How many times have each of heard some variation of, “that’s offensive” or “racist” or “sexist” or “misogynous” or “classist” or…? But is whatever any of us have said or written actually and objectively offensive? Can there even be an objective standard for offensiveness or any other of the mode of expression – and thought – that are deemed to be antisocial?
Who gets to decide what is offensive? The speaker or writer? The listener or reader? Society in general?
I find this to be more than slight bit of a quandary. Determining who gets to decide what is offensive expression strikes me a very perplexing and fundamental problem in any form of communication or societal interaction. It affects almost everything since whoever gets the power to decide what is or isn’t offensive in some way gets the power to shutdown arguments and whole schools of thought.
This isn’t – or shouldn’t be – deep or profound thought. It’s really quite prosaic if you think about it. It just doesn’t seem to be something that people ask themselves or each other.
If the speaker or writer is to be the final arbiter of what is offensive then we have setup a situation where one can say or write anything that they wish to and then deny the validity of anyone’s claims that it is offensive in some manner. That would seem to lead to an abusive environment. In point of fact, it has led to such abusive climates in the past as exemplified by previous decade’s failure to deal with legitimate claims of harassment of various special interest groups.
If the listener or reader is to be the final arbiter of what is offensive then we have setup a situation in which one can claim that anything that one disagrees with is offensive in some manner. That would seem to lead to an equally abusive environment and one that is tyrannical in nature. In point of fact, America is currently in that situation as exemplified by the incessant claims of racism levied against any dissent to President Obama and/or the agenda he has for America.
If society as a whole is to be the final arbiter of what is offensive then we have setup a situation in which whatever are currently the dominant groups within that society will determine what is or isn’t offensive and enforce those opinions with legislation. This invariably leads to government tyranny – the Nanny State – since the goal becomes to placate the vocal protesters, even at the expense of personal liberties. This can be seen in the forms of what sexual harassment laws have devolved into, and the Hate Speech and Hate Crimes laws.
It’s quite the debacle insofar as I am able see, and not one that I can formulate a workable solution for. Anyone else have any ideas or thought?