July 18, 2013


A Tiny Essay on Taking Offense (Eva Brann, Imaginative Conservative)

I love midnight movies, the Golden Oldies; they are the silver-lining of insomnia. Recently I caught part of an old black-and-white movie--Pressure Point--of the days when African-Americans were still called Negroes. Sidney Poitier plays a black prison psychiatrist. At one point his white patron says something about not expecting a Negro to be a successful psychiatrist and, suddenly realizing to whom he is talking, quickly adds: "No offense intended." To which Poitier replies, with lordly dignity: "No offense taken." This script is unthinkable in the nineties, more's the pity. Offense is to be taken.

"A gentleman," it used to be said when the term was still operative, "never gives offense unwittingly." Translated into current language, a gentleman was thought to have "sensitivity"--with a negative sign. He had a highly raised consciousness of people's feelings and on occasion meant to hurt them. That is why a gentleman's (or a gentlewoman's) insults were taken with deadly seriousness. Men used to get themselves killed or banished fighting duels over them.

Quite incidentally, the old saying shows up the danger of sensitivity training and consciousness raising--that benignly meant bullying of the guilty in soul by the pure at heart: people might well learn how to hurt more effectively. Anyone like a dean, who is by duty condemned to follow the chronicles of higher education, knows that some such result is appearing on campuses now.

We all know that there are lives and then there are lifestyles. Lives are unities evolving from crucial choices, while lifestyles are accretions of consumer preferences. Similarly, there are morals and moral styles.

Taking offense is a moral style.
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Posted by at July 18, 2013 9:19 PM

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