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Today I submitted an answer supporting Monica, using a reference to a famous short poem First they came .... The reference itself incurred quite some dispute that drove me into asking this question.

I live in eastern areas in the world and am generally less mentally connected to historical events that happened on the western side, and I picked that poem just because it's the first thing that came up into my mind. However, many other users expressed strong disagreement on my using that poem, most of who believe in one religion. I later found it reasonable that that specific group of people were more allergic to such materials and topics, and started this confusion.

While we always advocate inclusion and care for others, I'm having a strong doubt to this very case because IMO it's almost into the field of censorship. Will we be banned from referring to a wider range of works or even anything in five?

Most likely related:

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    @Rubiksmoose allergic <=> highly sensitive, synonyms – iBug says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 14:14
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    "most of who believe in one religion": I saw no evidence that the objectors had one religion, as you euphemistically put it. – Raedwald Oct 30 at 14:14
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    You reposted something that was deleted as rude/abusive. That is not good. If something is deleted for that reason, and that reason for deletion confirmed by a moderator, it means we don't want that kind of content on the site. – Raedwald Oct 30 at 14:17
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    Using this poem in this context is essentially a comparison of something to the Holocaust. That is pretty much the most extreme comparison you can make, this doesn't really have anything to do with any specific sensibilities. – Mad Scientist Oct 30 at 14:18
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    A CM deleted your answer, then you reposted it and some users dared to criticize you for your choice, but you only ask about the latter using words like "censorship" and "banned"? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 30 at 14:21
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    @Anne I believe the users criticized me for the same reason as why my first answer was deleted. – iBug says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 14:22
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    IIRC, the post you reposted was (in part) deleted by a moderator. If you believe that the moderator acted improperly you should consult the FAQ What recourse do I have if I believe a moderator has abused their privileges?. Essentially: raise a flag or use the "Contact Us" form. It does not recommend making Meta posts. – Raedwald Oct 30 at 14:22
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    I can tell you as a matter of fact that at least one of the people who strongly objected to your post is a hardcore atheist. – Raedwald Oct 30 at 14:23
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    I am a devout atheist and neither culturally nor religiously Jewish and I found the use of that poem profoundly offensive. This isn't limited to any group of people. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 30 at 14:23
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    How about asking why it was deleted first, instead of jumping to conclusions? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 30 at 14:24
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    @iBugsaysReinstateMonica just FYI, I did flag both posts, and by no means was it religiously motivated, given that I'm an atheist as well. I assume you meant no harm. And let me be clear: If us westerners would use anything which has eastern origins in an inappropriate manner on this site, let us know about it as well. It works both ways. And if you want to know more, you know where to find us in chat. ;) – Bart Oct 30 at 14:44
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    I think the worst part of it is that the poem is meant to be a call for compassion and standing up for what's right... and people are mad at you because they think it equates to you calling SE Inc Nazis. They have rendered the purpose of the poem inert by getting caught up in the context. – Carpe CM Oct 30 at 15:18
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    The question title as it is now seems like it has an obvious, self-explanatory answer: Yes. Of course one should avoid hurting people. But here's the rub: if one is acting in good faith, it's impossible to know what could, potentially, hurt someone beforehand. A better title should be: "If someone is hurt by a literary reference, should it be removed?" – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 30 at 17:11
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    @RichardsaysReinstateMonica It's not at all wrong to cite any of those folks. The key thing to understand is that some people are objecting to the context in which this particular poem was raised. Whether or not you agree with them, it should be pretty agreeable to say that context can turn something otherwise inoffensive into something offensive. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 22:08
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    @Rubiksmoose The context was not part of the OP's post and was shoehorned in by a third-party. The OP himself stated this, and at no point was a reference to Nazi Germany was made. At that rate, a bystander could bring in context to Orwell, Kafka, CS Lewis et al and... the same action should follow, yeah? If so, where do we stop? – Sébastien Renauld Oct 30 at 22:57

12 Answers 12

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Let me preface this by saying that we've got to understand that someone somewhere will find something offensive in what you write if they really want to, no matter how tenuous, they'll find a way. I know you're asking for generics but I want to talk specifically about the post you're referring to.

If it wasn't clear through my comments, I was fine with the poem being used in the context that it was. Some of the arguments I saw levelled against it were:

The issue to me is - similar to calling people "literal nazis" on the internet - that first of all the situations such statements are pasted on generally don't deserve it. And furthermore they show a great misunderstanding, historical ignorance or what not about the atrocities faced by those who underwent the actual Nazi regime.

The OP wasn't calling SE Nazis at all - and this was confirmed by the OP too - the poem symbolizes the oppression faced by the Jews at the hand of Nazis, yes, no one is taking away from that fact. In its deeper meaning it also symbolizes, quite clearly, censorship, which is inline with the meaning I took from the usage of the poem within the context of the original question and answer.

It also trivializes one of the worst, if not the worst, atrocity in human history by comparing it to our issues here.

No, it doesn't.

You have to contextualize the poem. Taking the meaning and connotations of a poem and applying it to a different scenario does not take away from its original value. In fact, it speaks volumes of the poem, the fact that it can be used in other scenarios shows the depth of it.

Imagine talking to a holocaust survivor and saying "that's nothing, did you ever have your diamond removed on SO?" ... you don't get to trivialize it like that.

Again, you need to contextualize the post yourself. No one would do that, ever, I hope. Just because the scenarios don't compare it doesn't mean the poem can't fit for anything else.

At the heart of it, I guess it's open to interpretation, I have no doubt people will disagree with what I've written and that's fine. To quote Shog9:

English sucks, and then you die - Source

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No, this is getting absurd.

But your head isn't quite above water here either @iBug. Please consider this correction in light of the fact that I am speaking as somebody who used Niemöller's poem himself in the context of the present brouhaha. I'll explain in a minute why I think that part was fine (and its deletion unwarranted).

First of all, re-posting something a moderator deleted (even if they were misguided to do so) is never a good way to solve things. Flagging for review can work, asking on meta about whether it was okay or not is fine, but just re-posting something is pretty much never okay.

Additionally the phrase you stuck on to your usage of the poem was itself offensive and I would have supported the "censorship" of that kind of language. In my moderator days I would have found it to be in violation of "be nice".

Compare:

  • "The argument you made in this post is utterly unreasonable because..."
  • "Of all the unreasonable turds you are the worst, just look at your argument..."

Do you see how both of these statements convey strong disapproval of an argument presented by the other side, but one adds a level of personal attack and is offensive for more than just the content? The phrase you added on to your re-posted answer is more like the second of these things. It was derogatory towards people (even if not a specific person).

Back to Niemöller.

I believe the people that find its use inappropriate should step back and do a little research on his life and own intentions for the poem. Yes, it brings up an issue much more serious than the current situation — arguably one of the worst atrocities in history. Stack Exchange falling victim to the spirit of the current age and its current gender 'wokeness' mess is hardly an atrocity. I'd say it is 'atrocious' but not even measured on the scale used to talk about 'atrocities'.

So why did I myself use that poem in regard to the current situation? Because I believe the author would have appreciated it. The poem has been paraphrased and recast so often that it takes effort to find the original wording. And you know what? Even the original author changed the wording a number of times to contextualize it for different situations. In his own post war use distributing the poem his point was never to confine it only as a memorial to one tragedy. He used it to encourage people to speak out for what they know was right earlier rather than later knowing full well that their contexts would be different from his. You don't have to go to a prison camp to learn a lesson from Martin, and it is okay to take the lessons he learned the hard way to keep us farther from big trouble than we would otherwise be. The poem talks about the long slippery slope leading up to before real atrocities occur and his words encourage taking action to stand up for others earlier rather that later — and when there is an injustice done to somebody other than yourself.

That's why I used it in my resignation, and it looks like your original paraphrasing of it was used in a similar spirit. There should have been no problem with that part (again I think your re-post & edit crossed a line). That SE has stopped being a space where people can disagree reasonably about serious topics is ... why any of this an issue in the first place.

Responsible communication takes two to tango. A good communicant will, of course, measure their words by how they thinks they will will be received. They are unwise not to consider feedback from listeners and adjust. But hearers also need to consider feedback on what was meant and "hear" that. The trap is set when one side trumps the other and forces their hand. If the hearer's perception is unreservedly allowed to trump the speaker's intention (as has been codified in popular culture in the last 2 decades and more recently around this place) then meaningful disagreement is dead. And when when not just the addressed 2nd party but all 3rd party observers can chip in and the opinion of whoever is most "offended" is asserted forcefully on the 1st party to say or not say things, then you can dig a grave and label it "meaning".


P.S. The same goes for your deleted answer on this question @LangLangC. You quoted my use of the poem and I completely get where you were going with the argument in general ­— but you shot yourself in the foot by leading off with inflammatory derogatory language. Cussing out the other side of a debate (even if you censor the actual letters or words) is not going to get your point across, it is only going to make it easier to criticism and dismiss. I would have myself flagged that post as offensive even though I agree with the overall perspective you were answering from.

  • Don't comment on deleted answers, please – ChrisW Oct 31 at 6:49
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    @ChrisW Not commenting on deleted answers is not a rule, nor does it accomplish anything constructive in this case. This entire meta post is about a deleted answer and whether the post and/or its deletion was appropriate. – Caleb Oct 31 at 6:52
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    It's my rule. If an answer is deleted there's no sense in criticising the answer nor its author publicly. I'd see it as somewhat abusing mod privileges (i.e. your being able to see deleted content), as well as pointless. I also discourage cross-talk, i.e. directly criticising or arguing against other answers (even if they're not deleted), when your answer could be addressing the OP -- that (avoiding cross-talk and extended arguments about/between answers) is one of the benefits of the QA format. The Q&A format is less strict on Meta, but still: it's deleted. – ChrisW Oct 31 at 7:00
  • Use this privilege wisely: "Don't abuse this privilege to stir up trouble when someone has wisely decided to remove a problematic post." – ChrisW Oct 31 at 7:01
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    @ChrisW In broad terms you have a point but in this case I believe you are mistaken to apply it. If you think my post will stir up trouble then feel free to downvote it. I stand by my choice, and given my own past actions and the OP's citation of me, I think that I am personally in a position to speak to the authors of those posts and criticize them in a way that they might hear from me that they won't take as well from other sources. My hope is that this will calm them down a little and help get things back on track towards "be nice". I don't think it's abusive of my 10k privilege at all. – Caleb Oct 31 at 7:07
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    Like many others, I read your resignation post despite not being a user of the Christianity site. As an atheist, it might be thought I would pounce on your use of that poem as offensive. But I didn't. Why? Perhaps because of the measured, calm, tone of your post. As you point out, tone can make a difference. Some wording can make the message a calm "We must be careful"; other wording can make it a "You Nazis!" insult. – Raedwald Oct 31 at 7:18
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    @ChrisW Don't comment on deleted answers, please Does that also include the OP's (iBug) deleted answer? I see lots of posts commenting on it, and as I recall the poem was not verbatim, the words were changed, which to my mind, makes a significant difference. But no one has quoted the changed verse, (good or bad thing?) and as a result, visitors to this post will get a distorted view as to why the answer was deleted. – Mari-Lou A Oct 31 at 9:23
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    "The poem talks about the long slippery slope leading up to before real atrocities occur": Does it though? It starts with "First they came for the socialists/Communists". "They" in this case are Nazis, and they did not come to tell socialists not to insult trans people. The point of the poem isn't a slippery slope argument, but like you said, a call to oppose atrocities even if they affect people other than yourself, people you might not care about. – tim Oct 31 at 11:14
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    "Even the original author changed the wording a number of times to contextualize it for different situations." — This is the most important point, I think. Those who are offended by rephrasing need to learn to respect the author's intentions. – Athari says Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 14:40
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    "Stack Exchange falling victim to the spirit of the current age and its current gender 'wokeness' mess is hardly an atrocity. I'd say it is 'atrocious' but not even measured on the scale used to talk about 'atrocities'." FWIW, that is not what the OP of this article was using their answer to protest. From my reading it was simply about Monica being removed. That's (largely) a separate issue from the CoC update. I might be careful to avoid implicitly putting the wrong words in OP's mouth and this seems largely like a tangent. – Rubiksmoose Oct 31 at 17:20
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    @Rubiksmoose I'd disagree with your assessment that the CoC changes and Monica being fired are separate issues. The question was asking if repeated posts about Monica were helping her case or not and seeing as Monica was removed preemptively due to the CoC changes I'd say both of those issues are very much intertwined. – Script47 Oct 31 at 22:10
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    Just on the timing: before I scrolled up, the 1st downvote came in. That anyone would think the poem or "only to be applied to Holocaust", when most versions MN used didn't even mention Jews, but varied groups, like JW, Catholics, when MN himself recited it often and in different contexts (armament, political dissent, censorship). It is extremely ill-willed to read into the 'they' variant 'the Nazis', and that that would mean (SE are the nazis). Such misguided ill-will would like to read your "absurd" as cussing out the other side? No matter how exact this description is. Equally: – LаngLаngС Nov 1 at 10:23
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    @LаngLаngС The misguided ill-will you speak of can and already has misread the intent of my words too. I've been called all sorts of absurd and not-nice things on account of my resignation and other posts lately. But I'm not talking about "them" here, I'm telling you it isn't the "other" side that is reading into your post, the very side that whole-heartedly agrees with you on the appropriateness of the poem is telling you crossed a line and that cussing at the other side is going to make things worse. – Caleb Nov 1 at 10:29
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    As read on "Release transcripts" forming and voicing the opinion towards X that an anonymised chatline has to be characterised as "that's over-sensitive" means the one using these words is now always a 'hurting others bigot'. Using 'Orwellian' is now inappropriate, discussing a deleted answer is the same. Pointing at the farcical connection of these, is now also out of bounds. Discussing Roman history is now trigger world, as it starts with the Sabine women and a lot of not pink pixie dust bubble gum niceness follows. When is a slippery slope the feeding end of a Sarlac? Reinstate iBug's A! – LаngLаngС Nov 1 at 10:45
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    @LаngLаngС I love how you cite a very good point from this answer (that proper communication takes good behavior on both sides) and then immediately proceed to insult all the people disagreeing with you. Can you not see how calling people "irrational", "ill-informed", and "over-sensitive" is, in the very best case, not conducive to a productive conversation? What's so hard about not calling names? When you are hearing that even from people who are agreeing with your points, shouldn't that be a good sign to listen and adapt? – Rubiksmoose Nov 1 at 13:18
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It seems straightforward to me. You wrote something not realizing that some people felt it was inappropriate for the context you used it in, you were informed that it was offensive and it was removed. A person that’s interested in communicating will find a different way to express their point so that it is understood by as many people as possible.

There’s no reason to get defensive about a simple mistake. There’s no reason to try to catalog everything that might be offensive. Write what you think is polite and be understanding when someone explains that you unintentionally struck a nerve.

The people who complained should assume it’s a mistake, and let it go once the content is removed. It’s difficult for them to do that if you argue that their perspective isn’t valid because that content isn’t offensive in all parts of the world.

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    These people are essentially arguing that the other party's perspective is invalid as well; that the use of the poem was actually offensive. It's strange to me that most situations like this one are warped in a way that the "offended" party, the group that claims something, get to be the ones whose perspective gets seen as argued as invalid, whereas they, themselves, do exactly that, from the very start. – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Oct 31 at 2:56
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    @FélixGagnon-Grenier It's not about whether something is objectively offensive to a certain number of people. It's not about winning an argument. It's about being polite to strangers and communicating in a way that people hear you instead of spend all their time thinking about how you insist on using language you know upsets them when you could choose different language. I personally understood the intent of the poem and didn't find it offensive. My opinion isn't less valid than the people who did, it just means that less harm is done by removing the poem than by leaving it stand. – ColleenV Oct 31 at 11:08
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    @FélixGagnon-Grenier Sure, let us all be polite, no argument there. But how often should we have to change what we've said or, worse, get censored because of the thousands of people that read our questions, answers, and comments one person chooses to be offended by it? Even if you change your answer/reply to suit one person you will inevitably offend somebody else. Wash, rinse, repeat ad nauseam. It is a game that the speaker cannot win. – soulsabr Nov 1 at 14:51
  • @soulsabr What makes you believe anyone has had to change any post because one person chooses to find it offensive? – ColleenV Nov 1 at 14:52
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    @Colleen At the moment, nothing. Hyperbole is something I'm a bit prone to use when making the argument of "when is enough enough?". Also, as we teach our daughter, a statement may or may not be offensive but it is always your choice to take offense from it. – soulsabr Nov 1 at 15:13
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You should always care about how your posts might affect others

That is part of being part of a community. Words and actions have effects on people, and if we want to work together we should be trying to minimise the negative effects we have on others. That is part of being Nice:

Whether you've come to ask questions, or to generously share what you know, remember that we’re all here to learn, together. Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do.

That isn't to say that it is always inappropriate to say something that offends someone, because that is largely unavoidable. But when people speak up and make their concerns heard you are expected to listen and learn and try to fix the issue if you can.

This isn't only to benefit potential people that might be hurt, it benefits you as well. Presumably you are writing something to say something, to communicate to other people. If you truly want to communicate with people effectively, considering how they might react to what you have to say is a very good step to take. And acting on those thoughts will help improve your communication with those people.

Of course this sets up a balance between what we want to say (and how we want to say it) and other people's feelings. And there is always a balance between the two. There's no clear point at which one overrides the other so we each have to constantly assess how best to handle the balance for ourselves and for our communities. But a necessary starting point is that we listen to each other when someone speaks up.

About the poem

This specific example you used a poem that unintentionally, to a good number of people (including myself), compared SE to Nazis and Monica to a holocaust victim. We don't allow people to compare people to Nazis for the exact reason that it never does anything good for a conversation. Additionally, this seemed like a poor comparison when talking about what ended up being a small online community and one prominent volunteer being arguably hurt. The hurt is real, but the comparison to the holocaust puts it over into inappropriate for me. And using such a loaded poem is unlikely to lead to any kind of productive discussion.

I'm not sure where you get the impression that everyone who disagreed with your posting this was part of one religion. You have no idea what religion, if any, I ascribe to. And it would be impossible for you to know that since I have never told you. (Hint: I don't fit into the box you painted everyone into). Assuming this is at the very least likely to lead you to the wrong conclusions about people's actions.

The better option is to actually listen to what people are saying. People opened up in the comments and let you know why they thought it was inappropriate, listen to them. Learn from them. Find a way to adapt your message such that it is not offensive to a significant portion of people on the site. You can easily convey the message of the poem without the controversy in any number of ways.

It's also worth noting that your answer had an issue at one point in where you were actively seeming to be aggressive towards people expressing disagreement for your use of the poem, and it remained up for a good amount of time which may have contributed to some people's view of the answer being rude. You did, however remove that line after it was pointed out, which was an excellent thing to do (and who among us hasn't written something out of frustration that we later regret?).

In the future, instead of pressing for deletion I'd rather someone was given (and took) the opportunity to rephrase and change their answer in response to feedback and thus improve it and their message. We should encourage people to do this when we think it might be productive or when something might be salvaged.

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    In Judaism, destroying a person's good name is akin to murder; while of course the person does not literally die, thankfully, the point is that the level of damage is extremely severe. The poem is a warning to not let things get to the point where consequences go beyond that to literal death. It's about silence in the face of persecution, standing idly by the blood of your fellow (Lev 19:16), and I'm not surprised that people thought of it when considering what Stack Overflow did to a Jewish moderator. – Monica Cellio Oct 30 at 16:25
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    @MonicaCellio Just to be clear, I do understand the poem. It's a beautiful poem, and in fact one that I treasure dearly. And there's nothing wrong with thinking about it. Nor even evoking the lessons and imagery from it. I stand by my opinion that it was inappropriate to use in this way as an answer here though. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 23:39
  • Rubiksmoose, I wasn't trying to express an opinion on its appropriateness, only provide some background some might not know and say I'm not surprised it happened in this context. I meant no criticism. – Monica Cellio Oct 31 at 0:52
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    @MonicaCellio I know! Sorry the new version also came across that way. (There were at least several other comments claiming I didn't understand it, that first sentence is for them. Strangely, I did write you a comment mentioning that this is a reposted comment mainly because the old comments got removed (with the exception of the one I replaced). My intent was to replace it with something that didn't have the same misunderstanding as the original one. Anyways, I understand what you are saying. My comment, similarly, is not criticizing you (or at least isn't intended to be). – Rubiksmoose Oct 31 at 0:54
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    No problem; I see that some comments have been removed. You and I understand each other; sorry if I gave an impression otherwise. – Monica Cellio Oct 31 at 1:33
  • @MonicaCellio I observed to Bart yesterday (who is having a go with Script147 under Script's answer) under the now deleted answer, that the poem, written by a Lutheran Pastor, was a similar packaging of the message sent by Edmund Burke when he wrote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." While I think that is the kind of point our OP of this question was after, I will say that I found reference to that very well known verse to be laced with hyperbole. In re your point * It's about silence in the face of persecution* I can only say yes. – KorvinStarmast Oct 31 at 21:36
  • Rubik, my friend, I hate to say this but the ideal world that your last paragraph appeals to seems to be - as regards the overall topic that the OP is related to - a distant shining city on a hill that exists only in metaphor, not in reality. – KorvinStarmast Oct 31 at 21:41
  • @KorvinStarmast I'm not sure it is. Especially once things cool down. Obviously things are very heated right now. The point that encouraging someone to change and improve instead of going straight to deletion still seems like a good thing to strive for though. Of course, failing that, deletion of objectionable material is certainly still an option. – Rubiksmoose Nov 1 at 2:03
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The poem "First they came to ..." is used around the world not to refer to the Holocaust, but to critisize the attitude "they may be evil, but they came for others, not for me, so I don't care". It critisizes being indifferent about problems of others not only on moral grounds, but on the grounds of practicality: if you ignore their problems, their problems will eventually become yours. It gives reason for cynical people to care about others. It's one of the roots of atheistic morality, logical morality.

You think the poem critisizes the evil force that wipes out one group after another? It doesn't. It condemns those who keep silence, those who watch others suffer and do nothing, those who come up with excuses for not acting. This is why Goodwin's law doesn't apply here. The evil force isn't the target.

The message is so strong and universal that I find it unacceptable to demand linking it solely to the original context. There's no other quote, so widely known, so widely understood, that sends the same message. Long after World War II becomes another distant part of human history many centuries later, the poem will still be remembered.

You may consider rephrasing the poem a blasphemy, but in fact it's the best praise, the best recognition a poem can get. Reaching the meme status is the strongest testament of the poem's universal meaning and understanding. It doesn't devalue its original context, it adds to it.

We, humans, must face problems together as one, and quoting the poem in any form makes us remember why.

  • It's a war-cry. – ChrisW Oct 31 at 7:54
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    Not all calls to action are cries for war, @ChrisW. – Caleb Oct 31 at 8:07
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    Very well said @Athari, and thank you for pointing out how use of this poem in particular are often not examples of Goodwin's law. The latter accusation has been bandied about far too freely and at the cost of ignoring the actual point of what the other party is trying to say. Of course there are miss-uses too, but miss-uses don't automatically invalidate all uses. That nuance seems pretty lost these days. – Caleb Oct 31 at 8:12
  • @Caleb That one is. Some people might love a good fight. There's no denying the poem is famous, as is "¡No pasarán", but ask why. Its being emotive and historically resonant doesn't make it good -- what it makes is good propaganda. I can admire the sentiment, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine", I disapprove though of enlisting people's martial instincts. "I pray our child will never see | A little corporal again | Point towards a foreign shore | Captivate the hearts of men | Save my soul from evil lord | And heal a soldier's heart | ... I'm done". – ChrisW Oct 31 at 8:25
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    So what's your suggestion @ChrisW? A month ago I was the 6th moderator to resign (I'm listed 10th or something because it took me a while to write my public notice) partially in protest of the way somebody else was being treated unjustly. Are you saying I and everybody else who wasn't actually involved in the original dust-up should have just sat down, shut up, and walked away because we weren't the ones that had been fired? Just because the poem is emotive doesn't imply all uses are appeals to fighting instincts. Mine wasn't. – Caleb Oct 31 at 8:38
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    "It's a war-cry." - Sorry, I don't understand the implications. Do you think the poem will cause people to become violent against SE or something like that? – Philipp Oct 31 at 8:47
  • @Caleb Who am I to tell you what to do or say, brother? I have been acutely conscious, since I was a young teen, that everybody at the Nuremberg rallies all went "Sieg Heil!" together. It's seductive: the crowd, something greater, etc... I don't trust rhetoric. I recognise some types of emotion/emotive as temptation. Maybe temptation is harmless if recognised; maybe not. I'm not here to criticise your studied or instinctive reaction as a Christian mod. IMO it can be used unthinkingly though, immoderately, ignorantly, and because it conveys this underlying meaning I continue to beware it. – ChrisW Oct 31 at 9:16
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    @ChrisW Not all words are rhetoric, nor is all rhetoric in opposition to reason. Just because poetry can be strongly emotive doesn't make it propoganda. The pen has always been mightier than the sword and a weapon to wield with care. Hence why I reprimanded two users' use of words. The right cause doesn't excuse the wrong words any more than fancy words words justify a wrong cause. What I'm saying here is that your dogmatic assertion that the poem itself is intrinsically a "war-cry", "rhetoric", or "propaganda" does not stand up to scrutiny. – Caleb Oct 31 at 9:24
  • @Caleb Perhaps we're not using the same vocabulary. I call it a war-cry because it's sad about, it's crying in the aftermath of, a war -- literally, it was written in 1946. And it's a rallying cry, "Look over here folks, there's been an injustice, and I for one won't stand for it! Is anyone else with me?" And it's propaganda in the sense that it's published rather then private discourse. That's how I see it. The reason you quote the poem in a public speech might be because it already means something to me -- and it does, what it means to me is resistance, solidarity, "self-sacrifice", and war. – ChrisW Oct 31 at 9:35
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    I've read about the author, the poem, and the intent. I think it is not so much a condemnation of others, but a confession of guilt. He supported Hitler (under some false circumstances, but not completely; he was an anti-Semite). He realized too late that he erred. He spoke against some Nazi actions, and was sent to a concentration came. He regretted his actions, and wrote the poem. It can be generalized the same way anything can be generalized, and misinterpreted, the same way anything can be misinterpreted. – anongoodnurse Oct 31 at 14:55
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    @anonGoFundMonica Admission of guilt doesn't contradict teaching others. "Learn from my mistakes" is a good lesson. Furthermore, the author himself changed the words many times (see Caleb's answer), so generalizing of the poem isn't a misinterpretation. – Athari says Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 15:02
  • You could even mention that it was written by a Lutheran Pastor. @CHrisW It wasn't written by anyone Jewish, although it was inspired by what happened to the ... it was written by a clergyman who IIRC called it "a confession" ... – KorvinStarmast Oct 31 at 21:25
17

I live in eastern areas in the world and am generally less mentally connected to historical events that happened on the western side, and I picked that poem just because it's the first thing that came up into my mind.

No problem, we understand that. That's why we're happy to educate you about the appropriateness (or rather lack thereof) of this poem in this context. The fact that Monica is Jewish might make one think the poem is a good fit, but it's rather Godwin's Law at work. The comments under your initial answer might have been harsh, which no doubt is caused by the high tension at the moment. But we realize it's an honest mistake and the discussion in the past weeks have made clear you won't get punished for those.

However, (essentially) resposting an answer deleted by a moderator or Community Manager is not an honest mistake and could easily lead you into trouble.

I later found it reasonable that that specific group of people were more allergic to such materials and topics, and started this confusion.

It's not a question of being allergic, it's a question of being reminded of one of the worst atrocities which happened in the history of humankind.

I'm having a strong doubt to this very case because IMO it's almost into the field of censorship.

Again, it's not a question of censorship, it's a question of decency. Just like I'm not going to deliberately start about topics like Taiwan or the Chino-Japanese wars (hmmm ... maybe I did now), especially not in situations which are personally about you or another user from China.

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    I haven't (yet...) seen one of my answers being deleted by a mod. So I don't know whether there is some sort of message justifying the deletion, beyond the automatic "rude or abusive" message. If there is no such message, then this is a problem: A user sees an answer being deleted without a justification whatsoever. There are other ways that this can be dealt with, and reposting it is certainly not the smartest thing to do here. But it would be better to prevent this impression of ~"arbitrary censorship" (or whatever) in the first place... – Marco13 Oct 30 at 16:49
10

It's a general problem. Current SE politics is that "we have to focus on the most touchy members".

So, instead of thinking about helping people (what SE sites were supposed to be), we are now in the 1st place think "how to not hurt someone".

Something was obviously went wrong...

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    Heads up: being kind to people should not be (and is not) a new trend that SE invented. Nor is encouraging people to communicate effectively by listening when they are told that the audience is not being receptive to their message (including if it is insulting). – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 16:04
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    @Rubiksmoose From my understanding, this is entirely not what this answer was about. Some people seem to desperately look for things that they can (pretend to) be offended about, so that they can tweet about their hurt feelings and bask in a shower of ❤️'s, feeling "supported" and claiming the high moral ground. But to phrase it more neutrally and objectively: I think that this answer aims at the fact that writing anything here has become like walking on eggshells, and we have to critically think about whether we still got our priorities right. – Marco13 Oct 30 at 19:19
  • (@Rubiksmoose To be clear: I don't think it's a "good" answer, but I don't see any connection to "kindness" or "insults" that you seemed to suggest in your comment) – Marco13 Oct 30 at 19:21
  • @Marco13 yeah, that was my point. Thanks ^_^ – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 19:24
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    @Marco13 The connection is that when someone comes to you and earnestly suggests that something you did/said offends them, the kind thing to do is to try to understand it and correct it. Your claim that people just are acting like they are offended is a common one and often used to avoid having to deal with being kind to other people, but is largely a red herring. Do people pretend to be offended? I'm sure some do, but by and large it is best to assume people are being honest. Assume good intent here. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 19:31
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    @Rubiksmoose "Assume good intent here". I'm sure, there was no "bad intent" behind topicstarter's messages. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 19:37
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    @Rubiksmoose and yes, there are a lot of people on SE sites, who specifically are trying to find something to be offended on. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 19:38
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    @Rubiksmoose From my observation, we recently had this situation here far too often: Person A say "I'm hurt". Person B asks "By what are you hurt?". Person A says: "It's obvious, you bigot! How dare you to question my feelings!?". I don't claim to be very compassionate. But I simply cannot help thinking that some people try to weaponize "offense-taking", and I don't want to even speculate about the motives behind that. Kindness and compassion are a limited resource. Some have more. Some have less. When it is exploited, some are drained and exhausted more quickly. I'm running out of it... – Marco13 Oct 30 at 19:44
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    @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica I also don't think there was any bad intent in their answer. I also extend that same respect towards those who express that they found the answer inappropriate (which can still be done unintentionally). Assuming that every person that comes up and expresses pain or discomfort with an answer is trying to be offended is an attitude that prevents you from understanding them and improving answers. Don't assume everyone is, just because of a few bad actors. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 20:18
  • @Rubiksmoose 1st of all, I didn't say that you shouldn't react if people feel offended. I'm talking about the focus: instead of thinking on answering/helping people we are now more thinking about all this "offense things". – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 20:22
  • @SuvitrufsaysReinstateMonica Those things aren't mutually exclusive though. In fact, I argue that they improve each other. To help one it is also best to not be offending them. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 20:23
  • That encourages touchiness and the predictable outcome is that people becomes touchier and you end up having more complains about offensive behavior. – Stop harming Monica Oct 30 at 23:30
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    Why even come to a site devoted to "thinking about helping people" if you're upset to be asked to consider "how to not hurt someone?" If you're hurting someone, you're self-evidently not helping them. Be Nice is not a new invention here, and "be careful comparing things to the literal Holocaust" is not a some new concept dreamed up last week by touchy people. It may be new to the OP, which is absolutely fine—we all come here with different cultural context, and we can discuss that and learn from each other—but surely the site hasn't gone wrong because Nazi analogies are a sensitive subject. – onetothrowaway Oct 31 at 0:16
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    @onetothrowaway Analogies and comparisons are difficult - for example, when countering the statement "If you're hurting someone, you're self-evidently not helping them" by asking whether you've ever been at a dentist who had to pull some rotten tooth. Simply deleting anything that someone might be offended by, and even deleting something that some people are (reasonably) offended by will not solve this issue. – Marco13 Oct 31 at 2:13
9

Okay, well, as it stands, you're not required to do anything (within certain bounds, you're not allowed to post in favor of fascism or something clearly bigoted).

But, in general, as per the Be Nice policy and basic human decency, you should be careful. Why compare a situation to something as horrible [can't think of an appropriate word] as the Holocaust? Why mention religion/politics/money unless you have to (like on a religion site or on politics)? Why share incendiary views you have, unless you have to? I'm not saying you're not allowed to share these things. I'm saying if it isn't really relevant, if you can say something less extreme, why would you go with the more incendiary thing, especially when there's no real point? Monica's dismissal is horrible, but comparing it to the Holocaust? That's a no from me.

And in general, talking about censorship and free speech is shifty grounds, because as I have said many times by this point, you enter into an implied social contract by participating. Your content, as someone noted in the comments, got flagged as R/A. That's not censorship, that's simply response to your own actions.

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    Assuming good faith, I didn't see an explicit comparison. Because the poem itself is very popularized doesn't mean all who invoke it automatically know about its context and the effects, and have that comparison in mind. I can't say it's fair to assume that in most cases. – user1306322 Oct 30 at 14:28
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    Furthermore, if this event in particular is hurtful potentially to some (words of the Tavern)... where do you draw the line? The bible has been hurtful to some. Just about every poem out of Russia from 1940 to 1980 has been hurtful to some. And yet a lot of them also passed, just like that poem, into common culture. – Sébastien Renauld Oct 30 at 14:42
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    @SébastienRenauld No universally agreed-upon bright line is possible or necessary. This is a matter of practical moderation and every case is highly contextual. There's no way to write a general rule for it. And that is fine, because we don't need to preemptively judge all possible cases in advance, we can take them as they come, talk about it as a community, and decide best how to lay those lines as an ongoing conversation. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 15:53
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    @SébastienRenauld For example, it is extremely easy for me to think of examples of using the Bible and other poems in insulting and improper ways. Go ahead and bring those up when you see them around here and we'll talk. Until then, the Bible has nothing to do with this particular case. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 15:55
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    @Rubiksmoose Funny you should mention that, I had a comment exactly to that purpose, referencing Sun Tzu, and... guess what, comment is gone! It's amazing how arbitrary shit is, right? – Sébastien Renauld Oct 30 at 17:07
  • @SébastienRenauld Well if the purpose of the comment was to find an offensive way to use Sun Tzu then there seems like there could be quite a good reason it may have gotten deleted. I can't know because I obviously haven't seen it, but just because you disagree with something does not mean it is arbitrary. Sun Tzu is still not relevant to this conversation though. – Rubiksmoose Oct 30 at 17:13
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    The comment highlighted how everything can be found offensive to somebody and revolved around the common saying of know thyself, which is a direct Sun Tzu reference. – Sébastien Renauld Oct 30 at 17:16
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    Why compare a situation to something as horrible as the Holocaust?I think the OP explained that -- i.e. they live in China and don't every nuance of Western history and literature. When I read the post, even without knowing its author, I didn't imagine it was intended to be offensive. – ChrisW Oct 30 at 18:21
9

As Script47 already said:

someone somewhere will find something offensive in what you write if they really want to

This sounds cynical. And the even more cynical answer to your question is: This mainly depends on how largely the majority agrees on whether the offense is justified. There are obvious examples of topics that are mine fields. These are topics where groups of people have opposing opinions, and are engaged in a trench war.

(And mine fields and trench wars are nasty, by the way - people could certainly be offended by the statement above, and accuse me of "trivializing" things here...)

But this is not so much the case for everything that is related to Nazis: The consensus by the majority is that "Nazi" is basically synonymous for "evil person", and the Holocaust was the worst thing that ever happened in history. So anything that has any connection to this topic will be considered as being offensive by some people, and the majority will accept that it is considered to be offensive.

(A side note: Some people really go the extra mile for finding such connections. An example that I had given in the comments of your deleted answer is that of suum cuique - a juridical concept that has been around for more than 2000 years - and which is often translated to "Jedem das seine" in German, roughly meaning "to each his own". Now, companies have been lambasted for using the innocent statement "Jedem das seine" as some sort of slogan for their products, because the Nazis wrote it at the gates of concentration camps...)


For people in Germany, the specific topic that caused your question is particularly difficult. I knew the poem before, but did not know its exact connection to the Nazi regime. For a German politician, using this poem like you did (to refer to a different organization or party) would be perceived as comparing that organization or party to the Nazis (i.e. exactly what happened here), and that would likely be career-ending.

However, (for me) it is clear that you did not equate (or even compare) SE to the Nazis, and did not intend to trivialize the Holocaust or whatever. You used this poem because its contents is about the problems that arise from people not speaking out and taking their stance. The fact that the poem is related to Nazis is tangential at this point. An analogy would be to say that "Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin had a toothbrush moustache". This is not comparing persons, but their moustaches.


So eventually, the answer is: You should take care to not post things of which you know that they are offensive. But often you simply cannot tell beforehand whether someone will "legitimately" be "offended" by some statement. You can say whatever you deem to be appropriate. If someone can profoundly argue that this is "not acceptable", and if enough users (or some mods) agree, it will be deleted or edited out.

(Giving a reason for deletion or editing should be the norm, though - otherwise, it could rightfully be perceived as some sort of "censorship of opposing opinions").


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    @LаngLаngС The poem is not offensive, and I didn't claim it to be - but I see that the statement was ambiguous (my English is not perfect, obviously) : I said that "referring to that poem like you did" would be problematic, which should mean: Using it, out of its original context, to criticize the action of a certain party or organization, would be considered as comparing that organization to the Nazis. That is: Exactly what happened here. And thats something that you cannot do in Germany. I'll try to rephrase that... – Marco13 Oct 31 at 0:52
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    How many quotes do I have to link to demonstrate that that is what German politicians, pastors, anchormen etc do (not all the time but) without such repercussions like seen here? The meaning of that poem is exactly right for what OP did. Please google yourself before rewriting that part. – LаngLаngС Oct 31 at 0:55
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    @LаngLаngС They do of course quote the poem, in its original meaning and historical context. (Kasich reworded it - but that's the US). I don't think that any public figure in Germany would dare to use a reworded poem to criticize an existing political party, for example. If you can find sources where this happened, I'll consider revising that part again (although what I said there is still true, due to the magic word "likely". I usually try to be very careful with my words...) – Marco13 Oct 31 at 1:03
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    @Marco13 At this point the phrase "hearing but not listening" comes to mind, considering that LangLangC gave you the exact article you requested three comments ago. – Sébastien Renauld Oct 31 at 1:31
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    @SébastienRenauld That article you linked to is talking about a memorial service for the victims of the Nazis. That’s very different from using it to describe a current political party (or technology company) – divibisan Oct 31 at 1:40
  • @SébastienRenauld What ^divibisan said: This was an exact recitation of the poem, and, as I said, referring to its original context. (I also tried to have a look at the last link that LangLangC posted, but it refers to some page of a GoogleBook where I didn't see any connection...). I'd consider removing that paragraph - not because it is wrong, but because it seems to cause misunderstandings that distract from the main point. But maybe the issue is resolved now. – Marco13 Oct 31 at 1:45
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    The (again censored, for what now?) comment pointed to a book that documented how a politician in German parliament used the poem as slippery slope and creeping normality reminder in the context of nothing about the holocaust. Niemöller himself reused the poem, even leaving out the reference to "Jews", to emphasise that speaking out in the face of injustice was morally necessary. It is now increasingly clear that Niemöller himself would also be booted off this network. Please note that in actual history he was deported before any Jews. From Gerstenmaier, CDU, SPD, Greens, there is no – LаngLаngС Oct 31 at 14:28
  • political colour in the spectrum that outright rejected the poem or can be considered 'used exclusively to be referred to the holocaust' Google for that at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Helmut Kohl, or this Green politicians equating the CDU and AfD with Nazis (in SE reading) in the context of censorship, racism, xenophobia gruene-herrenberg.de/aktuelles/detailansicht/article/… Especially for immigrants (Refugees welcome) and any other painted as deviant group. Funny enough? – LаngLаngС Oct 31 at 14:36
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    @divibisan You seemed to have missed a quote "Halt"s Maul, sonst kommst nach Dachau"…"Die Menschen wussten, was auf sie zukommt. Überall saßen Gegner der Demokratie." is exactly not just about nazi victims, but the preceeding chilling effects of not speaking out. And what do we see on SE? 'Halt's Maul, sonst kommst du in die Flaggenhölle'? Or even banned. For quoting the poem that warned about this very thing. At least Dеr Ρrоzеß wаs mоrе trаnsраrеnt аnd јust bеfоrе wе gеt tо Dіе Μаßnаhmе. – LаngLаngС Oct 31 at 14:46
  • @LangLangC I saw that. "Nazi victims" was referring to the ceremony described in the article as a counter to Sébastian's claim that this article was an example of Germans using this poem for everyday political arguments. I can't speak for German politics beyond that one article, though. – divibisan Oct 31 at 15:53
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    But, of course you're right that is not just an instance of Godwin's law and that this poem can and should be used to highlight the danger of remaining silent in the face of many kinds of injustice. But its power in these instances does come from making an analogy to the Holocaust and therefore it needs to be used carefully. Caleb took care to make the context in which he was using it clear, and it was well received. OP did not and people, not unreasonably, misinterpreted their post as saying that that SE or even trans people and their allies were like Nazis. – divibisan Oct 31 at 15:53
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    As Caleb says, there are ways that OP could and should have clarified that, and perhaps people should have talked and clarified before flagging. But saying that people who interpreted it differently are crazy or evil censors ("Niemöller himself would also be booted off this network") is not OK either – divibisan Oct 31 at 15:54
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    I'm sure someone somewhere objects to the use of the word "minefield" for personal reasons, or just in principle because of the damage caused by minefields. That never occurred to me before. I'm seeing things in a new light. Is that good? – Scott Hannen Oct 31 at 21:51
  • @LаngLаngС I see your point, but even in the last link, it's still used as a general warning, and does not refer to CDU or AfD specifically. But the comments derailed a bit. The main point was that any comparison to Nazis in Germany is bound to cause trouble. A prominent example that comes to my mind is spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/… . In the end, details depend on the exact comparison that is made, and who is trying to instrumentalize any quote for which purpose. Can we leave it at that? – Marco13 Nov 1 at 13:53
7

When I was a child, I had heard some other kids use a word to describe a stupid person. So at one point, I said to my mother that I thought someone else was being "seepy".

My mother told me that it was a bad thing to use a word describing a physical handicap as a slur. I already knew that, but I hadn't made the connection that the word I'd heard as "seepy" actually was "CP" - i.e. "person with CP, cerebral palsy".

The fact that I did not understand the connotations of the term I'd used didn't mean that using the term was OK. I got informed about it and haven't used it that way since. If I had kept complaining about being told off and wanted to keep using the term to mean what I wanted it to mean, I would have kept offending people around me. And I wouldn't have been a good person.

The fact that the OP didn't understand the connotations of the poem in the Western world doesn't negate those connotations. The fact that the intent was not to say "SE staff are nazis" doesn't change the fact that that's how it's been read by several people.

Not having the background to understand the connotations and context in which a word or poem will be heard or read happens to all of us at some point in life - for instance, English is my second language and though I believe I speak and write it quite well, I still occasionally stumble over an idiom or expression that I've failed to understand properly.

And removing a post that was made under those circumstances is not an indictment of the character or intent of the person who posted it. It simply says that the CM and the users who voted to remove/delete it did not think it was appopriate in this place at this time.

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    Your initial case study makes perfect sense, but not what you apply it to. At paragraph 3 you jump from the actual/original meaning of words to perception/connotation of those by a subset of people in a different context. That isn't a solid logical jump, you can't just divorce words from both their origin and their intended meanings and leave everything up to the beholder. As Athari explains here the poem, its original meaning, and its broader worldwide usage all point to it being quite appropriate in this context. – Caleb Oct 31 at 10:46
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    That poem is very wise in its warning against a "not my problem" attitude and slippery slopes, and I believe we're actually doing it a disservice by only allowing it to be applied to its original context. Surely "I don't care when others suffer injustice becuase I'm not one of them" is a bad approach even to lesser things than what the Nazis did. – Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 10:46
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    I meant paragraph 4, not paragraph 3 in my previous comment, sorry for any confusion. – Caleb Oct 31 at 11:10
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    @caleb I was trying to point out that no "bad intent" automatically translates into "good post", and that saying "this post is inappropriate at this place and time" does not mean "the poster has bad intent". – Jenny D Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 13:46
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    @JennyDReinstateMonica If that is your main point, it was lost on me — and looking at it again I think if that's the point you want to make you should consider a re-write because the current "setting the stage" and the middle section where you apply that to a different context both have nothing to do with that, only your last paragraph mentions that. – Caleb Oct 31 at 13:55
4

It seemed to me "in bad taste" or "inappropriate" rather than "offensive".

It was an example of Godwin's law in action.

The actual situation is sad and possibly vile already -- I think it's "wrong" to exaggerate it, although that (exaggeration, use of idiom, etc.) is a normal human or rhetorical tendency.


I live in eastern areas in the world and am generally less mentally connected to historical events that happened on the western side, and I picked that poem just because it's the first thing that came up into my mind.

That can happen.

I had this reaction on reading because I'm aware of this history and the poem's, i.e. what it's about.

I didn't assume you meant it in its original sense or to be offensive, I know it's used as a trope now.

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    Out of curiosity, how do you figure it's okay for you to post an answer that comments giving your impressions of deleted posts (which I think is fine, even if I happen to disagree with you and would point out Godwin's law does not apply) and then turn around and ask me not to comment on deleted posts? Does that not strike you as a little bit of a double standard? – Caleb Oct 31 at 8:26
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    I think you're asking, "why am I answering the OP's question about their deleted answer?" It's because the OP is asking, i.e. that's the topic here. For example if you deleted your answer, or if a moderator deleted it, then you can bring up that up deleted answer of your on Meta and make it a meta-topic -- but I shouldn't (I should instead respect its being deleted), unless you do. It's like other moderation issues, moderators don't talk about what they see in public, but an end-user can make it (their content having been moderated) a topic of discussion. – ChrisW Oct 31 at 8:36
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    Hi, it's also worth mentioning that 10K users can also see deleted posts, so Caleb's post will also serve to counterbalance the deleted answer. BTW who deleted the answer, the OP or the mods? There is a difference. – Mari-Lou A Oct 31 at 9:31
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    @Mari-LouA iBug's posts were both mod-deleted, one staff and one volunteer mod, LangLangC's post was community flag deleted. My own answer to this question explains why I think 2 out of the 3 deletions were entirely valid, and only the first was ill-advised. – Caleb Oct 31 at 9:39
-6

Although the referred poem was associated with the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust for a long time, it has been applied to more recent events, notably to Donald Trump's actions.

Some sources:

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/01/first-they-came-poem-history/514895/

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/first-they-came

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    That doesn’t make it right or less offensive. – ColleenV Oct 30 at 15:07
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    @ColleenV funny, I've raised the issue of things being difficult/offensive for autistics, and the response I've gotten was that I'm not serious, or that I'm hiding behind my disabilities. So, not to quote Martin Niemoller, but Orwell, as it seems some animals are more equal than others. – Richard says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 19:48
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    @RichardsaysReinstateMonica I don’t understand, probably because I didn’t follow those discussions. Would you explain or point me to more context? – ColleenV Oct 30 at 21:41
  • "it has been applied to more recent events" So? The people who did it weren't necessarily very bright. Comparing every single politician in the democratic western world to Hitler is getting really old. It wasn't very bright the first time it was done, far less so the millionth time. – Lundin Oct 31 at 14:51

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