Holden Desalles recently published an article on Thought Catalog entitled, “I Was Offended By Something On The Internet,” in which he shames and ridicules people on the internet who shame and ridicule as a knee-jerk reaction to being offended.
Read his full post here, then come back.
His argument is compelling and appeals to my compassionate side, but my intellectual response remains the same, which is that sometimes shame is necessary and unavoidable, however unfortunate. Desalles writes:
To shame the Offender is to personally attack who they are and their idea of themselves. This does not invite reasonable discourse. And to solve a social problem I think you want reasonable discourse with the other side.
But he also writes that “people are hungry for an emotional experience, good or bad,” which means that the only way to garner effective and immediate change is to show outrage so that people pay attention. How likely would the accidental offenders be to consider their mistake if people only politely mentioned the insensitivity without showing a big fuss? Offenders have to understand that their mistake–regardless of intention–matters to people before they will worry about fixing it.
There is certainly a distinct difference between a purely malicious insult that serves no informational purpose and a comment which shows articulated rage, but I firmly believe that rage must have a place in the discourse. “Rage is often sold as progress,” says Desalles. He’s right that rage is not in itself progress, but it can often incite the steps that lead to progress.
In the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr. favored peaceful protest over violence, so can we favor articulate rage over malicious insults. Peaceful protesters do not try to hide their rage or dissatisfaction; they simply choose to use their rage in a constructive, rather than a destructive way.
A commenter on one of Desalles sources said that ridiculing accidental offenders is just “people of certain educations belittling those without that same education,” but sometimes shame is an unfortunate result of learning new information and realizing you were wrong. If we ever expect society to grow, everybody needs to go through this at some point, and probably many times over. Some people have the opportunity to learn early and others do not. We can’t beat around the bush and try to make this a comfortable process for everyone. Learning and growing can be painful.
Desalles claims that rather than assuming an offender is malicious and then shaming them, you should first find out for sure if it was an accident or not. “If it’s malice, shame them. If it’s naiveté, don’t shame them.”
But raging at someone who is intentionally showing malice is not likely to have much effect other than to make you feel better, whereas naive insensitivity is the kind that can be changed, because it is simply indicative of a misunderstanding.
I agree that we need to have discourse rather than just screaming and raging about things, but we also can’t excuse people who accidentally offend simply because they didn’t know any better, or they will never know any better.
Have you ever been offended on the internet?