Let's put this very simply:
Being offensive is not immoral, and being offended isn't oppression.
I was watching an interview with an old-school female activist from the second- or third-wave feminist movement, and she was arguing that transgender activism today is really misogyny in new garb. When the interviewer asked, "What about others finding your statements offensive?" the feminist immediately replied,
For some reason, that one rebuttal left a profound impact on me, and it forced me to ask some important questions:
Are we morally obligated to avoid offending people?
Is it immoral to offend someone?
Are you a victim of oppression for being offended?
In a society increasingly governed by the fear of causing offense, the importance of open and honest communication has often taken a backseat. Many individuals walk on eggshells, tiptoeing around sensitive topics to avoid the perceived wrath of being labeled as "offensive." However, there are important reasons why people should not concern themselves with whether they offend others or not.
Freedom of Expression
The foundation of a democratic society rests on the fundamental principle of freedom of expression. This principle, enshrined in various constitutions and international declarations, protects the right of individuals to voice their opinions, ideas, and beliefs. Inherent in this right is the notion that diverse perspectives, even those that may be deemed offensive, contribute to a vibrant intellectual discourse. Limiting this freedom in the name of protecting people's feelings can (and does) stifle intellectual discourse while hindering human progress. Policing people's words with political correctness is actually one of the most illiberal things someone can do.
So, when social media mobs set out to make everyone conformists to a skewed version of hashtag justice (otherwise, they will shout you down and attempt "canceling" you), these keyboard warriors merely engage in the same purity culture fundamentalism that plagues many conservative religions today. "Think, believe, and act the way we want you to or else suffer our wrath," is the mantra of toxic spirituality and toxic victim culture. The suppression of open and honest intellectual discourse (by prioritizing emotional comfort) stifles constructive debates and narrows the range of acceptable ideas and viewpoints.
Subjectivity and Context
What constitutes an "offense" is highly subjective and can vary greatly from person to person. What may be offensive to one individual might be entirely acceptable or even embraced by another. Furthermore, the perception of offense is heavily influenced by cultural, social, and personal factors, making it impossible to create universally applicable standards for what is considered offensive. Acknowledging the subjectivity of offense helps us understand that catering to individual sensitivities at the expense of free expression is an inherently flawed approach to any intelligent, mature society.
If somebody's comments, beliefs, or actions cause you to transform into a junkyard bulldog, screaming and freaking out with no emotional regulation, then it is you who has the problem. Immature individuals often struggle with impulsivity, acting solely on their immediate emotions without stopping to think first. Emotional regulation involves pausing, reflecting, and responding in a thoughtful and controlled manner, rather than reacting impulsively. Moreover, immature individuals tend to have heightened emotional reactivity, becoming easily overwhelmed and even escalating conflicts because of minor triggers. That's not a good thing, and adults should be able to handle themselves much better.
The Toxicity of Victimhood Culture
Victimhood culture refers to a societal trend where individuals seek validation and moral superiority through the cultivation of victim identities. This culture places great emphasis on highlighting and amplifying perceived grievances, often leading to an unhealthy competition for victim status. While acknowledging genuine instances of injustice and discrimination is crucial, the toxic manifestation of victimhood culture today promotes a neo-Marxist worldview that seeks to do one thing: dualistically divide the world into categories of oppressed ("good guys") and oppressors ("bad guys"). When this happens, people desperately try to land in the "good guy" category by conjuring up perceived injustices, which is then used to justify hatred, abuse, and oppression of those they deem "oppressors."
One of the detrimental consequences of victimhood culture is the erosion of resilience. By perpetuating the narrative that individuals are continually oppressed and powerless, victimhood culture discourages self-reliance and personal responsibility. Instead of encouraging individuals to overcome challenges and adversity, this culture promotes a mentality of helplessness, fostering dependence on external coddling from others.
Intellectual Growth and Challenge
Challenging presupposed ideas and status quo beliefs is vital for intellectual growth and the development of critical thinking. By engaging in respectful and open discussions that may sometimes include offensive viewpoints, individuals have the opportunity to expand their perspectives and challenge their own preconceived notions. Avoiding offense at all costs limits the potential for constructive debates, stifling the advancement of knowledge. The irony, of course, is that both sides of the aisle (woke liberals and MAGA conservatives) accuse the other side of being fragile snowflakes. Well, the truth of the matter is that you both are snowflakes, and your extreme focus on only your own perspective has made you overly fragile to the slightest infraction.
Indeed, a hallmark of immature individuals is an inability to gain perspective and see situations from different viewpoints. This narrow mindset can lead to an inability to regulate emotions effectively, as they may be stuck in their own emotional narrative without considering alternative interpretations. Emotional regulation involves the ability to step back, gain perspective, and respond to situations in a more measured and empathetic manner. We must not buy into the idea that individuals are mere products of external forces who are powerless to make their own choices over their own emotional reactions.
The Fallacy of Harm
To put it bluntly: being offended does not equate to suffering harm, and you're not an oppressed victim just because someone offended you. While offensive statements or ideas can elicit emotional responses, it is essential to differentiate between emotional discomfort and tangible harm. True harm is caused by actions that directly infringe upon an individual's rights or well-being. Merely being exposed to offensive ideas or opinions, however unpleasant, does not constitute a violation of these rights. Society should prioritize protecting individuals from actual harm rather than shielding them from potential offense.
Immature individuals may blame others or external circumstances for their emotional states, but then they fail to recognize their role in managing and regulating their own emotions. Maturity entails acknowledging personal responsibility for one's emotions, learning to self-soothe, and seeking healthy coping mechanisms when faced with challenging situations. Believing you are a victim and going on the attack is not healthy.
The Importance of Authenticity
Suppressing one's thoughts and opinions to avoid offense can lead to a lack of authenticity and an erosion of genuine communication. In a world where individuals are afraid to express themselves honestly, meaningful connections and true understanding become elusive. Encouraging open dialogue, even when it involves offensive perspectives, allows for more authentic interactions and fosters an environment of intellectual integrity. But being worried about offending others, or demanding that others not offend you, involves the same brainwashing tactics as religious cults:
Suppression of Individuality: Conformity to group-think often requires individuals to suppress their own unique thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives in favor of aligning with the group's opinions or norms. This can stifle individuality and prevent the expression of diverse ideas and perspectives, hindering intellectual growth, creativity, and innovation.
Lack of Critical Thinking: Conformity to group-think may discourage critical thinking and independent reasoning. When individuals unquestioningly adhere to the opinions or beliefs of the group, they neglect to evaluate information critically, challenge assumptions, or consider alternative viewpoints. This hampers intellectual development and can lead to the acceptance of flawed or biased ideas.
Reinforcement of Bias and Prejudice: Group-think reinforces existing biases and prejudices within a society. When individuals conform to social pressure without questioning it, they may perpetuate discriminatory attitudes, stereotypes, and discriminatory behaviors. This undermines social progress, inclusivity, and equality.
It goes without saying that sensitivity towards others' feelings and perspectives is crucial for maintaining a harmonious society, but it is equally important to recognize the value of unfiltered expression and the limitations of the offense-victimhood paradigm. Upholding freedom of expression, embracing the subjectivity of offense, nurturing intellectual growth, distinguishing between offense and harm, and promoting authenticity are essential steps toward creating a more inclusive and intellectually vibrant society. By shedding the fear of causing offense, individuals can engage in meaningful dialogue, challenge prevailing norms, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge and understanding.