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September 15th 2016 print

Anthony Daniels

I’m Offended, Therefore I’m Right

The willingness to take loud and public offence manifests that peculiar modern imperative to be aggrieved and disport oneself in the mantle of no-risk victimhood.  More than that, it affirms that one cares deeply about something in the absence of any other transcendent purpose in life

offendOne always hesitates to say the obvious, but as George Orwell remarked, it is the obvious that intellectuals are most inclined to ignore. There is a good reason for this: there is hardly any point in being an intellectual if you see only what is obvious. An intellectual, almost by definition, is a person who sees, or claims to see, what others do not see, an alternative to which is to be blind to what others do see. It is true that appearances are sometimes deceptive, but more often than not they are very instructive.

Now it seems obvious to me that the notion of tolerance (the queen of the modern virtues, indeed the sole distinctly modern virtue) implies the existence of dislike or disapproval, for surely everyone is able to tolerate what he likes, approves of or is utterly indifferent to. A person who is too inclined to disapprove is censorious, not intolerant; and many a censorious person is in practice tolerant, if only because he has no choice in the matter. How many parents, for example, tolerate their son- or daughter-in-law, and disguise their distaste for him or her, sometimes for decades at a time? Tolerance is (or ought to be) a discipline and perhaps a habit of the heart, but not an ideology.

A tolerant person is one who disapproves of someone or something but does not act as if his disapproval were all that counted in the determination of his conduct towards whomever or whatever he disapproves of. To live and let live is not to approve—much less, in modern parlance to “cele­brate”—all ways of life as if there were nothing to choose between them, or to be glad that some people have adopted a morally reprehensible or disgusting way of conducting themselves. Tolerance, moreover, should not be infinite: for to find nothing intolerable is to accept everything, including the worst evils, and is the ultimate form of pusillanimity. It is the refusal ever to confront anything; toleration can be a vice as well as a virtue. Where to place the boundary between the tolerable and the intolerable is, of course, a matter of judgment, and judgment is always fallible, for there is no hard-and-fast rule to help us decide every case, many cases being marginal. What is tolerable in one circumstance is often intolerable in another.

Every scribbler must be secretly relieved that there is no shortage, and never will be a shortage, of the intolerable in this world: for while I do not claim that the intolerable is the only subject worth writing about, literature would be much impoverished without it. What would Richard III be like, for example, if it reflected the real Richard III as the Richard III Society says he was. Somehow the following lines are not as compelling as the original:

I, that am curtailed of fair proportion,

Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,

Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—

Why I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun

And descant on promoting social justice.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a righteous king

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Economic plans have I laid, social reforms,

By good administration, redistributive taxation,

To reconcile the social classes with one another,

While promoting trade and economic growth.

Such a Richard III would no doubt have been a much better man that Shakespeare’s moral monster, but I doubt that a play about him would long have stayed in the repertoire.

My attitude to the intolerable, then, is akin to my attitude to suffering: each individual instance of it is to be eliminated as far as possible, while being under no illusion that, in the abstract, suffering and the intolerable are not an inevitable concomitant of Man’s earthly existence. Indeed, the attempt to reduce them is what gives many people their sense of purpose in life: a utopia in which “the idle pleasures of these days” are all there were to life would bore them, and they would soon start to make trouble. Man is a problem-creating animal.

These fair well-spoken days never last long, if they ever exist at all. Each age has its own conflicts and its own moral confusions, and one of ours is that conflation of tolerance with respect. Alas, the word respect has come increasingly to take on the meaning that it has in the American ghettoes, namely a demand that you kowtow to me either physically or morally, in the latter case by saying nothing derogatory about me, or by flattering me and accepting my point of view entirely as “valid”. Validity has changed meaning or connotation also: it is no longer the logically correct drawing of conclusions from premises, but a demanded affirmation of an interlocutor’s ego by non-contradiction of what he says. The corollary of this is the supposed right not to be offended.

The supposed right of people to have their attitudes, beliefs, opinions “respected”, that is to say not questioned, reprehended, derided or mocked, merely because of their strength of conviction, will no doubt put most people in mind of Muslims who claim it and want to impose it on the whole world. In the wake of the Salman Rushdie affair, which in my view was a turning point in world history, a book was published in England with the title Be Careful with Muhammad! It implied that those who were disrespectful towards the Prophet had only themselves to blame if their disrespect was met with violence. This, of course, is the logic of the protection racket and the gangster: we will leave you in (relative) peace, but on our conditions.

However, such a manner of thinking and behaving is becoming more widespread: the real Islamification of our society. There are numbers of subjects on which many of us are reluctant to express our thoughts because of the reaction they are likely to evoke, even to the point of violence. Good-humoured disagreement, at least on these subjects (which, of course, change with fashion), becomes impossible. An asymmetric war is waged between monomaniac enragés on the one hand, and people for whom the subject in question is only one among many on the other. The latter are not prepared to make much personal sacrifice to establish what they see as the truth on the subject, and so the monomaniacs, who are usually a small minority of the population, win by default.

I first realised this when I wrote an article concerning a certain pattern of behaviour that I thought social and psychological in origin, but which those who exhibited it insisted on believing was physical. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was persecuted afterwards; the enragés even tried to get me sacked from my position. In those days, twenty years ago, the chief executive of the hospital merely replied to the enragés that it was a free country and I could write what I liked. I am far from sure he (or rather his successor) would write in the same way today.

The question, of course, is not whether I was right or wrong on the matter in hand; and others who wrote in the same vein were similarly, or worse, persecuted. Because none of them cared strongly enough about the question to face continued or mounting abuse, and so public debate about the subject was effectively stifled. Many writers will not now touch the subject, at least from a point of view different from that of the calumniators. The regrettable truth is that monomaniacal calumny can achieve its ends.

Since my experience all those years ago, the situation has only worsened. A willingness to take offence has become a desire to take offence; and as we know, appetite grows with the feeding. No propitiation of the offended, therefore, is ever enough; on the contrary, it leads merely to the next demand and cause for offence if not met. Taking offence acts as a kind of guarantee that one cares deeply about something in the absence of any other transcendent purpose in life. The new Cartesian cogito is, therefore, I’m offended, therefore I’m right—and righteous.

Anthony Daniels’s latest book is Migration, Multiculturalism and its Metaphors: Selected Essays (Connor Court), published under his nom de plume, Theodore Dalrymple.


Comments [9]

  1. Patrick McCauley says:

    ‘ man is a problem creating animal” … is a fabulous statement – even though it is so obviously true .. it is rarely noticed. And man is also a problem solving animal ( unlike most animals) .. in fact it is man’s problem solving genius that has brought us to the modern world more than almost any other attribute (except perhaps man’s problem creating ability) – Although it is forbidden to ‘genderize’ things these politically correct days … as a celebration of free thinking … could it be possible .. that the ‘offence taking – victim mentality’ has traditionally been a more ‘feminine’ attribute and may reflect men becoming more in touch with their feminine side… and the general ‘feminization’ of culture which has accompanied contemporary liberal democracies. We seem to excel nowadays, at the creation of problems we do not need and at the same time we seem to be losing our ‘penetrating’ problem solving abilities.

  2. Bill Martin says:

    A most excellent article by Robert Dillon, easily the best I ever read. Allow me to be a little presumptuous and modify the concluding words: … I am offended, therefore I am.

  3. a propos says:

    How one would define this ever growing number of people, who are so willing and ready to declare themselves to be offended “therefore ….. right and righteous” ? What should we call these guys -perpetually offended? Thin skins? Righteously exuberant? PolCols? Moral upstarts? Defenders of indefensible?
    There must be a definition for this phenomenon, so concisely described by Anthony Daniels.
    Should we include the newly diagnosed clinical syndrome into an upcoming DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) edition? (That is, If we are to agree that this incurable affliction could be regarded as an enduring, pathological behavioural pattern of manipulating one’s environment in order to achieve the bliss of the righteousness.). And then what kind of treatment should we recommend? Group homerical laughter therapy? Cognitive behavioural ridiculisation? Dialectic behavioural thrashing? Oh, the possibility to have a new disease named after the immodest self!
    Don’t tell me that I cannot do it, or I will be offended!

  4. Warty says:

    Those caught up by frenzied monomania never solved anything, nor those so incapacitated by indecision that they are willing to appease the devil within. But I feel there is yet another group, well meaning, but every bit as impotent as the appeasers, albeit it not so deranged as the monomania ones (are these Get Up and the Greens?).
    This is the solitary individual (albeit to the power of a thousand or two) speaking out against what seems to be everyone and everything around him: indeed his own society, so it seems. He finds speech is censored, thoughts are well nigh taboo and actions observed on CCTV. And so he types out a ‘reader’s comment in response to an article on ‘Identity politics’ in The Australian, but the moderator, suitably outraged, censors his brave comment.
    The following day he courageously responds to an article about Same Sex Marriage, in The Spectator, but ‘Discus’ determines his honest appraisal would offend each and every one of those represented by the letters in that acronym LGBTI, or LGBTIQ or LGBTQIA and if the slippery slope’ argument transpires, LGBTQIA could be followed by a ‘B’. In fact it was because, in his ‘reader’s response’ he gave the ‘B’ unequal status to the forerunning letters, that he got into trouble, when all along he felt that condemning the furry family pet as part of a sex act would have earned him wild acclamation: it didn’t, and he was censored. So much for even-handedness.
    Indeed, you feel I have filthily digressed, but the point is that the sheer weight of disinformation, media self censorship, Racial Discrimination Acts, are obstacles of equal difficulty to those howls of protest offered up by the lunatic left, whenever someone opposes their established verities. It may not be because individuals are not prepared to make personal sacrifice. It is more a question of struggling to find a way to disentangle oneself from the spider’s web of nigh unchallengeable Cultural Marxist orthodoxy. It permeates the advertising on television; it permeates MSM; it is there in the rabbiting on of the pollies one unwisely helped to elect; it oozes from each and every one of our universities (in truth monoversities) it is deeply entrenched in our school curriculum . . . even the dentist sprouts it when you are most vulnerable, as he chats about the obvious merits of the ‘welcome to country’ ceremony he watched on Foxtel, just before that Wallaby Springbok rugby match.
    No, there is this third alternative, the thoroughly mesmerised group, which does not know where to begin, or which of so many fifth columns he is supposed to take aim. And even whether the little stick he attempts to throw (despite the ubiquitous CCTV) can have any impact against the rivers of foreign funding that bolster the Islamists and their Get Up mates, and the Greens who seem indistinguishable from the Get Up variety, and a labor that panders to the inner city elite rather than their long forgotten blue collar base. He ends up like T.S. Eliot’s pitiful madman shaking his dead geranium, as the ‘whispering lunar incantations/ dissolve the floors of memory/ and all its clear relations/ its divisions and precisions’.
    Oh dear! This is not one of those short, pithy responses is it?

  5. Patrick McCauley says:

    I was right there with you Warty – throughout that filthy digression … I am there in that space shadow boxing this madness Camus never knew .. blurt out blogs trying to clear the fog .. any group which presents the English language with a word like that … which is unutterable …. which requires an essay of prose to understand … which is more a list of homosexual fetishes than a word… (are anagrams words ? .. I don’t think so … its a non-word ) any group who does this to the English language must intend to create ‘offence’ … it takes all my strength to not take it.

  6. Jody says:

    Finding a name for grievance junkies is pointless. What’s in a name anyway? What is important is to recognize that all of this grievance and victimhood is just a marxist trope for “you have it; I want it”. It is specifically designed to remove the ‘values’ rug from underneath what lefties perceive as the ‘establishment’; in short, those things which they see as contributing to the success of the right and the establishment. The thinking is (if you can call it thinking) “I cannot have what you have (and continue to get) but I can make it much harder for you to get it by re-calibrating the natural order of things. Overturning what we think are your value systems seems the best place to start. Ergo, you’ll have a much tougher job trying to get what you want without incurring the wrath of the victims and downtrodden who see it as their right to have what you have”. A shortened version is “I have an education; I am smarter than you yet you earn more money; this can only be because you are ignorant, bigoted, privileged, exploitative….yadda yadda yadda”.

    I’ve just stopped listening. This kind of cant is as old as mankind itself; it’s just wearing better educated clothing these days.

  7. [email protected] says:

    Thomas Aquinas rightly said – ERROR MAY BE TOLERATED BUT IT HAS NO RIGHTS.