|Thankfully, I have rarely heard the words I’m offended by that! in debates at Green Party Conferences. It is the resort of people that are in danger of losing the argument and would rather shut the debate down. It is also a statement at the heart of the culture of over-zealous political correctness. Anyone, at any time, can claim to be offended by anothers words or actions and immediately the offending party is scourged. The claimed right not to be offended seems to trump all other rights and the debate is duly shut down.
Lets consider that for a moment. It may come as a surprise to some, but nowhere in the Green Party Constitution is there a Right Not to be Offended. The right that is protected is the Right to Free Speech, the right to be heard. A freely expressed opinion is always likely be offensive to someone, but we tend to assume that it will generally be our political opponents – generally not our supposed comrades in the same Party.
Some issues, however, legitimately divide opinion in even the most cohesive of Parties. Those that follow this blog will probably be thinking of a couple of issues that I have flagged up recently that would fall into that category for the Green Party – namely the Hospital Chaplaincy issue and, much more significantly, Population Policy. The former was aired at Conference in a very considered and dignified manner; the latter was aired in an atmosphere of thinly veiled contempt. At least three times the phrase “I find that offensive” was uttered by antagonists on one side of the argument. It undermined not only their arguments (which I actually share in part), but also their pretensions to be serious politicians.
We need to get over being offended as a means to win a debate, and instead construct sound arguments to defend our point of view in a considered, rational and (when among colleagues at least) unemotive way. Stifling free speech, even if it offends, will inevitably lead to a loss of essential freedoms, and we cannot allow that to happen – in society as a whole, but within the Party for certain.