In my last post I wrote about the misappropriation of language by political activists, particularly those in the left-wing. A related manifestation of the left’s cultural hegemony is their unparalleled willingness to take offence on behalf of any convenient victim.
Niall Ferguson, the Scottish born Professor of History at Harvard, recently was forced to apologise for his comments about economist John Maynard Keynes. What was this dreadful comment that Ferguson made about the famous economist? Ferguson said that Keynes did not care about future generations because he was gay.
Neither of the two principle facts in Ferguson's statement are in doubt. Keynes himself said, in response to concerns about the affordability of his economic policies by future generations, “in the long run we are all dead.” And there is no doubt that he was gay because he kept diaries detailing the many affairs he had with men. All that Ferguson did was to link the two.
Judging by the response of the media to Ferguson's comments, you would think the historian had gravely insulted a living person. If you did not know your economic history, you might think that Keynes was a contemporary colleague of Ferguson's whom the latter had called a Nazi or something equally horrid. But Keynes died in 1946, so it would be pretty difficult for him to take offence at Ferguson's recent comments, although perhaps his ghost is seething in some dark hallway of Cambridge University even as I write this.
Of course, it wasn’t the dead Keynes who took offence, but the hypersensitive serried ranks of professional offence takers in the political left-wing and their mouthpieces in the liberal media. It does not matter to these professional offence takers whether anyone who might be considered the victim of the offending comment actually takes offence. It doesn’t even matter, as we can see with the John Maynard Keynes example, whether those who have apparently been offended are actually alive. There is no shortage of causes for professional offence-taking and a great deal of competition to be the cause du jour. Muslims, gays, disabled people and various racial minorities are the objects of offence whether or not they are really offended.
I believe that words are not offensive unless they are intended to be offensive. Ferguson was attempting to make sense of Keynes’s incredibly destructive philosophy that future generations do not matter. Keynesian economics is the dominant philosophy driving Western economic policy today and is singularly responsible for the current economic failure in countries like Cyprus and Greece. Frankly, I'm offended that such a misguided and irresponsible economic philosophy has caused such human misery all over the world and I think it was not unreasonable for Ferguson to seek a personal explanation for Keynes’s philosophy, in the same way that historians look for personal motivation in the destructive philosophies of political leaders. Ferguson has said that he did not mean to imply that all gay people have a disregard for future generations and based on this I do not think he needed to apologise.
In the past, when no offence was intended, none was usually taken. Today, in the age of professional offence takers, there is always someone who is prepared to take offence for their own ends. Just as we should resist the misappropriation of language by the left-wing, we must resist the misappropriation of offence.