Your offence doesn’t make things offensive
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
I was reading the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms the other day, when I stumbled across this curious little chestnut in Section 2(b): “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: Freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” Despite all our recent social outrage, nowhere in this document could I find any reference to a right not to be offended.
I’m sick of people putting their personal offences up on a pedestal. There is a lot of stuff I find offensive, mostly because I think human intelligence has barely risen beyond that of pond scum, but I don’t judge others by my standards. I don’t start petitions to censor stupid people. I’d get lots of support for that cause, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling offended, but my ability to care about your offence is directly proportionate to the relevance of whatever offends you. Case in point: renowned astrophysicist Dr. Matt Taylor conducted the first successful comet landing in history, yet all the Twitter hate mob could talk about was the sexist shirt that he wore to the event. So much so, that, 24 hours later, the man delivered a tearful public apology for committing what amounts to a thoughtcrime.
And it doesn’t end there; it gets even more trivial. We’re protesting comic book covers for vaguely inferred sexual subtext. We’re boycotting scantily clad Princess Leia action figures. We’re throwing hissy fits on Tumblr because the hand avatar in Mario Maker doesn’t represent people of colour.
One possible explanation for this behaviour is that our affluent society has little conflict, so we have to invent some in order to feel like we’re accomplishing something. For some reason, those accomplishments always seem to take the form of either censoring someone’s artistic work or booing and decrying the artists themselves.
Like it or not, we live in the most tolerant and progressive society in the history of civilization. We’re Canadian, people! Our national pastimes are bottling maple syrup and apologizing. It can be argued that real unapologetic racists/sexists/homophobes are rarer than ever. They don’t bother hiding their prejudices, and calling them out on their behaviour doesn’t perturb them in the least. There will always be people like that, and outrage only feeds their ignorance.
When I offend you by criticizing your ideology, you don’t have to associate with me. Problem solved. Then you can rest assured that my offensive opinions wouldn’t keep you up at night. But the moment you decide that my dissent should be banned, you are saying that your rights are more important than mine. Taking away one person’s right to free speech to protect yours is censorship, plain and simple. That’s not equality. That’s privilege.
Imagine a society without offensive discourse. Every day would be like living an episode of Pleasantville:comfortable, but never morally challenging. The problem with being comfortable is that people don’t get off their asses until they’re uncomfortable about something. That, and it’s boring.I say if it offends people, make more of it.
Let me be absolutely clear; I understand that it’s possible to go too far. If I start making Helen Keller jokes in front of blind people for the sole purpose of enraging them, then I’m just being crude. But that’s the kicker, really. Intent. If I didn’t intend to hurt you with my words, if you personally weren’t the target of my risqué humour, then what do you care? Why must we live as a nation of whiners, when the obvious solution is to just grow thicker skin?