What I hear when you ask “Can’t I say anything without offending you?”

Alright – another thing.

There’s a moment in Jaclyn Glenn’s video where, frustrated, she asks the caricatured social justice warrior: ‘Can’t I say anything without offending you?’ I’m giving this its own short post partly because as a loose end, it wouldn’t have fit anywhere in the previous one, and partly because it’s not really to do with her. I’ve heard this line and variations of it everywhere. It’s the same idea that lurks behind the statement folk like me are ‘desperate to be offended’; that I’m a ‘rage blogger’; that I’m thin-skinned or hypersensitive, ‘looking for something to be angry about’.

Sometimes the answer to the question really is ‘no’. There are people who piss me off whenever they open their mouths, and there are rent-a-gobs – Jeremy Clarkson, Frankie Boyle, Katie Hopkins – who’ve forged thriving careers in gratuitous offensiveness. There’s a certain symbiosis there, because I’d have much less material if not for them: objecting to the objectionable is, I admit, part of my livelihood, but that doesn’t make it an affection. Surely someone has to?

Religious conservatives frequently paint themselves as reasonable voices of the people cowed by PC hysteria, as if the fault is with those telling them they’re off-base. This seems to me just as true of atheist feminists’ opponents, who tend to pride themselves on being unoffended, getting blocked or prompting outrage: these things are, for them, signs of superior cool logic and maturity. The problem is never with them. What’s the litmus test, anyway, for being a lone voice of reason versus somebody people don’t like?

Sometimes other people are right. There’s a possibility that when most things you say are called odious – I’m speaking here to no one in particular – they are. If folk stop listening to you, it may not be that they can’t stand your superior thoughts; it may be that they can’t stand you. If you can’t say anything without offending them, it may not be you’re a mouthpiece for hard-to-swallow home truths; it may be you’re an arsehole.





  1. B-Lar says

    The line between contrarian rationalist and asshole is as thin as the line between bravery and stupidity. Closely related, often incestuously intertwined.

  2. says

    I’ve got big problems with the way the whole “offended” thing is thrown around, as though the issue is upsetting people’s delicate sensibilities rather than harmful words/actions or irrational statements or whatever. Saying “can’t I say anything without offending you?” is a way to erase the context and content of their words/deeds, and pretend that it is a matter of taste or decorum like using the wrong fork or saying “fuck” in front of children.

  3. Onamission5 says

    What I hear when someone pulls out a line like that is, “Why won’t you allow my biases to remain well sheltered and unquestioned? Can’t you just gloss them over like I feel entitled to have you do, and have come to expect?”

    Which doesn’t sound very rational or skeptical, if you ask me.

  4. Jackie says

    It’s gaslighting. “When I say horrible things to and about you, YOU go and get offended. How dare you! Toughen up. Cantcha take a joke?”

  5. Bryan Long says

    Good point Jackie. Like a domestic abuser saying “can’t I just give you a hug, why are you pulling away like that? That hurts my feelings”.

    Not exactly the same thing because it is often people trying to be good, but they are using the same words that abusers use. Maybe I even know that they meant it as a joke. But we know there are many people saying he same and not joking. So it’s not even real of fence. Often it is a warning that they will hurt someone or cause real offence if they continue. But too often they double down instead of changing. Ego or biases get in the way, or something. But we all know that intent is not magic.

  6. says

    I doubt there is a single group of people in existence that doesn’t include, at the very least, a sizeable minority who are looking to be offended.

    I know what side of the fence you are on Alex and I know you must recognise it clearly when you look across the divide at those who decry your ‘side’. They exist. You are not mistaken.

    SJW types are no miraculous exception. The political left is just as culpable to falling over itself in a bid to claim offence as the political right. Whilst there is political mileage to be gained from doing so then people will do so, just as surely as strikers will dive in the most theatrical of fashions for so long as the laws of the “beautiful game” reward those who do so.

    It is boring and sidetracking. I hate it. I wish we could always argue the points and all offence was genuine and substantial.
    I don’t really see any prospect of that but what I do see is two environments that each have their issues:
    1) Environments that claim to be for the “thick skinned” which DO seem to lead to unnecessarily abusive language and i am sure do genuinely lead to people being offended by more than just the positions of others (which I am sure none of us would want to get away from, otherwise debate is impossible)
    2) Environments that adopt a much more interventionist approach (such as FTB) which, I am sure, do much to prevent offence for many but inevitably incentivise the claiming of offence as a political/argumentational gambit (or a stick to beat people with, however you wish to view it).

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