full public view.

Admittedly David doesn’t move. Is that the issue? Is the offensiveness about Mr Gough that some parts of his anatomy presumably … ahem … sway from side to side as he walks?

Now let’s talk about breasts. The big story of the day is that the Sun newspaper is still showing a photograph of a topless model on page 3.

I ought to explain this one for people not from the UK. We have a daily newspaper called The Sun. To be fair, it’s not the most intellectual of newspapers. Its job is to tell you who won the footie and what’s on the telly. It tells you which “celebrity” you have never heard of is no longer sleeping with another celebrity you’ve also never heard of.

And it reduces all politics and current events to a simplified pantomime with cartoon villains (Boo!), pretty damsels in distress (phwoar!) and 2 dimensional heroes (hooray!).

The Sun has a tradition of publishing a picture of a topless model on page 3. I’ve glanced at these pictures from time to time – purely in the name of research, you understand. And they are as erotic as a pair of fried eggs. Photoshopped fried eggs.

We have one group of people who are campaigning to stop these photographs. They are offensive. They might be seen by children. They are demeaning to women. It does not matter that you have a choice about whether to read the Sun or not. The fact that the pictures are there is the problem.

And I can see all that. I get it.

But then we have another campaign about the right to breastfeed in public. On one side we have some people have don’t want to see naked breasts in public. And a group of Mums who insist on their right to feed their babies wherever they want.

And in the middle of all this, we are talking about Charlie Hebdo and the right to offend.

Has the world gone mad? How do we reconcile all these contrasting views?

Actually, I think we can make sense of all of this. It just needs a little bit of selflessness and humility. Those seem to be qualities which are in very short supply.

The fact is that we are all different. We each of us have different personal definitions of what is and is not offensive. We should not assume that  our own standards are universal. They are not. One person’s rights do not automatically override someone else’s rights.

More than that we need to recognise that rights do not stand on their own. Rights need to be partnered with responsibilities. The freedom of speech also includes a responsibility not to abuse that freedom by causing unnecessary harm.

There are few easy answers here. We will have to look for compromises – and one definition of a compromise is a solution where both parties are equally unhappy.

But the only way to find answers is through having  the humility and selflessness to see these difficult questions through someone else’s eyes.

Try to walk a mile in your enemy’s shoes. You may find that he is not your enemy after all.

And you would be a mile away from your enemy … and you would have his shoes. That was a joke, by the way.


2 thoughts on “The bare facts

  1. “We each of us have different personal definitions of what is and is not offensive. We should not assume that our own standards are universal. They are not. One person’s rights do not automatically override someone else’s rights.”
    You said it perfectly. This is something to repeat everywhere.


  2. Rod

    I believe that interfering with rights and offending someone are two different things. Rights are about actions and offense is about thinking.

    In my opinion, laws should be enforced to prevent interfering with someone’s rights. We should have the right to do anything that doesn’t interfere with the ability of someone else to do something (I.E. breathing, speaking, etc.).

    We all have the ability to decide how to react to what happens to us. The same action can cause one person to despair and a different person to rejoice. This is all internal to the person and under complete control of said person. If I have decided that under no circumstances will I become angry, then there is nothing anyone can do to change that, until I allow it to be changed.

    I believe in the separation of church and state (with the caveat of protecting the mentally inexperienced and the mentally incapable). It is the responsibility of the government (or society) to protect us. It is the responsibility of the clergy to manage our morals. The things that are considered bad for our spirit changes as fast as those that are considered bad for our diet. At one point in time it was immoral to show your ankles, today the majority give it little thought. If someone decides that the word “peanut” offends them, it is not the job of society to police its use. Leave that decision to religion.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I believe it is in everybody’s best interest to try to get along. I do my utmost to say things with the best intent. If someone interprets something I say as an attack, I apologize! I will make every effort to correct a miscommunication, but in the end it is neither my right, nor responsibility to dictate what a person thinks.

    If I offend someone, I encourage discussion. If that is refused, I respectfully recommend therapy.


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