Once upon a time, I argued with a Wikipedian, let’s call him Johnny. As some German (and certainly also other) Wikipedians believe, it is okay to call an article ‘shit’ if that is their judgement.
I, on the contrary, think that this is a personal attack against the writer of the article; it is just two small steps from ‘this article is shit’ via ‘you are the author of a shit article’ to ‘you are shit’.
But Johnny contested that and held up the freedom of speech. Calling an article ‘shit’ can never be a personal attack, it is a proper judgment about an article, not about the author. The author cannot feel being attacked at all. It’s simply a different opinion about article quality.
So what, I insisted, if you are visiting a friend? You can’t say ‘your curtains look shit’ either. But why not, Johnny answered. The friend could never be attacked by such a statement, maybe the producer of the curtain, and even he couldn’t. You simply have a different taste, then.
I gave up. It would not have helped to explain to him that a person is defined by his or her actions, tastes, opinions. The link between these things and the person is always there and should be considered when criticising.
Some time later, I met Johnny again. We had a nice conversation, and suddenly I said: ‘Hey, your glasses look really shit!’ He saw my serious face and wanted to know: ‘Wh-what? Do you think they are dirty?’ – ‘No, that’s not the point. But they are so old-fashioned and stupid. Did you choose them by yourself?’
Johnny became quite upset, and finally shouted at me: ‘Shit yourself!’
Then I found it more than necessary to tell him that I was just trying out his reaction, referring to our argument about the phrase ‘this article is shit’. He smiled like a farmer with tooth ache and declared his reaction wrong, that he should have taken my alleged opinion more relaxed, yeah.
Well. I know that this is Panzerfaust pedagogics. I apologised, and I promise that I’ll never do this again. I just enjoyed the satisfaction so much.