Several years ago, as what was then called “political correctness” began its popularity, it was little more than a curiosity that people could take or leave. For the most part, nobody sought to negatively affect your livelihood if you slipped up and uttered the word “Oriental” in reference to someone whom we today would call “Asian.” Usually, it was just our older relatives that complained and wondered how “Oriental” could apply to a rug from the far east but a person from the same location needed a new reference moniker. Big deal? No, not at all.
But something has definitely shifted. Ever-increasing severe methods for punishment, along with an ever-increasing scope of targets for language that is “problematic,” has put people on eggshells as they try to navigate conversations about anything but the weather. I keep thinking that the latest thing is going to be it. That this incredibly obtuse and abstract reason for changing our language is going to be the edge, and anything further will push us over and we’ll have had enough. Or, maybe those doing the pushing will have run out of items to critique. But my estimation of the edge keeps shifting further and further back into territory I didn’t realize existed. And it’s even worse. Not only is the edge getting constantly pushed back, those doing the pushing often feel so emboldened by what they believe is the truth that they feel completely comfortable disparaging any of those who try to establish the new edge upon which they stand.
But I think I am starting to understand why this is happening.
Imagine you’re hanging out with a small group of friends. You and that group of buddies all have a person you’ve singled out for whom you share a mutual disdain. You then take turns critiquing everything about them in a sort of critical circle-jerk, each insult looking to do nothing but top the previous. As you continue down this path, you necessarily have to get more and more thoughtful about what you are critiquing because those who have gone before you have already pointed out the obvious things you all hate. That’s what we’re witnessing. But why?
What it takes is understanding two specific things about these people. Specifically, those who feel the need to “shut down” anyone who disagrees as opposed to simply letting it go or respectfully debating.
- The theory their mind is working with operates primarily on being critical. Many lines of study in the humanities today are shaped by “critical theories.” Although relegated to academia for decades, those who were educated in it, even tacitly through occasional courses in the humanities, have brought various pieces of it into our popular culture.
- A segment of any population is always going to be resentful toward the nature of reality. They may feel, and rightly so, that they’ve been dealt a bad hand. Or for the particularly bold ones, that the world has failed to recognize their obvious brilliance. Providing a means to express that resentment while intellectually critiquing others with the additional veil of compassion for the oppressed can be intoxicating as they get likes and virtual high fives from the like-minded. With social media, they no longer have to do anything truly admirable in order to be admired.
Now without getting too deep into philosophical ideas that almost nobody is interested in knowing, just know that they also believe this:
- The manner in which Western civilization is built purposely favors those who created it by helping them maintain power over other groups. Being critical of those structures and dismantling them is necessary for ethical progress as measured by economic equity.
- That structure of power is largely based on gender and ethnicity groups but is not limited to those categories.
- Those power structures are largely maintained using language that shapes how we think of our roles in society.
Hopefully, you haven’t fallen asleep reading that short bullet list, but it’s important to understand the basic framework within which those critics are operating to understand why the slippery slope we’re witnessing seems not to have a bottom. You may have noticed somewhat of a repetitive theme in that the word “critical” or “critique” keeps coming up here. And that is key.
This critical circle-jerk that people are participating in is centered around a mutual friend they’ve all been taught to hate: Western civilization. Critical theory is built to critique liberal societies born of the Enlightenment. As such, any word, phrase, or structure they identify as part of Western civilization is fair game to include any person at the top of the cultural hierarchy. It’s an intellectual framework for attacking structures of ill-gotten power using language to reclaim that power. And for a population of people who are also just generally resentful, it creates a systematic manner and intellectual justification for their targeting.
Now imagine that you see the world in the way described in the lists above. Maybe you have some pieces of that idea from school or social media and others in your circle that generally believe the same, even if not explicitly. Not only that, but you are generally unhappy with how life is going and have developed at least a low-level sense of resentment toward, well, everything. Of course you would prefer to adopt a framework that demands you be critical of everything.
- “Ah-hah! You’re doing better than them or me because you are corrupt in a corrupt system! Now I don’t have to look in the mirror.”
But why do we see them striving into territory we previously thought nobody could tread? For example, have you ever been cussed at by someone on the Internet for suggesting that it’s okay to simply challenge the idea that men can menstruate? Trust me, it’s gone there. Why would they take up such an obviously ridiculous position? In the infantry we call this a “target rich environment.”
- “We’re surrounded!” — “Good. That just means we get to attack in every direction.”
The idea is that those who want a target will create a target. And if you’re a hammer, everything will look like a nail. And the more ridiculous the idea, the more likely they are to not only espouse it but to do so even louder. The more ridiculous it is, the more likely more people are to push back against it. And poof! That is how the magic happens. They have just created their own target rich environment to disparage anyone who disagrees with their insane position and feel good about doing so. They essentially turn the whole world into a target.
This is why we are constantly surprised at how far-fetched and preposterous these ideas are. It’s a failure to understand a large part of their motivation to stand by these ideas. It’s not that they have any evidence for them. They don’t care about the search for truth. Those on Twitter and Facebook, or any forum where people are jumping down your throat for daring to challenge ideas with less evidence than the flatness of the Earth, are doing so for their own selfish and resentful gratification. You’re not someone to converse with. You’re just a target. And you being a target is deeply tied to their sense of relevance and identity. Good luck cracking that egg. Without targets, they have nothing. That’d be like the infantry without anyone to shoot.
They will never not try to jump a shark. Jumping sharks is all some of these people have. You just have to decide whether or not you’re willing to flag them down and bear the brunt of their landing. Just don’t think you’re going to slow them down. Their issues are too deep to be addressed in digital exchanges with strangers.
Let them find their own ledge instead of allowing them to push us off of ours.