Book Review: On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, by Richard King

October 3rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Listener has a book review by me on an excellent book by Richard King called On Offence: The Politics of Indignation.

To quote my own review:

Richard King’s On Offence: The Politics of Indignation is very timely. King argues that all around the world more and more people are claiming it is their right to not have others offend them, and governments and other institutions are bowing to their demands. …

King argues that the principle of is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend and that the modern fetish for sensitivity is corrosive of genuine civility. Well-documented and researched, his book doesn’t just report on the high-profile cases of manufactured offence, but dissects the changes in society that have led to this.

It condemns sensitive souls on the left and right of politics, lambasting both political correctness and religious conservatism. Governments and the media are jointly judged as spineless for their failure to defend freedom of speech in the case of the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

King slates political correctness as moving beyond political liberalism when those fighting against intolerance and bigotry do not seek freedom from others’ views but the freedom to impose their own on others. He also takes aim at what he calls patriotic correctness, where political opponents are browbeaten for undermining national pride.

I suspect many readers would enjoy reading the book. It is in no way a kneejerk book, but a very incisive examination of the growing culture of a claimed right not to be offended.

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29 Responses to “Book Review: On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, by Richard King”

  1. kowtow (6,705 comments) says:

    Yep the offence industry/ attacks on traditional freedoms seem to be coming in the main from politicians who brand themselves as progressives.

    The ones who urge mutliculturalism,diversity,equality,mass immigration,indigenous this that and the other,gender this that and the other etc etc

    Abbot has promised to roll back some oppressive legislation in Oz and I think the Canadians are thinking the same way.
    Britain is run by a swivel eyed loon in coaltion with other swivel eyed loons,so there’s lots of promises but never any action,oh for true conservatives.

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  2. alwyn (359 comments) says:

    How would you regard the following as a summary of the subject.

    “It’s now very common to hear people say “I’m rather offended by that”. As if that gives them certain rights.It’s actually nothing more … than a whine. “I find that offensive”. It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that”. Well so fucking what.”

    I wish I had said the above but Stephen Fry got in first.

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  3. nickb (3,629 comments) says:

    Pity National doesn’t agree. Otherwise the Human Rights and Race Relations Censorship Offices would be goneburgers.

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  4. BeaB (1,948 comments) says:

    And then some cop writes some ill-judged words (bad enough but quoted out of context) and Louise Nicholas and others are baying for his blood. Why should one mistake destroy a whole career?
    And then those prats Aaron Gilmour and Alastair Whatever lose their jobs after a media frenzy but Cunliffe can doctor, embellish and exaggerate his CV and he gets away with it, even though it strikes at the very heart of his character, a man who wants to be PM.
    So it’s always selective, biased and following whatever the latest outrage fad is.

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  5. kowtow (6,705 comments) says:

    alwyn asks about Stephen Fry and his view on the subject.

    He’s a homosexual rights activist who pushes the mental illness ,oh feel sorry for me shit so hard ,he’s not funny.

    Guilty as charged.

    Another BBC luvvie.

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  6. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    You do see rather a lot of what you describe.

    However a lot of it is actually THIS:

    Tweedledee: I think (group) deserve (fewer rights)

    Tweedledum: Well I think you’re a colossal cunt if you think that.

    Tweedledee: WHY IS EVERYONE SO POLITICALLY CORRECT NOW??

    There’s a difference between being politically correct and not standing for rudeness, though I fear the difference is far too subtle for Kiwiblog!

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  7. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    Yeah – some poor petal even got really upset about a person choosing to set fire to a bit of cloth early in the morning … just because they thought she was being an “offensive boor” and “beyond tacky”

    And you should check out all the commentators who “claim it is their right to not have others offend them” in the thread – and call for that person to get put into jail for a long time, just because that right got breached!

    http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2007/04/dawn_service.html

    [DPF The petal in question specifically said it was legal and did not call for it to be banned. I would hope you would know the difference between saying something is offensive and trying to stop people be offensive.]

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  8. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    Offence is an objective claim that can not be proven and describes an emotion, not another persons actions.

    Given that it is totally unproveable I suggest there is no such thing as offence, but there sure is such a thing as limiting freedom of expression and the rights of others.

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  9. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    Given that it is totally unproveable I suggest there is no such thing as offence, but there sure is such a thing as limiting freedom of expression and the rights of others.

    Just so we’re clear – it ought to be totally legal for someone to go down to their local primary school, stand outside the gates, and as the children walk out say to them (in a normal speaking voice), “You fucking little cunts, you’re all fucking shits who are ugly on both the inside and outside and your parents don’t love you … little cunts.”

    Seeing as “offence” doesn’t exist, that is.

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  10. hj (5,692 comments) says:

    AG (1,627) Says:
    October 3rd, 2013 at 5:17 pm
    Yeah – some poor petal even got really upset about a person choosing to set fire to a bit of cloth early in the morning … just because they thought she was being an “offensive boor” and “beyond tacky”
    ……………………
    I maintain the right to be offended by Valerie Morse (as welcome as a blowfly at Sunday dinner) showing up to burn the flag at ANZAC dawn parade. Surely there are some limits otherwise it would be o.k for the national Front to call out “Nigger Nigger pull the Triger” at Waitangi Day etc, etc.
    Or I suppose the state (people) generally agree what is o.k and what isn’t. I’m not sure how this book lays down a line?

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  11. hj (5,692 comments) says:

    Society doesn’t think with one brain and groups manage to gain an influence way beyond their worth (e.g the multiculturalists) and Marxists. I *think* time will see multiculturalism shot down (probably by evolutionary psychologists). The problem is that they work their way into government funded institutions and act under the public radar; the fact is Labour and the Greens come with strange ideologies which they have never had to sell to the general public.

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  12. thor42 (772 comments) says:

    The “politics of indignation” has killed free speech in the UK and Europe.
    It is now impossible to criticise Islam over there and expect to be ignored by the police. Muslims don’t even need to issue a complaint.

    Tony Abbott is showing the way in this area, removing the BS legislation that professes to “protect” Muslims and other groups when all it does is give lefties a big stick to hit people who have *genuine* and valid concerns.
    Muslims march around with signs saying “God bless Hitler” – when were THEY ever prosecuted for doing so?

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  13. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    hj,

    Beyond tweaking DPF’s tail, that was my point. Everyone has their point at which they say “while I’m tolerant, I won’t tolerate THAT!” … and our law has long made it a criminal offence to “offend” others in certain ways. What has happened in recent years is that the law has shifted so certain kinds of “offence” to others is now permitted (like burning flags – but it’s still not clear if doing so at ANZAC day is allowed?) while other forms of “offence” is now not (like calling someone with dark skin “an animal”).

    I’m actually quite interested to read King’s book to see how he says our laws are now more intolerant of offence, given that (for instance) it was deemed to be a criminal act in the early 1960s for someone to burn the British flag (on the grounds that it would be so offensive to ordinary NZers that no-one should have to witness it).

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  14. hj (5,692 comments) says:

    Google
    “highly offensive to Maori”

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  15. Black with a Vengeance (1,552 comments) says:

    If I offend people, it’s because I fucking meant to!!!

    Softcock bitches can eat a bag of diddles!!!

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  16. Kea (10,451 comments) says:

    Just so we’re clear – it ought to be totally legal for someone to go down to their local primary school, stand outside the gates, and as the children walk out say to them (in a normal speaking voice), “You fucking little cunts, you’re all fucking shits who are ugly on both the inside and outside and your parents don’t love you … little cunts.”

    Seeing as “offence” doesn’t exist, that is.

    AG, are you admitting that the only thing restraining your urge to abuse kids is the threat of legal action ?

    You see most of us do not need that threat hanging over us in order to act properly. I find your opposition to free expression highly offensive !!! So what do we do now ?

    Instead of imagining up emotional scenes, try and think a bit deeper and figure out my point. Who decides what can be said ? You or Me ?

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  17. James Stephenson (1,885 comments) says:

    As I see it, there can never be any right to go through life without being offended. There should however be a point at which (eg La Morse) where the law says “you asked for that, suck it up” when someone walks up and chins you.

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  18. radvad (620 comments) says:

    The taking of offence is a personal choice, same as getting anger. If somebody offends or angers you then who is the one in charge?
    My life has improved immensely since I CHOSE to never allow anyone to control me by offending or angering me. Try it, its liberating.

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  19. Reg (544 comments) says:

    I regard homosexual activity as morally wrong.
    For how much longer will I be allowed to say this without my rights to freedom of speech being denied?
    Already there is a bill before the Dutch Parliament to deny marriage licences to celebrants who refuse to marry homosexuals.

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  20. Nostalgia-NZ (4,688 comments) says:

    ‘I regard homosexual activity as morally wrong.
    For how much longer will I be allowed to say this without my rights to freedom of speech being denied?’

    The use of the word ‘indignation’ in the book’s title is removed from expressing opinion. Freedom of speech, or opinion are the partners of expression, so too temperance and use of language – on most occasions.

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  21. Tom Jackson (2,235 comments) says:

    Complain all you like. It’s not going away. The internet is a virtual lynch mob.

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  22. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    As I see it, there can never be any right to go through life without being offended. There should however be a point at which (eg La Morse) where the law says “you asked for that, suck it up” when someone walks up and chins you.

    So … the State shouldn’t arrest and prosecute people who (say) draw cartoons depicting Mohammed (because muslims don’t have a right to go through life without being offended), but if a mob of angry muslims burn down the home of the artist, neither should the State arrest and prosecute them (because the artist asked for it, so should suck it up)?

    This will be an interesting world to live in.

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  23. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    @Kea,

    AG, are you admitting that the only thing restraining your urge to abuse kids is the threat of legal action ?

    Nope. I’m a well-socialised individual. However, not everyone is.

    What I’m asking you is why you think the right to express yourself ought to extend to the example I gave … you were, after all, the one who said that “there’s no such thing as offence”.

    Who decides what can be said ? You or Me ?

    Neither of us. The decision gets made by the police prosecuting people for offensive behaviour/using offensive language with the intent to offend, and the courts then determining whether the elements of the offence have been met (which involves a contextual examination of the behaviour/words and a concern to allow an appropriate degree of expressive freedom (especially when the behaviour/words involve political or social commentary)).

    That will stop some people being able to say what they want. But that’s OK. There are some things you shouldn’t be allowed to say to some people.

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  24. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    [DPF The petal in question specifically said it was legal and did not call for it to be banned. I would hope you would know the difference between saying something is offensive and trying to stop people be offensive.]

    Oddly enough, but, there was no thunderous denunciation of the Police for arresting Morse and restricting her rights just because a bunch of war vets and patriotically minded observers didn’t like what they saw. But point taken.

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  25. peterwn (2,935 comments) says:

    In the past, indignation was the preserve of those who had ‘clout’ such as rich, employers, teachers, judges etc. Now it is pretty well open to all.

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  26. Jinky (152 comments) says:

    I’m normally a fan of free speech in most cases but the family of the 11yo victim of a paedophile who was described by a senior policeman as a “willing participant” have every right to be offended by that comment. If any member of that family chose to “chin” that cop I would not find them guilty if I was on a jury.

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  27. wf (317 comments) says:

    14year-old boy whom I have known since birth: Why did you unfriend me on Facebook?
    Me: because I think some of the photos are ugly, and your friends comments are often offensive. And I don’t want my other friends to have this pop up on their pages.
    14yo: But I don’t use the C-word!
    Me: You do use text-speak though!

    I now limit my Facebook ‘friends’ to those with interests similar to mine, and no teenagers.

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  28. thor42 (772 comments) says:

    @radvad – “The taking of offence is a personal choice, same as getting anger. If somebody offends or angers you then who is the one in charge?
    My life has improved immensely since I CHOSE to never allow anyone to control me by offending or angering me. Try it, its liberating.”

    I agree. I still have my moments (believe me), and I wouldn’t say it’s easy (particularly to start with) but I agree that it’s a good approach to take (if you can).
    I think it tends to be easier to not get angered if you are debating a topic that you know a lot about.

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  29. ChardonnayGuy (1,023 comments) says:

    Religious social conservatives are definitely pro-censorship themselves. The Office of Film and Literature Classification’s primary activity has been stopping pedophiles from gaining access to images of child sexual abuse over the last five years, but is sporadically ambushed by having to respond to vexatious interference with film festival content from the tiny, shrivelled remnants of the late Pat Bartlett’s “Society for Promotion of Community Standards.” And not all social liberals support “hate speech” bans. I don’t.

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