“Danger” is the new “I’m Offended,” and it’s a Deliberate Attack on Free Speech

Free speech does not protect speech that carries an impermissible risk of public danger, such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.  So now the Left shouts “danger” to silence their opponents, even where none exists, simply because it’s more effective than merely being “offended.”  

There’s a phenomenon in linguistics known as the “euphemism treadmill,” wherein words and phrases that had previously been used in a polite way to describe an unfortunate situation or circumstance (euphemisms), actually become derogatory due to their overuse.  Words such as “moron,” “idiot,” and “imbecile,” were, believe it or not, considered the polite, proper way to refer to people of low intelligence in the early twentieth century, they having replaced the rather regrettable “feeble-minded,” which was more fashionable in the 1800s.  These new words were actually creations of, and in common usage within the psychological community, with “moron” describing those persons with IQs of 51–70, which made them smarter (well, less limited) than “imbeciles,” and even more so than “idiots.”  But over time these words became quite pejorative, because they became so commonplace that everyone knew what they meant, thereby necessitating new euphemisms like “mentally retarded,” which is itself gauche by today’s standards, though, really, only having become so in the last decade or two. 

            A similar phenomenon is now taking place — a “dysphemism treadmill,” let’s call it — with the modern rhetoric of the Left.  Words and phrases once considered staples of vilification, necessary for their victim-ideology, are, like antibiotics losing their efficacy due to over and improper usage, being abruptly replaced with a new cocktail prescribed to meet evolving challenges.  

The word “racist” used to be the howitzer of liberal lexicon, used to abruptly end, if not preempt discussion, by simply blowing up the opponent.  But then everything became racist, like voter ID laws (which are supported by a majority of African-Americans, and two-thirds of Democrats), global warming, welfare reform, Columbus Day, saying someone “performed well,” and credit scores, (which, by the way, are done by computer), amongst countless other examples.  And this is the problem: when everything is racist, nothing is racist because the word loses its meaning. 

So that’s being replaced with “white supremacist,” which evokes images of Nazis, and is useful to describe anyone who suggests that maybe the United States should replace its de facto open borders with a merit-based immigration system, and/or that middle-class values are antecedent to middle-class results, including African-Americans like Candace Owens, a rather improbable face of white hegemony if ever one existed.

            But more so even than “racist” — which at least retains practical, real-world usage, by serious people — perhaps no word has been more overused, misused, and abused, than “offended.”  Racism was at least limited in group and scope (for as much as white liberals tried to employ it on behalf of others), but “offended” has limitless applicability, equally available to all self-identified victims at all times and in all circumstances, for any reason whatsoever.  Anybody could be offended (on the Left), and this would just serve to reinforce longstanding bigotries and hierarchies, all of which were oppressive, demanding of immediate modification, and the silencing of all dissent. 

             But the dysphemism treadmill, over time, demanded something stronger, because we all got so used to hearing “offended,” that even the most conscientious among us stopped listening.  Everyone was constantly offended with everything, because it was an easy way to get power and attention.  The American flag on American soil is offensive, and so is chanting “USA” at an American high school, and saying “Merry Christmas” on or around Christmas, and Christmas songs (Baby It’s Cold Outside is “sexist,” White Christmas is “racist,” because Christmas should include all colors[1], and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is, well, I’m still trying to figure that one out), and old Disney movies that nobody had thought twice about (or seen) in the last fifty years, and supporting the police, and certain Halloween costumes, and daddy-daughter dances, and hair braids, and suggesting that perhaps it would be best if men didn’t use women’s bathrooms or locker rooms, and looking someone in the eye, especially for more than five seconds. We’re even at the point where drag queens are offensive to trans people (for not being trans enough?), and trans people are offensive to lesbians (for… not being women, or… something?).

            I give up.

From this cultural ethos, where people got ahead by being first in line to be victimized, inevitably sprang a generation of young people for whom it was perfectly normal to complain about “triggering,” and “microaggressions,” and a need for “safe spaces.” Conservatives, and the rest of the sane world, were right to ridicule these “snowflakes.”  But in so doing, we missed the greater threat.  This was not just harmless immaturity from post-adolescents incapable of dealing with life’s minor annoyances (like other people being slightly different from themselves, or realizing there might be some wisdom beyond their own).  It was political activism by defamation, because to say you need a “safe space” is to say that those you seek to exclude from it are “dangerous.”  And that’s the new word the Leftists are using to suppress free speech from conservatives.   

Being offended had lost its efficacy, and was, perhaps, never strong enough in the first place, despite the early successes and over-reactions.  There is, after all, no right not to be offended, and even if there was, it would not exceed everyone else’s right to free speech, which, if it means anything, must not be subject to balancing tests and competing interests, nor, in a democracy, be extinguishable by vote, and especially not by a vote of one.   

            But the Left found a loophole.  Free speech does not protect speech that carries an impermissible risk of public danger, such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre (absent an actual fire, of course), for very obvious reasons.  So now the Left shouts “danger” to silence their opponents, even where none exists, simply because it’s more effective than merely being “offended.”  

Such as it is, the Left now tells us that Camille Paglia, arguably the world’s leading lesbian intellectual and a proud trans-person herself, is suddenly “dangerous” to transgender and female students at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she has taught without incident for over thirty years, because she recently wondered aloud “whether the transgender choice is genuine in every single case,” and suggested that adult sexual assault victims should report the event as soon as possible after it occurs. For these sins, student protestors demanded that she be “replaced by a queer person of color,” lest the university’s administration be guilty of “disrespecting students and putting them in danger.”

            At Louisiana State University, students “of color and other marginalized groups” were “endangered” when the university hosted the aforementioned and curiously black “white-supremacist” Candace Owens, along with Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, a non-profit group that protects conservative students from discrimination.  As though to prove Turning Point’s very raison d’etre, the school’s “Students for Justice in Palestine” group reflexively protested their appearance on the basis of the “danger” they posed to the student body, likening the speakers to murderous terrorists, saying “This event provided an UNSAFE environment for the people of color and other marginalized groups on campus. We must work to strip white nationalists of their platforms. For as long as we are quiet, we are perpetuating this violence. It was only a few weeks ago that the New Zealand terrorist attack happened. That terrorist shared the same political ideology as these people. This is unacceptable. If your speech endangers a people, you should not be provided a platform to share it. ESPECIALLY at a public university.” Never mind that they issued this statement after the event already took place, during the course of which nobody was ever in danger (why would they be?).  And never mind also that this group’s previous release publicized a presentation praising their own right to free speech.  The Left is not often dissuaded by hypocrisy.

            And after Ilhan Omar referred to the 9-11 terrorist attacks as merely “some people did something” — hardly a surprising remark given her history of anti-Western sentiment — we were scolded by Nancy Pelosi, who said that it was “disrespectful and dangerous” of President Trump to simply post a video of the terror attacks in response, in order to restore the very perspective which Omar had deliberately distorted.  The New Yorker echoed Pelosi, calling that benign effort, and other well-deserved (and overdue) criticisms of Omar, “dangerous bullying.” The Guardian called it a “dangerous hate campaign.” And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who just has to speak on every topic because she has so much wisdom to share, bemoaned that any criticism of Omar “endangered” her as “an incitement of violence against progressive women of color.” Omar herself complained that such criticism amounts to “dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face,” it apparently not occurring to her that to the extent anyone is angry, it is more likely due to her own deliberately inflammatory statements, not the criticisms that merely reference and repeat them.  And it further did not occur to her that mislabeling legitimate criticism as an incitement of violence is itself an act of violence against our basic human right to free speech.

            But then again, that was likely the intent all along.

            To be clear, violence has no place in our discourse.  But discourse itself must have a place in our violent world, and that means recognizing that while real danger does exist, and that should not be minimized, neither should it become trivialized by pretextual cries of “danger,” and nor should we allow the word itself to become weaponized by social justice warriors hell bent on using it to suppress legitimate speech.   

And we should learn the lessons of the very recent past, that those who shouted “offended” or “triggered” or “microaggression” the loudest did not do so because they were really that fragile.  That was incidental.  They did it to suppress other people’s rights, to silence free speech, and to vilify conservatives, they having learned that overindulgent adults, who should have known better, would accommodate their every demand.  And those of us who stood to lose the most instead stood back and laughed.

[1] According to this incomprehensible article, written by someone named L.A. Parker, who can be contacted at laparker@trentonian.com, and @laparker on Twitter:  “‘White Christmas’ epitomizes white power that transcends time. I mean, dreaming of a white Christmas ‘just like the ones I used to know’ underscores institutional racism, prejudice and bigotry. If the United States expects to rise above our issues with color then we must recognize insidious words and message that lace our fabric of democracy. Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ mantra produces an uncomfortable feeling. Even his whistle delivers a message that he’s happy despite the fact that black and brown people suffer throughout this nation.”

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