Tuesday, 28 February 2012

DON'T BE OFFENDED

Cllr Ian Driver has set up a Facebook page demanding that Cllr Mike Harrison stands down after making an anti-women statement on his blog. Needless to say, I will not be clicking the 'like' button as I think it's a pointless little crusade over something so obviously trivial. Who honestly cares about a daft remark made on a blog? Surely everybody has a right to say exactly what they want, however they want, even if they express it rather tactlessly? 

I don't know about you, but I think that local blogs have taken a severe turn for the worst recently. There's been a huge burst in 'identity politics' which are defined as "political attitudes or positions that focus on the concerns of social groups identified mainly on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation." Obviously, this frees people from the constraints of party political affiliation, and it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing were it not for the fact that the most outspoken local adherents of 'identity politics' are trying to police local blogs like wardens and attempting to spook people in the name of ‘political correctness' into not feeling like they can speak their mind. 

Cllr Mike Harrison was aiming his comment at an unnamed individual to illustrate the point he wanted to make about women objecting to being called 'love'. Of course, that doesn't entirely justify it. Anyway, for clarity, this is exactly what Mike said on this blog: 

"I see that some frustrated, dried up bint has complained about bus drivers, taxi drivers and tradesmen calling her ‘love’. Is that any worse than those people calling me ‘mate’ I ask. Well no its not. We have our shopping delivered and Mrs Grumpy tells me that the cheery “morning love” when he delivers is not a problem and helps to make a dreary day a bit more bearable. So get a life love and find something worthwhile to complain about." 

Now, obviously, I would expect a public official like Mike Harrison to choose his words a bit more carefully, but what I object to most is that people keep leaping on a few insensitive remarks and claiming victim status on behalf of others. ‘Identity politics’ depends upon seeing people only as victims, incapable of defending themselves unless there's an organised movement of minority influence acting as their mouthpiece. It's like there's a 'unionisation' of social groups going on, and I think it completely contradicts the idea of human rights as being wholly subjective to the individual, be they based around race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. 

So why is it that those claiming to be left-wing argue so strongly for free speech and champion individual rights but react so aggressively to silly comments and hurl the word 'bigot' around like it's going out of fashion? Censorship usually seems to be the required solution to anything deemed 'offensive' and that's what worries me. Why is it that people are so easily offended these days? This whole turn of events reminds me of the libertarian stand-up comedian Steve Hughes who spoke about political correctness. Here's what he said: 

"Political correctness - the oppression of our intellectual movements so no one says anything anymore in case somebody else gets offended. What happens if you say that and someone gets offended? (snorts) Well, they can be offended, can't they? What's wrong with being offended? When did 'sticks and stones may break my bones' stop being relevant? Isn't that what you teach children, for God's sake?! That's what you teach toddlers. 'He called me an idiot.' 'Don't worry about it, he's a dick.' Now you have adults going: 'I was offended. I was offended and I have rights!' Well, so what?! Be offended. Nothing happens. You're an adult, grow up, deal with it!" 

He also goes on to point out that people who complain about being offended often say: 

"'I want to live in a democracy but I never want to be offended again.' (snorts) Well you're an idiot! How can you make a law about offending people? How can you make it an offence to offend people? Being offended is subjective. It has everything to do with you as an individual, or a collective, or a group, or a society, or a community, your moral conditioning, your religious beliefs. What offends me may not offend you. You want to make laws about this?! I'm offended when I see boy bands, for God's sake." 

And there you have it. If you want to live in a democracy, you should expect to be offended. Free speech is ugly, but it is 100% necessary for a nation of freethinking individuals who are keen to engage in debate, and I certainly don't think silencing or censoring those whose chance remarks offend your fragile sensibilities is a wise move. In fact, I think it reflects worse on those doing the complaining than it does on those being pilloried. 

Image © Andrew Kuchling via Flickr and licensed for reuse. The inclusion of this image is not an endorsement of this post.

NOTE: Cllr Mike Harrison has since deleted the above remark and replaced it with the word '< Censored >' but for now I have chosen to keep Mike's blog extract on Thanet Waves to facilitate a discussion on free speech and censorship and allow readers to make up their own minds as to the nature of any offence those words may convey.

2 comments:

  1. If it's alright to cause offence then surely it's alright for those offended to respond in any way they choose, isn't that what a democracy is all about? It seems to me this is all that's going on between the concerned parties.

    If Cllr Driver wants Cllr Harrison removed from Thanet Labour Group then that's his business but it's up to the Labour Group themselves to act and so far they haven't.

    When we still suffer from discrimination in our society it's no suprise that some act against those who make remarks they see as inappropriate. If their response is out of proportion to the remarks made then that is the issue at stake not the taking of offence. If Cllr Driver is deemed over-the-top in how he reacts then maybe making a point about over-reaction is relevant.

    As for "political-correctness," that bugbear of the reactionary right in the US and imported here by our own version, apart from in the right-wing tabloids I don't see many instances where it has made a great deal of difference to our culture. We still get plenty of offensive remarks from commentators, comedians, celebs etc, so it hasn't exactly brought down the whole of Western Civilisation has it?

    I find Steve Hughes to be a typical loud-mouthed Aussie twerp and I'm sick of seeing his video produced everytime "political correctness" is on the agenda. So here's another take on the subject:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGAOCVwLrXo

    Finally, why is it that the people making remarks deemed as rude and offensive tend to be white, middle-aged, heterosexual blokes?

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  2. For the record, I'm a big fan of Stewart Lee too, unsurprisingly.

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