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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The best offense is a good defense

 In free nations around the world there is a marketplace of ideas. In this marketplace we are free to say almost anything almost anywhere. This includes saying things that are ignorant or pointless. I've come to see that saying, "I am offended by that", is an example of a pointless statement. Many people are offended by many things as one would expect in a wide and diverse world.

In the marketplace of ideas, one offers thoughts and information in an effort to convince others that certain behaviors and choices are superior. Therefore, saying "I am offended" is pointless because it presumes you have a right not to be offended. You don't and you shouldn't. Saying that one is offended is not more than whining. It presumes to curtail discussion without a proffering of evidence to support an alternate position.

It is my considered opinion that way too many people of every stripe employ this tactic (ie; taking offense as a strategy in what would otherwise reduce to a contest of ideas). However, the group with the most eggregious record is people of faith. It has always been that people of faith (ok, most people of faith) start with the premise that a set of ideas are true and work backward in a continuous effort to justify and rationalize that position. This position seems like a gift, at first. It is quite a wonderful and powerful feeling to be certain how the world came to be where it is and to imagine one knows a priori exactly what is good and what is bad. The problems only creep in after time as one is forced to defend challenges to those positions. Vis-a-Vis the marketplace of ideas. None should be surprised that people in that defensive mode find it easier claim offense than provide a rational defense. I did this for a significant part of my life and am quite familiar with this line of thought. (I advise everyone who is currently feeling offended to go back and read the last sentence again. I can't guarantee it, but your blood pressure may lessen.) To my great good fortune I was introduced to another method where one begins at the true initial position of humans, which is ignorance, and builds from there.

4 comments:

David Platt said...

Should people be, or feel, offended when the speaker or writer's intent is to insult? Let me give an example:

I write that Christmas trees originated from pagen beliefs and the celebration of the Winter Solstice.
- Some people are offended by that, but no insult or attack was intended. It is just an attempt to put a modern tradition into historical context.

On the other hand I could write that Christians are ignorant fools who don't know they are worshipping a pagen tree and ignoring Jesus' teachings.
- Considering the provacative tone, should people take offense at that?

When someone is deliberately poking you in the ribs, should you take offense?

John Forest said...

Well, I would suggest that I meant what I said on Facebook. I am not here to rob anyone of their right to be offended. I merely suggest that saying, "I'm offended" as a strategy in the marketplace of ideas is just an intellectual dodge.

Although I generally do not set out to say things simply to offend folks, I concede that sometimes this is the result of my statements. I ask that people own their feeling of offense. Even take a deep breath and tell me I am an asshole, if you wish. But, finally, tell me something that advances the conversation. Otherwise I get bored.

John Goddard said...

I very much agree. I think "being offended" is often manipulative and designed to change the speaker's behavior--which annoys me. I personally rarely feel what I would call offense.

I think "offended" for some can really be intended to convey that they were hurt or emotionally insulted by what was said. Nothwithstanding that we are not and ought not be entitled to be free from insults, etc...I do think it is valuable from a human relationship standpoint to know when the receiver of our communication has felt hurt. Perhaps we are blameless, perhaps our tone was insensitive and as you say, we were just an asshole. I'm ok with that. But for ,e, good relations ought to convey emotinal content when it's relevant.

So, it may indeed often be an intellectual dodge, but an emotional reality. To deny that without due consideration is an emotional dodge. That denies us our best chance as fellows in communication at genine, meaninful dialogue that goes somewhere with a point. It can't all be about the intellect or we are a sorry lot
indeed.

John Forest said...

Points heard and accept, John. We are certainly in agreement that humans are emotional creatures. I would not have it any other way. There is plenty of room at the human table for logic and emotion. Though I highly value intellect, it is clear to me that emotions are also a valuable currency. I would go so far as to say: Imagine that you are not a thinking being who can feel but a feeling being who can think. (I can't take credit for that last bit. When I heard the phrase, it struck a chord in me. I think it is a useful meme.)