Fat hate speech? The role of the bystander.

This issue is inspired by events within this particular GD thread but is really not specific to it, and not intended as a Pitting of any of those who posted within the thread. It is offered merely as a specific illustration of a more general problem.

Hate speech against the fat is pretty rampant and it seems to me, much more tolerated than many other kinds of hate speech.

Ignorance is one thing. (And some may disagree about what is ignorance and what is a justified belief, and that discussion would be welcome … in a different thread.) Anytime the subject of fatness, comes up, no matter how specific the actual op, there seem to be a host of people who feel the need to offer their unsolicited “expert” advice to the obese, usually in the form of making sure that they realize how weak willed they are and how it is all their fault. If you believe that please read the last two pages of that thread before you open up a new one to promote that position. But referring to a group as “fatties”, let alone “weak-assed fatties”, goes clearly goes beyond ignorance and into an intent to offend, into an intent to bully.

My question however is centered not on the bully, or on the bullied, but on the bystander:

What is our ethical obligation as witnesses to hate speech or to an act of bullying? My belief is that we, by silence, implicitly endorse and enable the behavior. What think you?

Well of course this is predicated on the idea that ALL fat people have some sort of condition that prevents them from losing weight.

Which, for many things has become a bit overblown, you are violent, oh you poor puppy you must have been abused. You are fat? Oh you poor puppy you must have a disorder.

I would agree with you that the we have a duty as bystanders to protect those that we believe to be innocent, but also I believe that if we feel the “attack” is mostly true and justified then we can let it stand.

Just because a rude remark is true, that doesn’t justify making it.

Of course obese people have a disorder. If nothing else, they have an eating disorder. Your comment is ignorant.

“Innocent”? Obesity is not a matter of innocence or guilt.

What a sorry statement! Shouldn’t your stand be based on thinking and knowledge rather than on what you “believe” that you “feel”? How would you “feel” if someone decided to attack your mother or your child or sister based on their intuitive feelings about what is “mostly true”?

What kind of will does it take to have nothing but liquids and less than 500 calories for six months? That’s a strong will. I would never question that person’s will power again.

What kind of courage does it take for a person to submit to surgery that kills one out of every one hundred people? I wouldn’t question that person’s courage again.

What do you know about the brain chemistry involved with appetite and what controls it?

What’s the most weight you’ve ever lost at one time and kept off for more than five years? More than ten years?

Do share your vast knowledge on this subject, Silvorange. What you “believe” about how you “feel” about what is “mostly true” is of no value in a debate.

Smoking is indisputably hazardous to your health, and possibly to the health of those around the smoker, but I’d still say calling someone a “tar-encrusted puff machine” is rude. Calling someone a “fattie” or insinuating they are a worse human being than a thinner person is also rude, regardless of whether you feel it to be ‘true and justified’.

Anyway, hate speech is a strong term, but I have heard some downright venomous attacks on fat people that I would put in that category (“disgusting fatties should all be put down”, for instance, is pretty damn clearly hate speech).

The role of a bystander is…well, complex. I want to say everyone ought to stand up against hate speech of every kind, but I know that I have sat there quietly while coworkers cracked some pretty awful racist, sexist and homophobic jokes (and hell, I’m gay, so I had no excuse for not speaking up on that one). Sometimes it’s hard as hell to speak up. I’d like to think outright bullying is a different matter though, and I’d step in there–I’d hope most people would, unless they think verbal abuse is a health tonic.

I wasn’t the one who said that.

No it doesn’t, but it also doesn’t mean that we need to get on the case of the person making the remark…

I said that, so don’t go and blame other people.

What I see more and more, especially on this board…

someone will make a comment like “fat people eat too much”

then someone else will jump in with “but that’s not fair, don’t you know about blah blah blah”.

I DO AGREE, that for those that are suffering from problems losing weight because of a medical condition or other reason, they deserve to be protected. I also believe we should be protecting the weak against the bully.

But I also believe that just because a comment is distasteful doesn’t make it hate speech or unjustified. I know my wife is over weight and I know exactly why.

I also know that I have started gaining weight and I know exactly what I need to do to do something about it. If someone wants to call me a fat lazy arse bastard I deserve it - because I am gaining weight because I am being a lazy arse bastard.

I don’t know. The SDMB is not the Disney Channel. It has a long history of having little tolerance for self-indulgent or self-destructive behavior, even among people with diagnosed medial problems. Anyone who has ever come in here with a “Oh my life is so bad” story is pretty quickly told to stop whining, buck up, find whatever help they need and get control of their lives.

And that is where the fat threads get derailed. It’s not when they threads start, it’s when people come in with defensive excuses.

No. It it is not predicated upon that straw man.

It is reasonable to have an intelligent discussion about the biologic predispositions to obesity (genetic and environmental, both prenatal and postnatal), about the body’s strong responses that work against achieving sustained weight loss through dieting, and about how easy or difficult it is. (Again, see the last pages of that linked thread for those cites.) I am fine with a poster disagreeing with the many cites from the medical literature if they have at least read and considered them and disagree based on some critical analysis. But as pointed out, even if one is one of those posters who thinks the medical literature on this subject is crap (based on their own observed anecdotal experiences, critical analysis, or whatever), or that the cites are cherry picked (they are not), having the belief that it is easy to lose weight and that the obese are obese solely because of some character flaw or moral shortcoming, name calling is still unacceptable, and, I still maintain, silence during name calling is tacit approval of it. It usually is not tolerated in our society (at least the parts of it I see) if the name calling centers around skin color, or religion, or sexual orientation. Sometimes over political orientation. But almost always it is tolerated when it is about fatness.

The SDMB has a long history of having behaviors acceptable in different fora. In GQ you answer the question: period. It isn’t the place to rant about your disgust of fat people or to whine about being fat or to insult people who whine any more than GD is. Open Pit threads to do those.

What I see as the SDMB culture is little tolerance for willful and arrogant ignorance, for the ignorant among us mouthing off as if they know what they are talking about and then holding onto those beliefs even when their “facts” have been shown to be false with solid evidence by just ignoring the evidence or deferring to anecdotes and their extant stereotypes over scientific studies.

I can’t say that it never happens that a thread about some aspect of obesity gets derailed by a personal sob story, but I have personally seen more of the threads get derailed by those who, unsolicited, come in, no matter what the question being asked or debate being presented, to derail the discussion into a chance for them to call the obese names and offer their helpful advice about how easy it is to lose weight if only fat people were not so weak and lazy. Again, the latter is just ignorance that is easy to excuse until the cites have been provided, but the latter does not excuse the former.

bengangmo, maybe you know that you are a “lazy arse bastard” who deserves to be called that. And maybe you are. I’ll take your word for it. You know you and I do not. Do you believe that because your weight issue stems from that that everyone else who is overweight or obese is the same as you? Where the Hell would I get off presuming to know that about you from the mere knowledge that you have announced on a message board that you are fat and have been unable to lose weight in any sustained fashion? Especially if you (who actually does know you) says that is not the case?

I agree theres an important distinction between criticising people whinging about thier lives and people heavily criticising others without any serious attempts at factual cites or empirical evidence to back up their position.

There does seem to be a greater willingness to do this with some topics than others and weight is a classic for it. If cites are offered and none returned then you have to wonder at the value of the discussion and it does seem to be more about bullying or the like rather than rational discourse. This can occur in both directions but Id say there was a pretty definite slant one way in the referenced thread.

As to what to do on the internet Im not sure. Moderation is the only real answer that I can see, so that people stick more to making a case rather than focussing on more ad hominem focussed discussion.


I remember a time when we used to throw around some pretty insulting terms for Christians on this board, but after a bunch of threads the culture really shifted and we don’t do that so much any more. I think this is really a variation on an old problem–using derogatory terms for the members of a group while speaking to a member of the group but claiming that it isn’t a personal attack because it wasn’t directed at that specific individual, be it “fundie” or “baby-killer” or “Repugs” or whatever.

Whether or not this rises to the level of “hate speech”–and I think that rather overstates it, myself–it does absolutely, EVERY FUCKING TIME, totally derail any chance of meaningful discussion because the group using the terms is indulging in indignation instead of argument and the group described gets defensive and indignant in turn. It turns these threads into a sort of orgy of recreational outrage.

Well perhaps we have different thresholds for hate speech. I’d judge “cheap Jew-boys” and “shiftless Negroes” as hate speech statements, and “lazy assed fatties” seems no different to me.

But call it bullying or even merely insulting speech if you want. The question of the op stands: does a non-response amount to tacit approval of the behavior or minimally agreement with the stereotype? Or is it better to ignore it to avoid the cycle of indignation and derailment alluded to above?

Oh. bengangmo, is it only “the weak” who should “be protected against the bully”? Personally I think the issue of whether or not someone is strong enough to defend themselves is immaterial.

I’ll change groups for that one: I am Jewish and I am quite able to defend myself I think. Nevertheless if there was anyone here making explicitly anti-Semitic comments I would be, minimally, disappointed by any silence in reaction from the bulk of the other posters. My lack of weakness would not release others from their social obligation to make it clear that hate speech directed against me is unacceptable behavior.

OTOH, taking that analogy, I have found that it is usually best to ignore borderline anti-Semitic comments in order to avoid any appearance of playing a “Jew card”. Perhaps the same applies to “fattie” comments?

I don’t have a “weight issue” and never have. Today I am still under 80 kg (my height is about 1.72m

Just recently I bought size 36 inch trousers for the first time in my life, (I am 36) for the last 10 years before this I have worn size 33

That is why I know my weight gain is because of laziness.

On another board where I post, my sig is “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

And this is something I believe, so I would normally call someone on threatening, bullying or overbearing behaviour, and I think we should.

At the same time though, absent clearly causative factors (eg: low intellect, health problems) I just don’t see that calling a fat person lazy and lacking willpower is “hate speech” and to classify it as such is doing a disservice and being namby pamby about the whole issue, which does not help anybody, and infact makes us into enablers. We should be calling a spade a spade.

Seems “no different”? Not even a difference in degree?

Anti-fat comments probably aren’t thought of as hate speech because fat people haven’t been rounded up and packed into gas chambers because of their chubbiness. Or hunted down and shipped to a different continent and turned into property because of their obesity. If there were towns that hanged fat people for being there overnight, or burned McDonald’s bags on their front lawns for having the temerity to live there, it might be considered hate speech to call someone a lazy assed fatty.

Hate speech is considered hate speech because of the terroristic implications it carries. The history of individual and institutionalized racism massively outweighs any kind of hardship faced by fat people. I’m an overweight redheaded guy. I’d expect a black person to kick me in the nuts if I ever tried to trivialize racism by suggesting that being called ginger was hate speech.

I almost started a thread like this myself.

It’s a little tangential, but in all honesty I just don’t understand the vehemence of replies against the overweight. The people who sow it in the GQ thread say over and over again that their reasons for doing it are because those who are overweight have “self-inflicted” problems. Yes, but the same could be said for drug addicts, alcoholics, or smokers, and one simply doesn’t see the same level of hatred. Even if the alcoholic says “I don’t have a drinking problem” or the smoker says “I can quit whenever I want,” you don’t have people jumping all over them screaming that they’re “deluded” or whatever.

Hand in hand, too, there seems to be some kind of obsessiveness about anger towards the overweight that I just don’t get. This was a reply I received in what I thought was a fairly innocuous post in the recent GQ thread:

Why does this person need to go on and on about food? It would be like me responding to a smoker’s difficulty about quitting with

Surely someone would read that and think, “Geez, Duke has a real obsession with tobacco. Why didn’t he just stop after the first sentence?”

What I guess I’m trying to say is that I can understand why people are reluctant to step in here. I got attacked in that GQ thread, even though I thought what I was saying wasn’t even particularly controversial.

Now, I (as well as Sleeps with Butterflies and others) called out a certain poster in that thread about his use of the term “fatties”, and said poster wasn’t even apologetic about that. The moderators were obviously called to the thread, since it got locked, but there was no mention of that. Are we to assume that it’s OK to level a “fatty” insult at someone, even in GQ? Sad, IMHO.

But what we do tend to see a LOT of from overweight people is rationlisation and justification about how its “not my fault”. Which we don’t tend to see from smokers, where the more common attitude is “yes, I’m hooked, I was stupid, nobody to blame but myself”.

I’m not wanting to protray this as every smoker, nor as every fat person, just that I have heard more justification from the fat.

How many of us have heard the phrase “if I even sniff food I put on weight”?
How many have heard “If I even smell a cigarette I get addicted”?

I whole heartedly agree that its the reponsibility of each of us to stand up to both bullying and hate speech. While calling people fatties can (not neccessarily will) be classed as bullying, I don’t believe is “hate speech”

bengangmo I once again invite you to look at the medical literature cited in that thread. Your WAG that obesity is, in most cases, due to laziness, is by all medical and scientific evidence false. It is as much an unfounded prejudicial stereotype as the cheap Jew or the shiftless Negro and so on. (Which doesn’t mean that some of the obese are not lazy arsed bastards any more than no Jews are cheap and no Blacks are shiftless.)

If I understand you correctly you believe that your slight weight gain as an adult is because you are a lazy arsed bastard and that therefore as a group people who are seriously obese are also lazy arsed bastards who are well served by being called out about it. You believe that you have insight because you are lazy arsed and have gained a small amount of weight as a result.

Obviously your particular circumstance in no way informs about the circumstances that others are in, and wouldn’t necessarily even if you were seriously obese.

The data, cited in that thread, is very clear. The major factors contributing to obesity, given life in a modern Western culture, are genetic predisposition and early life factors that lead to a “thrifty phenotype”. Once an adult is seriously obese it is very very very difficult to change by will power and hard work alone. In the best medically supervised programs, selecting for a highly motivated subject pool, weight loss of 10% is generally as good as it gets, and success at sustaining that for 5 years is nearly nil. The fat cell is an endocrine organ and part of a system that is nearly as good at maintaining its “settling point” as our bodies are at keeping our temperature within a narrow range, or our blood sugar. These mechanisms can be overcome, but it is only possible with a huge amount of dedication, persistence, support, and an understanding that it is lifelong issue, not just a “diet”. It has also clearly been shown that a nonblaming approach is much more likely to succeed than is an approach that berates under the cover of “calling a spade a spade.”

villa, no I do not require a history of concentration camps for something to be hate speech. Being beat up on the playground as “a fag” or a “a fattie” is enough for me. Even verbal harrassment counts. And yes, in certain communities “gingerism” counts. Recognizing hate speech in all its forms in no way trivializes slavery or the Holocaust nor necessarily implies terrorism.

Well, it is good to see that you don’t recognize the importance of the difference in degree. And to try to compare the oppression of homosexuals with the alleged oppression of fat people is fucking risible too.