I want to throw credit for this entry over to Brute Reason at freethoughtblogs, whose recent post about not being offended got me thinking. I wrote several paragraphs in response and then the comment management system ate my comment.
Ah, well. Let me then dedicate this article to that one.
There’s an unfortunate stereotype circulating at the moment that holds that people who are offended at the use of sexist, racist, or otherwise bigoted language, or who oppose the spread of weaponry into the citizenry at large, are only so opposed because they are cowards.
This does seem, on its face, to be a strange argument: as no doubt many of you understand, standing up to aggressive, violent, or armed opposition actually takes a lot of bravery. Politely asking people who are spoiling for a fight to just give up their perceived source of power (guns, whiteness, maleness, etc.) is perhaps one of the bravest things a person can do.
And yet, this stereotype is so pervasive that it actually forms the starting point for many arguments in opposition to inclusive language and gun control: “Just because you’re afraid of guns/common sense/my language doesn’t mean everyone else is.”
Sadly, this tactic is the province of the bully. But, perhaps encouragingly, it’s also the province of a bully on the defensive.
Groups that have felt endangered have, since time immemorial, cast their opponents as weak or effeminate, and have often blamed setbacks on the opposing group’s unfair control of a resource or strategic location. Jews were blamed in the Middle Ages for controlling the supply of lendable capital; today, liberals are marked as controllers of education, opinion, and the media.
Endangered groups feel better about themselves when they can point to an imagined deception or contrivance to explain their losses. Purveyors of violence and aggression are being pushed back, momentarily, and part of the counterstrike is to paint their opponents as enervated cowards (who just happen to have some cunning going for them).
The fact is, I’m not afraid of guns. I’m not afraid that a less-armed population won’t be able to stand up to a suddenly tyrannical government, either – because I don’t think that particular scenario’s on the table.
All we can do, when we are called cowards, is to remember that by standing up for what we believe in, we are indeed strong. And if we do have moments of weakness, that doesn’t mean our interlocutors are right.
It means we’re human.