Elizabeth Scalia, aka the Anchoress on the “I’m Offended” game — which is typically played out, as Elizabeth sums up in her headline thusly: “As THIS sort of person, THAT offends me…”
Amid all the predictability, though, nothing bores me more than the phrase “that offends me,” uttered by a person who decides to define himself (or herself) according to some aspect of that self — as a fat person, a thin person, a vegetarian person, a meat-loving person, a Christian person, an atheist — and then presumes to “take offense” at things, on behalf of all the people in the world who share some form of that defining characteristic.
A too-quick choice to be offended by something (and it is a choice) tells me a couple of things about a person: first, that he feels so uncertain of who he is that he must declare and define himself as “thus” or “such” in order to establish a reference marker — a stake that is meant as much for himself as for the rest of us.
Me = this sort of person.
When you know who you are, you don’t have to tell spell it out for others.
Second: a death-grip on an identifier, used in conjunction with feather-ruffled offense-taking, tells me that this person is a passive aggressive — someone so weak that he needs to resort to the tyranny of “shut up” because he cannot trust his ideas or arguments to hold up under debate. Rather than subject himself to a debate he knows he cannot win, he declares himself “offended” and usually demands future silence on the issue and a public “apology” (also tiresome!) that is meant to warn-off others from attempting to address it.
It is certainly a kind of tyranny; increasingly, for me, the boring kind. I don’t remember who said it first but I know someone has said that we can have freedom of speech or we can have freedom from being offended, but we can’t have both.
No doubt, someone will soon come along to challenge it, but for the moment, Harvard’s “first permanent director of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer student life” is setting the “as a [fill in the blank] I’m offended” bar awfully high:
Harvard has appointed Vanidy “Van” Bailey as the College’s first permanent director of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer student life. Bailey, the assistant director for education at the University of California, San Diego, will assume the new position on July 16.
Mark Steyn spots the update to the Harvard Crimson’s article on Bailey’s exciting new job, which is a classic of its kind. How high has the “I’m offended” bar been set? This high:
Alas, this long overdue shattering of the BGLTQ ceiling was marred by the Harvard Crimson’s grossly insensitive coverage:
An earlier version of this article used the pronoun “she” to refer to Vanidy “Van” Bailey, the newly appointed director of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer student life. In fact, Bailey prefers not to be referred to by any gendered pronoun.
I’ll bet Elizabeth Warren is kicking herself for not thinking of that one.
So America is now the first nation in history in which people take on six figures of debt for the privilege of entrusting their education to persons with no pronouns. That seems likely to work.
As Glenn Reynolds notes in The Higher Education Bubble, it isn’t just the price of tuition that’s skyrocketing faster than food and medical costs, it’s the mental cost of churning out a generation of postmodern graduates who return back to the everyday world after spending four years or more drinking deeply the sort of unreality captured by the above Harvard Crimson article.
America has gotten to experience that level of unreality over the last four years good and hard, as Mencken would say, first with our postmodern president and his DIY identikit past. Then especially last fall with Occupy Wall Street, the “I’m offended” mentality collectivized, and then coddled by those who should know better such as Michael Bloomberg (who made his fortune first as a trader at Salomon Brothers, then supplying electronic information systems to Wall Street).
No matter what happens in November, as academia continues to descend deeper into fantasy and out of control government spending continues to descend deeper into bankruptcy, reality will eventually intercede. He, she or it won’t be pretty, and won’t care much who’s offended, when the wake-up call arrives.