[Shared] Let yourself be offended — it’s good for you

I have way too much shit on my hands at the moment to come up with my own thoughts. Might as well share something I read recently. I own nothing of the content written below. 

Original post by Brendon O’Neil found here.  

On 1 October, I spoke at Trinity College Dublin on the right to be offensive. Here’s what I said.

There is a brilliant, ugly irony to today’s war on offensiveness on campus. Which is that it is underpinned by some of the most offensive ideas of our age, by a misanthropy that ought to feel offensive to everyone who considers himself progressive or humanist or just a pretty decent guy.

This campaign to ban from campuses any view that insults or offends certain groups is itself insulting to just about everyone, and is itself offensive to the ideals of freedom and equality.

Students should feel infinitely more offended by the student-union bureaucrats who want to save you from the words of the BNP or misogynists or Maryam Namazie or whoever else your betters have judged unfit for your delicate ears, than you should by the words of any of the banned people themselves.

The new student intolerance of offence gives offence to women, whom it views as wilting wallflowers, so pathetic that they can’t even hear ‘Blurred Lines’ without crumbling into a distraught state.

It’s offensive to Muslims, whom it treats as so fragile, so child-like, that they must be protected from criticisms of their religion.

It gives offence to young men, whom it views as so rapacious, so robotic, that they can’t be trusted to read the Sun or Zoo or Nuts without turning into beasts who will despoil and hurt women.

No one escapes the ironically offensive slurs of the anti-offence lobby. Every single constituency on campus finds itself either patronised or demonised by these caring censors.

It’s the great paradox of PC: it presents itself as fair and nice and cute and concerned about other people’s welfare, yet it defames everyone. It treats everyone as fragile and gullible, or as weak and wicked.

It depicts all “white men” — yes, they use that sweeping generalisation — as self-entitled rapists-in-waiting. It treats all “black women” — yes, they think all black women are exactly the same — as feeling beleaguered by sexist/racist words. It treats all Muslims — a group as socially and economically mixed as any other — as less capable of having their beliefs criticised or their idols mocked than, say, white Christians.

The PC paradox: in the very act of seeking to save minority groups from offence, it dehumanises those groups, lumping them all together as an indistinguishable mass; and it infantilises them, treating them as sorry creatures in need of protection from harm by the more enlightened, the more switched-on.

Let’s look at the case of Blurred Lines, which has been banned on more than 30 campuses in Britain. The justification given for this ban is that the song is “deeply offensive and dangerous” for women, and could “reinforce their shame and fear”. That, to me, is offensive — not to Robin Thicke, but to women. It suggests they don’t know know their own minds; it suggests they cannot hear a song without their self-esteem expiring.

The justification given for the attempt to ban Marine Le Pen from Oxford was that her words would “strike terror” into ethnic-minority students and make them “feel unsafe”. In other words, black students, adults, cannot cope with hearing a stupid French racist without feeling consumed by grief. Black students apparently have less intellectual wherewithal than the primarily white student bureaucrats who sought to ban Le Pen on their behalf. That, to me, is offensive — not to Le Pen, but to blacks, to the idea of racial equality.

Or look at the justification given for the blocking or attempted blocking of Maryam Namazie, both here at Trinity and at Warwick. The justification was that her arguments would “intimidate” Muslim students, make them feel mentally unsafe. That is deeply offensive. It treats all Muslims as having the same beliefs, the same Islamist beliefs, and it calls into question their mental capacity. In seeking to save Muslims, the PC dehumanise them.

Let’s consider Trinity’s own awful track record on freedom of speech. In 2002 students here campaigned to No Platform Jorg Haider, the far-right Austrian politician, on the basis that his ideas would harm students. In 2011, Trinity student activists successfully had Nick Griffin barred from speaking in this very room on the basis that he would threaten students’ mental and physical security. And this year, Namazie, who has nothing remotely in common with Haider or Griffin, was prevented from coming to Trinity by bullshit security concerns and a demand that she be “moderated” — that is, toned down.

You should feel offended, not by the people who were invited to speak, but by your lickspittle student union and cowardly university management who conspired to protect you from ideas.

Yes, Haider and Griffin would have come into this room with some dodgy ideas. But your student bureaucrats and university management did something which to my mind is far, far worse than that: they questioned your capacity to hear those ideas. They questioned your moral autonomy, your ability to be discerning, thoughtful, rational. They implicitly called into question your status as adults. Nick Griffin could have said nothing in this room that would have been even nearly as offensive as that.

This is what censorship is always about: calling into question the capacity of adults to see and hear everything and to judge for themselves what are good ideas and what are bad ideas. Instead, censorship sets up a caste of people who decide on our behalf what is right and wrong and what we may hear.

This prejudice drives all forms of censorship, whether it’s being enforced by the state or the church or student unions. Whether it’s the Irish state still banning eight books about abortion or student-union bureaucrats banning ‘Blurred Lines’. One may be a legal ban covering a whole country, and the other an SU ban covering campus, but the same prejudice drives both: people cannot be trusted. In these cases, women cannot be trusted – they cannot be trusted to read books on abortion, because they will then want to have one, and they cannot be trusted to hear a pop song, because it will mortally wound their self-esteem.

The state seeks to protect us from moral pollution; student-union leaders seek to protect you from mental harm. The former sounds authoritarian, the latter caring. Don’t be fooled. The same foul paternalism drives both, a paternalism which says that They — officialdom or priests or SUs — know what is best for Us, the stupid little fragile plebs.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are two simple reasons we must defend the right to be offensive. Firstly because it is good to give offence. And secondly, and more importantly, because it is good to to be offended.

The reason it’s good to give offence is because every technological and social leap forward in history began with offence, with blasphemy, with some brave soul ridiculing the beliefs of the puffed-up. The reason all you students can live such clever, cushioned lives in this lovely if illiberal university is because earlier generations gave offence. They offended against the idea that women were too visceral to be trusted with the right to vote. They offended against the idea that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. And by committing these blasphemies, they improved our understanding of the world and made life better for everyone.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “All great truths begin as blasphemies”. If you prevent people from blaspheming against religious or social orthodoxies, against Islam or environmentalism or feminism, then you hamper the potential discovery of new great truths.

Finally, it is good to be offended. Seriously. You should go out and seek offence every day of your lives. It keeps you alert. It keeps your mind and ideas alive. It allows you to work out whether what you believe is right or wrong. It invites you to change your mind where necessary, or to get sharper at articulating your worldview.

If you Safe Space yourself from offence, from those who hate your worldview, you become dogmatic. You never test your ideas, or yourself, and you become shallow and shrill. Subjecting ourselves to public criticism and ridicule and offence is the only way we can grow intellectually and spiritually. In the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman, “The energy of the human intellect does from opposition grow”.

If you hide yourself from opposition, Safe Space yourself from ridicule, you become stupid. Censorship is the mother of cretinism. Reject it, always, in all circumstances. Allow everyone to speak and, more importantly, allow yourselves the great joy, the great human experience, of thinking for yourselves. “

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