How dare you be offended

The greatest ignominy of the modern era has to be, in my opinion, the inability to speak truthfully and fully about an unpopular subject. No longer can you publicly denounce what you think to be absurd and vigorously oppose it with every fiber of your being. No longer can you honorably defend the remnants of truth against the unstoppable flood of majoritarianism, facilitated in part by a hysteria of political correctness. Today, disagreeing with the supermajority is shameful.

“My feelings are hurt,” they whisper. “I’m offended,” they say before bed. We now live in a society in which we worry more about offending people than we do about the truth. The age-long apothegm “Give but little thought to Socrates but much more to the truth” ought to be rewritten to the following: “Give but little thought to the truth but much more to the emotional fragility of Socrates.”

There used to be a time when we bluntly said “who cares” when someone would state “I’m offended.” There used to be a time when to the latter charge we replied, as Christopher Hitchens put it, “I’m still waiting to hear what your point is.” There even used to be a time when thinking in opposition to the majoritarian view was encouraged and valued. But that world is now alien to the public discourse in America.

I chose to write about this topic simply because I believe that this is the most dangerous tendency facing this country. Emotional fragility, specifically when it serves as a tool of political correctness, is a very effective way of suppressing contrarian voices that see things from a different perspective. The second reason I decided to address this particular topic (over my original choice of the Russian involvement in Syria), is because I am currently located at the very epicenter of the hurt-feelings industry ““ an American university.

You would not believe me if I told you how many people have, over the past several years, come to me after class or a lecture to quietly say “I agree with you, thanks for making that point.” While the latter statement triggers an automatic feeling of gratitude due to its complimentary nature, it also raises an important question that began to seriously bother me. Why are people so afraid to speak their mind on controversial issues? Why do they wait for someone to get their hands (or in this case brains) dirty, take the discourse to the new and unexplored shores of knowledge?

When thinking about the latter question I could not but reflect on a society of which I am still a citizen: Russia. My mother lived in fear of fully stating her opinion when she went through the Soviet education system. The same went for my father and grandmother. Matter of fact, the only person in my family who challenged the political correctness of the Soviet regime was my grandfather. It is, therefore, not surprising that his open criticism of socialism abruptly ended in his assassination.

However, the political correctness native to my motherland can still be differentiated from the sort that plagues free thought in contemporary America. In Russia, people were afraid to disagree with the majority due to the political and social repercussions that would follow. They were afraid to lose their jobs, be imprisoned or even be killed. Just last year I wrote about my disturbing experience regarding the negative comments I made about Vladimir Putin’s political party (of which my second grandfather is a founding member). As a result of those comments, my biological father (who still lives in Russia) was detained and questioned about my “controversial” ideological position.

While the American political correctness is also driven by fear of institutional repercussions (believe me, there are things I am holding back on precisely due to concerns of administrative crackdown in our own academic institution), the political correctness in America is shaped primarily by a fear of spawning a tear. In Russia it would be somewhat absurd to reject an argument by appealing to one’s hurt feelings. This is primarily due to the fact that many Russian politicians such a Vladimir Putin don’t have feelings to begin with.

However, all jokes aside, if we want to eradicate this mode of thought regulation and unleash the beautiful marketplace of ideas that this country once treasured, we must come to terms with the inescapable conclusion about the nature of logic: emotional fragility has absolutely nothing to do with the validity and soundness of an argument. As long as we continue fostering the unhealthy relationship between these two unrelated products of the mind, we are not only endangering our freedom to fully examine important issues but are also bluntly slapping logical reasoning in the face. And that, for a lack of a better modern expression, is very offensive indeed.