There is no right to be free of offense. At least not in America. (In Canada, who knows.) Certainly there are people who think they ought to have a right not to be offended. Such people are morally cowardly ninnies worthy of scorn.
These seem to be propositions widely accepted among conservatives and libertarians.
Yet bizarrely, there also seems to be an insidious sentiment that people who occasionally give offense ought to have some nebulously defined right to be free of being branded as racists or assholes as a result. Case in point: the venerable and on most occasions awesome Clint Eastwood:
Acting legend Clint Eastwood , 79, apparently believes that political correctness has rendered modern society humourless, for he accuses younger generations of spending too much time trying to avoid being offensive.
The Dirty Harry star insists that he should be able to tell harmless jokes about nationality without fearing that people may brand him "a racist".
"People have lost their sense of humour. In former times we constantly made jokes about different races. You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth or you will be insulted as a racist," the Daily Express quoted him as saying.
"I find that ridiculous. In those earlier days every friendly clique had a 'Sam the Jew' or 'Jose the Mexican' – but we didn't think anything of it or have a racist thought. It was just normal that we made jokes based on our nationality or ethnicity. That was never a problem. I don't want to be politically correct."
Clint merely makes explicit a premise that lurks behind many a gripe about "political correctness": people ought to suck it up and not be offended when I tell racial or religious jokes or make comments that they don't like, but if they call me a dick or a bigot in response, why that's just over the line, and in a decent society I ought not to have to endure it. It's a proposition that manages to be simultaneously narcissistic and hypocritical. And it's increasingly prevalent. Some "thinkers" work themselves up into such a lather that they convince themselves that being called a racist is somehow a structural flaw in the marketplace of ideas from which society must protect them.
But it's all bogus. Clint is free to continue to tell hilarious Mexican jokes. And anyone who thinks this makes him sound like an asshole is free to tell him so. If Clint doesn't like to be called a racist, that distaste is no more profound or worthy of respect or protection than the distaste of Jews or Mexicans who don't like Clint's jokes. For Clint to suggest otherwise is silly, whiny, and frankly embarrassing.
There is genuine, objectionable political correctness in our society, which we enjoy skewering here. But, as I have argued before, there is also a lot of unbecoming whining about political correctness that amounts to little more than "boo hoo, I acted like an asshat and now people are calling me an asshat." Man up, for Christ's sake. If you want to revel in the right to be offensive, grow a thicker skin about being called offensive, if you ever want to be taken seriously.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- I Stand, Despite - August 30th, 2016
- How The University of Chicago Could Have Done A Better Job Defending Free Speech - August 29th, 2016
- Gawker, Money, Speech, And Justice - August 18th, 2016
- Lawsplainer: No, Donald Trump's "Second Amendment" Comment Isn't Criminal - August 9th, 2016
- Why Openness About Mental Illness is Worth The Effort And Discomfort - August 9th, 2016