Yes, You're Offensive. No, I'm Not Offended.
I personally am not easily offended by hearing viewpoints with which I disagree, not because I don’t think the viewpoints are offensive, but because the emotional state of being offended gives one no “added value,” and in fact, is almost always detrimental to one’s spiritual well-being. You see, being offended is one of the tricks the ego uses to justify itself. The ego secretly enjoys and gets a thrill out of being offended. When you are in this state, the ego achieves a false sense of nobility by elevating itself above whatever it happens to be offended about. Most "activists" are people who perversely enjoy being offended--it's like an addiction to the ego.
Thus, the most low, common, and coarse individual can feel better than others by being in a semi-permanent state of offense, as you will have no doubt noticed that the left tends to be in. If you take away “being offended,” what’s left of the left? Just listen, if you can tolerate it, to Air America, or read Dailykos or the New York Times editorial page. They are “all offended, all the time.” Indeed, we are now in the midst of World War III because a bunch of religious fanatics are chronically offended, whether it's angry jihadis in Khartoum or jihadis angry about a cartoon.
Think of people like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Howard Dean, Cynthia McKinney--again, all angry all the time. But does this anger in any way correlate with exemplary character? Hardly. Look at Ronald Reagan. Did you ever see him gratuitously angry and offended? Or George Bush, who has been the subject of constant bile, vilification and hatred for six years. Does he ever respond in kind? Of course not. He is a gallant man. Most of all, he’s a man. A man does not behave like a hysterical woman. If you have to shoot someone, you just shoot them. You don’t first wallow and indulge in the state of being offended. As Churchill said, if you have to kill a man, it costs you nothing to be polite.
Last night I saw this play out in real time at the White House correspondents dinner. After a truly hilarious and self-effacing bit by President Bush and a Bush impersonator, on came comedian Stephen Colbert with his razor-sharp sledgehammer. Since politics is their religion, the left politicizes everything, and this evening was no exception. Colbert’s bit was so mean-spirited that it mostly drew awkward silence. He had absolutely no sense of the occasion, the purpose of which is to drop partisan politics just once a year and laugh at ourselves. I checked out dailykos afterwards, and they were lauding Colbert for courageously “speaking truth to power.” Speaking truth to power? At a comedy dinner? When the president is already mocking himself? It was the Wellstone/Coretta Scott King funeral all over again. Is it a lack of class or just a sort of autistic inability to read the emotional tone of the situation? It’s both, but I would suggest that the underlying mechanism is the state of being offended, which allows one to lash out and falsely ennoble the ego.
Speaking of low and coarse character, Alec Baldwin is an excellent case in point. Like most of Hollywood, he is drawn to the anger of leftism because it allows him to elevate his vulgar and boorish personality above those with whom he disagrees. Thus his utterances, as is true of so much of the left, are “content free.” The point is that he is higher and you (if you see things a bit differently) are lower:
“America is in trouble... We have a weak, unintelligent, incompetent President, a lying, thieving, diabolical Vice-president, an ineffective intelligence operation and a Congress made up of Republican lapdogs... Everything we stand for is under assault in this country, and not from some outside force. Our rights, liberties and economic security are threatened by the Republican party as it operates today... Distort. Cover up. Make excuses. No plan for change. No hope for an end to the disarray, futility and loss of lives, both American and Iraqi, under current US foreign policy... We live in a society of extremely hardworking people. Those people pay taxes. Those taxes, when raked into a pile, make a very big pile, and that money is used to float an extraordinary standard of living. It is also used to maintain a military whose might and reach are beyond compare.... [W]e'll turn around and America, in the domestic policy sense, in the civil liberties sense, might be unrecognizable. And we'll wonder if all of this was worth it. We'll wonder what happened to that great country that was so worth fighting for.”
By inference--which is the whole point of this ego-driven diatribe--this smart-aleck Baldwin is strong, intelligent, competent, honest, giving, angelic, peace-loving, courageous, guileless, hard working, and on the side of all that is decent, just like George Clooney, Tim Robbins, Barbara Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, and all the rest of the Hollywoodenheads.
Angry? Obviously. Stupid? Of course. Vacuous? Naturally? Offensive? Quite. But am I offended? No, not at all. Being offended just detracts from the clarity required to see how stupid and offensive the man is. Hopefully, Kim Basinger didn’t sit around for too long being offended by his physical abuse and verbal bullying. She simply showed him the mansion door. It costs you nothing to be polite in telling a man that if he comes as close to you as the next county, the authorities will pounce on him like a leftist on a bombastic phrase.
Because of the way we’re built, we tend to assume that the other person matches our own emotional intensity when we are very angry at them. This is why children become frightened of the person with whom they are angry. If the child is chronically angry toward his parents, as an adult he may become chronically frightened of people in general, and often even lash out at them in a preemptory manner--shoot first and ask questions later. Anger will trigger fear and reprisal.
This is actually the basis of paranoia, for the paranoid mind converts fear into anger and anger to fear. One of the most important elements of paranoia is how it affects cognition. In other words, it is not just the content of the paranoid mind, but its process, which is troublesome.
That is, the paranoid mind engages in a caricature of thought, in which they carefully scan the environment for confirmation of the paranoid thought or idea. This has nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence. For example, Noam Chomsky may well be a genius, and yet, if you read his political works, he certainly comes across quite literally as a clinical paranoid. All of his considerable intelligence is marshaled in the effort to confirm his preordained paranoid beliefs, in an absolutely closed loop. In turn, Chomsky becomes the intellectual axis, the bull goose loony around which other, far less intelligent paranoids of the Dailykos/Huffington variety orient themselves through the magic of his authority.
Every clinician knows that you cannot argue with a paranoid. Doing so immediately raises their paranoid defenses, and they will simply incorporate you into their delusions. You must not be offended. Rather, you must lay back, remain noncommittal, and almost use a Socratic, "rope-a-dope" method in dealing with them. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to do this on a national level. In other words, you can do it with an individual, but what do you do when mass paranoia has gripped an entire political party?
The philosopher Michael Polanyi drew a sharp distinction between what he called a "free society" and an "open society," using the practice of science to illustrate his point. A truly free society does not merely consist of everyone believing whatever they want. Science, for example, is a free and spontaneous intellectual order that is nevertheless based on a distinctive set of beliefs about the world, through which the diverse actions of individual scientists are coordinated. Like the cells in your body, individual scientists simply independently go about their business, and yet, progress is made because their activities are channeled by the pursuit of real truth.
In contrast, in a merely "open" society, there is no such thing as transcendent truth, perception is reality, and everyone is free to think and do as he pleases, with no objective standard by which to to judge it. This kind of "bad freedom" eventually ramifies into the cognitively pathological situation we now see on the left, especially as it manifests in its pure form in academia (the liberal arts, not the sciences).
Intitially, the politically correct assault on the existence of objective truth seems liberating, as we are freed from the dictates of arbitrary authority. However, the whole idea of the individual pursuit of truth was a deeply liberal project, since truth was not accepted a priori but was subject to criticism and logical or empirical demonstration. But with deconstruction--the Swiss army knife of the intellectual left--the entire concept of truth is undermined, so there is no way to arbitrate between competing notions of reality.
Therefore, whoever has the power may enforce their version of reality, which is what political correctness is all about: Truth is arbitrary, but you had better believe my version, or be branded a bigot, or a homophobe, or a white male oppressor! One more reason why contemporary liberalism is deeply illiberal. Their ideas cannot be argued on the merits, so they are enforced by the illegitimate authority of political correctness. If you are on the left, you are probably not aware of this bullying pressure. If you are on the right, you feel it all the time--cognitive “stop signs” that impede you from uttering certain truths in public for fear of triggering offense. The easily offended person is also a passive-aggressively controlling person--hardly a victim, but an aggressor.
Thus, the deep structure of the left-right divide in this country goes beyond the secular vs. religious worldview. A purely secular society is an open society, where all points of view, no matter how dysfunctional, are equally valued (e.g., multiculturalism and moral relativism), whereas a truly free society must be rooted in something permanent and transcendent. It doesn't necessarily have to come from religion, although it inevitably leads in that direction. Mainly, in order to be truly free, one must acknowledge a source of truth that is independent of man, an antecedent reality that is perceived by the intellect, not the senses. Miraculously, our founders knew that the self-evident religious truths that constrain us actually set us free.
You may note that this has direct relevance for the current debate between strict constructionists vs. the notion of a "living constitution." In reality, strict adherence to the constitution results in increased freedom and democracy, while the "living constitution" quickly devolves into judicial tyranny. If you enjoy playing blackjack, your freedom is not really enhanced if the dealer can either hit or stand on 16, depending on his interpretation of the living rules of blackjack.
"I'm not offended. Just go away."