"The librarian showed off, running hither and thither with his arms full of books, and making a deal of the sputter and fuss that insect authority delights in." - Mark Twain
The above quote, from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, comes during the county judge's visit to Tom's Sunday school. Having come from twelve miles away and being the only person in the room to have seen the magnificent county courthouse, "said to have a tin roof," the judge is a big shot in the rural Missouri village. At the sight of him the Sunday school superintendent and teachers order the children about, scold them, and make a show of teaching them their lessons. Not to be outdone the librarian flexes his muscle by scrambling around the room reorganizing books. Sad, but we know that people will abuse power wherever they find it.
Mark Twain knew this in 1876 but more recently, in response to a friend's Facebook post, I have formulated some thoughts on the matter. This friend wrote something to the effect that where he used to get upset when someone would take offense at some seemingly innocuous thing he said, he now realizes that he should instead examine himself to learn why he would say something that causes another person harm. He got a billion and something likes.
There's nothing wrong with examining your own statements to see if they come from a malicious place. There is a deeper implication though, which if I read incorrectly into the post then is at least stated openly elsewhere throughout society. That is that one who has caused offense is by definition in the wrong.
That a matter should be decided regardless of what was said or the motive behind it points to a deep, even ideological, bias. Half the country's population (or so I believe based on what I see and hear from news and social media) believes that the poor are victims of the middle class and that the middle class are victims of the rich; that women are victims of an exclusive and all-powerful fraternity that includes all men; that minorities are victims of another faceless and yet omnipresent club for white people - of which white women may or may not be a part of, depending on the circumstance; that transgender people are victims of those who refuse to implement a horde of contrived pronouns into their daily speech; and my personal favorite, that employees are victims of their employers. The list goes on. Therefore it follows that one who is offended has been victimized by the offender. There is no cause for supposed victims to examine themselves in order to see if they misinterpreted, misunderstood, exaggerated, or distorted the speaker's words. Nor is there any place for the speaker or third-party observers to wonder if the supposed victim overreacted.
But who cares who is in the right and who in the wrong? Am I myself not being overly sensitive by acknowledging these distinctions?
If it were only a matter of blocking out the noise, yes. But these ideologues are not simply keeping tally on a chalkboard. People throughout the Western world are being fired, fined, prosecuted, or forced to absolve themselves before the church of public opinion for saying things that contained no ill will. By giving offended people increasing power to silence their offenders, society incentivizes people to take offense at things that would otherwise be okay. Because to silence a human being is an act of power.
No wonder that people are on the active lookout for words that could possibly be offensive. To return to the librarian anecdote, hurt feelings are their books and if they are to show their worth they must flaunt them. Anything that could somehow be offensive becomes offensive by default. Disagreeable speech is as a rule exaggerated, contorted, grossly misrepresented, or taken out of context so that it becomes offensive. Everything automatically takes on its worst possible interpretation; anything you say has the potential to be offensive, and what's offensive becomes hate speech.
- Example: if you speak out against illegal immigration, then you are against immigration altogether, which means you are anti-immigrant and because most immigrants are people of color you are a racist.
- Example: looking at a woman is tantamount to sexual assault.
- Example: supporting President Trump makes you a white supremacist.
Here is how authorities in England define hate crime, according to an article by a senior writer at Commentary about the expansion of hate crime laws into online communities:
'Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.'
Notice that the entire law revolves solely around the victim’s perception. The idea of appraisal is banished; fool's gold is as good as gold. Everything is for sale at any price; everything is free to take.
The fulfillment of one’s potential is perhaps too elusive when sought at the heights of achievement and success. Many people today seek it instead through delusion and childlike sensitivity. And they coerce the rest of us into using the same grading scale they do. Too often do we comply, in the name of tolerance, compassion, understanding, or humanity, or for fear of social or legal prosecution. Because when we comply we grant them that power. We allow ourselves to be compromised. Discarding our thoughts and feelings, we take part in a game where the rules are subjective and whoever claims to have lost wins.
But what do the winners of this inverted competition get? What can one buy where fool’s gold is legal tender?
In basketball the champions get a trophy, gold rings, champagne to douse their teammates with, an invitation to the white house, and a parade through the city beneath a hot air balloon of their likeness. But these material things are secondary. When I watch my favorite basketball players hoist the trophy, confetti raining down on them, I think to myself: there is a person who has mastered his craft; few others have ever done what this person, with the help of his teammates, just did. I go to bed thinking: what is my basketball? What do I have to do to be that good at it? And will my success prompt others to ask themselves the same questions?
The prize is quite different for the winners of victimhood. Their structure for success is is unrecognizable to many of us. Rather than lift themselves up, they must burrow ever deeper into the pits of self-loathing and take everyone with them. It’s nihilistic. In adherence to the law of society’s many Napoleans there is little we actually can say. And how long can you remain steadfast in a belief which you will never be able to express? Through encompassing and prolonged censorship we will forget how to be individuals until the very idea of individuality is forgotten.
Nietzsche believed that those who have accepted that humankind is made for mediocrity and suffering call for equality as a means of bringing down those more independent and accomplished than themselves. He feared a future where these weak people would have their way. We are on the verge of that future. We are becoming a society of fragile people who never grow up. Our egos never challenged, we never learn to manage them. We never learn to deal with hurt feelings and we fail to realize that if someone says something we don’t like life goes on unhindered. Rather than award greatness, we award those who despise greatness or even deny its existence. Instead the winner is the victim, the victim is whoever feels sorry for himself, and the prize is joining the huddled mass of grovelers weeping for themselves at the lowest rung of the intellectual spectrum. Welcome to utopia.