20 October 2008

On the potency of taking offence

This is only indirectly a teaching point, but it does reflect on the culture of our classrooms. This article and this one (both from rather right-wing perspectives, agreed, but that does not mean there is no virtue in them) make the point that sensitivity to possible offence is now a potent element in political debate at all levels--particularly where a shame-culture prevails (as it does much more than most of us would like to think). See also this report.

"Political correctness" (in itself a contestable label) in its most benign form, sets out not to offend anyone. OK, but that gives hostages to fortune in ceding great power to anyone who decides to be hypersensitive about, for example, being bald (sorry! "Follically challenged" I don't think that phrase was ever more than a joke anyway, and I can call it because I am myself bald...). Or being of a particular ethnic origin, or having a specific learning disability, or espousing a particular faith...

The fact that one falls into one or more of those categories (and several more) does not automatically make one a morally superior person, exempt from venal desires to take personal (or group) advantage from any strategic error by a competitor. (I'm looking at this systemically.)

If major players in a system elevate "not giving offence" to their primary moral principle, then they cede authority to whoever can be most easily offended. And given that "not offending" is th ultimate pusillanimity (wow! Did I spell that right?) they probably deserve the consequences.

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