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Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 1999 /15 Kislev, 5760

Don Feder

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Being offended is a substitute for thinking -- BEING OFFENDED means never having to answer an argument.

The conversation went something like this. Caller: "I want you to know your column on drug legalization offended me."

Me: "Let me get this straight. Because I said drugs are soul-deadening and far too lethal to legalize, you were offended?"

Caller: "That's right. It made me want to hurl."

Charming, the way these Gen-Xers express themselves. I don't hear this more than a few dozen times a week: "I'm offended." "I'm deeply offended." "I was really offended." "I found your column very offensive."

They should turn it into a song, the hymn of the hypersensitive. "O say can you see, that which offended me? If you do, cut it our, or I'll start to pout."

Liberals are addicted to displays of indignation. Increasingly, the left believes that certain ideas are inherently evil. Instead of seeking a dialogue, they righteously proclaim their outrage and wait for the offending party to wither.

Minority spokesmen are easily affronted. Because others of their kind suffered in the past, the rest of us are expected to walk on eggshells when discussing anything that relates to them.

Challenge their distortions of history, refuse to wallow in guilt for the sins of the past, or tell them they're not entitled to whatever group benefits they demand, and you are attacking them, denying their humanity, perpetuating negative stereotypes and condoning racism.

I recently offended (very, deeply) some American Indians with a column on the Smithsonian's new politically correct Indian Museum by writing that I objected to having my tax dollars used to slander my country.

That seemed to me like a simple, straightforward proposition. But, no, because I protested the creation of a federally funded institution to propagate the lie that America was founded on genocide, I was mocking their pain.

"I'm offended" has become the all-purpose cop out. No need to deal with ideas. Facts and history are irrelevant. The sole criterion is your mental state, that your paper-thin skin has been pierced.

You don't want a discussion. You demand a groveling apology and a promise never to be offensive -- i.e., to challenge dogma -- again.

The current sensitivity craze is grounded in the '60s, when emotions became the center of the universe.

All that mattered was feeling something deeply. To feel was to be authentic. And the stronger the emotion, the more certain that it was true. (Nuremberg would seem to refute this.)

Being offended was a litmus test -- proof of the depth and sincerity of our beliefs.

The primacy of feelings is now pervasive. After a recent debate at Princeton, I was approached by a student who became visibly agitated when I didn't accede to her position almost as soon as she had stated it.

Couldn't I see how much she believed it? How could I deny the validity of her emotions by failing to agree with her?

The problem with arguing from outrage is that both sides, and any number, can play the game.

You're offended by opposition to affirmative action. I'm offended by policies that penalize people for no reason other than their race or gender. You're offended by a failure to recognize what you call a woman's right to "control her body." I'm offended by those who treat the unborn child as a non-issue in this debate.

You're offended by religious people trying to "force their morality on the rest of us." Others are offended by those who would relegate religious conservatives to second-class citizenship, denying them the democratic rights (including the right to try to have their values written into law) afforded everyone else.

That we are offended proves absolutely nothing other than our subjective state of mind. And there will never be a meeting of minds if we can't rationally discuss issues free of unsubtle forms of intimidation. (You have offended me. Therefore, you are bad.)

You're offended and you want an apology? OK, here it is.

I'm sorry that you're offended. I'm sorry you can't deal with ideas. I'm sorry you're intimidated by dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy. I'm sorry you think your emotions are all that counts. And, I'm sorry we can't discuss this like grown-ups.

If you're offended by this column, write your congressman, ask your therapist to help you cope, tell it to the Marines. But, please, spare me.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate