Idle Thoughts on Harm

22 Jan 2012

Scott Madin:

I actually don’t care whether anyone is offended. Offense is a vague, amorphous concept, and it is completely subjective, as my friend pointed out. Anyone can claim to be deeply, mortally offended by anything, and it may very well be true; even if it’s not, there’s no way to dispute it.

It runs deeper than the question of honesty. We should, whenever possible, take people at their word especially when it comes to harm. But Scott is right in his disdain of the concept of offense, because it is without the impact or the danger of harm. Offense is as shifting as the unstable pillars of emotions and opinion.

I have long stopped concerning myself with offending people, much as I have stopped focusing on the changing the opinions of those who are not interested in conversation, those who are offended by the beliefs of others, or by their very existence.1 I will waste no energy on them. I will spend no time changing myself to ensure that they are satisfied.

Where I run into trouble is the point at which offense is categorized as harm, because it is a mistake akin to declaring opinion as fact. It is crying wolf, although that analogy is suspect. What are the consequences of such declarations? Does crying offense burn social or political capital? Will I trust you less if you conflate offense with harm?

  1. The Pope recently said, “[gay marriage] policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself”.