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January 30, 2018

Did I Offend You?

Whether you're conservative or liberal, black or white, male or female, we're all a bunch of whiny PC snowflakes.

All of us.

In someone's eyes, you're a rapey, xenophobic bigot that deserves to be shunned from society. Yep. Someone has been deeply offended by something insignificant that you did. Someone you know has talked shit about you because of that time you didn't say "hello" to them the 3rd time you passed them in the hall. And these are the innocent social blunders.

I've seen vigorous Facebook fights over salting the sidewalk after a snowstorm. There are angry 'for' vs. 'against' mobs for the most petty of topics. 

Can you imagine what people would think of you if you started to question whether recent hashtag-worthy movements are modern-day witch hunts? Or whether the gender pay gap really exists?

Are you feeling uneasy now?

We avoid questioning widely-accepted beliefs about racism, religion, politics and sexism because it's uncomfortable to do so. Yet, these are things we need to critique and debate. If we're truly trying to make this a better world for all, we can't simply shut down those who force us to inspect the fabric of our truths. After-all, does diversity not also include diversity of thought?

Yet, as soon as someone cries "racism" or "sexual misconduct" or similar, we shut the door to alternative interpretations. By no means do I support treating people unfairly, but I do support open debate and rule of law. I also believe people have a right to face their accuser, and that nobody should be allowed to ruin someone's career by spewing politically charged rhetoric from behind a curtain of anonymity. People know full-well that the mob will grab their pitchforks as soon as they hear the trigger words. So accusers use the trigger words to close their case before it even opens.

In such a world, how do people apply critical thought to social norms and movements? Media - both social and traditional - tends to a be polarizing echo chamber that feeds into subscribed beliefs, rather than introduce new ones. The same is generally true of friends and neighbors. Work colleagues - for fear of being charged with harassment - keep their views private.

So where can we openly discuss and challenge such controversial topics?

The one place we freely accept and encourage controversy is the comedy club. The great comics have all served as sounding boards for social constructs, from the benign to the toxic. George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld and Russell Peters are all examples of comedians who observe, critique and transmit alternative interpretations of social norms, both widely-accepted and not. While on stage, these performers can say almost anything without destroying their personal image. They are given special permission by the public to dissect the untouchable subjects. While on stage, they may offend. But it rarely makes the 9 o'clock news.

Below, I've included clips from each of these comedians.

Even Louis C.K. - despite his recent foibles - has amicably discussed untouchable topics. His clip below has aged like a fine blue Stilton.

To be honest, I don't necessarily think these guys are all hilarious. But they all serve an important purpose: they exploit the podium on which they stand to question everything. Agree or disagree, they are somehow permitted to talk about things we could never discuss in polite company.

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