Taking Offense: Government’s Role

Taking Offense: Government’s Role

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B:  I said a while back that people are not required to take offense at things others say or do.  Therefore the government shouldn’t protect people from others saying offensive things.  In other words, if you want to be a jerk and say whatever you want about others, I see no reason why the law should prevent you from that.

A: What about slander or libel?  Shouldn’t a society have laws against those?

B: If they really should be enforced against, some pronouncements about what constitutes offensive language need to be made, and these may seem somewhat arbitrary.  This may get into a big discussion involving censorship, like for swear words and the like.  Of course, there’s a lot of that kind of censorship going on now.

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A: But what if a whole bunch of people gang up against another in an attempt to defame him?

B: It seems like it would end up backfiring against them, in that it might actually defame the perpetrators, but people can be so gullible that it seems unlikely.  On the other hand, this happens all the time anyway, especially with politicians.

A: So how about when a black gets called the “N”-word?

B: The “N”-word has become regarded as perhaps the most offensive word in the English language; however, no black, or anybody else, has any obligation to take offense if somebody else, regardless of their skin color, labels him with it.

Another reason we can’t get caught up in all this punishing of people from whom others take offense is that people take offense at different things.  I mean, one person may take offense at one thing while another chooses to not take offense at something similar.  Just about anybody knows of “touchy” people, who seem to get offended at the smallest little thing; whereas there are those who are resilient enough to not allow themselves to be bothered by virtually anything.  How’s the law supposed to know where to draw the line?

A: So what are you advocating?  Censorship or…?

B: Freedom, as usual, and as much of it as possible.

A: Then…no restrictions?

B: I believe that giving people more freedom actually helps them be more moral, not less.  When people are expected to be accountable for their own actions, they start setting higher boundaries for themselves, instead of expecting government to do it for them so they have an idea of “how far they can go before they get in trouble.”  We’ll discuss this more later.

A: What if somebody insults you, your family, your religion, and your profession; specifically enumerates every mistake you’ve made in the past, desecrates your ancestors’ graves, spits on your face, breaks your leg, sets your house ablaze, and murders your wife and kids?

B: I’d call the police before he could do a lot of those things, if I could help it, but I don’t have to take any of those things personally.  It may not be that easy to take, but on the other hand, the guy’s attempts to offend me may be so obviously for that purpose that I might wonder instead why he would take such great efforts to injure me personally; I’d probably eventually conclude that he was somehow deceived or just deranged, and hopefully feel sorry for him instead.

A (muttering to himself): Yeah, right, buddy…

B: Well, that would be the ideal that I’d strive for, anyway.  A lot harder to do than to say, for sure.  But the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean that it can’t be done (I mentioned something along those lines before, once), or that a law should be made to prevent it.  And you’ll notice that I said I’d call the police: just because I don’t have to take offense, doesn’t mean that I have to just let somebody destroy my life or property, or even my peace.  If somebody is deriding me up and down, there’s (usually) no reason I have to sit there and take it.  Most likely, I’d just get up and leave.  It doesn’t mean I was offended, necessarily; I just didn’t want to listen to that – who would, anyway?

One last thing to mention: all this hypersensitivity leading some to blaming others for causing offense, instead of taking responsibility for having chosen to be offended, has created a society of people who have become almost eager to be offended by even the silliest little things.  If people see that the government will support them when they blame others for misfortunes of their own doing, then of course many will take advantage of the opportunity.  This is why there are so many lawsuits made for trivialities and irresponsibility of the plaintiffs.  For some reason, the government, acting in its role as third (and supposedly neutral) party to these debates, very often decides the fault lies with the innocent and the guilty are the victims, and apparently feel obligated to give the “victims” what they’re asking for.  With what has that left us?  A society “walking on eggshells,” so to speak, when considering relations with others.  This isn’t really a good thing, because it’s not out of love that society is so considerate, but out of fear, and we aren’t any closer to loving others than we were before – on the contrary: if anything, we’re further away.

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