You Don’t Have a Right Not to Be Offended

What has happened to our society? Why is everyone so thin-skinned?

I’m about to say something controversial, and really, the most controversial thing about this statement is the fact that it can now be considered “controversial”:

You do not have, and never will have, the right to not be offended.

Yeah, I know. How dare I, right? It’s a terrible thing to say. Offensive people are the problem, right?

Well, no, they’re not. They’re a problem, sure, for the offended party but the problem? Not by a long shot. They’re never going away, and we used to understand that. We used to know how to deal with it maturely and sanely, and we don’t anymore. That is the problem.

Let’s take an example that’s everyone’s favorite punching bag, even though he recently died. Fred Phelps, founder of the Wesboro “Baptist Church”, which I put in quotation marks because what Phelps had was no church was not recognized by the American Baptist Association.

Fred Phelps was a monster. That’s something most sane people can agree on. Phelps took homophobia almost to its farthest extreme. Short of straight-up murdering gay people, Phelps did all he could to communicate his utter hatred of anything that could even slightly be associated with homosexuality and, by extension, the whole of America for “enabling” it. You’ve seen photos of him and his hate group holding signs saying things like “God Hates Fags”, “God Hates America”, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, etc. Horrible stuff from horrible people. They picketed funerals of soldiers, because they died protecting this godless nation. They picketed funerals of any person whose name made the news, because whether or not the deceased was gay themselves, they lived in a country full of “fag enablers”.

So, clearly, they’re the problem, right? People like that shouldn’t exist. Well, maybe they shouldn’t, but here’s the problem; in a free country, there is no way to legislate people like this out of existence. Fred Phelps and his ilk cannot be arrested, detained or murdered just because they are offensive, and they shouldn’t be.

Should they be hounded, mocked, counter-protested, etc.? Sure, go for it. Or, well, you could have gone for it. I hear that the Westboro crowd has gotten much quieter since the passing of their patriarch (you knew the “church” was made up mostly of his family members, right?). But seriously, they deserve derision, scorn, contempt, mockery. But you will never hear me advocate laws that prevent them from pursuing their activities, especially not on the grounds that “it offends people.”

We don’t live in a perfect world, and there are a myriad of ways to offend people inadvertently. Once you start making it illegal to offend someone, you’ll have people being arrested for parking their car too close to someone else’s driveway. Heck, we already have elementary school kids being indefinitely suspended from their school for inadvertently chewing their pop-tart into a vague gun shape. What’s next, suspending kids for twirling pencils because the motion is reminiscent of gun-twirling? Oh, wait.

My point is that nearly everything is offensive to someone, and therefore, trying to make it illegal to offend anyone is a fool’s errand at best, and outright impossible at worst.

But, then, of course, it’s also hypocritical. Because those crying the loudest about being offended don’t want to make offense in general illegal. They just want to pass legislation making it illegal for anyone to offend them. Not you, not members of another protected group, just them.

So, really, it’s not offense that offends people. It’s the idea that anyone might disagree with them.

White heterosexual christian American males (WHCAM’s) are often accused of hating anything that’s different from them; women, blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Aboriginals, Muslims, atheists, gays, etc. It’s as if all WHCAM’s are Fred Phelps by default. But Fred Phelps, while he may have protested everything that offended him, was just one man, backed up by a very small group of people, most of whom were just family of his. He hardly represented WHCAM’s as a whole. I’m a WHCAM and I am just as offended by Wesboro “Baptist”‘s antics as you are.

Let’s put this in perspective. Feminist groups (which really have nothing to do with female empowerment, but that’s another post) don’t care if they offend you with their anti-men views or advocacy for abortion on demand and late-term abortion. They care solely about making sure that they get what they want, and they don’t care who they hurt to get it. They do it all in the name of “speaking for women”, even though there are thousands if not millions of women who whole-heartedly disagree with the modern Feminist stance.

Atheist groups who, in lieu of their actual goal of making western religions illegal, do all they can to silence any public professions of faith, making it illegal for schools to put on Christmas plays, forcing courthouses to take the Ten Commandments off their wall, whether or not citizens in the given town might actually want that, making it illegal to display crosses or Nativity scenes in public areas, etc. and they do so without worrying about who they’re offending.

Gay pride parades, I’m just gonna come out (ha ha) and say it. They’re porn. They’re softcore gay porn. If you don’t believe me, you’ve never even seen a photo of one. Mostly nude men wearing little but socks on their wangs simulate sex acts with other men, and this happens on a public street where anyone of any age can watch. I don’t care who you are; that’s offensive. And if you think that’s homophobic to say, well, then, are you in favor of the same sort of displays on public parade floats between men and women? Even if you are, we live in a world where dirty magazines are still kept behind the counter in a plastic bag, where web sites ask for age verification before they display graphic sexual content, where TV stations like HBO still put 18+ warnings before their programs and you can’t get into an R-rated movie if you’re a minor. These things may be easy to circumvent, but the effort is still made to keep overtly sexual material away from young children. Except at gay pride parades. I can’t be the only one who sees a problem there. I might only be among the few who aren’t afraid to say it.

The reason people might be afraid to say it is because they don’t want to offend gay people. But on the other hand, gay people don’t seem at all worried about whom they are offending, but will get in your face and scream if you dare do or say anything even slightly offensive. Even Bill Maher agrees with me on that one, and he and I agree on very little.

Speaking of Bill Maher, you might know about his “documentary”, Religulous, in which he finds the most extreme and fringe members of various western religions (in all fairness, he’s against even “protected” religions like Islam) and holds a camera up to them so that he can show how stupid they are, and by extension, how stupid the idea of religion is in general. In this film he seems to actively seek out the weirdest example of religious people, people who couldn’t articulate why they believed or even what they believed, and then released this documentary as though it was an exposé of how religions are all ridiculous (hence the title). This offended millions of religious people. In fact, religious people are repeatedly lampooned in pop culture, in music, books, magazines, tv shows, movies, stand-up comics, you name it.

Also publicly derided often are; stay-at-home moms, practicing Jews/Isreali’s, Republicans and conservatives in general, rich people (but not our entertainers, no never them), white people in general, old people, men in general, gun owners, fat people and anyone with a traditional view of marriage, family and/or childbirth.

It’s perfectly acceptable nowadays to mock these people, and they frequently are. If any of them speak up about it, words like “butthurt” are used. Personally I have never understood this term, but it’s generally accepted that “butthurt” is how you describe alleged thin-skinned whiners who get upset when you have a laugh at their expense.

You know, like Feminists, gay activists, liberals in general, followers of eastern religions or atheists. Wait, I’m sorry, the idea of “butthurt” is never applied to these groups, even though they complain far more often and loudly. Apparently they all have legitimate grievances whenever they speak up about things that offend them. “Butthurt” is only applicable when a group of people we want to offend gets offended. “Butthurt” is when people we hate won’t shut up.

But that’s another topic for another post. What I’m driving at here is that if you want a world in which you are never offended, it then follows that you must be prepared to never offend anyone yourself. You can’t have it both ways. If it’s okay to offend some people because you don’t like them, it shouldn’t be a problem if they also offend you.

And therein lies the problem whenever anyone starts making noise about how offended they are and that the person who offended them must be punished in some way. Like when rappers like Snoop Dogg got all “butthurt” about stupid comments made by a stupid man, Donald Stirling, who owns a third-rate basketball team and whose name I never heard on the general news (I don’t follow sports) until he made those comments.

Uh…Snoop? You might want to stop referring to women as “bitches” and “hoes” if you want Donald Stirling to stop saying things that offend you. I’m not saying Stirling is right; he’s an idiot, and I don’t personally care if he loses his team and dies penniless. But if he can’t say anything that offends anyone else, then no one can. That’s the only way this kind of thought process can ever work.

But of course, it still wouldn’t work, even then. Because offense is in the mind of the offended, more often than not. I’ve seen far more phony allegations of racism (or sexism, or homophobia) in the past five years than I’ve seen actual, purposeful expressions of these ideas. If we literally made offense illegal, mere existence would become impossible.

Am I saying that anyone; racists, sexists, homophobes, etc. should just be able to say whatever they want? In a word, yes.

Now, here’s what I’m not saying. I do not believe they should be able to say what they want with no repercussions whatsoever, just not legal ones. If a man wants to spout off racist or sexist comments in public, he could, and should, lose all friends he may have once had. If a business owner does such a thing, he could and should lose business as a result. If a politician says something offensive, it’s up to the voters to decide at the polls if they want a man who says these things representing them.

But if we allow society to shut up everyone with controversial views, we will never have an honest conversation about anything.

Take racism, for example. MSNBC has made a cottage industry of accusing practically all right-wingers of racism, and then turns around and complains that we never have an “honest” talk about racism. Gee, I wonder why that could be, MSNBC? Could it be because any time anyone expresses a different opinion than you about anything, let alone race, you respond by calling them racists?

Let’s use another example. Say you’re on the high school debate team and you really, really want to talk about the school lunch program. However, whenever anyone expresses a different opinion than yours, about any subject in a given debate, you respond by calling them fascists. How on earth then do you still think you have a right to get upset that no one wants to talk to you about the school lunch program?

For what it’s worth, persnickety Christians who insist everything on television, movies, music and books be “family friendly” irritate the living daylights out of me as well. If anything, they may have started this whole “the world should never offend me” nonsense. Christians like this rarely understand how many different ways they offend people. And again, I’m not saying that they should be worried about this. The Christian faith by its very nature is offensive to many. People don’t like to be told that they’re a sinner, or that unless they accept Christ as their savior that they’re going to Hell. “You are not just okay the way you are” is an offensive message. But if Christians are going to keep believing that, they need to understand that it offends people and should spend less time worrying about all the ways western culture offends them. It’s entirely counter-productive to protest Harry Potter or Disneyland’s “gay days” or something while still not caring at all that your stance offends many as well.

This “never offend me” attitude has led to countless lawsuits, and the lawsuits all come from the same perspective; “I’m suing you because you offended me and I don’t care how many people I offend in the pursuit of justice for me, because only my opinion matters.” In a rational society, if a bakery refuses to provide a cake for a gay wedding, the gay couple should have the right to say “You’re an asshole and not only am I taking my business elsewhere but I’m telling all my friends to avoid this place as well.” But that is as far as it should ever go! Such a situation should never involve either party seeing the inside of a courtroom. Because nowhere in any law currently on the books is there a law that insists this bakery must provide a service to anyone who walks through its doors, nor should such a law exist. This doesn’t mean the gay couple has no right to be offended, and to do something about it, but to take legal action? We still observe religious rights in this country, and if the baker was denying that one particular service on religious grounds, then whether you agree with him or not, he has every right to do so! If I had been him, I would have counter-sued on grounds of religious persecution.

And you can’t call a case like this “discrimination”. Discrimination would only count if he had denied the gay couple any service at all because he hates gay people. Of course, even this shouldn’t be grounds to sue, because it’s a free country, and that means people are free to be assholes if they want.

In a free society, people need to be able to handle hearing and seeing things that offend them. All people, not just anyone who isn’t you. You have the right to be heard. You have the right to refuse to give business or friendship to people who offend you. But you do not have the right to force others to never do anything that offends you in the first place. And if this column offends you, get a helmet.

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