[Content note: Celebrities talking about assault stuff again]
“You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?”
Yes, there is a difference! And I see people on Twitter defending Damon for bravely pointing out that there is a difference.
But this is another case of the Problem of Cascading Meaning.
“It’s 47 degrees” never just means that it’s 47 degrees. It means “we should go inside,” “I’m cold,” “I wish I had dressed warmer,” “Lend me your jacket,” etc. If you say it as a clown is passing by, it also means “this clown bores me.”
[snip] You never get to just say what you say. You say what you say and you also say all the things a reasonable listener is likely to infer from what you said.
What is plainly visible to everyone about Matt Damon’s comments is that he is not only saying that different things are different. He is also saying that when one of his buddies like Ben Affleck gropes a 21-year-old’s breast without her permission he should be forgiven in a way others are not. After all, he didn’t literally molest a child. He just molested an adult. And not even both boobs!
On just about any other topic, this tactic would be transparent. No one seriously says
There’s a difference between killing one person and strangling dozens of people, right?
It’d be obvious that the speaker is trying to minimize killing one person. They don’t want the person who has only killed one person to receive the same treatment as the mass murderer. If that weren’t the implication, then the difference wouldn’t be worth highlighting at all.
Out of the legion of true things Damon could have said, he chose this one. His implication is clear.