By Jack Canfora
For years – nay, decades- we could count on the more conservative elements of society to take offense to all manner of things besetting our culture and ruining our way of life: from women having the vote to the automobile to the Charleston to Elvis to long haired louts from Liverpool to reefer madness to integration to the public acknowledgement of sex to bad language on television to LGBTQ+ rights, we could count on some faction of the more staid members of the community clutching their pearls over something (even the cliche “pearl clutching” brings to mind Margaret Dumont rather than, say, Janis Joplin). And while once in a great while they had a not entirely ludicrous point to make, as a rule they were in the moment absurd and through the lens of history, either embarrassingly wrong or laughably out of touch. And that was their thing. They were good at it.
But those days are gone. Oh sure, those people still exist, but now up is down, north is south, and shame is now whatever the opposite of shame is. I forget offhand; maybe it’ll come to me later. Because the conservatives now have some real competition for the puritanical laurels they have worn forever (among those of their number who are into wearing laurels). Factions of progressives have now declared the notion of not being offended as an inalienable human right. Controversial speakers are banned from campuses, blah, blah, blah. We all know the drill. Don’t get me wrong, I get offended on occasion, and I don’t enjoy it one bit. I can see the obvious advantages of never being offended, because that goes hand in glove with never having your ideas and beliefs questioned, and what bliss that must be.
The idea that you’ve arrived at a moral and ethical endpoint of perfect exactitude, a perch from which you can serve as arbiter as to what people can and cannot think, let alone say, well, I’ve never tried cocaine, but I’d imagine the high you’d get of that smugness must make coke look like, well, Coke.
I like my racist idiots out in the open, where we can see them for what they are. I think racism, homophobia, and misogyny are terrible things (let’s stand in awed silence for a moment at the sheer moral courage it takes to make a statement like that). In fact, I think those issues are so important that when we decry EVERYTHING we don’t like as an example of some kind of ism, we dull the edges off of these terms. Words and ideas are tools, and you have to use them properly, or they become flattened and useless.
When did some people lose faith in their ideas that no one should be allowed to say something you disagree with? When did a cottage industry of the professionally offended spring up? When did our minds become so brittle and fragile that we have to stamp out ideas because we doubt our ability to beat them outright in the market of ideas? Or, heaven forfend, hear or read something that might make you question your ideas?
Lifelong learners know this takes our world into a dangerous place: when both sides become unquestioning. Because lifelong learners know that learning is more or less inextricable from being challenged, and yes, that will on occasion mean being offended.
I’m NOT talking about giving a free pass to people for their misdeeds. But let’s not assume every bad decision merits throwing the offender overboard. Because, trust me, in this world, you will at some point say something stupid. And even if it isn’t stupid, if you’re saying something of any value, there’s a good chance you will offend someone somewhere. Which should be OK. Actually, more than OK. Necessary.
Now, for the last time, get off of my lawn!
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