A friend of mine who might or might have been reading college program application essays felt a need to vent, particularly in the wake of Marshall’s essay yesterday. Call this “the other side.”
Now keep in mind he works for a prestigious humanities program, which means he attracts a certain type of person, but all the same the essays are worrying him. He says the problem is how “nice” these kids have been taught to be. And how the “worrisome thing is when they try to be tolerant.”
I.e. the essay that worried him the most was the one that said we shouldn’t all pile on on people who give offense or hurt others. It’s when they persist in using hurtful terms or saying things that they know will hurt people that they need to be — kindly — reeducated.
Talking to him, I felt these were the GOOD kids. In any society there’s always the good kids, the ones who conform and go with the flow. We’re used to thinking of the leftists as the bad boys, an image they’ve carefully cultivated, but since they’ve been in charge of the culture — well over my age, so sixty or maybe seventy years — it takes a load of rum-gumption and contrariness to not be a default liberal. The people vaguely repulsed, at some level, by then are often soft liberals who say they don’t care about politics, but still buy all the basic assumptions of what they were taught. I have a lot of friends like that.
But the really good and smart kids, the ones who want the best, and want to fit in at the highest levels, the ones who read the social ethos like a book and want to be thought “smart and caring” go the whole hog and parrot the whole enchilada. The really good — defined as obedient and wanting to do well — ones believe it too, even if they have to lie to themselves everyday. They invented a term for it, even “mindkill.”
Yes, Marshall is right that this default leftism becomes harder the more open the left is. And the crazier it is, openly. More importantly, this becomes harder the more we speak up and it becomes obvious to them that there is an argument, that it’s not all the left’s way and, more importantly, that it can hurt them in the future to go the whole leftist hog (“Good” kids are often ambitious.)
But there is some vast number of them who are or try to be good, but are not calculating or… well, aware of what’s being the words. People who have a passion, say for math or physics or literature, but who don’t see the politics pounded at them, and just take them for granted. So and so was a nice teacher, and she told them that liberals were the good people, so she must be right. He or she got a good grade for a paper in which he or she explained how dangerous the republicans were, and therefore, he or she was right, his or her opinions confirmed.
Recently a friend erupted on a facebook thread where someone was saying all the complaints about political correctness were because people wanted to use the f word or the n word and not be called on it. When she pointed out, no, it was because expressing a “wrong” political opinion got you called racist and sexist and homophobic and smeared in the press, even when the fight — say, apropos nothing, over a plastic rocket — had bloody nothing to do with any of that, the poster deleted the post. But probably didn’t change her mind.
Here’s the thing: the guy who writes the declination blog coined the term “Weaponized empathy.” The left uses things like pictures of dead babies (staged, pallywood style) or children in cages, or the photogenic poor women in the caravans to make us react with empathy and not think through the consequences of letting streams of unassimilated unassimilable and often hostile people into the country.
But it goes well beyond that. It starts with weaponized politeness.
Marshall said and he’s right that we taught him to be nice to everyone, no mater race or creed or sexual (or political) orientation. Usually the people I muttered darkly about boiling in oil, people like Rosseau or Marx had been dead for decades/centuries (the cowards.) Slurs were not tolerated. Actually until they were late teens (when they went a little weird) swearing was not tolerated. Not because of taboos, but because swearing and slurs are short cuts to emotion without thinking. I hate it when some story or song just pounds the F word. Sometimes it works. Been known to use it myself in certain situations to heighten tension. But if it’s just that over and over again, to show your character is a strong woman or liberated or something, you’re just covering your inadequacies with what you hope will either shock or titillate the audience (and in the case of the f word, or sex in writing, it often no longer does either.) (This is a particular trap for beginning writers and I often advise they remove the sex or the swearing, or whatever the big “transgressive” thing is and see if the plot/story still holds together. If it still does, figure out how to be more subtle about the transgressive element, or whatever. I mean, they might still put it back full blown, but the story should stand WITHOUT it, if it’s a decent story.)
Beyond that, as Marshall put it, we taught them not to give UNINTENTIONAL offense. That qualifier is important.
You see my friend said that over and over in these essays he got the feeling that people feel as though offense, or hurt at words are an automatic thing. You know, like if you see something headed for your eye, you flinch? Like that. The young people act like you can’t help getting hurt at words. And not just slurs, but any words who disagree with you, or prove you wrong, or make you feel sad or glad or perhaps a little mad.
Hence all the trigger warnings. Because, if say, you once read a book about someone crammed in a tiny hole and were scared, you’ll relive it all over again when the book mentions tiny holes. (No, really.) So people need to be warned, so they don’t feel all this awful stuff again.
Or you know, if you believed the world was flat and someone insisted it was round it’s just pointless cruelty, because it’s going to hurt, and you’re entitled to “your truth.”
It is this type of Weaponized Politeness that is actually killing society.
Look, sure, being shown you’re wrong, or having an unpleasant experience HURTS. Of course it does. You’re human. But in a scale of pains it’s almost inconsequential. And sometimes it’s needed.
Being called pointless and vile slurs isn’t needed. But I grew up in a time and place where the line “when a madman follows you and calls you names in the street” was included in an “I’ll be there” type song, because it was so common. The number of times this happened would probably give the good kids a meltdown. And no, there was no point to the names they called me. Being called a whore when you’re a shy 14 yo in oversized sweaters and baggy jeans doesn’t even compute. These people were abusive in public because it was tolerated.
I’m not for tolerating that, of course. I’m not for tolerating any form of harassment. No sane person is. We don’t like t against ourselves, so we don’t like it against others.
But that impulse is being used to extend it to a ridiculous point: “you can’t say socialism doesn’t work. It’s my truth.” Or “you can’t tell me I’m not a wingless dragon and an ornate building. That hurts.”
Humans are built for strife. Just because things hurt it doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Or as my dad would say when using iodine on my cuts “the hurt heals.” And very often it does. If nothing else, it grows. It convinces kids that they have control over their emotions. On the good ones — truly good, not just “good” kids — it makes them start analyzing “why did I get hurt? Why am I so defensive about that” and leads them to either stronger, better reasoned opinions, or to changing their mind. But even the not so good ones learn they have control over their emotions.
Because here is the problem, if people have no control over what they feel, and if pain or offense must be avoided at all costs, they’re making each of us responsible for what’s in EVERYONE’s head.
As a writer I risk that. Yes, the last Shifters has rape (weird rape, but rape) and if the series ever reverts and I continue it, the shakes from it will reflect for a good five books. I know some of you were upset at me because they thought I wrote it “too easy” and it was a cop out. (It wasn’t, but part of a series plan.) Because I can’t be responsible for all the other writers who’ve done it, often badly or in an androphobic way. I knew some people would be upset, but I trusted they’d get over it and see what I was trying to say. Which is what sane readers do (yes, I also have insane ones. Nothing to do about that, though.)
The people who decided that Heinlein was misogynistic for depicting a rape scene in which a TRAINED SECRET AGENT is manipulating the people raping her for instance, are more the type of person that weaponized politeness is trying to get society to appease.
So we get hemmed in “No, you can’t say that, because it will hurt zyr.” “No, you can’t talk about that, because it will trigger xer.” till the most mundane statements are forbidden.
At the end of this, because people still need to communicate and work, is a central authority that determines what is offensive, and what you’re not allowed to say, or if you persist you’ll go to “reeducation camp.”
Europe and Canada are already on the way to that.
Hold on to the first amendment, my peeps, and stay frosty.
Offense is the problem of the person taking offense, particularly if you meant none. And amateur psychologists finding reasons why you’re evil should be shown to the right about. If you give unintentional offense a “Sorry. That’s not what I meant.” is appropriate. But if the fool persists, pointing and laughing is indicated. Heck, if no other human being would take offense (say, mistaking a state department acronym for a racial slur, which btw, doesn’t even apply to one’s race, and taking offense on behalf of the great and important race of communists) then you START with pointing a finger and laughing. (GIFs are optional.)
Because we can’t be held hostage of other people’s feelings, reasonable or unreasonable. And because there’s no such thing as “my truth” and “your truth.” Reality is reality and that which bites you in the ass when you’re not looking.
Civilization depends on people not being mollycoddled infants. And for people to stop being mollycoddled infants we need to stop treating them as such.
Because the other option is a giant baby stepping on your face, forever.