The “Offense” Fallacy

I admit I struggle with the ideas of “offensive” and “being offended.”

Like, what are those, really? Ultimately, from my perspective, nothing more than tactics to control others, to manipulate them into doing someone’s bidding. It’s the stock-and-trade of professional abusers (interpersonally, as well as religions, politicians, and other institutions or combinations thereof), this requirement that people must participate in their own degradation. Sickening, honestly. Why would a person afford someone the power to “offend” them? And why, when someone tells another they “should be offended”, do some people respond and become offended? This makes all who acquiesce into victims (sadly a desired position these days, it would appear); however, it actually robs those who relent of their personal agency, their humanity, and disempowers them. Such an expectation–of capitulation–will not make allowances for anything other than the “safety” of forced compliance to the most easily offended if one wishes to maintain civility or a semblance of group-identity. This in turn becomes an unwinnable race to the bottom of existence, not a grand effort to uplift humanity in the face of adversity and negative experiential obstacles, which we all endure at some time or other.

“We are all individuals, not extensions of a single unified lifeform.”

So-called cancel culture feeds into this idea. According to the website “‘Cancel culture’ refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (‘canceling’) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

Oddly (and unwittingly), it has become less about the so-called ‘canceling’ of individuals, etc., and has morphed instead into apparently trying to cancel the concept of culture itself (or certain unpleasant elements of it, at least, as in “let’s cancel culture”). Of course, those who indulge in this virtue-signaling, hypersensitive behavior have zero interest in improving anything, only in drawing attention to themselves because they are generally vapid ciphers with no actual power, only a need to dominate and bully others into doing what they deem appropriate (how they became the self-appointed guardians of culture is poorly understood). As a result, they are typically ineffectual and intolerant, especially of ideas, concepts, and speech. Of course, people are humans; humans do (and say or write) things other humans both like and dislike. Individuals who take “offense” (because offense can only be taken, not given) frankly need to either get tougher or end their lives, because the world is neutral and makes no allowances for the weak. Therefore, the best response is to get stronger, not “protect the weak” and become the “walking-wounded” ourselves (i.e., identify as “victims”).

That noted, are there “offensive” actions and ideas? I suppose. The idea of the Holocaust, or war, or rape, or child abuse, are “offensive”, as in unpleasant and disturbing, with no place in a polite society, but so what? These things happen, and we should accept and understand that in order to grapple with them as social ills and improve outcomes for those who suffer as a result. So how does being offended disrupt or make these things better? It seems to me “offense” only draws attention away from the actual problems and refocuses it on the person or group who is claiming to be “offended.” In other words, being offended is selfish and immature. It shuts down dealing with issues. It minimizes the action needed to remedy unsatisfactory scenarios. Defining oneself as a (professional) “victim” (or in some cases a “survivor”) is an insult to those who are genuinely victimized (which can happen to anyone) and diminishes what is required to make things right or steals resources from those who may truly benefit the most. It’s a terrible mindset and a terrible thing to do (and, again, very selfish).

The world is not a safe place: Death and mayhem are everywhere, be it in the guise of a pandemic or the machinations of “do-gooders” in our midst burnishing Anton LaVey’s “Goodguy Badge.” That being the situation, what people are better served by doing is searching out the very things that challenge them the most. Things that might actually offend their sensibilities (such as reading troubling books, considering abhorrent ideas in order to grok things which upset them, or even to work through disturbing experiences). That’s the only way to become stronger mentally and emotionally, by investigating, being curious, and learning what something is about, even if one seriously disagrees with it or various aspects of a thing or conception. Simply entertaining a notion has never harmed anyone, whereas hiding and being “triggered” (thus avoiding) the realities of the neutral, uncaring world around us is absolutely the opposite of what one should be doing. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson stated in his poem “Ulysses”: “To Strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” should be the order of the day. Otherwise, one risks growing more insular and enfeebled by mere thoughts, expressions, and ideas. This in turn risks giving supreme power to people with nefarious intentions and strengthened wills. And these people are looking to exploit such weaknesses, believe me. It’s what they want, whether Left or Right. Just look at the current geopolitical landscape.

In addition, being offended “on behalf” of others is nothing more than pure condescension. It’s a signal to the uninitiated that the “offended” party is somehow smarter, or more understanding of something (“more enlightened”). It’s self-serving. It’s also pure rubbish. I don’t buy that people can even be aggrieved “on behalf” of another, irrespective of their “empathy” make-up. It’s absurd. We are all individuals, not extensions of a single unified lifeform. It’s also not the place of a person to shame others into doing “what’s right”, or on “the right side of history” (a history that doesn’t even exist yet, besides, and that no one can predict given that the future is unknowable only able to be conjectured about), or to undermine people they simply dislike. That’s pretty simple-minded, frankly. “What’s right” varies, and no one person is the determinant of “correct” social understanding. That’s thought-policing and wrong; let people decide for themselves, then decide if you agree for yourself. Accept differences and move on. Agree to disagree. Separate the person from their output (in the case of the arts). The need to “convince” others and align consensual groupthink (under threat of acceptance or rejection of the in-group) is weak, dangerous, and unwise, unintelligent. It’s manipulative, even evil on a moral plane.

Likewise, “deplatforming” to “stop offense” is stupid, also. Let idiots speak. Shutting them down deprives one of intelligence about their motivations and plans. There is no idea or belief or observation that can injure someone by simply being heard or read. It’s an impossibility, just as no one can be injured by a smell, a color, or a random sound (so long as it isn’t loud enough to damage hearing). Danger only stems from action (such as someone acting on unhinged rhetoric)–from behavior, not sounds, words, or thoughts.

Words and thoughts are not the same as physical assault: They’re just syllables. Sounds. Ideas. No one can be injured by them: It’s what people bring to bear (understanding of context, content, intention, and so on) that folks are actually responding to. If one were to hear (or read) the same “offensive” things in a foreign language that they were unfamiliar with, they wouldn’t know to be offended. So it really is something that offended people are picking up and using to control others with, their “offense.”

No thanks. Just stop being offended and stop looking for things to be offended by. It’s all within your power to do, and to do right now, from here forward.

About Author /

Pushcart Prize-nominee and founder of JaSunni Productions, LLC, whose award-winning documentary films include Charles Beaumont: The Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, The AckerMonster Chronicles!, and Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Phantastique, Jason V Brock is also the author of Totems and Taboos, a compilation of his poetry and artwork, the short fiction collections Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities, The Dark Sea Within, and editor, along with William F. Nolan, of The Bleeding Edge and The Devil's Coattails, the latter two published by Cycatrix Press. He has also edited the anthologies Future Weird: Science Fiction with a Touch of Strange, the massive, award-nominated A Darke Phantastique, and others. His nonfiction volume, Disorders of Magnitude, was an awards finalist. He also served as Managing Editor and Art Director for Dark Discoveries magazine for several years. His short stories, nonfiction articles, and essays have been widely published in horror, science fiction, and fantasy magazines, anthologies, and online venues. 

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