“Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.”
― Christopher Hitchens
“That was literally the most offensive part of the night,” the young and progressive Korean said. “That is not OK. It’s 2017. I felt super uncomfortable.”
I took a stroll through downtown Cincinnati recently. It’s been about a year since my last. And the stereotypes that some of the rural folks I’ve met keep about too many “city slickers” started to heave in.
The young Korean guy was talking with a tall Caucasian girl, craning his neck as they walked through the drizzling rain. The subject at hand was the Halloween film premiere the night before.
But the film was irrelevant. It was a very offensive night on the town, is all I gathered. And they quickly ran out of fingers counting all the offenses down.
And then, oh gosh, what was he thinking, dear lord, there was Mark…
He showed up in a sombrero and poncho. Pretty problematic. Obviously.
(It is, after all, 2017.)
The Comedic Canary in the Coal Mine
If you want to see how the freedom of expression is faring in any society, look to the goofballs. Specifically, the comedians. Traditionally, they’re the only ones who could ever get away with being candid without getting their heads lopped off by the cultural elite.
Benjamin Owen is one such comedic canary in the coal mine. He was recently blackballed — lost some gigs and then, astoundingly, his agent — for suggesting little kids shouldn’t be doled out hormone blockers to change their genders. (What a monster, I know.)
Chris Rock said he’s stopped playing colleges because they’re too conservative. “Not,” he clarified, “in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.”
To be sure, pushing back against an unfettered outrage culture isn’t to minimize those who are genuine victims of horrific, evil and ignorant people.
There’s a difference between being stalked, harassed and assaulted and creating the sensation of being stalked, harassed and assaulted.
The former has every right to be outraged, to raise hell, and take all necessary steps to end such direct affronts.
The latter, though, has the incredible luxury of lounging around and speculating on the outside world’s happenings, on the silent motivations of the “other,” on what should be in an ideal world, and then taking offense to all the harrowing conclusions, which may or may not actually reflect reality.
And the many motivations behind such speculations aren’t anything new.
The tribe has always reached for an enemy to strengthen its bonds. The townsfolk always had their pitchforks on the ready in case some outsider crossed the ever-moving signpost. And the settlers were all-too-primed to blame witchcraft for their problems and drown a youngster in the river for the greater good.
Furthermore, author Mark Manson says in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: “People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good.”
I thought for a moment of mentioning all of this to my Cincinnati eavesdroppees.
But, instead, I let them be. I crossed the road.
I didn’t, after all, want to offend them.
Waste Not. Cultivate the Roses
In truth, I didn’t doubt their sincerity.
Finger-wagging isn’t really a skill. You can’t make anything useful with simply being offended. Nothing productive happens by nature of being offended. Nobody is saved. The hungry and downtrodden can’t eat feelings.
And the true tragedy is the ever-offended will be so busy shouting down the weeds, they’ll never see how all the many flowers of the field grow.
They’ll be experts on the noxious Johnsongrass, but will, in their rampage, accidentally smoosh that Fuschia Blue Eye hiding behind the bush.
The world will feel dark and cold and colorless and lonely and full of predators in sombreros.
They’ll go to a perhaps beautiful and moving film premiere and miss out on being moved because some idiot came in wearing a blanket and a hat.
So, yes, people can choose to be offended. And others can choose to press their buttons.
Don’t waste time on either. Cross the road, if you have to.
Cultivate those rare and neglected roses that happen to, against all odds, burst out from beneath the concrete.
The world needs more solution-showers than it needs the blamers and the harangers… the offenders and the offense-takers.
To help cement this worthy proposition, we invite John C. Mozena to today’s program.
Keep building. Lead the way.
And read on.
Be a Libertarian Who Cares
By John C. Mozena
I volunteer for American Red Cross as a disaster team leader, responding to house fires and other small-scale incidents in the Detroit area to help people in need with basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter for the night. An acquaintance of mine recently said to me, “I’m shocked that you’d do that. I mean, you’re a libertarian, aren’t you? Shouldn’t those people sift through the ashes to find an unburned bootstrap to pull themselves up by?”
“I’m just practicing what I preach,” I told him. “I don’t want to live in a society where people don’t help each other when tragedy strikes, but I just don’t think the government’s the right way to deliver that help.
I choose to spend my time this way, and donors choose to support the Red Cross so that I have the resources to help people when they need it. We’re all working together to do good voluntarily because we think it’s the right thing to do. So, I’d argue that my volunteer disaster relief isn’t inconsistent with libertarianism; rather, it’s a perfect example of what we talk about.”
“If more libertarians were like that, I’d take you guys more seriously,” he responded.
“Most are,” I assured him. “The selfish jerks are just louder about it.”
In this interaction, I recognized both the problem and a solution in the fight to educate people on what a free society really means. The problem, as we all know too well, is that we’re assumed to love liberty because it allows us to be selfish and cruel.
We’re all heartless, mustache-twirling baby formula poisoners, lunch counter segregationists, and toll road ticket-takers who like our smokestacks like we like our marijuana — unfiltered.
And to be sure, there are plenty of people who consider themselves libertarians who love the idea of freedom because they like the idea of a society where nobody can stop them from being as terrible as they want to be.
You may have met them on the Internet.
Don’t Be Brutal
We want the same things. Where you and I may disagree is how to get there.
Unfortunately, a philosophy that gives people the freedom to be jerks as long as they’re not hurting anybody else does seem to attract jerks to its cause. Jeffrey Tucker at the Foundation for Economic Education memorably named these “brutalist” libertarians, as opposed to “humanitarians.”
Which team would you rather be on?
Personally, I’m not a libertarian because I care about what’s good for me; I’m a libertarian because I care about what’s good for everyone. And I truly believe that in this, I’m firmly in the mainstream of libertarianism. Most libertarians of my acquaintance are decent, caring people who do good in their communities. They want the world to be freer not only for themselves but because they believe freedom makes life better for everyone.
That’s why the best way to fight the stereotype and misperceptions isn’t to say, “Well, actually,” and quote Rand or Mises or Hayek or Friedman or whomever. (That comes later.) The best way to change minds one at a time about what kind of society we’d have if people like us got our way is simply to show how much you care about living in a good and decent society.
Make it clear that you’re trying to create, not destroy. Start not from philosophical first principles, but from humanitarian ones that you share with your audience.
For example, I said to my skeptical acquaintance, “We want the same things. You and I both want people to be happy and healthy and prosperous. We want kids to grow up smart and capable and better off than we are. We want clean water and clean air and safe food. We want to be safe to go about our lives free from fear of anybody else, for whatever reason. Where you and I may disagree is how to get there.
“Personally, I believe a society where people make their own choices about what’s best for them is more likely to achieve those goals that than one where politicians decide who gets what,” I added. “I spent time in Eastern Europe right after the Wall came down in the early 1990s. They’d tried for equality and produced misery.”
It’s the Society, Stupid
Showing a concern for society but disdain (at best) for government can be challenging for some audiences to understand.
I personally borrow heavily from Frédéric Bastiat in explaining this dichotomy: I want people to have food, but I don’t think government farms are the answer. I want people to be able to practice their religious faith free from persecution, but I don’t think government churches are the answer. I want people to have jobs, but I don’t think a government-run economy is the answer. I want kids to be educated, but I don’t think government schools are the answer.
If you lead by agreeing with your audience on basic human decency, you’ve struck a blow against our stereotypes and created the potential for more agreement. If it turns out they agree with you on that important stuff, what else might they find you saying that makes sense? And if they talk to enough libertarians who approach the future that way, who knows what could happen?
In short, don’t champion liberty. Rather, champion the good that liberty can do. Show that you care and that there’s more of us like that out there than there are the jerks who give freedom a bad name.
Be the humanitarian, not the brutalist, and win both hearts and minds for freedom.
John C. Mozena is a communications strategist for liberty movement and free-market organizations. He is the former vice president of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and spent 20 years in private-sector public relations and marketing roles.
This article originally appeared on FEE.org…