On offence

by The Editor

SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective.  In this column, a look at the idea of offence – something so often evoked by the insecure and hyper-sensitive to try and suppress those views and opinions with which they disagree; usually, ironically, in the name of tolerance.

On offence

By: Gareth van Onselen

27 February 2012

Like the wind, offence can be felt as no more than a gentle breeze or as the full force of a whistling, biting blizzard; and, depending on how tightly wrapped one is against it, it can cut to the bone or merely brush the face.

For those that dare not walk outside, victims of some elemental fear, who have safeguarded themselves against any potential discomfort, whether breeze or blizzard matters not: it is the very nature of the world itself that elicits in them some dread panic; and they are the poorer for it, for the wind continues to blow despite them.

Any critical comment is inevitably offensive on some level to someone holding an opposing view. The more intense the criticism, the more likely offensive it is perceived to be, especially by the hypersensitive and insecure. Often their unthinking response is to conflate criticism with intolerance and their first reaction, ironically, to suppress it. But that is true intolerance: to suppress that with which you disagree.

Unable to draw this distinction, ‘tolerance’ is used as an excuse to impose their view. And for that they should be ashamed; few things are more disingenuous than evoking freedom only to enforce conformity.

One should indulge nonsense, they imply – a far more preferable state of affairs than the pursuit of truth and the messy, emotional fallout that some rational conclusion might necessitate.

Argument becomes an obstacle to cordial relations and thusly is avoided. Relationships become the purpose behind any interaction and therefore pandered to. And principle becomes a possible gateway to conflict and duly locked away.

Their hyper-sensibilities mean they are the first to hurt and their screams, in turn, the loudest. ‘I am offended!’ you can hear them cry. How weak and feeble their constitution must be, that mere disagreement render them a paralysed victim. How much they must hate the wind.

It’s a kind of denial, an unwillingness to confront their own discomfort; and offence, used in this way, no more than emotional bullying.

There is nothing wrong with being offended, it means you believe in and are passionate about something. But the minute it is used to suppress another view, it is no longer offence, rather the autocratic behaviour of the intolerant.

Gareth van Onselen writes in his personal capacity. He is employed by the DA as a Director of Political Analysis and Development. An abbreviated version of this column first appeared in the Business Day.