Tuesday, February 24, 2009

OK, You're Offended. And...?

As yet another sign that I'm getting old, crotchety, and increasingly conservative, I resonated with Mark Bauerlein's reflections on David Horowitz's recent visit to Emory. Horowitz is an itinerant conservative provocateur who just loves to raise the hackles of soppy liberals. But Bauerlein's observations resonate with what I've seen, too:

Most of them [attendees] were young, probably undergraduates, and they seemed bright and engaged. Somehow or some way in their education they seem to have assimilated the notion that being offended (or not being offended) forms a significant part of intellectual exchange. If someone says something you don’t like, something that distresses you personally, you should say so. If someone knocks your religion, tell them that you are, precisely, offended. If someone’s words cause you discomfort, that inner reaction itself is worth reciting.

Is this a new forensic among college students? Back in the early-80s, I can’t remember anybody my age giving the “I’m offended” response. If it were an event like this one, people would shoot back with substance and evidence. And if they didn’t have the goods, they might just mumble under their breath, “Kiss my —-” and walk out. The “I’m offended” reply would have been understood as a capitulation, not a valid rejoinder.

Needless to say, this is a poor educational outcome. Students need thicker skins, and they need to get past their offense feelings. Don’t fetishize them — let them go, and then pose sharp questions and make better arguments. Make yourself skilled in the heat of verbal battle. That’s hard to do, though, if you’re caught up in your sensitivities.
[Compare the response of these "offended" undergraduates to the response of Daniel Dennett to Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga at a recent meeting of the APA, as recounted in "An Opinionated Play-by-Play of Plantinga-Dennett Exchange."]