Taking offence: the new universal right, delivered express by political correctness, now entrenched around the globe thanks to our delight in the sense of righteous indignation. Studiously offended: by opinions, ideas, beliefs, behaviour, noise, names, jokes, books, shows, casts, podcasts, traffic, bikes in traffic … Offended that you’re offended. Offended that you’re not offended. Taking offence has hit the big time.
But this wandering behemoth does not walk the Earth alone. Taking offence would not be complete without … The Apology! Sorry for that “meow”, sorry for sneaking a smoke during training, sorry for disagreeing, sorry for noticing your breasts, sorry for using the wrong word, sorry for not being sorry enough, sorry for being a happy housewife, sorry for owning a four wheel drive… Yes that joke had Jesus in it – sorry! Sorry for the Holocaust, sorry for that tweet, sorry for hurting your friend’s friend’s friend’s feelings. Hey don’t take away my sponsorship, I forgot my private life is everyone’s business – sorry! The Apology is the big payoff for taking offence.
Notwithstanding the silliness of the offence-taking epidemic, an important distinction should be made between genuine, intentional offensive behaviour – of which I do not make light of – and taking offence for use as a social or political weapon to shame people into silence. To wit: a few years back I opened the door for a young lady with her hands full only to be rebuked in no uncertain terms: “I don’t need a man to open the door for me, thankyou” said she, munching on a green apple, a death stare delivered from over her granny glasses. I instantly realized that I’d disempowered the entire female population with one thoughtless gesture. Strangely enough though, I didn’t feel sorry, (Sorry!) just bemused by the pie-in-the-face rejection of what I believed was a common courtesy.
Offence in that context is essentially a selfish act of censorship on the one hand and an attempt to enforce conformity on the other. By censorship I mean the oppression of social values and behaviour deemed no longer acceptable by a 'morally superior' politically correct minority. In the same context, apologizing for a trivial or unintintentional slight is to submit to compulsory blanc mange niceness or gender neutral uniformity – the dream of that same self elected elite committee of social engineers whose job it is to terra-form society in their own image. It’s clear that my finger is pointing at the political left – the wing I lean to, though from the centre – however taking offence to shut people up and/or conform is now right across the spectrum whether conservatives realize it or not. For example: “Are you disrespecting my religion??”
With the bewildering array of multimedia information now at our fingertips, more and more we seem to be locking ourselves into attitudes of sealed certainty to balance our uncertain world. We’re scratching our name on the bark; wrapping our beliefs in cotton wool; putting a fence around our territory. Sensitivity manifesting as offence which in turn forms a barrier. Perhaps this mindset has developed in some people a sense of moral superiority.., that “my way is the right way”, taking offence being the tool used to browbeat people into obedience. It’s a form of emotional blackmail to quash dissent. It is no surprise therefore that society’s intelligentsia, with their oft inflated sense of moral superiority, believe that they alone know what is best for the less educated, ignorant masses. In a twist of irony these same people who prosthelytize the virtue of tolerance and openness are the most sensitive to criticism. Education is a wonderful opportunity to open eyes, and something the world needs more of, but it is not a licence to pontificate from on high.
It’s interesting to note the subjective nature of taking offence. Such reactions are often caused by ideas, opinons and beliefs which themselves are often subjective. Let’s consider their nature for a moment. Ideas/opinions are personal dispositions held, but not strictly owned. Too often they end up as factual in the minds of people – our personal dogmas. In actuality they are conjecture, derived from our contemporaries or passed on by those who went before us. They are inherited, jointly developed, reshaped, shared and passed on again. Always, fundamentally, they are temporary states of mind that can change year by year or at any moment. Thus all of our ideas and opinions are part of a greater continuum; a great river of thought that everyone drinks from. It would be to everyone’s advantage to lower the barriers of offence-taking and engage more with those who are drinking from the same river.
When beliefs and attitudes are viewed in this light it makes little sense to take or give offence as a weapon of persusion. Rather than the righteous segregating along lines of moral superiority it should be acknowledged that those on the other side of their divide have as much of a handle on wisdom as they do. It is a wise person who can engage in free and open discussion without pride or prejudice. When it comes to ideas – no matter who you are – you are not right and they are not right, but if you put your heads together you might just be right. What is right for society comes from consensus, and consensus can never be reached in an atmosphere of perpetual offence-taking. With less offence-taking there would undoubtedly be a higher degree of constructive discussion, cooperation and progress. And all done with less pain.
Of course there are things to be offended by. If we want to be offended, be offended by the body bags coming back from useless, unwinnable wars. Be offended by the same old populist spin that those bits and pieces of flesh that used to be somebody’s loved one “sacrificed” their lives for democracy. No they didn’t “sacrifice” their lives – nobody joins the military because they want to get killed for democracy – their lives were taken because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Be offended in Australia by the way a tiny percentage of refugees who make it to our shores on rickety boats, many of which sink without trace, are treated like criminals and locked up in detention centres for years. Be offended by the political opportunism that preys on an ignorance of the facts. Be offended that in the U.S, 42% of the entire wealth of the country is controlled by 1% of the population who pay as little as 18% in tax. Be offended by the greedy drug companies and multi nationals. Be offended that 1.7 billion people in the world today live in absolute poverty, unable to afford even the most basic of human needs including fresh water, health care and education. These are the things to be affronted by. Why be offended because it’s raining or because THAT statue’s gonads are on show?
And the next time a guy opens the door for you, give him a smile and say thankyou. It helps the world go ’round.