No offense

The problem with taking offense is that it’s impotent and indulgent. It may feel good, but it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t matter. Offendedness is a pale, watery substitute for anger.

Anger, that beautiful daughter of hope, demands action. Anger changes things. It seeks to correct the injustice that offendedness merely wants to savor. Anger sees injustice and tries to rip it out at the root. Offendedness looks at injustice the way a oenophile looks at a nice bottle of Chianti — wanting to preserve it in the cellar with the rest of the well-stocked, impeccably organized collection so that one day it might be taken out and enjoyed, swirled on the tongue to luxuriate in every piquant note of flavor.

If the Egyptian youth had taken to Facebook to call for a “Day of Offendedness” in Tahrir Square then Hosni Mubarak wouldn’t have had anything to worry about. But they weren’t merely offended, they were angry, challenging injustice with a “Day of Rage.” And Egypt will never be the same.

If those young people had been satisfied with just being offended then nothing would have changed. The Mubarak regime certainly was offensive — its abuses were an insult to the rights and dignity of every person in Egypt. That insult could have been savored, American-style, indulged for every juicy bit of righteous indignation and sweet drop of smug superiority. But the acquired taste of offendedness is difficult to cultivate while one is experiencing actual injustice. For those who were living in the shadow of secret police and the threat of torture, the pretentious pleasures of umbrage and smugness offered little temptation. For the youth of Egypt, impotent offense-taking didn’t cut it. They were angry and their anger changed the world.

Such genuine, world-changing anger cannot be produced or sustained in response to “first-world problems.” Every day on Fox News and AM talk radio, the hosts trot out a host of petty or wholly imaginary grievances and do their best to strike a pose of legitimate anger, but it’s not even slightly believable. The things they claim to be angry about aren’t actually injustices. Their grievances are smoke and mirrors.

Same-sex couples getting married neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It would be foolishly absurd for me to pretend that their happiness constituted any kind of reason for me to be angry or to take offense.

I pay income taxes while nearly half of all American households are paid so little that they don’t owe any. That’s grounds for gratitude on my part, but not for offense. And absolutely not for anything like legitimate anger. It’s evidence of injustice, but not injustice against me or against Rick Warren or against Rick Perry or against anyone else so fortunate as to take in enough to owe a fair share.

The clownish pretense of anger over such non-offenses is laughable. It’s an insult to everyone suffering real offenses and real injustice. It’s an insult to those who are, right now, denied the legal right to marry and to those who, right now, are being exploited and denied the opportunity to earn a living wage.

But I don’t want you to take offense at that insult. I want you, instead, to get angry.

  • Izzy

    That would be anger, Sparky. Try reading the original post.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Deficit Chickenhawks?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Normally that kind of behavior, promising one thing and delivering another, goes against the common wisdom.  After all, if you break promises to those who voted for you immediately after putting you into office, they are less likely to vote for you come re-election.  But in this case, they seem part of a wider strategy of making the government as ineffectual as possible in the short term so they can regain control of the White House again.

    I think what happened is this: the voters elected the republicans saying “We’ll pretend we’re voting for you because you’ll create jobs and fix the economy and not just because we’re indiscriminately angry and many of us are racists.”  In return, the republicans said “Okay, in return we’ll pretend we’re praticing fiscal responsibility and encouraging job growth, and not just pushing a radical social agenda and deliberately sinking the ship of state in a desperate mad power bid.”

    That is, I don’t think the electorate ever really believed the things the candidate promised, they just all had an implied agreement to *pretend* that was what it was all about, because they all knew it would be bad for both parties if they just came out and said what they really wanted.

    And they’ll get away with it precisely because when next november comes around, they’ll say “we tried SO HARD to create jobs but the evil socialist dems wouldn’t let us”, and the voters will all wink and nod and go “Yeah, we totes get that,” all the while, the voters are thinking “Shame about the economy, but at least we got abortion restrictions and we’re gonna get a white president. That’s what’s really important. Oops, got to go back to shouting about jobs before anyone notices and calls me a racist!”, and the politicians are thinking “Shame about NPR and planned parenthood, but at least we got those tax cuts for our donors. That’s what’s really important. Oops, got to go back to pretending I care about these ignorant hicks”.  And then they’ll wink knowingly at each other.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post by Fred. Usually I get tensed up when I see someone begin to lecture about not holding negative emotions (for a variety of reasons which include my special blend of personality flaws).
    But then he pulled it around and said, “No, no, stop messing around with being offended, go for the real stuff: the anger.”

    So I’ll have to meditate on this distinction for a little.

  • Anonymous

    The only way anyone who voted for them can be surprised at what they get is either A. they didn’t watch television at all since early 2009 or B. they’re idiots.

    The perfect example is Rick Scott. People were saying during the election that Floridians should probably not elect a felon. 
    So what did Florida do? They elected the felon. Lo and behold, he’s pile-driving Florida further into the swamp mud.  Hoocoodanode.

    Heaven knows I’ve precious little sympathy, I live in a state whose bright stars include Jon Kyl, John McCain, Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, Trent Franks, JD Hayworth and Ben Quayle.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That ascribes an uncommon level of unstated understandings all around. I’m inclined to believe that the Republicans were successful at being the loudest, squeakiest wheel jamming up the works (why not? They’ve had lots of practice being shouty, boorish assholes who never saw a working government they liked except one that helps rich people), and the American electorate seems to respond to that kind of boisterousness – even if counterproductive to their own interests.

  • Tonio

    The district has a large percentage of Orthodox Jews. David Weigel suggests that the issues that hurt Obama Weprin in the race included his relatively even-handed approach to Israel, same-sex marriage, and the “Ground Zero mosque.” 

    Having said that, I have encountered voters who approach to voting is simply switching parties whenever things are going badly, as if this was a matter of replacing the CEO. Is it elitist of me to label this thinking as idiotic? At the least, it doesn’t seem to recognize the existence of agendas or political philosophies. (I can already hear some Slacktivistas saying, “Protecting the social and economic privilege of rich white Christian straights is not a political philosophy,” and they are probably right.)

  • Tonio

    the Tea Party coming for my hypothetical future children for not hating gay people.

    It would probably be a homophobic form of McCarthyism, with people accused of either being gay or of sympathizing with gays.

  • Lori

     Heaven knows I’ve precious little sympathy, I live in a state whose bright stars include Jon Kyl, John McCain, Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, Trent Franks, JD Hayworth and Ben Quayle. 

    Those people are all bad, but I think Ben Quayle is the one who should really give Arizonans pause. A 2nd generation idiot who moved to the state because that’s apparently where he felt he’d do well. That’s not good. 

  • Lori

     Having said that, I have encountered voters who approach to voting is simply switching parties whenever things are going badly, as if this was a matter of replacing the CEO.

     

    It’s not just you. It’s a well-documented fact that a bad economy is hard on incumbents. If you look at Nate Silver’s analysis of Obama’s reelection chances it’s focused very heavily on the economy. Nate knows where of he speaks. 

     Is it elitist of me to label this thinking as idiotic?  

    No. At least not at this point in our history. 

    Mindlessly voting for “the other guy” never really made sense, but right now it’s a total disaster since it gives the party out of power an incentive to damage the economy in order to get back in the White House. Back in the day there was an assumption that even fairly shitty politicians and political operators cared enough about the good of the country not to do that. Not any more. Failing to grasp that and vote accordingly is stupid and noticing that doesn’t make you elitist. Some people will say that it does, but they’re wrong.

  • Lori

     Having said that, I have encountered voters who approach to voting is simply switching parties whenever things are going badly, as if this was a matter of replacing the CEO.

     

    It’s not just you. It’s a well-documented fact that a bad economy is hard on incumbents. If you look at Nate Silver’s analysis of Obama’s reelection chances it’s focused very heavily on the economy. Nate knows where of he speaks. 

     Is it elitist of me to label this thinking as idiotic?  

    No. At least not at this point in our history. 

    Mindlessly voting for “the other guy” never really made sense, but right now it’s a total disaster since it gives the party out of power an incentive to damage the economy in order to get back in the White House. Back in the day there was an assumption that even fairly shitty politicians and political operators cared enough about the good of the country not to do that. Not any more. Failing to grasp that and vote accordingly is stupid and noticing that doesn’t make you elitist. Some people will say that it does, but they’re wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=702271617 Andy Sherwin

    My kids are gonna grow up watching way too many Gilmore Girls reruns to not be the first on the gay sympathizers list.

  • Tonio

    they definitely talked about cutting spending during the last campaign

    And even that was disingenuous to a certain extent. The biggest parts of the budget include defense, Social Security and Medicare but they tended to focus on small-ticket ideological targets like Planned Parenthood, NPR and NEA. Part of me appreciates the semi-logic of some of the GOP presidential candidates opposing Social Security. But people like Judson Phillips act like funding for cow flatulence studies is the reason their taxes are high. Sure, his bigotry shows when he lambastes people on the coasts as not “real Americans” and when he calls for restoring property qualifications for voting. My interest is in the bitterness and fear that seem to animate people like him.

    When I see how extreme the party is becoming, I wonder if an Obama re-election would spark another civil war. I think it didn’t happen in 2008 because the reality of having a non-white as President took some time to skin in, like the old Eddie Murphy routine about Harold Washington still in disbelief that he had been elected as Chicago’s mayor.

  • Tonio

    2nd generation? His grandfather was a member of the John Birch Society.

  • Lori

    Oy. I forgot about grandpa. 

  • Tonio

     there was an assumption that even fairly shitty politicians and political operators cared enough about the good of the country not to do that. Not any more.

    More and more I suspect that the sabotage is less about politics and more about the ethnicity of the sitting president. It’s so far removed from what they’ve seen as normal for decades that their emotions may have taken over to some degree. Not much different from them having to sit through a same-sex wedding ceremony. (Imagine the reaction if we had a gay male president who was married to his partner.) In Dennis Miller’s pre-Rant days, he pointed out that Khomeini sentenced women to death for dancing, and joked about forcing the ayatollah to watch Solid Gold. Not as funny when it happens in real life. Among other consequences, it sets a bad precedent for whoever the president is. 

  • Tonio

    I meant “it sets a bad precedent for politics regardless of who the president is in the future.”

  • Fraser

    I think a lot of it is due less to Obama’s race than just the fact they didn’t vote for him. There is a chunk of Republicans that cannot conceive that anyone they didn’t vote for can possibly be legitimate. Much the same way that when the government adopts policies they don’t accept, such as abortion, it’s automatically an illegitimate policy (rather than just wrong).
    Seriously, if there’d been any way to prove that Bill Clinton had been born outside this country, they’d have written that into the impeachment charges.

  • Tonio

    Yeah, there are some people who take that ideological approach to government. I don’t remember the GOP hostility to Clinton taking the tone of “illegitimacy” like it has with Obama. I think much, perhaps, most of that language is a rationalization (typically by older white voters) or a dog whistle (by people seeing to manipulate those voters). 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Tonio: It wasn’t as strong, but there was a definite group of Republicans who just could not tolerate Clinton being President, as though it were some kind of mortal sin that a Democrat couild succeed a Republican when the Soviet Union collapsed when a Republican happened to be in office.

    I think it helped crystallize who the Republicans wanted – needed as a ‘perpetual enemy’ since the USSR was gone. Instead of a strong external threat* to the US they found dozens of weaker internal ‘threats’ that could be used as the occasion demanded it – ‘welfare recipients’ (blacks), QUILTBAG people, single mothers (usually black), non-Christian people, et cetera.

    All these came under the umbrella of “people Democrats like” and forms part of the basis for why the Gingrichian Republican Party was gunning so hard for a permanent majority in both Houses of Congress – they reframed their political differences with Democrats into that of the form they took against the USSR – Clash of Titans battle mentality in which the loser is utterly vanquished.

    What is utterly odd is how insecure they acted even when, from 2002 to 2006 (the Dems nominally controlled the Senate by the thinnest of margins from 2000 to 2002) they held the House, Senate and Presidency. Somehow even as they eagerly implemented their agenda they had to see a perpetual bogeyman in the form of the “weak-kneed liberal”.

    Whoever suggested 1984 as the political songbook the Republicans use wasn’t that far off. Just as Oceania needed an Emmanuel Goldstein, so too do the Republicans need their archetypal liberal-to-defeat.

    * The USSR did pose a legitimate nuclear-power threat to the USA if something went wrong governmentally or militarily. However, the Soviets were not stupid and no doubt had similar command-and-control verification checks in place before a nuclear launch.

  • Anonymous

    Tonio: When I see how extreme the party is becoming, I wonder if an Obama
    re-election would spark another civil war. I think it didn’t happen in
    2008 because the reality of having a non-white as President took some
    time to skin in,

    I’m reasonably certain we’ll avoid an all-out shooting civil war.  What we may see if Obama is re-elected is some (only some, the level that is on the third page of the city newspaper) increased violence against QUILTBAG folk, abortion providers, and non-evangelical Christians; a ramping up of the rhetoric on both sides; one or two more high-profile acts of violence from someone(s) on the right and, increasingly likely, at least one reprisal act of violence from someone on the left.  After the election, the Republicans will double-down on their efforts to make government and Obama look bad, but it will be business as usual.  And the 2016 election will be pretty much straight white male across both parties, from primaries to inauguration.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think USAians are, even now, as capable of the degree of anger that drove the Arab Spring.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I think it helped crystallize who the Republicans wanted - needed as a ‘perpetual enemy’ since the USSR was gone. Instead of a strong external threat* to the US they found dozens of weaker internal ‘threats’ that could be used as the occasion demanded it – ‘welfare recipients’ (blacks), QUILTBAG people, single mothers (usually black), non-Christian people, et cetera.

    It feels as though when 9/11 happened, the Republican party got excited.  Before that, there were serious claims about the Bush administration’s legitimacy (and none of that Birther crap, this was about actual voting numbers) and the War on Terror swept all of it away.  Finally, the Republicans could get back to doing what they knew how to do best: have an enemy to fight and the threat of one to muster votes.  Without another power in which to set themselves as opposition, they did not know how to campaign or govern, and they did not have enough to be “about” to form a strong party.  

    Unfortunately, if an enemy does not present itself, then they feel they must create one.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7NB5FJ2VSINZPTPUGCJI6C24SU Kadia

    It’s not the same system. Republicans — and anyone who is unhappy with Obama, Congress, etc. — have far, far more options than people in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, etc.

    I know it’s fashionable to compare the United States to a third-world autocracy. Certainly there are many unfortunate parallels (erosion of civil liberties, overly-influential religious factions, widespread economic inequality) but anyone who has ever actually lived in a real dictatorship or a genuinely-failed state understands that the United States is far from resembling Qaddafi’s Libya. Our civil society is much more well-developed and respect for the rule of law — while weaker than it should be — is significantly stronger than it is in any failed state (can you imagine Obama outlawing right-wing blog or sending the FBI to take Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell into custody?)

    We might enjoy using hyperbolic rhetoric to score political points but it’s important to remember that the United States isn’t like Syria or Yemen and for middle-class Americans to compare losing an election or two to decades of violent state repression and totalitarian rule is an insult to what genuine victims of dictatorship throughout the world have suffered.

  • Tonio

    Without another power in which to set themselves as opposition, they did not know how to campaign or govern, and they did not have enough to be “about” to form a strong party.

    Who was it in the other thread that described politics as about egalitarianism versus authoritarianism, with the only things changing being the labels? 

  • Tonio

    While you have a point about the validity of the comparisons, I think you miss the reasoning behind them. There seems to be a very strong correlation between the vibrancy of the middle class and the vibrancy of representative democracy. Or put another way, the greater the income gulf between rich and poor, the greater the likelihood that the nation in question will have a repressive government. Makes sense, since the oligarchy would see the acquisition and maintenance of power as necessary to maintain its wealthy. When we compare the US to a “third-world country” (a term I despise), we mean that the middle class is disappearing and corporations are acquiring too much power, and that we fear that the end result will be repression. 

    Similarly, when we warn about the danger to religious freedom from the religious right, we don’t mean that we’ll wake up tomorrow and the US will be ruled by Christian ayatollahs. It’s more a matter of spotting trends and warning “If this goes on,” the title of Heinlein’s seminal work about a fundamentalist theocracy here. 

  • Tonio

    I mean “maintain its wealth.”

  • Anonymous

    This is quite true.  We do not have the anger that drove the Arab Spring because we really don’t need it.  The system still (mostly, really) works (or works well enough) at this time.  As I pointed out, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any sort of thing that was present in the Arab Spring.

    I’m sorry, what in my post gave you the impression that I thought we would?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7NB5FJ2VSINZPTPUGCJI6C24SU Kadia

    My apologies, I didn’t mean to imply that that was your argument. I was criticizing the IndigNation people who act like losing an election or two is the same as the country falling into some kind of 3rd world failed state filled with repression and political violence. The kinds of people who think that “a Second Amendment” solution of violent popular uprising is really needed (by any side, really) to effect change in the government. I just quoted your post because it was handy and on point — I certainly don’t want to lump in your comments with the ignorance of people who really don’t distinguish between Obama and Mubarak.

    @ Tonio –

    Similarly,
    when we warn about the danger to religious freedom from the religious
    right, we don’t mean that we’ll wake up tomorrow and the US will be
    ruled by Christian ayatollahs. It’s more a matter of spotting trends and
    warning “If this goes on,” the title of Heinlein’s seminal work about a
    fundamentalist theocracy here.

    Those are great and valid points that I agree with. I didn’t mean to criticize the accurate parallels between the United States and repressive countries / failed regimes, just the false ones that suggest that the American people under Obama are roughly in the same position and facing identical challenges as the Egyptians under Mubarak or the Yemenis under Saleh.

    Good point about the ‘third world country’ phrase; I apologize for that.

  • Tonio

    And my apologies for assuming that you were talking about the Tea Partiers’ critics.

  • Tonio

    And my apologies for assuming that you were talking about the Tea Partiers’ critics.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I see now! Thanks for the explanation, I apologize for misunderstanding. ^_^

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I see now! Thanks for the explanation, I apologize for misunderstanding. ^_^

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7NB5FJ2VSINZPTPUGCJI6C24SU Kadia

    No, no, reading over again I definitely could have been (a lot!) clearer!

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That said, I should note (the cite is Naming Rumpelstiltskin, by the way) that the trends extant in the USA at the time (mid-90s) would, if simply extended forward, mean the USA would fit every definition of a Third World country by 2020.

    Don’t kid yourselves. Countries can appear quite prosperous and yet carry stunning social inequalities and inefficiencies that emerge in full flower once the prosperity collapses. Argentina is a classic example: on the way to joining ‘developed nation’ status, and then the props got kicked out from under their economy, and bam.

  • Anonymous

    The district has a large percentage of Orthodox Jews. David Weigel suggests that the issues that hurt Obama Weprin in the race included his relatively even-handed approach to Israel, same-sex marriage, and the “Ground Zero mosque.”

    There’s a rising tide of insistance that Jewish voters will turn on Obama for continuing Bush’s Israel policies, but I’m not totally convinced.

    The Orthodox community gets more Republican the farther you go down the Chassidic/yeshivish curve, but I am not seeing much evidence beyond wishful thinking that enough people who normally vote for the Democrat are shifting parties at this point to make a difference.

    I spent eight years with these folks telling me how George W. Bush was Israels bestest, bestest friend ever, and it didn’t hurt Obama’s share of the Jewish vote.

  • Muenchner Kindl

    That’s why a few years ago, when “Misereor” http://www.misereor.org/en/misereor-org-home.html  (a German catholic Charity) turned 50 years old, there were ads on the billboards that said “Mit Zorn und Zärtlichkeit für die Armen” (with Anger and tenderness for the poor).

    At first it looks odd to see Anger from a christian charity, but then it makes sense:

    Anger against the unjust systems that keep people poor,

    Tenderness towards the poor when helping them improve their life.

    Both go together: immediate help is not effective if the larger conditions of markets and government and corruption and debts and inequality and … are not addressed, and to change those, you need anger.

  • Muenchner Kindl

    Here’s a quote from the Misereor English website:

    ‘Righteous anger’ and ‘Tenderness’
    By using the terms ‘righteous anger’ and ‘tenderness’ MISEREOR is underlining the special motivation at the heart of its activities. What we mean is the righteousanger over injustice and suffering that is rooted in human compassion, especially for the poor, the disenfranchised and the disempowered.

    (Surely we could quibble over the dedication of the RCC itself as organisation in the fight for the poor, looking at what the RCC hierarchy did to bishops in Latin America; but the lay people give generously during the fast weeks action, and the individual projects the charity does with the money are also well-thought out and helpful.).

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are; and courage to see that they do not remain that way.

    –St Augustine

  • SirThinkALot

    Half of Americans dont pay income tax? Good, how we can make it so the rest dont either?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Don’t be silly. Government performs useful services for us, the public as a whole – to name a few, national defense, monitoring the safety of food and medicines, maintaining highways and keeping airplane traffic orderly – and those services have to be paid for. (No, the free market can’t do all that. It’s been tried, and people found the results unsatisfactory.)

    There are countries in the world – Somalia, for example – which don’t have functioning governments. By all reports, they’re very unpleasant places to live.


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