As a caveat, I am not talking about taking offense where offense is intended. If someone deliberately "disses" you, that's one thing. (Of course, if you decide not to take offense even when offense is intended, you've just freed yourself from the influence of the offender.)
I'm talking about the popular "virtue" of being offended by the innocuous. It's not unique to the 21st century or to the US or to any group of humans. It unfortunately arises from the all-too-human tendency to want to appear virtuous to one's peers. And to one's enemies. Especially to one's enemies. Then you can use your virtue to bludgeon your enemy over the head and still maintain the higher moral ground.
The game is played like this:
- A few enlightened parties identify a particular societal evil that permeates the society — preferrably something that was previously identified as OK by the majority
- Society begins to wake up, and most people embrace the elimination of the societal evil.
- Eager to prove to their peers that they are not the problem, people become publicly "offended" by manifestations of that societal evil
- As time passes, people begin to engage in a type of one-upmanship, in which they prove that they can detect manifestations of that societal evil in situations everyone else considers to be innocuous
- A variant of this game is to be offended in behalf of the people who are most harmed by this societal evil
- Encouraged by the example of others, and desperate not to be thought of as part of the problem, people continue to seek out manifestations of that societal evil in as many places as possible; after awhile, the game careens into absurdity, though few are willing to identify the Emperor as naked
- When a critical mass of absurdity is achieved, one of two things happen: the society becomes so crazed in its attempt to be purged of the societal evil that it begins to purge people from its body, either through legal sanction or in extreme cases, extermination; or the masses rebel, causing the pendulum to swing to the other extreme
One cannot overstate the rush that comes from proving oneself "pure" of the societal evil, so it comes as no surprise that people climb over themselves to achieve the pinnacle of purity, which is signified by that individual's ability to be offended by the most innocuous thing. What sensitivity! What perception! What a pure soul, to be able to sense evil that everyone else misses!
I personally am not easily offended by hearing viewpoints with which I disagree, not because I don’t think the viewpoints are offensive, but because the emotional state of being offended gives one no “added value,” and in fact, is almost always detrimental to one’s spiritual well-being. You see, being offended is one of the tricks the ego uses to justify itself. The ego secretly enjoys and gets a thrill or a “rush” out of being offended. When you are in this state, the ego achieves a false sense of nobility by elevating itself above whatever it happens to be offended about. Most "activists" are people who perversely enjoy being offended -- it's like an addiction to the ego.
This is the thing: "offense" is probably the wrong word. When you are "offended," you get to claim the coveted victim's status and foist the mother of all guilt trips on the offender. Grovelling and compensation are demanded to make things "right."
Which means that taking "offense" is actually a form of extortion. So they're not being "offended," they're being "indignant" or "outraged" or "empowered."
Or coersive, which is what this is really all about. If I can't persuade you that my point of view is correct, I'll scramble for the nearest high ground and force you to acknowledge my moral superiority and your own wickedness. Repent, sinner! Repent in sackcloth and ashes, and while you're down there, let me give you a few well-deserved kicks in the head.
Thus, the most low, common, and coarse individual can feel better than others by being in a semi-permanent state of offense, as you will have no doubt noticed that the left tends to be in. If you take away “being offended,” what’s left of the left? Just listen, if you can tolerate it, to Air America, or read Dailykos or the New York Times editorial page. They are “all offended, all the time.” Indeed, we are now in the midst of World War III because a bunch of religious fanatics are chronically offended, whether it's angry jihadis in Khartoum or jihadis angry about a cartoon.
Mark Steyn takes on people who try to suppress all expressions of Christmas in public just in case someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas has to be exposed to the shameful display, as if we were parading Nazi symbols around in Jewish neighborhoods.
This isn't about religion. Jesus is doing just fine in the United States. Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized American Christianity unique in the Western world. What the rabbi in Seattle and the cops in Riverside are doing is colluding in an assault on something more basic: They're denying the possibility of any common culture. America is not a stamp collection with one of each. It's an overwhelmingly Christian country with freedom of religion for those who aren't. But it's quite an expansion of "freedom of religion" to argue that "those who aren't" are entitled to forbid any public expression of America's Christian inheritance except as part of an all-U-can-eat interfaith salad bar. In their initial reaction, Seattle Airport got it right: To be forced to have one of everything is, ultimately, the same as having nothing. So you might as well cut to the chase.
What, after all, is the rabbi objecting to? There were no bauble-dripping conifers in the stable in Bethlehem. They didn't sing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," either. That's, in effect, an ancient pop song that alludes to the birth of the Savior as a call to communal merry-making: No wonder it falls afoul of an overpoliced overlitigated "diversity" regime. Speaking of communal songs, they didn't sing "White Christmas" round the manger. A Jew wrote that. It's part of the vast Jewish contribution to America's common culture.
So if anyone ever tries to sue you into compliance, citing "offense" as the offense, don't be fooled: you're being blackmailed. No one is actually hurt by your Christmas display, you've just got someone on your hands who is drunk with the prospect of coercing someone into doing something they don't want to do.
And that, as any despot will tell you, is the greatest thrill of all.