My boyfriend’s little sister has been working hard on a bodybuilding competition prep for a bikini event this fall, with the help of a professional coach, and she’s looking fantastic. So, for 4th of July, she got a little glammed up and posted some really beautiful pics of herself standing on the veranda, holding an American flag and her dad’s AR15, with tags still hilariously attached. She’s not much interested in guns herself but wanted to poke the bear a little. So, no surprise, the bear got poked, and quite a few equally young, equally inexperienced-in-the-world, equally affluent white girls raged on her post, essentially saying that the photo made them feel anxious and unsafe and angry and offended.
To my credit, I only got involved a little, confessing I had been under the impression that pretty girls holding guns for photo ops was at least some of what America’s about lol, and making a book recommendation to her most outspoken critic (Armed & Female, by Paxton Quigley).
Related (to what I’m about to say), Harper’s recently published a piece, signed by 150 well-known, and generally Left-leaning, writers, academics, and thinkers, called A Letter on Justice and Open Debate, which applauded recent focus on reform and inclusivity, but expressing concern towards the trending ideological climate as well:
The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty…
It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
Two more things I want to say about the open letter: one, they failed to mention the cereal box reprisals. I mean, that monkey on the Coco Pops box: wow, what a circular firing squad of race-baiting that was. Two, the Harper’s letter opened with a paragraph acknowledging, apropos of nothing, that they agree Trump is a threat to democracy. Whether that’s true or not in anyone’s opinion, it was totally irrelevant to the thrust of the letter and so it’s impossible for me not to read the sub-text as “we’re paying our fare to at least get on the bus!” To even merit ten seconds worth of consideration with woke culture, you have to punch Trump in the face on your way to the stage, these days, so they punched Trump, but there was still some fallout.
One of the signatories was Matthew Yglesias, co-founder of (liberal) VOX. A transgender colleague of his tweeted that Yglesias signing the letter “makes me feel less safe at VOX”. Another signatory, Jennifer Finney Boyland, an author and trans-activist, recanted her position within hours, tweeting “I did not know who else had signed that letter”, which matters…I’m not sure why? In the culture of a witch-hunt, I guess it’s not even safe to agree with your own ideas.
Using lil sis’s post, the items listed in the Harper’s letter, and all the other now-daily outrages as my example: we have entered a time in which we’re politically encouraged to feel physically threatened by, and indeed justified in sanctioning and retaliating against, not others’ actions, but their feelings — and not even their feelings which we’ve correctly assessed, because that’s a complex business, but their feelings as indicated by our degree of feeling triggered. So, that 4-step process, then, looks more like this:
- Someone’s apparent feelings or beliefs trigger us.
- We create a story about the meaning of their feelings or beliefs in our mind.
- We catastrophize a sense of personal un-safety based on the story we created.
- We demand that person change their feelings or beliefs so that we can feel safe.
Or as JP Sears once put it in his How To Be a Social Justice Warrior video, “Demand that others be the change you wish to see in the world”.
This 4-step process of ideological warfare has been cropping up everywhere, in my own experience and the experiences of close friends, who are sometimes the givers and sometimes the receivers of the Ask, here, and populating the landscape of our national debate increasingly. It feels ‘off’ to me but I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on it. It’s slippery, because of course we ask things of one another, in relationships and in social discourse.
Lil sis’s 4th of July post finally helped me wrap my head around it, because it’s such an overt, point-blank example. “You posting this picture makes me feel personally unsafe — despite being in another town/state — so you need to post/feel/believe differently. It’s your job to not trigger me (as I actively log on to Facebook and see your page, which I myself elected to be a consumer of), and it’s my job to be fragile. And if you disagree with any aspect of that, you’re toxic.”
It’s a way of self-infantilizing that masquerades as empowerment. It’s like a game where whoever can demonstrate the most fragility, offense, woundedness, and affront…wins? And we’re no longer limited to the quantities of offense we can generate on our own behalf. It’s totally okay, in fact encouraged, to co-opt the presumed offense of others, delineated along lowest common denominator demographic lines, and add that to our arsenal, whether or not those others agree; and if they don’t agree, we accuse them of selling out their own [race/gender/whatever] and thank goodness they have us as their advocate, to be severely offended on their behalf, since they’re too sell-out to empower/infantilize themselves.
I’ve seen quite a few dialogues on Reddit, an anonymous discussion platform, unfold in the following way: social justice topic du jour crops up. Redditor A disagrees with its inherent victim narrative. Redditor B brings the heat — “If you spent one second walking in the shoes of a person of color, instead of huffing your own white privilege all day every day, you’d think again.” Redditor A calmly responds, “Actually I am a person of color, and I still disagree.” Redditor B huffily says something like “Well then I feel sorry for you.” Redditor A says, “Pardon me but what color is your skin?” Redditor B says, “IT’S THE COLOR OF JUSTICE.” Just kidding, I haven’t seen Redditors say that. No, they say, “I’m white but at least I get it” and then maybe something about being an Uncle Tom. Redditor A usually drops out at this point.
In this new style of combat, you get more ammo by stockpiling feelings of personal un-safety, and then expending them at minutiae. Pro tip: the phrase “micro aggression” can be used to criticize and attack literally anything at all, and you don’t even have to prove you’re correct — you just have to feel unsafe.
Now, I’ve always understood people to align themselves along a spectrum of feeling-safe to feeling-un-safe, just naturally, no matter what the circumstances. Nothing will ever change that, and that’s fine. You rob yourself of lots of good life experience if you choose to cower back, feeling unsafe as a rule, or alternatively you expose yourself to unnecessary risk. I’ve blogged peripherally before about how I observe women, for instance, are indoctrinated with this sense of pervasive, personal un-safety that functions on several levels. We are physically weaker than men and tend to be their targets, so yeah that makes sense, but on a deeper level we equate the sensation of needing protection, and being protected, with our being valued as women. So it’s a pervasive un-safety we’re not necessarily trying, as a gender, to directly address; rather, we use it as a way to manipulate men, on a primal level. Men are absolute suckers for this exact style of manipulation, and honestly it works out pretty well psychologically, even if it’s rough around the edges socially.
If we’d all just admit this, then a lot of other seemingly random things would make sense, such as women’s bizarre and emphatic emphasis on a man’s height. I personally think the short men of the world should be up in arms, flipping tables about what’s going on right now — I mean, you realize they cast Hugh fucking Jackman to play Wolverine, the shortest, widest, stockiest male sex symbol of all time, right? Tall, gangly, reasonably muscled Hugh Jackman — to play Wolverine. That’s when I knew we had problems. Women’s online dating profiles are constructed to literally weed out short men. Not necessarily ugly men, not poor men, not stupid men, not old men, not young men, not misogynists — short men. And men accordingly exaggerate their height, on their profiles, more than any other characteristic. If you white, woke Insta-girls really want to flip the script, find yourself a good short man.
Anyway, my point was somewhere in the vicinity of, it’s not as simple as that we feel safe when we’re safe, and unsafe when we’re unsafe. Obviously. We’ve got our egos and identities and social constructions and, ugh, the news media’s Groundhog Doomsday trend all wrapped up in that — I hope you don’t think I’m being flippant when I say, deciding to feel safe is, in many ways, a personal project. And it’s not a project many of us are interested in, especially when our self-infantilization is heavily incentivized and short-term rewarded. This tension has become the underlying meta-narrative regarding COVID-19, and then that got turnt up to eleven in our discourse around BLM, which started off groovy and has jumped the shark at least a thousand times, since.
We’ve been running our society and running our world as if emotions don’t matter for decades — idk, centuries? — and I’ve been openly critical of that fact. Remember my anecdote, couple blogs back, about my former boss who told me “emotions don’t have an IQ”? And I was like, “…yeah…except they do…” Worship of the hierarchical rational intellect, at the expense of our several other means of being and gathering data, has always represented the actual tip of the spear of western patriarchy’s advance, if we wanna think about it that way, and bonus points to me for the phallic pun.
Emotions matter. I’ve always said it, I’ll always say it. I’m just having to refine my stance there, in the face of this trend of Americans demanding others be the change they wish to see in the world: “the way that I assume you feel makes me upset and anxious, so educate yourself.” Wow. Snowflake much? Okay, yes, those are indeed emotions, and they do matter in the sense that they represent your compass, so that you can negotiate your reality. Not anyone else’s — yours. Understanding our emotions and what they mean is the work of a lifetime, and yields enhanced authenticity. Authenticity is the real power play, which performed emotionality can only imitate.
So then here’s my revised stance: authenticity matters, and over-emotionality is just as inauthentic as over-intellectualization. It’s probably no coincidence we’re swinging, hard, from the latter to the former right now.
I saw a whole crazy thing go down on FB which illustrates some good stuff, and I wouldn’t spend precious blog time on it if it wasn’t a totally ubiquitous example of the state of debate right now. Someone posted that American Airlines is going to resume operations at full capacity. Whoever posted it did so with a caption to the effect that it’s sad airlines care more about their profits than people’s lives. Lots of others seconded that motion.
I commented that COVID-19 seems to mostly kill sick people, so maybe don’t fly that airline if you’re sick or feel vulnerable; otherwise pack your immune system and you should be good to go. Lots of people took offense to that — you see, it’s offensive, aggressive, and frankly threatening I feel that way, so I need to change how I feel — and as always there’s one guy that takes the lead.
“Facebook epidemiology degree!,” he sneered.
I didn’t even have a chance to respond because some rational person chimed in, “Hey, what’s the mortality rate and average age of death again?”
A third person: “0.5%”.
Guy who asked, rhetorically: “And average age of death is 80.”
So emotions guy tries another tack: more emotions! “My parents and older brother will very likely die if they get this. They’ll die alone because selfish pricks think all that matters is the overall mortality rate. And you’re OK with that.”
Rational guy: posts link to CDC website.
Emotions guy: I talk with my relatives who work in ICUs. I’ll trust them. Not you. Thanks for playing though.
Rational guy: Most of the time in order for you to die from Covid-19, you have to already almost be dead.
Emotions guy: If brain dead counts you should be very afraid.
Rational guy: I’m just sharing statistics. Sorry if they upset you.
Emotions guy: What you are doing is cherry picking data and interpreting it for us. Then hiding behind a lame “just statistics” gambit. Anyone can see that.
Third guy who knew the mortality rate: posts Wikipedia’s graph of all ‘Rona deaths in the US since the start and says “That one’s raw data.”
Rational guy: I’m not cherry picking anything. That’s just the truth of the data. It is what it is.
Emotions guy: Uh huh…
Rational guy: Sorry bud. It’s just not that spooky.
Emotions guy (and here we go): Pretty spooky to wheel my 85 year old pops into an ICU with pneumonia knowing with his history his chance of survival is about nil. Especially knowing it was preventable.
Rational guy: With all due respect, you act like an 85 year old with a compromised immune system isn’t just as likely to die at any time in the next two years from literally everything else. That’s just life.
Emotions guy: I’d like to be able to visit him. Tell him things I couldn’t yet. Assure him that I will handle his affairs and comfort my mom in person. All impossible right now. The oversimplification of this mess is killing people. Cruelly.
Rational guy: You could just as well give him the flue under any other season and he’d die from that too.
Emotions guy: Besides; he knows that without him, my mom will require constant care for Alzheimers. He’s her caregiver, and acting like “well he’s so old. So whatever” is insanely callus…with all due respect.
[Yes, blogger Hannah is still here, and reminding you that this was ostensibly a discussion of an airline booking at full capacity. Yep.]
Rational guy: It’s not callous. I’ve got elderly relatives I care for and worry about too. It’s just being a realist. You have to balance risk/reward. For instance was it smart to shut down the entire US economy for months over an illness with a .5% mortality rate that pretty much only threatens the incredibly old and vulnerable. I wear a mask, I go about my business like anyone else, but I’m not stupid enough to think that what we’ve done was worth it in the long run. Screwing over the future generations just to buy another year or two for those that already lived the most entitled lifetime in US history. I’ve got a good job so it’s not me I’m worried about. It’s the 20-some year olds buried in college debt that can’t afford to own a home and now they are even more fucked because they are the ones who will pick up the bill for this shutdown in the years ahead. It was a selfish move for the boomers to sacrifice the youth…again.
Emotions guy: It’s still not at all ok for you (or anyone else) to decide which citizens have worth and which don’t. (Uhhh meanwhile: let’s talk a bit about what happens to ll those 20-40 year olds who get infected and don’t die…the deleterious effects on the body are nasty. Really. There’s a LOT more to this virus than “live or die”.)
Rational guy: No, there’s really not. Evidence please.
Emotions guy: You’re the ‘just posting statistics’ guy. I’m not doing your searching for you. Meanwhile: this posted today from a friend with Covido-19: “You know, the COVID horror stories tell you about the difficulty breathing, fevers, chest pains and the like. But the REAL horror story is the loss of smell and taste. All liquids taste like water. Sweet tea, whiskey, cough syrups…nothing. All food also tastes like water. Bacon, soup, whataburger…nothing. I haven’t been able to taste food in a week. I haven’t been able to smell anything either. I would HAPPILY take the fevers just to be able to taste food again.”
Rational guy: We are all entitled to our own opinion. Mine is that the youth has already paid enough of your generation’s tab, and enough is enough so no more shutdowns as far as I’m concerned. Just enjoy the social security your grandkids will never see a penny of and move on. ‘Oh nooo, I got sick and couldn’t taste flavor for two weeks!!!’ Haha, okay who cares.
Emotions guy: ‘Oh no! My kidneys failed and my liver function has been diminished for the rest of my life!’ Hahaha…who cares?
Rational guy: Shh, you’ll be fine.
Emotions guy: For the last time: I’m not worried about ME ME ME ME!
Rational guy: Neither am I. Weird.
Emotions guy: Great, so you’ll always mask up.
Rational guy: It’s almost like you haven’t been paying attention at all from the very beginning. If I’m in Flagstaff sure, if I’m around others that don’t care then no. Know your audience. I do it out of respect for the individual concerned. If someone else isn’t concerned, neither am I.
Emotions guy: It’s obviously just your world, and everyone else is just living in it.
It’s just so ubiquitous, and look at what’s happening: people are being tacitly encouraged to exert control over one another’s beliefs — not actions but beliefs — through leveraging of their own catastrophized, emotional story. To disagree is to be “callous”, mean, insensitive, toxic, and/or privileged.
You know what it reminds me of, when people insist on one narrative, one right answer, one right outcome, one right morality, one way to be safe, everything else is hellfire, get really really offended at any suggestion otherwise, and the whole thing is riddled with definition-changing hypocrisy? The Religious Right. In fact, as I’ve been trying to make sense of all this, if I just mentally insert some really weird Old Testament god in for the basic ideology of woke culture — let’s call it Moloch — then at least the dynamic looks familiar. “Moloch is hungry! Need more oppressors!”
The trend I’m seeing is that woke culture wants to reduce everyone to their separate demographic bins — blacks, whites, women, trans-people, gays — and then only people in that bin are allowed to speak credibly on issues pertinent to that bin BUT bonus round for whites, you’re racist if you don’t attempt to speak up about issues pertinent to other people’s bin. So males have no business discussing policies regarding women’s bodies but white people have no business NOT discussing policies regarding black people’s bodies. And then even more confusingly, if anyone broaches the question of if or how anyone is technically allowed into any bin, that’s a micro aggression that makes people feel unsafe and demand you be be the change they wish to see in the world.
A recent article decried the treatment of several “lawyers of color”, who are facing some serious prison time as a result of tossing molotov cocktails into unoccupied cop cars in NYC, during the riots. The prison time they’re facing is egregious, but one of their defenses is that the cop cars were already pretty wrecked at the time, so we should all take their fanciful, summer-of-love homemade fire-bombing of government property in stride. I’m not here to comment on that, but I do want to say — gosh, I could swear we *just* got out of the woods on all the time saying “female doctor” and “female lawyer” and “female military commander” — like, I’m pretty sure the whole 90’s and ‘oughts were about getting everyone on board with the idea that people can be doctors, lawyers, and military commanders without constant reference to their gender — and now we have not only “people of color”, which I’m fine with, but “lawyers of color”? Oh, the shifting sands. Moloch is hungry.
Even buildings are oppressors now. The Guardian ran a piece, allegedly concerning architecture, called “Upward-thrusting buildings ejaculating into the sky — do cities have to be so sexist?” There’s a Sponge Bob meme where he’s getting up from a chair, saying, “Ight, Imma head out.” Perfectly characterizes where I’m at emotionally with all this shit.
I was interested in Teal Swan’s 2020 forecast when she first published it, in December of 2019, and I’m even more interested in it now. An excerpt:
Many of you have begun to lose faith in humanity in the recent years as the intensity of this shift has built to the point where it feels like the people and the world around you has lost its mind. This happens when humanity reaches a crossroads where it must totally change. A threshold has been crossed. 2020 is a turning point. This change is being forced by first exposing all the ‘shadowy aspects’ that have been operating behind the scenes all along. And it has and will continue to shock you to see them in plain view. The ‘old’ (what is not working) must and will fall away and be replaced by the new. 2020 is a precipice year. It is a crossroads between the way it has been and the way it will be, not just on a personal level, but also on a global level. And a crossroads divides us. It puts us in a state of opposition. It divides us internally on a personal level and it divides us with others. There are parts of us that want to go left and parts of us that want to go right. There are those of us who fight for the way things are and have been and those of us who fight for a new way of existing. This year will be a year of battle. A battle of the sexes, a battle of the races, a battle of creeds, a battle of politics, a battle of self vs. other and a year of protest regarding change.
So that’s the end of this blog because I don’t even know how to interpret any of this, for myself or anyone else — I mean, I’m completely flummoxed on what else to say. The snake is eating its own tail, and since snakes are, like, all tail, I guess it’ll take a minute.