A comment worth highlighting

September 9, 2022 • 9:15 am

Just to give kudos to a reader for some cogent remarks, here is a comment from “Rupert Pupkin” on my post “Agustin Fuentes once again flaunts his virtue via misleading statements.” The indented bit is from Fuentes’s Daily Princetonian article:

The Social Justice theocrats are almost impossible to debate, as they are fundamentalists who honestly believe they are the repository of all holy truth, but this particular debate strategy of theirs (argument ad victimum?) seems to me particularly underhanded and manipulative:

“assertions made by the scholar we recognize as a genius and the originator of much in our understanding of the processes of evolution, and if not countered and corrected, can be a gut punch to some readers, a signal that they do not belong, are not equal or valued.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if we are to take this advice, every time we read, write or think we need to hold in the center of our thoughts some hypothetical victim, essentially imagine the most emotionally fragile person on earth, and then center our entire discourse around them. As in, don’t say X is better than Y or Tribe X did something before Tribe Y, because someone somewhere may feel less-than and not equal or valued.

This strikes me as a sort of therapeutic totalitarianism that would make any project larger than a self-esteem healing circle essentially impossible.

What I like about it, and hadn’t thought of, is that if anybody beefs about or claims they are “harmed” by a piece of writing, art, theater, or the like, then that’s sufficient reason to criticize it and call for the work to be demonized or removed. And there appears to be no minimum number of the offended before you are justified in calling out what offends.

I seriously doubt that many people were harmed by whatever sexism and racism was evinced by Darwin in his 1871 book Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man. Nobody reads it now, for one thing: it’s a book of interest mainly to evolutionary biologists, and not many of them.  Further, by now people should understand that views on sex and race differences are very different today from what they were 150 years ago, and while sometimes there are reasons to emphasize that (e.g., adding context to Confederate statues), it’s ludicrous to pretend that mores haven’t moved on in the last century or two. Yet some people make a living revisiting the past and sniffing out any sign of morality different from what we hold today.

If I, as a cultural Jew, object to the anti-Semitism in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye or in some of Thomas Wolfe’s novels, should I write an editorial beefing about their views? I don’t think so. What’s the point. except to express offense?

29 thoughts on “A comment worth highlighting

  1. The comment makes a good point.

    Also this…

    “Yet some people make a living revisiting the past and sniffing out any sign of morality different from what we hold today.”

    Yes. It’s like picking at scabs; eventually you start bleeding again and if you keep doing it, infection with a deadly pathogen is a real risk.

      1. Remember though, in order to truly understand someone else’s position, even to criticize it, you need to see things from their epistemological framework. Within the framework of woke ideology, wokeness makes perfect sense.

    1. In my view, the direction attempted by political correctness and now Wokery was and still can be a good thing. It is through those varieties of people that we developed acceptance of LGBTQ people, and a deeper recognition of the corrosive power of historical and cultural racism. We have all benefited from the influences of the movement.

      But in their extremes, which seem to dominate now, yes they have left facts and common sense behind.

  2. It’s the new Puritanism…..subtle adaptation of Mencken’s definition……that someone, somewhere, will be offended.

    “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

    ― H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy

  3. Indeed. Over the past 30 years we have turned each individual into a fragile flower that needs protection from any slight, no matter how small. In parallel, we have created a social police force bent on full enforcement against those who commit such slights.

  4. That’s what I call _Writing_! For example :

    “therapeutic totalitarianism”

    I mean – that’s very colorful and expressive!

    Oh no – I must have offended, excluded, and unequitied (hey, a guy can verb) white guys!

  5. It very much ties into the devaluation of the concept of ‘harm’. There is no bottom to it, in a lot of cases it just boils down to an ‘oppressed’ person getting upset. They do not need to specify what upset them or how. This is immediately translated as this person being brought ‘harm’ upon.

    This also means there can never be repentance, because nobody can ever actually explain what was so harmful. This is what JK Rowling has to deal with, nobody can ever point to something she said that’s resoundly ‘transphobic’, but because blue checkmarks on Twitter claim she is a bigot that’s good enough for way too many people to believe it.

    1. We don’t even know if anyone was actually upset, it only seems that someone, somewhere, somehow, could be upset, but only if whatever “harm” has been brought to his/her/their/zir attention.

  6. I am old enough to remember a time when many people claimed that the very purpose of a great deal of art should be to offend and shake up one’s sensibilities. It was said that being offended was necessary and good for people to experience. Funny how norms get changed when different people become the recipient of them.

  7. No, you should not write an editorial about Wolfe or Salinger. You, as the world’s most offended victim, should start a social media campaign demonizing anyone who studies or reads them. Then you should defund the police to establish a Guidance Patrol.

  8. My first thought was of Stephen Fry’s famous remark about The Offended:

    “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

  9. Given that good intentions can be carried too far (and excellent intentions ever further,) I suspect that at least part of this concern with easily-harmed victims came out of the Anti-Bullying campaigns of the 90’s — which came out of the Therapeutic Culture of the 70’s and 80’s. Several generations have become sensitized to what happens when “just tough it out” is ineffective for children and adolescents faced with some sort of relentless persecution. They learned that sometimes a Designated Adult (parent, administrator, authority, the State) needs to intervene, lest dreams be crushed and confidence killed. At the end, we all hope, is a competent, well-adjusted new adult saved from a lifetime of negative self-recriminations about not belonging or being good enough.

    At some point, however, it looks like Anti-Bullying jumped the shark — and became a shark. “What doesn’t kill us, makes us weaker.” Cue the theme song from Jaws.

  10. I think criticisms of Darwin such as this, and similar fault-finding, are not about actual harm. It is the claim that your sensibilities are so refined that not only do you see a fault where others do not, but that you are actually injured by it, such is your exquisite sensitivity. This makes you better than all your fellow SJWs who had failed to perceive injury, or even notice the terrible crime being perpetrated. In short, it is my skin is thinner than yours, and thus I am a better person. Pretty much like aristocrats of yore who could sit upon the softest cushions, or the princess and the pea, if you like.

  11. I just want to thank Professor Coyne for singling out my comment, it is a true honor.
    I have been reading this blog now almost every day for maybe 5-7 years and really appreciate your (Jerry’s) intellectual integrity and commitment to freedom of speech, thought, and expression.
    Unlike many of the commenters here, I don’t work in academia or in science, but as a book/writing editor so I have a somewhat different yet similar view of this ideological takeover that we’re living through.
    I don’t want to give too many details and possibly destroy my own income (we must all live in fear and break silence only selectively), but recently I worked on a book where the editor above me went through the manuscript pointing out spots where maybe the narrator could insert something about “clocking their privilege”.
    Now this was a work of fiction by an established writer with no real political angle, much more surrealistic and lyrical than topical, but the person above me could not help herself: when the character did certain things that maybe the impoverished or downtrodden can’t do (banalities like getting a hotel room or going to the doctor sans worrying about bill), they would suggest that maybe this was a good time for a discussion of privilege. (And this is a major house!)
    I don’t know if I’ve seen this level of compulsive propagandizing anywhere before, all I can think of is medieval writing where God is never not on the page or maybe a 50s TV show where the sponsor has to be mentioned every few scenes.
    (But really the closest to how I feel about working in the arts/letters the past 5 years is how Peter McCarthy felt in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”—just about everyone I know has had their brain replaced.)
    But Jerry and his blog help me stay sane instead of homicidal, and it’s nice to know there’s someone out there of his stature trying to keep the flame of free thought from being snuffed out.

    1. Wow, yeah! It’s everywhere. I work with people who have disabilities. This language alone keeps changing, so as not to offend. Plus many of my clients have psychological sensitivities so severe that the most limited inferences of language can have them feel offended. Discussions can feel like a tongue on tip-toes.

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