Outrage is the currency of modern America. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “An extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”
Every day, another statement, joke or action provokes anger, shock and indignation against the hapless offender.
A dentist hunts a lion in Africa. Outrage! A woman tweets a joke before boarding a plane bound for Africa. Outrage!! A white cisgendered male op-ed writer mentions Africa in three different outrage examples. OUTRAGE!!!
It’s exhausting just to read about the outrage, so it must be debilitating to those peddling it.
I’ve never understood why people get offended by, well, anything. Even if someone attempts an insult, it’s up to you to choose whether to accept it as such. Just as you shouldn’t give others the power over your emotional state, you can’t be offended without your consent.
Or as some fancy-pants old white cisgendered male said, “Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.”
Epictetus wrote that in The Enchiridion, Greek for “the handbook,” which means I have appropriated Greco-Phrygian culture. And if you’re offended on behalf of that extinct ethnicity, you need to keep reading.
Let’s reinterpret this 2,000-year-old dead white male for modern audiences. When a thin-skinned audience member shouts “I’m offended!” at a stand-up comic, it only reveals the heckler’s fragile psyche and low self-worth.
If you’re insulted when a co-worker holds the door for his female associate, you are projecting your hang-ups on what is most likely a simple act of politeness. If a Swedish bongo player sports blonde dreadlocks and you’re offended instead of amused, you have more baggage than a deposed Haitian dictator fleeing to Paris.
Perhaps I’m an outlier, but if someone tries to insult me, I don’t feel badly about myself — I just conclude that they’re an idiot. Some might find this attitude arrogant and they’re probably right. But if some humorless scold attacks me for being a white cisgendered male, that’s their problem, not mine. In fact, I pity them for not appreciating the single-malt, double-barreled awesome that I’m bringing.
Here’s an interaction I had on Twitter, the Algonquin Round Table of the digital age. One interlocutor noted that vaccinations might cause autism. (They don’t.) Another wondered if a government can mandate immunization. (Sure.) But shouldn’t parents have the right to say no? (Not if they put the community at risk; at least that’s how I see it.)
All fair questions and a fine debate to have. And on it went until one person replied with what he felt was the trump card: “That really offends me!”
To which I said, “So what?”
A brusque response, but the anonymous stranger’s taking of offense is not my or anyone else’s concern; public health is. Harrumphing “that offends me!” has no bearing on any argument, pro or con. It’s a non sequitur revealing naught but a delicate constitution.
I don’t intend to argue the pros and cons of vaccination; that specific debate isn’t the point. As our culture has slid to the so-called “social justice warriors” of the left and the trolls of the “alt-right,” activists on all sides believe that their being offended carries some sort of moral authority as a victim. Does their sense of grievance make their arguments more compelling? It does no such thing.
British comedian Stephen Fry said it best:
It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that,” as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.