Review: On Offence: The Politics of Indignation

On Offence: The Politics of IndignationOn Offence: The Politics of Indignation by Richard King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a public discourse increasingly characterised by vitriol and the giving/taking of offence, and one only needs to look to the likes of talk-back radio shock jocks and the ongoing rants of members of the commentariat to know it is on the increase, this book is a timely contribution to the history and ‘rationale’ that lies behind the politics of indignation.

As I read the book I found myself nodding in recognition of what the author was saying, and also, and perhaps more frighteningly, recognising that I too engage in the politics of offence (hopefully not with the same degree of vitriol) that is rapidly becoming part of society’s public discourse.

This is a very passionate and thoughtful analysis of the way society is, and a plea for a recognition of what is happening and to a walking back from the brink that is characterised as the politics of identity and the determination to avoid people taking offence from the utterance of others (through a paternalistic censoring of public speech).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who might be concerned about the nature of the way we act and speak in public.

From the blurb:

Everyone has taken and given offence; anyone who claims they haven’t is either lying or uniquely tolerant. Yet in recent years, offence has become more than an expression of annoyance – it’s not a form of political currency. Politicians and religious leaders have mastered the art of indignation to motivate their supporters or deflect unwanted attention, and the news cycle has become increasingly dominated by reports on these tiny tempests.

In this provocative account, Richard King explores how the politics of offence is poisoning public debate. With hurt feelings being paraded like union banners, we’ve ushered in a new mood of censoriousness, self-pity, and self-righteousness. Unofficial censorship has even led to official censorship; blowing the dust off old blasphemy laws, we are moving forward into the past. Yet King contends that freedom of speech is meaningless without the freedom to offend, and that the claim to be offended should be the beginning of the argument, not the end of it.

Politeness is a noble quality, and decorum will always have its place. But when respect comes at the cost of honest criticism, it’s time for us to think again.

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Article by Andrew Doohan

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