Richard King – On Offence

People are feeling offended by a huge variety of things on a daily basis, from comments about religion to bad language and remarks about appearance. Richard King’s book takes on the subject of offence-taking and offence-mongering in the last 50 years and particularly the last two decades.

People are getting increasingly angry, venting their rage on social networks like Twitter. But why are they doing it and what good can this anger possibly do? Outlets like Twitter should be providing a new platform for freedom of speech but have instead become places for mob mentality to rule the roost with people looking for views that echo their own. People are feeling offended without giving due thought about what it is they’re claiming to be offended about. We even see political leaders jumping on the bandwagon and chiming in with their views on stories that should really be beneath them. Important questions about who we are and how we should live are lost among this endless babble.

King feels that the principle of free speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend and that the claim to find something offensive should be just the beginning of the debate. He feels taking offence is bad for democracy as we need to hear views we don’t agree with as they’ll possibly lead us to call our own views into question. People at the top of large religions can feel offended when they’re questioned but this can only be a bad thing for future ideas.

We’re seeing situations where textbooks are being rewritten to fit a modern agenda, perhaps to take out an offensive past. Mark Twain changed the way many thought about racism but some of the language was seen as being racist a century later.

One of the most vile aspects of all this is the artificial nonsense that send ripples across society, causing people to be offended by things that don’t really exist, such as the recurring ‘war on Christmas’. The creation of hysteria like this generates a notion of victimhood in order to gain popular sympathy.

Richard King feels offence should never be seen as being on the same level as actual harm. This book highlights how taking offence at things can be extremely negative and we should always be willing to listen to other views and stand behind the freedom to offend as well as freedom of speech.

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