How to be offended

In light my roommates’ and my new Showtime priviledges, I have been watching the occasional episode of Penn & Teller:Bullshit!. Now, before you get all pissy about it, I acknowledge: sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they provide decent arguments, and sometimes they don’t, but regardless, the show is always funny and thought provoking.

Anyways, the duo aired an episode about college. They basically aimed to expose public universities as bastions of censorship by liberals, and they made a few good points, and of course gave us a few flawed arguments (including an altogether unsuccessful attempt to discredit Noam Chomsky as an academic that was almost sad to watch). Point being, they sort of vindicated one thing I’ve always felt, but didn’t know how to explain.

I used to say nobody should ever be offended. But what I meant, as Penn Jillette quite eloquently stated, is that you shouldn’t be scared or protected from being offended. I know, they seem diametrically opposed, but let me explain.

The reason I would say “nobody should ever be offended”, is because I saw the idea of taking offense as the primary reason for censorship. I was right, and in being right, I became offended and thought nobody should be offended. Oops. But, what Penn told me is that (read this carefully) people are going to be and should be and shouldn’t be prevented from being offended all the time, because a society that guarantees free speech is a marketplace of ideas. That makes sense!

If you’re never offended, either you’re not thinking for yourself at all even for a moment, or you’re living in a bubble. Aside: Remember that bubble of college, well I guess that ties together with the point Penn and Teller were making to begin with. No I don’t truly believe that there is a liberal agenda to keep campuses free of dissent. I think in fact that academia draws a certain type of crowd in general. That combined with the fact that younger people seem to be more liberal, (or young liberals are more politically vocal than young conservatives) gives rise to the idea that there is a liberal cabal running academia. End aside.

Anyways. Along with freedom of speech comes being offended, and probably offending others. (Alternatively, closing your eyes covering your ears and never talking, or, for that matter, letting anyone see you doing that.) So how do we cope. Well, the synthesis of the thesis of free speech and antithesis that is buttloads of knee-jerk reactions is nothing more than discourse. We just have to make sure we think about both what we hear and what we say. That you have to be offended to be truly free doesn’t necessitate needlessly offending others. Nor does it necessitate taking offense to everything. Agreeing to disagree, perhaps better, coming to an agreement are important considerations when people find themselves offending one another. I guess open minds and mouths are what is important in the marketplace of ideas.

Now tell me what you think.

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