Thursday, August 16, 2018

Emotional Incontinence

     I forget where I first saw the above phrase, but it strikes me as immensely useful. It concisely describes one of the most important maladies of twenty-First Century America: the readiness and willingness to be “triggered” – i.e., to explode in indignation and sometimes worse – over an imagined slight. Sometimes the slight will have nothing to do with anything specific to the “triggered” individual. Indeed, that’s getting to be the case more often than not.

     Ace of Spades recently discoursed on this subject. Here’s the meat of his observations, also concisely phrased:

     The rule used to be, "If you lose your shit, you've lost the game."

     Now it's the exact opposite: "If you lose your shit and throw a tantrum, you win. Always. Because obviously the person who takes offense and flies into rage over nothing must have moral superiority over people who are calm and rational."

     This “lose your shit to win the game” phenomenon is particularly observable and pernicious in matters of verbal communication. Innumerable are the “trigger words” to which really tall and exceptionally whiny children react with a pretended fury. Previous generations of American adults would not have stood for it. Indeed, previous generations of American adults would not have exhibited it, save for a few emotionally disturbed types – and those persons would find that their behavior sharply limited their associations and interactions with others. They were about as socially acceptable as peeing on a friend’s living room floor, and for the same reason.

     Given the extreme value of personal restraint in social situations, especially those that are heterogeneous in composition, it’s critical that we understand how “lose your shit to win the game” has come to be an accepted practice. Ace’s observation above about the presumption that the “triggered” individual possesses some sort of moral altitude is the key.

     To be offended because someone has said something derogatory about oneself is normal. Indeed, it’s the reason for the development of some of Anglo-American culture’s more amusing social practices. Those practices have made the indirect insult a feature of a great deal of wit.

     Consider the following well-known exchange. George Bernard Shaw once wrote to Winston Churchill to announce the opening of his latest play and to send the statesman a pair of tickets for the opening night performance. He closed his missive with the following:

     “Bring a friend – if you have one.”

     Churchill, no slouch at riposting to such a sally, replied as follows:

     “Cannot possibly attend first night. Will attend second night – if there is one.”

     Though some have claimed that this exchange is fictional, it’s very much in the style of the two men to whom it’s attributed. More pertinent to my subject, it illustrates nicely how one can deliver a rapier thrust to another’s ego without saying anything openly offensive.

     This sort of humorous exchange of jabs is rare today. People are too ready to take offense, and to leap to the heights of umbrage, over the tiniest matters. Indeed, they find offense in the use of common words and idioms whose meanings have been pellucid for centuries.

     The reason for it, except in the most immature members of our species, is political: an attempt to employ collectivist guilt-tripping to score a political victory. Idioms that use “black” to denote ominousness or evil are interpreted as an affront against Negroes. Idioms that use “manly” to characterize various traditional virtues are interpreted as an affront against women. And God help the man who dares to call the behavior of some prancing poof of a homosexual “faggoty,” or who calls a heavily bearded “transwoman” garbed in a T-shirt, jeans, and workboots “he” before the creature has announced “her” “identification.”

     It does not matter that women, Negroes, homosexuals, et cetera enjoy extensive legal protections today, usually at the expense of men, Caucasians, heterosexuals, and other groups. It does not matter that the overwhelming majority of Americans go to great lengths to accommodate them in every imaginable context, including many from which they were once barred not by law but by general disdain for their proclivities. It does not matter than many of the accommodations made for previously “oppressed” groups have cost Americans their God-given right to freedom of association. What matters to the practitioners of “lose your shit to win the game” is winning the game – the political game, in which compelling normal persons to live and work in fear — to self-censor for fear of what might come out of their mouths if they fail to carefully screen each word against the dictates of “political correctness” — is the prize to be won.

     So widespread is this phenomenon that governments and giant corporations have bowed to it. One’s only safety against losing one’s livelihood, one’s social acceptability, and even one’s family, is not to care about any of it.

     I’m in a rather fortunate position. I owe no one anything, need no one’s approval to live as I do, and care nothing for the opinions of the perpetually “offended.” Thus I can say what I please – and I do. But I feel deeply for those who fear to express themselves in comfort, or who feel compelled to suppress their own, sincerely held opinions and convictions, owing to the pervasiveness of the “lose your shit to win the game” tactic. It doesn’t take a lot of the perpetually offended to create a climate of fear. The activist groups behind them are capable of making disproportionate amounts of noise and trouble for any selected target...if we persist in caring about the kerfuffles they whip up.

     It’s time to stop caring, and to react to their deliberately cultivated emotional incontinence the way Americans of an earlier time would have done:

“Put on your big-girl panties, whiner.”

     Though there are near-term risks, it’s the only long-term avenue for a return to a livable social order...if you want one, that is.

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