Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking offense

From a New Republic review by Isaac Chotiner of Stefan Collini's That’s Offensive!:
.... Treating people with respect is a fine goal, but Collini notices that respect tends to be shown with special deference to so-called “out groups.” Claims of offense that would otherwise be ignored are instead given credence and even deference. Collini also correctly identifies the people who tend to fall into this trap. Very few “progressive” forces, for example, would have shown any “understanding” of hurt Christian feelings if Jesus had been mocked in a Danish newspaper. The entire force of the argument against the offensiveness of the Danish cartoons was based on the concern that Muslims were somehow less powerful than other religious believers. But this hardly qualifies as an adequate justification for a double standard. ....

...[I]f one decides to criticize a culture or a tradition or a work of art, doing so is not an act of Western arrogance. Criticism is not Western or Eastern or Christian or Jewish, and those facing criticism—and those societies and cultures facing criticism—should respond in a spirit of openness about truth. To withhold criticism from certain communities or religions is, in Collini’s word, a form of condescension towards them. It denies these groups the ability to engage in constructive dialogue, and to fortify their own values. In the final analysis, everyone loses. ....

.... “When engaged in public argument … do not be so afraid of giving offence that you allow bad arguments to pass as though they were good ones, and do not allow your proper concern for the vulnerable to exempt their beliefs and actions from that kind of rational scrutiny to which you realize, in principle, your own beliefs must also be subjected.” .... [more]
Isaac Chotiner Reviews Stefan Collini's "That’s Offensive!" | The New Republic

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