Monday, January 29, 2007

The Offensiveness of Taking Offense

I work in a 'multi-cultural' environment. That is to say, there is a broad spectrum of nationalities, races, native languages, and religions among the professional staff with whom I work. In four years there, I have never found it necessary, prudent, or even desirable to intentionally give offense to anyone for who they are, or what they believe, or who they worship. That's on a micro level, though. On a macro level it could well be that someone would take offense at the views I hold or give voice to. And I don't care if, on the macro level, that they might take offense. Because on the macro level, an impersonal level, it's necessary and imperative to speak the truth, and lay my cards on the table. There may come a time when it is necessary to give offense to those who want to take offense on a micro level. The alternative is to be dishonest to myself, and of service to no one. The following article is a refreshing essay on the subject of giving and taking offense.

American Thinker

January 29, 2007
The Offensiveness of Taking Offense
By Selwyn Duke

"The voicing of the unpopular being the very soul of free speech, the right to give and take offense shall not be infringed."

Sometimes I think it is time to insert the above into our First Amendment. Whether it's an off-color joke or colorful commentary, it's now hard to make anything but the most plain vanilla statements without offending somebody. In fact, so ingrained is the notion of being offended that it's become a topic of TV commercial satire. Just think about GEICO's commercials with stone-age characters taking umbrage at the slogan, "So easy a caveman can do it."

Ironically, associating cavemen with being thin-skinned is quite apropos, since it is a frailty born of the more ignoble aspects of man's nature. As to this, I think about documentarian Alby Mangels who, while visiting primitives in Papua New Guinea, warned against "knocking back their hospitality." Prudence dictated he be wary, as those less spiritually and morally evolved are ruled by pride, the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins.

And, lest we entertain the fancy that it is the superior person who doesn't give offense, know that it is actually the superior one who doesn't take it. It's hard to offend the humble. In truth, though, our civilization is not as overcome by pride as by duplicity. And this is what is truly offensive (in the way an odor is so) about this offensiveness business: Screaming "That's offensive!" is nothing but a ploy. Yes, you heard it here first, few who emit that utterance are actually offended.

They just don't happen to like what you're saying. I'll explain precisely what is going on. Liberals trade on this ploy, using it as a standard response whenever their sacred cows come under scrutiny. If they were tolerant, they would simply accept that some will espouse what we despise. If they were honest, they would simply say what they mean. But tolerance is just another ploy, and honesty, well, it has never served the ends of the left, and never less so than here. A translation of what they really mean to say will illustrate why: "I hate what you're saying, it makes me angry and you should shut your mouth! [expletives omitted]"

Of course, to exhibit such petulance would reveal their vaunted tolerance for the facade it is and demonstrate their moral inferiority. And telling others to shut-up is the stuff of neither polite society nor effective debate, so a different strategy is in order. And the "Offensiveness Ploy" (OP) is ideal, as it shifts the onus from them to you. A direct command to still your tongue would make them appear the villains, intolerant, immature, imperious clods, incapable of brooking dissent. It would be offensive. But the OP makes you seem the offensive one. When told to shut-up, we feel transgressed against and know we occupy the moral high ground, a place from which taking the offense is justified.

The OP, however, casts us as the transgressors, cowing us as we look up from our valley of disgrace. It works: Accusing others of giving offense is the best offense, as it places them on the defense. But you don't have to read Sun Tzu's The Art of War to know strategies change with the situation. And this is why, when the bounds of propriety are loosed and the power is all theirs, liberals often show their true colors, resorting to a tactic blunter and less sophisticated but even more effective: Force.

Just think about the "students" - they don't deserve the designation - who attacked Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist at that institution of lower learning, Columbia University. Think about incidents where other conservative speakers were given the same treatment on other campuses, a phenomenon that prompted pundit Ann Coulter to retain bodyguards. You may think I'm painting the left with too broad a brush but, I can assure you, the very same spoiled brats would use the OP in any situation wherein the balance of power didn't favor them. But in a bastion of liberalism, where accountability is as absent as sensibility, they don't have to. And here's their message: "I hate what you're saying, it makes me angry and you should shut your mouth! And you're going to shut your mouth whether you like it or not. We don't have to take it anymore [expletives omitted]."

I suppose it's the one situation where you could say that honesty is definitely not refreshing. Would that anyone claim I'm wrong, he has much to explain. Like, for instance, why these tolerant, inoffensive liberals, upon achieving institutional power, become similarly heavy-handed and use the principles of tolerance and offensiveness to squelch ideas they dislike. They have given us speech codes at universities and in corporations and hate speech laws in foreign countries. And the sanctimony, oh, the sanctimony. As they ostracize, penalize, terminate and arrest those who sin against political correctness, they tell us they're just protecting others from hateful feelings when they really just feel hateful.

Can there be doubt of this? This oh-so-sensitive set is the very one that defends the immersion of a crucifix in a jar of urine as artistic expression and the equation of 9/11 victims with Nazis as academic freedom. If the truth about the OP hasn't raised your ire yet, understand that it is nothing less than part of the groundwork necessary for social engineering. If you want to effect social and legislative change, you must win the social and political debates so as to garner support for it. But if you can't defeat your adversaries in the arena of ideas, you have to keep them out of the competition; if you can't refute what's argued, you must stop it from being spoken.

So, first you demonize speech refutative of your agenda by labeling it "offensive," which cultivates social codes and attendant social pressure facilitative of the change you desire. Then, as these social codes become more widely accepted and entrenched, expressing them through rules and laws becomes more acceptable. This leads to the next stage, the organizational expression of them - the speech codes in various private institutions. And once sufficiently inured to these, it's time for the last stage of this imprisoning of ideas: The legislative expression of these social codes known as hate speech laws.

Case in point: It becomes harder for traditionalists to argue against homosexual marriage if they're scorned and ostracized for saying homosexual behavior is sinful, destructive or disordered. It becomes harder still if those who do so are punished within the context of our schools and businesses. And it becomes impossible if the government arrests you for such expression. Tyrants agree: the easiest way to win a debate is to prevent the other side from debating.

Thus, there is a lesson here we ignore at our own peril. You can have freedom from being offended or you can have freedom of speech, but you cannot have both. This is why I have no tolerance for the Offensiveness Ploy. It is manipulation by the mediocre, victory for the vacuous, derision by the dull. It is the protestation of a child, one with neither the brute force to be a Brownshirt nor the executive force to be a Blackshirt. If someone is offended by truth, the problem lies not with it being uttered. If someone doesn't want it uttered, he has a problem with truth.

The great victory of the left is that it has made us apologize for being right. A few may be truly offended, being in the grip of primitive pride. But, mostly, we are in the grip of a primitive ploy. We need more offensiveness, not less. We must offend the liars, the degraded, the darkness, the destroyers of civilization.

So my answer to the offended is, you have every right to be offended. Now, grow up. If you can't sit at the table of reasoned debate, go back to your bread and circuses. Let the adults figure out the problems of the world.

Selwyn Duke is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.