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It often happens in political and religious arguments that people get offended. Often people have double standards in which they have no problem giving offense to others, but get offended if their own view is challenged.


Religious arguments

Religious arguments are fertile ground for offense. E.g., the Christian may say, "My God is offended by your blasphemous statements; and as someone who has a loving personal relationship with said God, obviously it makes me uncomfortable to hear these remarks. Wouldn't you take offense if I said that someone you love is, according to the documents you put forth as factually accurate, a cruel, vindictive, genocidal piece of shit, as you have said about my God based on passages from the Bible? I take offense that you would show such disregard for my sensibilities by making such comments in my presence." Meanwhile, the atheist may say, "You have just told me that according to your religious worldview, I'm unrighteous,[1] a fool,[2] and that I deserve to go to Hell for eternity.[3][4][5][6][7] I'm offended that you would make such insulting comments about me."

Political arguments

There is also plenty of reason that people can find to get offended by political arguments. They all boil down to, "Oh, so you believe that it's okay to use violence to accomplish x! As someone who would be negatively affected by that (or who cares about people who would be negatively affected by that), I'm offended that you would advocate such violence." If, say, a person favors a tax increase in order to fund a welfare program, an opponent might say, "So you support sending the government's goons to point guns at people and demand that they hand over more of their hard-earned money! As someone whose family will suffer from that, I'm offended!" Meanwhile, of course, the opposing side might say, "So you think people should just starve in the street if they have no way to earn an income and no one wants to give them any money; and if they in desperation seek to take a little from those who have much, you would favor the use of violence to stop them!"

Ultimately, all property rights, whether held by the government or private individuals, can only be defended by violence. All personal freedoms must ultimately be protected by the willingness of someone to use violence against those who would infringe those freedoms, and all restrictions on individual liberty must also be imposed by violence. When people believe they or people they care about are entitled to some right, they typically get offended at suggestions that violence should be used to deprive them of it.

People disagree on what should be included in the list of basic human rights, so obviously people will disagree on what constitutes a violent infringement of such rights. Is there a right to a minimum standard of living at the expense of others? That is what the pro-life crowd advocates, despite conservatives' opposition to most welfare programs. A person's right to swing his fist ends where the nose of his neighbor begins; if the location of that dividing line cannot be agreed upon, then someone — either the person who wants to swing his fist as freely as possible, or the person who wants to keep his nose intact — will be unhappy about the state of affairs.

A whole host of issues, such as the legitimacy of a transaction one consents to, but does not give fully informed consent to (e.g. impulsive, naive young people signing up for credit cards without knowledge of or regard for the mathematical implications of compound interest); a transaction someone engages in because his will is too weak to resist (e.g. addictive drug use); or a contract to which one acquiesce out of desperation (e.g. a high-interest payday loan), can arise. People expand the definition of "aggression" (like more specific terms such as "murder" or "molestation," this is loaded language that refers to forms of physical contact that one believes are morally wrong) to encompass people's engaging in such activities with those who need to be protected from the consequences of their own decisions.

As with other regulatory matters, these disputes have to be settled by violence; either force will be applied to fend off anyone who would attempt to prevent or deter (e.g. through the threat of punishment) the two parties from consummating the transaction; or force must be applied to prevent or deter the transaction itself. Either way, there is potential for people on both sides of the issue to get offended, with one side getting offended at, say, the advocacy of the police's use of armed force to defend those who would seek to enter an abortion clinic unhindered; and the other side getting offended at advocacy of the use of police (and the prison system, and so on) to forcibly prevent a person who getting an abortion.

Who is entitled to take offense?

It is ultimately a matter of opinion which party is in the right and therefore entitled to feel righteous indignation at being put upon. Perhaps the rule should be, "Don't dish it out if you can't take it." But in some situations, the faction in the majority, or the faction with the most delicate sensibilities, is deemed to be entitled to take offense, while also being entitled to give as much offense at is wishes to the opposing faction. This double standard is a form of argumentum ad populum, argumentum ad lapidem, etc. And when people say, "Because you have offended by the expression of your opinions, you are banned," that is argumentum ad baculum.

There are a lot of double standards as to who should rightly feel offended if they are insulted. For example, if someone endorses legalization of prostitution, it is deemed to be quite appropriate for others to insult him and call him all sort of names. Normally, such name-calling would be considered a breach of civility. And indeed, if the legalizer returns fire by calling the name-callers names, he will probably be banned for it. Those who called him names will still be allowed to continue editing.

Is there any way to be civil?

Can reasonable people disagree on such topics without giving or taking offense? Sometimes an insult is implicit in the making of an argument. E.g. when two people argue about ethics of prostitution, it can be implied by one argument "People who are trying to change the law because they wish to legally do this are despicable wannabe prostitutes, madams, pimps, or johns," while it can be implied by the other argument, "You are an illiberal, controlling, overprotective ninny for seeking to forcibly prevent people from being able to make their own decisions about what they will do with other consenting persons." There is no way any intelligent, perceptive person can escape realization that such insults are implied, but it is questionable whether there is any benefit to explicitly stating the insults.


  1. <bible>Romans 3:10</bible>
  2. <bible>Psalms 14:1</bible>
  3. <bible>John 3:18</bible>
  4. <bible>John 3:36</bible>
  5. <bible>John 14:16</bible>
  6. <bible>Romans 6:23</bible>
  7. <bible>Revelation 20:15</bible>