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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The best defense

Everywhere I go on the poli-blogs lately, people are prating on and on about these Danish cartoons and the resultant protests.

Apparently, Muslims are offended because some newspaper printed some pictorial editorial satires/parodies of Muhammed, and then some other newspapers reprinted them, to make some point about freedom of expression. And because these Muslims are offended, there are Danish flags being burned and embassies being attacked and I don’t know what the hell all else.

Which leads me to the following thought:

Being offended isn’t the same thing as being right. Nor is it the same thing as being hurt, or damaged.

This is a concept I've been mulling over more and more lately. Over the past ten or twenty years, it seems to me, I hear about people being offended all the time, by every conceivable action, group, opinion, or individual behavior, every time I get out of bed, or even sleep in. Liberals, conservatives, men, women, gays, straights, Christians, Wiccans, Moslems, Republicans, Democrats, Seventh Day Adventists, rock stars, Harry Potter fans, movie critics, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, cat owners and dog owners, members of Greenpeace, hurricane victims, cattle ranchers, sheep herders, monarchists, pet shop owners, comic book fans, dairy farmers, Arabs, Jews, fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks… everybody is offended by something, and everything offends somebody.

Jesus fucking Christ.

What a bunch of babies you people have turned into.

Look, I get offended, too. But being offended is not the same thing as being damaged or harmed. If you’re damaged or harmed through the negligence or the active malice of others, then, yes, you’ve got a legitimate grievance and you can expect some kind of redress to your injuries. But offense is not an injury. Offense is personal, and subjective, and pretty much always a group effort. Somebody does something you find offensive, and you choose to be offended by it.

You are not required to take offense simply because someone says “yo mama is a skank but Lord she gives good head”. You need not take offense from someone burning your country’s flag, or insinuating that your personal hero is a jackass. It is not mandatory that you be offended when someone advises you that you’re ugly and whoever dresses you in the morning has no fashion sense.

In short, offense is never compulsory. When you are offended by something, you decide to be offended, and you need to own that, and deal with it, and then move on past it. Offense is not an entitlement, and it does not lead to one. The fact that you are offended may be important to you, and to the people who love you, but it does not, and should not, mean jack shit to any rational structure of ethics or civil jurisprudence or criminal justice system.

If you’re driving by someone’s house and you see some sort of holiday display that you find offensive, well, fine, you find it offensive. You can talk to your friends about it. You can vent about it on your blog. You can write a letter to the editor about it. You can organize a boycott of this person’s business, I guess, if you really feel that strongly about it, and I suppose you can even write your Congressman about it, and maybe you even have a right to go up and ring that person’s doorbell and advise them of your offense at their woefully benighted sense of aesthetics, although that last strikes me as starting to stretch your ‘rights’ in the matter beyond all sense or ration.

What you cannot do is threaten them with violence, or invade their property and wreck their shit, or stage violent demonstrations, or do anything else with the intent to coerce this person into behaving in a manner you find less offensive. I say again: offense is not injury, it is not harm, and you have no reasonable expectation of being able to live your life free of offensive and/or provocative stimuli. It is simply ridiculous to think otherwise.

And yet, so many many people do these days. So many people simply head straight to “Well, that pisses me off, so I’m going to fuck someone up for it”. The witless and easily offended, who feel entitled to live in a world where everything they encounter is something they agree with and/or find comforting, fly into frenzies of hatred and maniacal viciousness whenever they are even mildly vexed by something. The clothes someone is wearing, their hairstyle, their politics. What the local public school is teaching our kids. The fact that sodomy is no longer illegal in Texas. Whether that guy sitting at the bus stop has a job or not. What the person across the cafeteria is eating right now. Something. Anything. If someone is doing something somewhere, someone else is offended by it.

Being offended by stuff is fine, or at least, understandable. Being offended by shit we don’t like is, unfortunately, part of human nature. I get offended by things, too. However, you can’t expect the cops to arrest everyone who offends you, nor should you assume that your Congressman is going to sponsor legislature that will make the thing that offends you illegal. You certainly can’t go out and do violence to the person who is committing the behavior you find offensive.

To give us credit, I think most modern human beings are now aware, however grudgingly, that personal offense at someone else’s non-harmful behavior does not entitle them to take any action or reprisal against that person. Unfortunately, those who wish to take violent offense, and who are certain that they have an absolute right to live in a world where no one and nothing ever troubles them in the slightest, often cloak their personal sense of affront behind some organized cause. Religion is a wonderful way to justify acting out against the shit that pisses you off, because it’s not just that faggots/war protesters/liberals/feminazis/dope smoking animal rights whackos offend YOU, oh no. Your Holy Scripture, whatever it may be, makes it absolutely and irrefutably clear (albeit, perhaps, in archaic, poetic, allusory and ultimately near-entirely subjective terms) that these things and people that offend you so gravely also offend God. And, while, of course, offending you may not be any sort of crime, nonetheless, offending God is reprehensible, intolerable, unacceptable, and Must Be Met Head On For The Sake Of All That Is Good, Decent, Proper, And Right.

There are non-secular causes that are wonderful for justifying, and even criminalizing, the things that offend us deeply, as well. National Security is a wonderful phrase to use to justify locking up people whose behavior and opinions offend us. The War On Terror is tailor made for lending authority to our sense of infuriation at all those goddam commie symp anarchists who keep saying nasty things about the President.

In the end, it comes down to this: if you think you have a right to take violent action against those who offend you, or to legislate against the things that offend you, then you have decided to live in a world where other people have the same right to respond similarly when you offend them… as you surely will, with such an insanely judgemental, provincial, narrowminded, pigheaded, arrogant, and irrationally biased attitude.

Me, I offend people way too much with my big mouth to want to live in a world where it is considered acceptable to respond violently to such things. I prefer to tolerate things I find offensive (as long as they cause me no actual harm), with the understanding that a similar tolerance will be extended to my offensive behavior in return.

However, I have no doubt there are many people in the world who will find that viewpoint very offensive, and who will be certain that I should be arrested, sued, or simply beaten for setting it forth.


At 2:28 PM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Nice post. Okay, maybe not 'nice', but eloquent nonetheless. Religious zealotry often has its drawbacks. So, now you want the crazies to let it slide when you give them 'a look'. Hmm, you want a few stars to go with that moon, Baby? Religion is all about teaching folks that you smite those who offend you, your mother, your ox, whatever. And that's pretty universal. That whole "turn the other cheek" Christian thing is optional.

At 1:37 AM , Anonymous Asshole said...

What is this? Nate's Greatest Hits Day? First Opus, now you.

Welcome to the party.

Yeah, this is something that people have to get realistic about. "Your rights stop where someone else's start." If people can't see how this relates to the non-existence of their 'right' to not be offended by other people, someone should explain it to them.

RE: Turning the other cheek.

Well, you gotta remember, the major pseudo-Christian churches have been in the pockets of kings and empires for millennia. Any religion that tries telling a government not to make war is gonna get spanked hard. So, they made a few 'little changes', rather than get stepped on. I'm sure you've heard of this type of thing before, it's called selling out.

Now the Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses, and a few other groups do have strict observance of non-politicalism and pacifism, but they're the exception, not the rule.

Lol, a lot of people come down hard on the Witnesses because of their policy of disfellowshipping members who refuse to abide by what they consider to be Christian standards of behavior. Don't you love the irony? Religions get called out for not practicing what they preach, and when one does, it gets called reactionary and harsh.

At 3:31 PM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Hmmm...well, maybe I've got a tiger by the tail here, so to speak, but I do agree that the demographic group this household calls the "Professionally Offended" is ridiculously out of hand. That guy who went medieval over the use of the word "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because his daughter's tiny sensibilities were being harmed - the money he spent on legal fees for that cause could have fed a whole lot of people, with enough left over to put his daughter in a nice private school where any mention of religion is forbidden (oh, right, that's public school...) We are only guaranteed by the constititution the PURSUIT of happiness, not happiness itself. You have no right not to be offended. Stay in your house with a pillow over your head if you think otherwise.

But...considering that Islamic radicals think nothing of blowing themselves up and taking as many non-radical Islams as they can with them, there is really no argument. How can you argue with someone who is willing to die for their cause?

Anyway, isn't it refreshing for once that the US isn't being blamed for something?

At 5:03 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Hmmm. Oh, you just had to wind me up on the Pledge of Allegiance.

I not only believe the word 'God' doesn't belong in ANY government sponsored document or recitation, but I also think the whole Pledge of Allegiance is a travesty of freedom and democracy. If you study the history of the Pledge, you discover that it was originally created as an advertising jingle, to sell American flags. There is something so fundamentally American about that as to defy all attempts at irony, but it's not something that says anything wonderful about the Pledge, or our country.

From its inception in the late 19th Century through the 1950s, the Pledge was only said in schools during Columbus Day observances. This changed in 1954, during the anti-Communist hysteria of the period, when it was decided by some moron to use the daily recitation of the Pledge as a method to 'weed out' unAmerican sympathies among school children... and the phrase 'under God' was specifically added to the Pledge when someone realized that without it, the damned thing sounded very similar to similar mandatory pledges recited by schoolchildren in the Soviet Union every morning.

A free country has no need for a goddam loyalty oath, and the fact that one exists is, in all honesty, an insult to everything America is supposed to stand for. People have actually been jailed for refusing to take the Pledge; public school teachers can, and have been, fired for refusing to lead their class in it. I know we all take the Pledge entirely for granted and don't even think about it any more, and to most of us, in fact, it carries many warm and fuzzy childhood emotional associations, redolent with smells of chalk dust and images of dust motes dancing in the sunbeams slanting through the classroom windows onto the blackboard during early morning homeroom and all that good happy-crappy.

But, in point of fact, the Pledge represents the worst aspects of America and is a relic of one of our darkest periods, and I'd like to see it entirely abolished. It's an anti-freedom, anti-liberty, anti-individualism, Let's All Stand Up And Chant In Unison, Conform, Damn You, Conform! abomination, and it has no place in any country I'd like to live in. I want it gone.

Barring that, though, I'd take 'under God' being removed from it. I'd like to see religious invocations banned from the beginning of all government functions, too, but I won't live to see either.

At 11:25 AM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

I completely agree. But the majority of this country, for whatever reason, believes in God, so I guess it stays until there's a revolution or something. I'd rather put my energy into issues that I might actually be able to do something about. Besides, I went my whole public school career never saying the word "God" in that pledge and no one did anything to me. Nor did the hearing of said word traumatize or stigmatize me in any way.


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