Magazine article The Spectator

Why Is Everyone Determined to Be Outraged All the Time?

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Is Everyone Determined to Be Outraged All the Time?

Article excerpt

Rod Liddle wonders where it will end if every grievance must be taken seriously and anyone who is offended by anything expects a pint of blood

There's been a rather wonderful debate bubbling along at the Guardian, about the French minister Pierre Lellouche's use of the word 'autistic' to describe the English Tories. Well, in fact that's not quite what the debate has been about; everyone is agreed that Lellouche is beyond the pale.

The debate has been about whether or not the Guardian was right to report what was said by the chap in a headline. Quite a lot of readers thought that it wasn't. Elsa and John Wingad, for example, wrote: 'We know that the use of "autistic" in your headline was a quote, however by choosing to repeat it in such prominence [sic] reinforces negative attitudes towards autism.' Do you know Elsa and John Wingad? I think that if you have any space in your Christmas diary, you should invite them over for a knees-up: I imagine they are quite the most marvellous fun. Another reader, unnamed, complained because her own son was autistic and he wouldn't have liked to have read the term used in a pejorative manner.

I suppose you might argue that this doesn't matter because it's the Guardian and a fairly large proportion of its readers are mentally unhinged, especially John and Elsa. Maybe autism is pushing it a bit, but you might argue that some of them behave as if they have a touch of the old Asperger's. Or worse than this, work in the mental health industry lecturing people about why they shouldn't use the word 'mad' or 'doolally' or 'psychotic' or 'crazier than a shit-house rat' because it - what was that phrase - reinforces negative attitudes towards mental illness. (Incidentally, isn't it right that we should have a fairly negative attitude toward the neurological condition of autism? I mean, it's not a good thing, in itself, is it? We would rather it did not exist. Parents do not hold parties for the neighbourhood when their child is so diagnosed, do they? ) But this isn't a Guardian thing - and, to be fair, the newspaper stood by its headline - this is, if you like, the leitmotif of 21st-century Britain. The avid and relentless determination of a large number of us to be mortally offended as often as is humanly possible. And then, having been so offended, to demand redress. Not simply an apology - that won't do. These days we want a pint of blood too.

If our sensibilities have been trampled upon - meaning that someone has said something which we find annoying or offensive or just wrong - then we want immediate redress and the punishment of the offender, through the offices of any one of countless quangos set up to provide such redress.

Pretty much every day in your morning newspapers you will find somebody, somewhere, calling for a public apology and a sacking and preferably a prosecution for the crime of having said something which the complainant did not agree with, or failed to find funny (there are a lot of people who find nothing whatsoever funny), or which hit some sort of nerve which made him or her take offence. The ability to shrug off stuff we find offensive and move on has apparently deserted us; we have become preternaturally sensitive to almost everything. And it diminishes the freedom of speech and thought.

I suppose some might argue that we were always like this and that it is only the internet which has changed things; we now have an immediate channel through which to whip up fury and obtain recompense. …

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