I was telling a story the other day about shaming on the net, and how far we had gotten from the ideal, and quoted a correspondent of this column from a post in November 1994. I had written a story a few days earlier comparing software platforms to Chinese households and had expressed pleasure that I had not been excoriated for stepping up to the line of political correctness.
In 1994 my blog posts were sent via email in addition to being posted on the web. One of my correspondents, a self-described "ardent feminist" said something profound. "I try not to get offended on principle." I still remember getting the email, however unfortunately I don't remember who sent it.
That one sentence carries so much information about the process of taking offense that has been dominating discourse on the net. There are two levels beyond the ideal:
Taking offense on principle. I wasn't actually offended in a body chemistry way by what you said, but I thought it through and realize I should be offended, so I act offended.
Even worse, I thought it through and realize I could be offended. Since being offended is the position of power in net discourse (what did I actually win?) I look for a false context in order to act as if I was offended. Sigh. In other words, not only isn't your body hurting with offense, but you can't think your way to being offended. You have to find a way to cast my words, different from my intent, to act offended.
These days, much of what passes for rage on the net falls into the second category.
It would be so much better if people only expressed offense when it's real pain they're experiencing, and then only when absolutely necessary. "Pick your battles carefully" is another useful motto. The air is already thick with offense. Can you in some way provide an antidote?