I’m afraid I’m going to be political again; comes of hanging out in social media too much in a U.S. election season.
The other day on the Face Book, someone posted some version of this:
along with a little essay about political correctness, and how trigger warnings are censorship, and how kids these days are so thin-skinned that no one can say anything anymore, and so on.
I posted a comment disagreeing, and got (and this is very unusual for me) two different people that I like and respect texting me privately in the Face Book (which I always forget is even a thing) expressing surprise at my opinion.
I’ve been thinking about how to write down my thoughts on these subjects for some time, but without actually doing it. So I thought maybe I’d start with just the basic message of the video clip itself: that when you’re offended, it doesn’t mean anything, and nothing happens.
To first order, I agree with this. The mere fact that I’m offended by something doesn’t in itself mean anything.
But depending on why I’m offended, it may be a sign of something that is meaningful.
The implication of “when you’re offended, nothing happens”, and a thing that the comic up there says more or less right out, is that if someone’s offended, they should just suck it up, sit down, and shut up about it.
But that’s wrong. Words mean things. Words build things up, and wear things down. Structural oppression exists, and words are part of the structure. Sitting down and shutting up does not help us get to a more just society.
If enough people are offended by casual references to some stereotypical negative property of some oppressed group, and refuse to sit down and shut up, and other people stop making those references as often, a little bit of the structure of that oppression has been lifted.
If I’m offended because some comedian punches down for laughs, and I give that comedian poor reviews and recommend that people avoid him, maybe he, or his colleagues, will look for laughs somewhere else.
Or if I’m offended because people are no longer deferring to me because I belong to some privileged group, or because structural oppression that favors me is being questioned, and I complain about that, I both tend to look like an idiot, and to shed light on the privilege and oppression that I’m upset about losing, and even that helps us along toward justice.
If I’m offended because someone said “shit” instead of “poo”, well, probably I should sit down and shut up about it. :)
So it depends. But also it matters.
Because sometimes, even often, people take offense because of the way they are impacted by injustices in society.
And that’s not nothing.
Maybe sometime in the future: Trigger Warnings, Why the Kids are Alright, and so on.