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.