Shitting on offence

I thought I’d write today on the subject of how offended I am by people who are offended by other people being offended. I hope it doesn’t offend you. I was gently persuaded in this endeavour by @naked_no_more, I hope I’ve done a decent job.

I favourited a tweet by @volewriter the other day. Actually, I favourited three of her tweets on the same subject. Here’s what she said:

I took me a while to star these tweets because I was nodding in agreement so vigorously I could hardly see the screen. What Kate had spotted was a phenomenon that I have become more and more aware of over the last couple of months, a sort of feedback loop of offendedness.

flow

As a simple example, Person A says something which Person B takes offence to. Person B complains that they are offended. Person C hears Person B complain and decides that they were wrong to be offended. Person C is offended by Person B being offended and calls them a Stinky Cheesy Knobend. Person B is offended that Person C is offended that Person B is offended and calls them a Great Hairy Vicks-Vaporub-smelling Ballsack. And so on and so forth, building momentum like a dog shit rolling from the top of Mont Blanc, gathering so much snow it turns into an avalanche. Everyone gets knocked down flat, and nobody can remember what started it (it was a dog shit, duh).

We’ve seen this any number of times, Tim Hunt being a perfect recent example (of offensiveness, not dog shit as such). People were offended by what he said, but within days the story was no longer about what he said, but about how he had been “hounded out of office,” or “persecuted by an online hate-mob” or whatever. The kerfuffle over Matt Haig’s proposed book on masculinity followed a similar path; very quickly the discussion was less about the actual issues, and more about Matt’s self-proclaimed “crucifixion” by the “bubbling cauldron of animosity” he faced on Twitter.

Again and again and again, people simultaneously accusing those who disagree with them of being bullies and of being over-sensitive.

The little sleight-of-hand that keeps getting played here comes from a sort of ethical solipsism: “I am not offended by that thing, therefore that thing isn’t offensive, therefore anybody who claims to be offended by that thing is lying or stupid.” And, as Kate pointed out in her tweets, even the word “offended” becomes pejorative, as if the very act of taking offence makes a person irrational, hysterical, and ludicrously thin-skinned.

And some people have become expert at playing this game, of presenting themselves as super-reasonable, open to honest challenge, and a Jolly Nice Person Really.

“I’m just trying to open a debate,” they’ll shrug, “can’t we have an open debate?”

“I’m just expressing my opinion,” they’ll sigh, “what happened to Freedom of Speech?”

“Other people seem to like what I did,” they harrumph, “why can’t you like it too?”

“I was only joking!” they weep, “Can’t you take…sob…a joke?”

It has become a favourite, successful, and more sinister tactic of those who support things Staying Exactly As They Are, to intercept any honest, good-faith criticisms of favoured causes in this way. Our old friend Martin Daubney (he was the longest-serving editor of Loaded, don’t you know?) loves to use this tactic over and over. Here is one example, “Eight things you hadn’t realised other people find offensive and upsetting,” it’s called.  Read it if you want, but you can probably guess the content. The usual bollocks sneering at jazz hands and such like. The title alone is instructive enough though “things YOU [normal people] hadn’t realised OTHER PEOPLE [idiots] find offensive.”

If you can create and maintain a myth that there is a class of people who are “permanently offended,” or who “stalk Twitter looking for things to be offended about,” then it becomes a lot easier to laugh off anybody’s offence about anything. “Oh it’s just the usual mob,” they say, “no need to take it seriously. They’ll find offence in anything. Remember JAZZ HANDS?!”

Fucking jazz hands. Jesus.

But people like Daubney want to actively generate offence so that they can mock it in turn and perpetuate the myth. Here’s a conversation I had with him before he stopped talking to me because I pretended I thought his name was an anagram of “Rat Faced Bellend” or something. I’m mature like that.

daub

His words, his choice indeed. Be inflammatory, be offensive, and then complain that there are so many people being offended. Oh, except when the “offendotrons” win of course. The tantrums THAT kicks off, whether it be about Clarkson or Hunt or whoever. There is nothing so offensive as somebody else being offended and getting their way.

Now, Rat-Faced Bellend Martin Daubney is just one minor example, although a particularly transparent one. But we do see this all around us, on both sides of the political spectrum, on both sides of almost every issue. It doesn’t do anything to help us understand each other, or reach a helpful conclusion, or compromise, or even politely agree to disagree. We’re so busy dodging and diverting avalanches we’ve forgotten about the dog-shit that started it.

Like Kate, I think we shouldn’t describe or think of someone as “offended” unless they themselves say they are. If someone seems upset or annoyed by something and I don’t agree or understand why, my instinct isn’t to assume they’re stupid or lying or just plain ENJOY being offended. My instinct is to watch and read and listen, and try to understand. Sometimes I do understand, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I accept that I can never understand how it is to live my life as somebody else does, and so I can’t always understand why they are bothered by something that doesn’t bother me. And I keep my mouth shut and let them express their upset however they choose. And, yes sometimes I do conclude their upset was unnecessary or disproportionate, but I give them the benefit of careful thought first. And generally just keep my mouth shut anyway, who HASN’T on occasion got upset about something and then wondered themselves what the fuss was about a week later.

And if you ARE offended by something, say so, and don’t let the sneering, sniping reactionary golf-club bores muttering about political correctness gone mad divest you of the power of your offence. There are many things to be offended by, legitimately and strongly: poverty, hunger, injustice, sickness. If others are offended by your being offended, just remember how they will cry themselves to sleep when you win, and let that thought spur you on.

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