Taking offence

August 19th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Beck Eleven writes in The Press:

In his book, author argues it is all too easy to give offence. Not only that, but we practically leap at the opportunity to take it.

On Offence: The politics of indignation is King’s first book. Using popular culture examples, he explains how the cycle of giving and taking offence works to shut down debate and democracy.

“The determination to give offence matches the determination to take it,” he writes.

I reviewed his book a year or so ago. It is very good.

“Newspapers have less money these days,” King says. “And let’s face it, it’s cheap, easy copy and it’s copy people want to read. Some sections of the media almost drum up offence. You don’t have to pay a reporter to go to the Ukraine, these types of stories keep generating.”

Among other things, the book examines political correctness, an American pastor bent on burning the Quran, the Tea Party, religious and racist battles.

Finding examples for the book were everywhere.

“If you try to keep abreast of them all, you find yourself sinking beneath them. Offence and indignation are fantastically ubiquitous.”

One only need turn to social media or an online news story to find outrage.

“Comments hang on the end of them like seaweed. It doesn’t matter what an article is on, comments turn very abusive. Road rage is gone and internet rage is here.

So true.

As New Zealanders approach the general election, much of what King says about offence shutting down debate will start to ring a bell.

“The taking and giving of offence is a form of political currency. These days somebody only has to say something is offensive and that is deemed to be their whole argument although no real argument has actually been made.

“The way offence and offendedness is whipped up and weaponised strikes me as being almost corrosive of genuine civility.

“It ends up being more like ‘you have been offensive to me, therefore I am going to grant myself leave to something incredibly offensive back’.

“Offence is bad for democracy because it is treated as an argument in itself.”

His key reasoning in the book is that there is no right not to be offended.

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41 Responses to “Taking offence”

  1. Redbaiter (8,551 comments) says:

    Yes King is right in much of what he says.

    The problem is that the National Party buys into the fallacies surrounding “offence” as much as any other party.

    This is one of the main reasons I do not support them. So in harmony with left wing parties in areas where they should really be strongly disagreeing.

    Just seem clueless as far as any counter argument goes. Author King can come up with one, why not the National Party brains trust?

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  2. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    His key reasoning in the book is that there is no right not to be offended.

    He’s wrong. There is a right not be offended. I exercise it frequently.

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  3. Hugh Pavletich (192 comments) says:

    It needs to be stressed that most Labour politicians are not Saints. Former Australian Labour Prime Minister Paul Keating in action …

    Paul Keating Insults Archive

    http://www.webcity.com.au/keating/

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  4. Kimble (4,434 comments) says:

    He’s wrong. There is a right not be offended. I exercise it frequently.

    Are you sure you aren’t just exercising your right not to take offense?

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  5. radvad (755 comments) says:

    Nice one Graeme.
    The taking of offence is a choice and it is usually done with an ulterior motive. That motive is often nothing more than “I cannot counter your point”. For example try explaining to a leftie how time limits on benefits would benefit everyone. All you get back is “i am offended and I am not going to talk about this any more”.

    My personal choice is to never take offence at anything and it means a much more peaceful life.

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  6. Hugh Pavletich (192 comments) says:

    Paul Keating Insults Archive

    Mr Keating had little time for those from the Banking / Finance sector. One can sympathise !

    … excerpt …

    On Fund Managers:

    “…these donkeys…”

    “It must get right up their nose, quaffing down the red wine at these fashionable eateries in Bent Street and Collins Street, with the Prime Minister calling them donkeys – but donkeys they are.”

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  7. UrbanNeocolonialist (286 comments) says:

    Comedian Steven Hughes in 2011 saying almost exactly the same thing (3:30 mark):

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  8. Hugh Pavletich (192 comments) says:

    The Hager Matter: Chris Trotter Perspective … The Press. Where is the media perspective ?

    Dirty politics – is there any other kind? | Stuff.co.nz

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/10397066/Dirty-politics-is-there-any-other-kind

    … extract …

    The great Prussian military theoretician, Carl von Clausewitz, famously described war as “the continuation of politics by other means.”

    I would argue strongly that the reverse of that famous formulation is equally true. That politics is the continuation of war by other means.

    Democratic politics, in particular, requires both the political leadership of the state – and its citizens – to resolve the fundamental economic and social issues dividing their communities through institutions and processes that are of their essence both formal and peaceful.

    Legislatures and elections are thus charged with settling those issues which would, in previous centuries, have been resolved (to quote another Prussian) by “blood and iron”.

    In practical terms, therefore, the accepted (if unacknowledged) principle of professional politics has always been that so long as politicians and their follower eschew actual physical violence, then all other tactics are permitted.

    Politics is not an occupation for the faint-hearted, nor is it one whose practitioners can remain both effective and unstained. Bluntly, “dirty politics” is the only kind there is.

    Hager argues that: “Exposing dirty politics is an essential step in allowing reasonable people to understand and to choose other approaches. There is no need to follow those who are least principled down into the pit.”

    But the choice is not – with all due respect to Hager’s ardent idealism – between decency and the pit.

    The choice is between accepting “dirty” politics, with all its “Criticks and Bug-writers”, and rejecting altogether the formal and peaceful processes of democracy.

    The options are not fair means or foul: They are foul means or fouler.

    We look forward to the media explaining why in a recent poll with respect to Canterbury, Labour is at 14%, The Greens 22% and National at 55%. …

    Greens and Labour in Canterbury … Kiwiblog (note Pavletich comments on thread)

    http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2014/08/greens_and_labour_in_canterbury.html

    It is not as though the antics of Cameron Slater / Whaleoil and the associated political airheads (more childish politics than dirty politics) have not been known about for a long time. And too … the shortcomings of Recovery Minister Gerry (Bruiser) Brownlee, CERA, EQC and other central government agencies (the long sorry history within hyperlinked articles … Christchurch: The Way Forward | Scoop News ).

    Questions …

    Is there balance / perspective in the public / media discussion ?

    Why hasn’t there been to date thorough research / analysis on why this recent poll reported Canterbury Labour support at an extraordinarily low 14% ?

    This is in no way to deflect from the Hager matter. It is extraordinary PM Key did not move Judith Collins to the backbench and dismiss certain staffers on Monday. The issue is simply the apparent “disconnect” between media reporting and public opinion in Canterbury.

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  9. Liam Hehir (123 comments) says:

    There is a right not be offended

    Only if you take an irrationally literal approach in the interpreation of what was written and choose to exercise zero judgment in its interpretation. I think any ordinary literate person would read this post, consider the context, and conclude that what’s being argued is that you do not have the right to require the state undertake positive actions to protect you from things that offend you and that – at least in the main – your remedies should be limited to your consumer power and rights of free association to avoid those things which do offend you?

    Isn’t this kind of semantic nitpicking just a higher form of trolling?

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  10. Inthisdress (231 comments) says:

    I think it is best to engage in dialogue and to enjoy the frank exchange of views, but when the majority of the dialogue is just plainly offensive it is necessary not only to refuse to take offence but to stop talking altogether and move on.

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  11. xy (185 comments) says:

    The flipside of offense is apology. Wouldn’t it be great if people apologised for saying things that people took offense at, instead of just expecting people to suck it up? An apology isn’t a sign of weakness or failure, it’s recognition that both parties are human, and apologising for harm is how we produce a civil discourse.

    But Slater’s narrative is that apology is weakness, so fuck him.

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  12. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    Sorry to say but sometimes I feel being offensive is done intentionally to start a flame war and make readers lose interest.

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  13. thedavincimode (6,710 comments) says:

    So true.

    For the record though, I’ve never been offended at being described as a knuckle-dragging commie homo prog scumbag pinko. On the contrary, it is merely vindication of my position and confirmation that the person offering such an unimaginative epithet has no contrary argument and is incapable of assembling one.

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  14. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    “there is no right not to be offended”.

    There *shouldn’t* be but the laws in the UK and Europe have now firmly enshrined that “offense” trumps everything else – even the truth.

    You can criticise the Quran and even use *verses* from it to prove what you say, but over there you will still be seen as “engaging in behaviour likely to cause offense” and you’ll likely end up in a court.
    That’s how severely “political correctness” has damaged our society. Truth and freedom be damned – “offense” – real or imagined – is all that matters.

    Oh – and offense is a one-way street. Muslims can march in UK streets with signs saying “God bless Hitler” and they will *never* be arrested for causing offense.

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  15. thegrump (1 comment) says:

    I do strongly disagree that an “apology” is a way to defuse the offence/offended cycle. The apology is a new addition to the media driven victim manufacturing industry. How often have you seen some tiresome story in which someone in authority is flagellated for failing to deliver an apology in person even when error has been acknowledged. Its wider manifestation is in the demand for, and acquiescence with, national apologies for historic grievances.

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  16. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    There are different forms of offending, bad labels, but say questioning whether a person may be bought or forced into a behaviour. For some it might be a relief if someone pointed it out when you couldn’t avoid it. Or you might take offense at even the suggestion.

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  17. Hugh Pavletich (192 comments) says:

    Likely one of the most “offensive” people ever was the great polemicist Thomas Paine …

    Thomas Paine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Paine

    … who wrote the narrative (Common Sense) booting the British out of North America, founding the United States (he came up with the name)… raised hell in Britain lambasting their monarchy / feudal system and severely criticising institutional religion … then wound up on the French legislature trying (vainly) to moderate the French hot-heads. He wound up in the Bastille and just about got his head chopped off (only saved by Robespierre head coming over first … in the nick of time).

    Then aged and in poor health (thanks to the intervention of Jefferson … and no thanks for the non-intervention of Washington, for which the Americans cannot be forgiven!) poor Tom got out of France and spent his twilight years just out of New York.

    He had offended the religious zealots so much, they didn’t let him vote in the country he had essentially founded. He asked to be buried in a Quaker cemetery … but was refused. He was buried at his small farm with just 3 people in attendance … a French lady and her son and a Negro.

    The Kenneth Griffiths 1982 documentary on the great Thomas Paine is riveting … and a must view for those involved with politics …

    Part 1 …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Gu2c2iNoOU

    … and Part 2 …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WB-ujSTsHM

    The documentary maker Kenneth Griffiths was an exceptional fellow too … spending most of his time at War with Lew Grade and the BBC …

    Kenneth Griffith – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Griffith

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  18. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    XY at 3.40 brings up the question of apologies:

    An apology isn’t a sign of weakness or failure, it’s recognition that both parties are human, and apologising for harm is how we produce a civil discourse.

    I disagree. Excessive apologies are neurotic, weak, annoying and decrease the value of an apology for a genuine offence that warrants an apology.

    In an interesting interview this afternoon on Radio Labour, the grandson of Harry Truman, the President who gave final approval for the atomic bombing of Japan, spoke of reconciliation he and Japanese friends work on. Simon Mercep brought up the subject of an apology, and Truman’s grandson said he and his Japanese friends had concluded it would be wrong, because then the Japanese would be asked to apologise for the Pearl Harbour attack (and presumably other things in WW2). They concluded it was not the way forward. That is noble.

    In NZ, we are bombarded with an inordinate and interminable list of requests for apologies, most of them trivial, or for things that cannot be apologised for. We have trivialised apologies. We have made them a means of creating racial guilt, and of demonising institutions such as the police. In this sense profuse, trivial apologies have become repugnant to many of us.

    XY, can you put your hand on your heart and swear you did not find repugnant Cunliffe’s apology for being a man? If you can, IMHO you ought to be apologising to the rest of us.

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  19. Bad__Cat (140 comments) says:

    Pleasing everyone is nearly impossible.
    Pissing everyone off is real easy.

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  20. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Jack5: “XY, can you put your hand on your heart and swear you did not find repugnant Cunliffe’s apology for being a man? If you can, IMHO you ought to be apologising to the rest of us.”

    Cunliffe was very cleverly making his audience realise that they should not categorise people.

    Also perhaps suggesting that testosterone effects can go wonky in some people, and need to be outwitted.

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  21. unaha-closp (1,158 comments) says:

    For Graeme:

    His key reasoning in the book is that there is no [collective] right not to be offended.

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  22. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    Soundhill1 posted at 4.39 on Sorry-Sorry Cunliffe apologising for being a man:

    Cunliffe was very cleverly making his audience realise that they should not categorise people.

    You are being facetious aren’t you Soundhill1?

    If not, how on earth does apologising for being a man become a lesson that people should not be categorised? Do you mean everybody should be unisex? Do you think that’s what Cunliffe was saying? You’re not one of the New Age Anglicans who want to end prayers with “aperson” are you?

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  23. Tarquin North (261 comments) says:

    Being offended seems to come far easier to the left than the right. For example, I could happily have a beer with David Cunliffe. We don’t agree on a lot of things but I’m sure we could have a robust discussion on a wide variety of subjects. Most of the left leaning commenters you find in places like the standard or daily blog just resort to screaching and name calling if you disagree with them – which they seem to class as offensive behaviour. I’ts a real shame, plenty of them have a lot to offer. Sharing is very hard for them.

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  24. Matthew Flannagan (76 comments) says:

    Actually if we are talking about moral rights as opposed to enforceable legal rights, there seems a straightforward case for saying there is a right to not be offended.
    That is because there is a duty to not deliberately insult, or mock or ridicule people for no reason, to do so fails to treat them with respect. So, it would not be implausible to suggest a person could legitimately demand that they not be treated that way.

    If I just walked up to you in a supermarket and began screaming abuse at you, mocking and ridiculing you your family and kids, publically for no reason you would have a legitimate complaint I had failed to treat you they way you had a right to be treated.

    The problem mentioned here is not so much that there is not a duty to not offend others, as people misconstrue what is offensive. Expressing opinions you disagree with is not offensive, neither is something offensive just because you choose to take offense at it, nor is something necessarily offensive because you have a negative emotional reaction to it.

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  25. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    Matthew Flanagan posted at 5pm:

    If I just walked up to you in a supermarket and began screaming abuse at you, mocking and ridiculing you your family and kids, publically for no reason you would have a legitimate complaint…

    Matthew, I would have very sore knuckles, unless I hit you with a bottle or a can.

    Seriously, however, I think you are right. You to a considerable degree choose whether you take offence. If you don’t play the game they don’t score a hit.

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  26. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Jack5. “Sounded to me that Cunliffe was just being a wimp.” I haven’t listened to it all I am sorry just going by the brief amount most saw on the news. Wasn’t he talking to a women’s group about shelters for them? So he was saying that some more men than women are afflicted with tempers that end in physical abuse. And he was saying, “I am a man, too, have another think about what all we humans can be together in this advancing world.” And most of the people who have criticised him actually know he was saying that. And the people listening to the criticism will by and large not be turned away from their view. They will have felt very embarrassed that their news media is doing that, and inwardly waiting for apology but knowing that they won’t get it as those news writers are doing all they can to appease their bosses, looking for every opportunity to sway the gullible. They are who should be apologising. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/74674716.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Apr+16%2C+1991&author=Tom+Turnipseed&pub=The+Washington+Post+%28pre-1997+Fulltext%29&edition=&startpage=a.19&desc=What+Lee+Atwater+Learned%3B+And+the+lesson+for+his+prote%27ge%27s.

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  27. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    Soundhill1 at 5.10.

    Cunliffe used the words “I am sorry for being a man”.

    http://www.3news.co.nz/Cunliffe-apologises-for-being-a-man/tabid/1607/articleID/351436/Default.aspx

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  28. Alan Wilkinson (1,871 comments) says:

    There is no right to never be offended. There may be rights not to be offended in specific ways. There is no right for other people to be offended by the same things that offend you. There is no right for offence taken automatically to be treated seriously.

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  29. Alan Wilkinson (1,871 comments) says:

    I wasn’t offended by Cunliffe, I was sickened by his sycophancy and hypocrisy.

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  30. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Jack5 reported Cunliffe said: “I don’t often say it, [but] I’m sorry for being a man because family and sexual violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men,” he said.

    “So the first message to the men out there is: wake up, stand up, man up and stop this bulls***.”

    In other words if you are not prepared to have your tax going to solve this problem you are….

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  31. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    Soundhill1 said at 5.48:

    Jack5 reported Cunliffe said…

    No I didn’t. I linked to a news report that contained the words from Cunliffe’s mouth: ” … I’m sorry for being a man …”

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  32. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Jack5. So do you concur with Cameron Slater about what a man is? ““The messages that Gun City are sending are likely to heighten gender divisions and create something of a pall over what should be a day when fathers immerse themselves in family, friends and the joys of home.”

    What a load of namby-pamby rubbish with not a shred of evidence to back it all up. I’d rather have hyper-masculinity than gayed down, limp-wristed wowser-ism. My missus wants a man who can protect his family and feed them through skill.”

    I haven’t watched the video in it: http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/tag/david-tipple/

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  33. adc (592 comments) says:

    I think it’s a semantic issue here. There’s a difference between a right not to be offended, and a right to not take offense.

    There being no right to not be offended, means you should have no state protection from others trying to offend you, whether you actually take offense or not. They should retain their rights to free speech and to offend you. It’s your choice if you take the offense. Whatever you do upon taking offense is upon you since you exercised your choice.

    And to that I agree.

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  34. Jack5 (5,053 comments) says:

    Soundhill1 posted at 6.20:

    @Jack5. So do you concur with Cameron Slater about what a man is?

    What the hell are you on about Soundhill1? Slater, Gun City??

    I can’t make head nor tail of your post.

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  35. SPC (5,595 comments) says:

    This was tested tonight by Hosking, who asked the question – what good had Julian and Edward realised with their revelations? He said their personal outcomes were not to their benefit and then related this to that of the Hager book, suggesting it would also achieve little.

    Apparently telling truth to power, and exposing corruption by the elected governments concerned, means nothing if one does not get a Pulitzer for it – without prospect of personal reward why do anything … is his line.

    As the ultimate apologetic for being toady of the wealthy and the powerful it takes some beating.

    Offensive to any moral compass, hell yes. And out and proudly so, not a journalist – but a presenter and a commentator and in solidarity with bloggers who give the rest a bad name.

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  36. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    Yesterday Hosking proclaimed himself to be a “team player”. What team is it he is hinting at? And maybe Julian and Edward have feelings for some sorts of teams, too. Perhaps Mike Hosking is implying that he does not feel quite right about the role he has to portray.

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  37. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Jack5. It’s just a matter of the meaning of “being a man.” Gun City had a gun special on Fathers’ Day. Someone was suggesting to be a man on Fathers’ Day you needed to be more into family stuff. Slater, supporting his Gun City friend, is rather suggesting that getting a gun can help you to be a man by protecting your family and feeding them. OK to the second but I am not sure how many are happy about a society where guns are more prevalent “for protection”, like USA where incidentally very may are used against the owner.

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  38. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Jack5. Just to clarify a bit more what I said about guns being used on their owners: “In the United States, suicides outnumber homicides almost two to one. Perhaps the real tragedy behind suicide deaths—about 30,000 a year, one for every 45 attempts—is that so many could be prevented. Research shows that whether attempters live or die depends in large part on the ready availability of highly lethal means, especially firearms.” http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/guns-and-suicide/ That looks like about 4.3 people per thousand attempt suicide each year, given about 314m people in USA. It seems pretty high if I am getting the maths correct over 10 years that would be 43 per thousand. Maybe I am not correct but over 50 years that might amount to each person having over 20% chance of trying suicide. May be something wrong with those maths. And the people with guns are much more likely to die of the attempt. I wonder how often text bullying has a strong enough offense to cause it. We are talking about being a man and I am just thinking of John Kirwan’s message that the advice to “toughen up” is not the answer. I suppose a politician is supposed to be able to take abuse, with intellect rather than toughness. But when we laugh at David Cunliffe for “apologising for being a man,” I feel we are not getting John Kirwan’s message about being a man.

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  39. UglyTruth (4,551 comments) says:

    The natural response to the repugnant is to take offence.

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  40. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    @Tarquin North – “Being offended seems to come far easier to the left than the right.”

    Yes, it does.

    Given that the left are anti-free-speech I strongly suspect that in many cases the “being offended” is not even genuinely felt but is just used as a way to silence debate. It is also used as a way to seem to take the “moral high ground” – even when trying to defend something indefensible such as Islam.

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  41. soundhill1 (190 comments) says:

    @Thor: “Given that the left are anti-free-speech”

    That is very largely straw man.

    If you are thinking of China who censor Youtube they are a market economy with a greater disparity between rich and poor than the USA.

    And if you think of USA who are supposed to be a free society, look at what is happening as the people try to speak/ show protest about the recent guy who was killed by police with a bullet in the top of the head.

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