Why people get offended by other people being offended

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2011 by knightofsummer

I did want to address “When we can’t joke about awful shit, the awful shit has won.” Because when other people can’t joke about awful shit that happened to other people, I don’t think the awful shit has won, I think those people have had their experiences validated by other people who didn’t share those experiences. And it bothers me that we’d have to be willing to ignore segments of the population lest we be crushed by evil censorship or something.

The jokes I make about child abuse? Well, we talk about how all our mothers should get together for a dysfunctional tea party. But it is generally mocking our own, personal tormentors, as a way to take power back, not mocking other people’s experiences or imagining ourselves as those abusers. Or, as my basic sum-up of jokes I find funny vs jokes I find offensive, “Speak truth to power, not powerlessness.” Jokes that lead people to identify with the victims of violence instead of the perpetrators are far more unsettling and provocative than jokes that support the status quo anyway.

I worry that the impulses against letting people be “offended” are similar to the impulse to ignore people who are “angry” and only listen to people who present “well-reasoned” arguments. To me “offended” is a genuine, hurt emotion: it means “I feel like you don’t imagine me as part of your audience, or else you wouldn’t have said that.” It is the erasure you talked about somewhere below. I believe the reason society mocks “offense” is that people find it ridiculous that those people would assume that people should take them into account as part of the audience.

That is, the fundamental break is between people who believe we should all aspire to at least our sub-cultural norms and people who believe that even people who live dead center in the cultural norms need to be aware of and respect those who differ from those norms. Which is awfully inconvenient for people near the norms, and can be directly threatening. They’ve probably given up a lot in order to conform to “normal”, so they expect other people to do whatever it takes to get there, ignoring the ways in which it may well be impossible. If it is okay to be a woman, for example, why were men bullied as boys for being feminine? If it is okay to be poor, why did the middle-class fight so hard for their jobs? If it is okay to be fat, why did they spend so much time unhappy and hungry?

If anyone fails to become 100% the default human being, they need to hide that in shame and be willing to laugh at it along with the people who aren’t that thing. If we bring up that the world is infinitely more diverse than the default human being, clearly you are doing it just to inconvenience the actual “normal” people.

Except that no one thinks about it in explicit terms like that, because privilege lets them not. Instead, they just know that when someone does get offended, it pisses them off, so clearly the problem is people getting offended.

The thing that makes me the most disappointed is that if we could just convince everyone to express their authentic feelings of alienation and then listening to everyone else’s and find their common ground, the world would be a better place. There is a reason that the highest rate of suicide in the US belongs to White men, after all. None of these struggles are actually unique. Everyone needs and deserves human connection.

TL;DR: I think “offense” is real and it is something to avoid, but like “feminism” it has become a dirty word because actually dealing with it is inconvenient.


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