You’re offended? Well, whoopeedoo

“I’m offended”.
I found a posting on my Facebook this morning saying this.
It’s about the the controversy over obeisance to the national flag and the National Anthem (as if you couldn’t guess).
I’m offended.
So what do you expect me to do about it?
And why are you telling everybody this?
I don’t know, but I think I can make one or two educated guesses.
Firstly, you are emotionally disturbed by whatever it is you are talking about. People who are emotionally unaffected by events almost never use phrases like “I’m offended”. They might say “I disagree with xxxx”, but “I’m offended” is primarily an expression of a reaction that is rooted in emotion.
Secondly, you seem to think that the rest of the world needs to know that you are offended.
I’m not sure why you think that is a good idea.
You see, when I read people huffing and puffing and using phrases like “I’m offended”, my experience of interacting with these people leads me to conclude that what they are really saying is “I intensely dislike what other people are doing and saying on an emotional level and they need to stop doing it. NOW”.
This is where I am always reminded of Robin Skinner’s perceptive comment about abusive relationships.

“People who cannot control their emotions react by trying to control other people’s behavior”.

One of the virtues of living in a reasonably free society is that, most of the time, other people don’t get to tell you what to do, or what to think.
But “I’m offended”, in my experience, is far removed from that approach. The people using the phrase are invariably emotionally invested in their view about whatever it is that has offended them to the point that they think that the cause of their offense deserves to be forced to change their behavior or sanctioned, penalized, eliminated, whatever. (it’s the source of the satirical Donald Fagen song lyric from the title song of “The Nightfly”… “So you say there’s a race of men in the trees/You’re for tough legislation, thanks for calling/We wait all night for calls like these”).
It is no coincidence that one of the more common reactions to the actions of Colin Kaepernick in kneeling for the National Anthem has been a call for him to leave the USA and live somewhere else. On one level it is just a juvenile discussion-closer, unworthy of being taken seriously. But the sentiment is actually rather revealing. People who claim to be offended almost never want to discuss or negotiate with whoever or whatever they perceive offends them. They just want whatever it is that offends to stop. NOW.
It is at this point that Skinner’s comment becomes highly appropriate.
So you are offended? So what.
Firstly, why should I care?
You control your own reactions. If you cannot keep an even keel and a cool head about an issue, that is not my problem. It’s your problem. It gives you a problem with me, because I am unlikely to be sympathetic to a person who cannot make an intellectually-based case for anything they feel strongly about. It’s like the authoritarian parent yelling “Shut up and just do it!” at a child. (If the parent is dumb enough to confuse respect with fear, they probably think that is an OK way to get the child to do their bidding. They will probably be disappointed with the long term impact).
Secondly, why should people or society enact controls, (social or legal) on other people’s actions and behavior just to cope with your offense? If the behavior is non-threatening and legal, there is no reason why any society should be in the business of pandering to people’s hurt feelings by enacting measures to control other people’s behavior.
(By the way, changing tack and claiming “but lots of us feel this way” doesn’t make your argument any more powerful or compelling. So ten thousand of you are offended? That’s now a mob. I have seen how mobs reinforce each other, both close up in person and on the internet. Mob rule, as history shows us, is not useful, pleasant or constructive.)
Here’s my bottom line.
Beginning a posting with a loud “I’m offended” certainly gets my attention briefly. Emphasis on the word “briefly”. It signals that you are emotionally disturbed, and that most likely you are also going to be making an incoherent argument that invariably revolves around you wishing you could control, or trying to control, other people’s behavior in a way that is not correct for a free society. At this point, I am going to move in the direction of Away. You don’t get to control the behavior of others by demanding that they think and act like you. That’s not how a free society should work.


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