“It’s now very common to hear people saying ‘I’m rather offended by that’ as if that gives them certain rights – it’s simply a whine, it’s no 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?” – Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival 2005, sourced here.
Lots of things offend me: hate speech offends me. It is a fairly new concept for me, hate speech: speech about a person or group which humiliates or derides or vilifies that group, with the intent that the group be treated as disgusting or as an enemy. Certain Rwandans referring to Tutsis as “Cockroaches” is an extreme example.
The “cockroaches” example is vile. Clearly “free speech” should not protect it. It is an incitement to violence. More subtle hate speech may smell wrong, but I might not be able to put my finger on exactly why. I have an emotional response to it. I say it is offensive.
If this quote is representative of his current view, Fry rejects the emotional response. He privileges people who are able to articulate an argument on why something is wrong over others who can only make the emotional response. I think the emotional response has value, because we can read human relationships and situations and react to them without engaging our verbal centres.
When someone calls my words “offensive” I want to look for the value in the communication, rather than dismiss it or privilege it. “Offence” is not a trump card, but sometimes a whine is the best I can do.
Also, while reasoned refutation of religious belief is absolutely acceptable though some find it offensive, some extreme speech deliberately to offend, such as gross insults of Mohammed, is wrong.
Mmm. What of the term “sky-fairy”? It is ridicule, it calls a belief stupid without saying why. It also expresses an emotional response of the atheist, willing to explain up to a point, but eventually driven to shout STFU. By then, we are simply offending each other. There is a place for reasoned dialogue, a place for shouting at each other, and sometimes you just have to go for a lie down.
Seeing that this was extempore speech, I love his articulacy, including the jewel-like exactitude of his use of the word “fucking”. The perfect word for that place.