Just say no

(Note: This post from 2009 seems to have slipped through the cracks on the migration over here to Patheos so I’m reposting it here.)

He took offense.

It started out in college. You know, just experimenting with it. But he liked it. He liked how it made him feel.

For a while it was just recreational — weekends and parties and rallies and that kind of thing. But soon he was hanging out with some pretty hard-core users, with the kind of people who took offense all the time. They didn’t need a reason or an excuse, it was just what they did. It was who they were. Soon he found he couldn’t get through the day without it.

Over the years he even learned to grow his own, to take the tiniest seeds of umbrage and nurture them into full-grown pretexts for outrage. The good stuff.

Some of his old friends tried to stage an intervention — to convince him that he had a problem, that his whole life had become consumed by his addiction.

He didn’t respond well. He just took more offense — right there in front of them.

Addicts, he told them, are always chasing diminishing returns. They’re always needing more and stronger drugs to provide an ever-smaller high. But the stuff he was taking didn’t work like that. His highs just kept getting stronger and stronger no matter how flimsy or insignificant the reason.

You’re not trying to help me, he screamed at them. You’re just jealous. And he yelled at them some more, trying to get them to take offense too.

They wouldn’t touch it, of course, and just left quietly, looking sad. He took a hit of offense at that and sat back on the couch. They think I’ve got a problem, he thought, but they’re the ones with a problem. Ohh. He inhaled deeply. Yes, yes that’s it. His eyelids fluttered. It’s because I’m better than them, better than all of them …

Four days later his landlord called the police, saying there was an offensive smell drifting into the hallway. They found him there on the couch.

The official report from the medical examiner said it was an overdose.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Glad to see this again, Fred.  It does after all bare repeating.  :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Lochmoeller/100000461280203 Scott Lochmoeller

    Sorry to be slightly off topic fred, but on reposting of typepad articles… Are all the left behind articles over here now? if not, will they be?

  • Anonymous

    Ha! I had this one saved, not just the link, but the whole post. I’ve passed it around — with attribution, of course — on numerous occasions. Good to see it where it can be linked to again.

  • Jocelynk

    I remember this one well. It was one of my favorites.

  • Mkkuhner

    When I read this–and it is really powerfully written–part of me goes “Yeah, that’s so true”.  But another part goes, “Isn’t that what they said to us women when we started making a fuss about things–’Don’t be so quick to take offense?’”

    This came up in the Dr. Seuss discussion on the other thread–that he’d replied to a reasonable feminist critique of his work with basically “Don’t take offense, it’s bad for you and you’re being silly and pointless.”

    I agree that there is a difference between standing up for your rights and being addicted to outrage.  But I’m not sure there’s anything in the description above that illuminates the distinction.  Standing up for your rights, if you haven’t been doing it, can be a rush and a pleasure as well.  It can be addictive in the sense that once you realize you deserve rights, you aren’t going to go back.  In other words, I’m not sure “I get off on this” is a useful datum in determining “Is this a justified attempt to assert my rights and needs, or an addictive attempt at self-aggrandizement?”

  • Dahne42

    This is one of my favorites, and I think of it often. 

  • http://twitter.com/glendanowakowsk Glenda Nowakowski

    I think the people that Fred is talking about are those who are massively privileged already, have traditionally been so and their outrage is harming people who do not have the privilege.  Their outrage is in losing their privilege so that others may have better lives.  

    The women who complained to Dr. Seuss wanted visibility for women, after centuries of being more or less invisible in society.  They wanted stories to read to their children that weren’t subtly implying that their daughters had no stories worthy of telling.  (The discrepancy of male to female representation in Seuss stories was huge, so it was much more than an issue of bean-counting.)

    Dr. Seuss did not want to give up his privilege of not having to look at the world through a different perspective in order to improve the lot of women in small but significant way.

  • http://nagamakironin.blogspot.com Michael Mock

    Oh, nice to see this post again.

    @ Mkkuhner – “I agree that there is a difference between standing up for your rights
    and being addicted to outrage.  But I’m not sure there’s anything in the
    description above that illuminates the distinction.”

    I’m male, so maybe it’s my privilege showing, but I’d think that would be the topic of a slightly different parable. Possibly involving two brothers…

  • Albanaeon

    Well, we can continue stretching the analogy and point out that many drugs have actual medicinal properties and taking them for those reasons and in the recommended amount is usually beneficial.  If you are using offense to help you and others in dealing with things that require us to be offended about, that is one thing.  On the other hand, it isn’t hard to find example of offense addicts who are so far gone that they only have their offense to define them.

  • ako

    I know what you mean.  I was cheering it on the first time I read it, but it’s been bothering me more and more.  I think Fred’s describing something real, and not something entirely ideologically bound (I’ve certainly seen people whose views I largely agree with get so carried away with “righteous anger of the oppressed” that they started acting like flat-out assholes).  But it’s also an emotionally appealing and bit of rhetoric that can be easily used to dismiss legitimate concerns.

    It’s very easy to divide offense into “Legitimate, because it agrees with me and targets things I find offensive” and “Illegitimate because it’s going after things I consider harmless, or even good”.  It’s much harder to draw a distinction that’s ideologically neutral.  Which means that it’s easy to read it as “Well, that’s just about those War-On-Christmas types”, up until it involves getting into the messy particulars of an issue when it turns out to be more complicated than that.

  • Anonymous

    It’s very easy to divide offense into “Legitimate, because it agrees with me and targets things I find offensive” and “Illegitimate because it’s going after things I consider harmless, or even good”.  It’s much harder to draw a distinction that’s ideologically neutral.  Which means that it’s easy to read it as “Well, that’s just about those War-On-Christmas types”, up until it involves getting into the messy particulars of an issue when it turns out to be more complicated than that.

    It’s also important to remember that voting democrat doesn’t make us immune. What you describe is basic human nature- no one thinks of themselves as bad. To us, it is clear that someone fighting to stop gay marriage and criminalize abortions is doing bad- but it is just as clear to them that we are doing bad as well.  

    I think what you describe lies behind the rash of comments we always get after Fred reports some new example of egregiously bad right wing behavior. Ever since I’ve been reading this blog, five or so of the first ten posts are “I don’t understand how people can think this way!!”   Without understand our opponents, we can never hope to fight them. 

  • Mackrimin

    I agree that there is a difference between standing up for your rights
    and being addicted to outrage.  But I’m not sure there’s anything in the
    description above that illuminates the distinction.  Standing up for
    your rights, if you haven’t been doing it, can be a rush and a pleasure
    as well.  It can be addictive in the sense that once you realize you
    deserve rights, you aren’t going to go back.  In other words, I’m not
    sure “I get off on this” is a useful datum in determining “Is this a
    justified attempt to assert my rights and needs, or an addictive attempt
    at self-aggrandizement?”

    Technically speaking, anger is a response to being offended in some way. It’s purpose is to make the individual assert (or, in extreme cases, aggressively defend) its rights. Since such defence tends to be uncomfortable, possibly painful, and sometimes even fatal, it needs to be balanced out by positive reinforcement (otherwise the individual would just learn to submit every time). The problem is that when you fight against imagined enemies, you have no risk or pain to offset the rush, so you get positive reinforcement that trains you to keep doing that.

    The metaphor of drugs is a good one, because this is also how (some) drugs work: they trigger (or suppress) various systems in the brain without the normal prerequisites. However, some drugs have shamanistic (or, in modern day, psychonautic) uses, while anger addiction is unlikely to result in anything expect mindless self-indulgement – and, of course, rampages normally associated with crack cocaine.

  • Anonymous

    Technically speaking, anger is a response to being offended in some way. It’s purpose is to make the individual assert (or, in extreme cases, aggressively defend) its rights. Since such defence tends to be uncomfortable, possibly painful, and sometimes even fatal, it needs to be balanced out by positive reinforcement (otherwise the individual would just learn to submit every time). The problem is that when you fight against imagined enemies, you have no risk or pain to offset the rush, so you get positive reinforcement that trains you to keep doing that.

    Again, the drug metaphor. Are you using morphine to dull pain before a necessary, if unpleasant operation? Or are you shooting up in front of the TV?  If you use anger to work up the courage to attack something bad, that is a good use of anger. If you use anger to just sit on the couch and curse Obama or Ron Paul, then that is a bad use of anger.   Truly, it is the same with most of the seven deadly sins- good pride and bad pride. Good lust and bad lust.  Envy, even. Do you use your envy to spur yourself onto greater heights, or to stab someone in the back?

    Nothing to excess. The Buddha got it right. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon
  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon
  • k o

    Well, yes, the middle path; moderation in all things; keep an open mind; shit happens; be accountable for your actions; smart does not equal wise; compassion not enabler; stick to the facts; etc. are some of the lessons I learned (and re-learned a few times) in my life so far.

    When I wast past puberty, in spite of the brainwashing I grew up with (always with the private thoughts of “this is wrong!” screaming in my head) and later began acting out on these feelings, it lead to some good things, a lot of painful (still working on the worst bits) things, but when you go through your “immortal” stage in your teens to early 20′s, you learn that anger is an energy (thanks, J. Lydon) too. Constructive or destructive depending on how you use it. Some people never get past that stage, others grow up.

  • http://twitter.com/Akiracee R. Mowat

    Awesome!

  • http://passthedoucheys.com/ dcMartin

    I LOVE this post. I was directed here by a commenter, so thankful for the tip. Favorited!


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