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Posts Tagged ‘Democrat’

Tyranny and the Culture of Grievance.

Thomas Sowell, an American sage, laments the “huge degeneration” in America toward “the grievance culture”. Indeed, I have written on this before. The near reflex response to be aggrieved, to be offended first, and to ponder and reflect later, if at all. There is a certain and definite lack of goodwill, a reluctance or refusal to extend goodwill, or the assumption of goodwill, on the part of others. Rather, the culture of grievance mandates that we impugn malintent in the deeds and actions of others, especially if in some way those others (them others) have values or beliefs that don’t completely and consistently line up with those of the aggrieved.

On CrossFit.com, especially in a prior “Wild West” era, this phenomenon could be seen every 4th day with the publication of a libertarian-leaning article, or something that ran counter to the progressive drumbeat in the halls of academia or government. The simple act of speaking against the orthodoxy of a group sent said group into a paroxysm of aggrievement. This is no different from what we see in the now limitless wilderness of the internet and social media. Context is irrelevant. Intent is irrelevant. The provenance of the offering is irrelevant. Once unleashed the only thing that matters is the bleating of the aggrieved, however large or small their numbers might be, however trivial the insult, if it can even be called an insult at all.

While away at a professional meeting this weekend a new ad campaign for a product in my professional world dropped. It is irreverent and funny, and it was conceived and created by members of the same group that is on the receiving end of the joking. There were three reactions, as is probably typical of something like this. One group thought it was clever and funny, and realizing that it was the first in a series this group looked forward to seeing where the campaign was headed. By far the largest group saw the humor, realized what the intent of the campaign was, acknowledged that the humor was harmless and without intent to harm, but cringed at what was a rather large misstep. Seemingly in love with the joke both the creators of the campaign and the company that authorized its launch failed to see that, while funny, it was in very poor taste. This second group shook its collective head at how tone deaf the company was.

The third group was mortally wounded by offense. The aggrievement was existential. A firestorm was unleashed upon the company. The agency and its employees were excoriated despite their inclusion in the group supposedly aggrieved, saved only by their anonymity as individuals from a very public shaming among an influential cadre of the advertised company’s customers. That ire was directed at the CEO of the company, an exec known quite personally by a majority of his/her customers. The attacks were pyrrhic and personal despite an obvious lack of malintent. There appears to be no amount of shame that can possibly atone for the sin of humor without intent to offend that misses its mark and does just that, regardless of the size of the cohort offended.

The grievance culture allows progressively smaller and smaller numbers of individuals who care about narrower and narrower issues to hijack larger and larger institutions and paralyze them. One need only look at the tragicomedy that played out 2 weeks ago at Middlebury College in Vermont to get a sense of what this means. A (pseudo-) scholar was invited by a conservative student organization to speak. Mind you, this speaker’s ideas have been so roundly disparaged that even the members of that conservative club did not support them; they invited him in order to have an opportunity to debate the ideas. Alas, other members of the Middlebury community were offended by the mere presence of on campus of one who could hold ideas that are so antithetical to their own. This group declared that their grievance superseded any and all rights and privileges of every other individual or group, including the group that invited the speaker and whose members largely shared the opinion (but not the aggrievement) of the offended.

This small minority drove the speaker from the stage. They attempted to drone out an internet broadcast of his speech with repeated pulling of fire alarms. In the ultimate expression of their grievance they assaulted a faculty member who was driving the speaker out of town after the event, sending her to the hospital. It is particularly instructive that the group of the aggrieved chose this course because the speaker’s ideas and positions have been so roundly and completely debunked that it would probably have taken less effort and have been more effective to simply simply hoist him on his own petard on the stage and watch him swing.

I find myself in group 2 in my professional example (amused but somewhat astonished that experienced business people could be so tone deaf) and similar to the group that invited the faux-controversial speaker (contemptuous of pedagogy that cannot be supported with anything other than belief). Mr. Sowell is a true A-list man of ideas and letters, while I am a C-lister with B-list aspirations. Nonetheless I share with him his sorrow at this degeneration of American culture, this insistence that a difference of ideas begets a grievance that supersedes not only the rights of those who disagree, but also the very possibility that other ideas might exist. Replacing a culture of ideas and ideals with a culture a grievance is a step backward for society, perhaps for civilization.

The tyranny of the minority begins with a tyranny of ideas, waged with the weaponry of grievance.


Offensitive Redux

These times in which so many are offended so often by so little reminded me of this previously posted essay.


One who is easily offended. Have you seen the sculpture at Wellesley College in Massachusetts that’s been causing such a stir? “Sleepwalker” is a lifelike depiction of a rather–OK, very–unappealing male sleepwalking in nothing but a pair of “tighty whities”. The appearance of the sculpture has created a spasm of outrage among the offensitive, those especially prone to being offended. It’s gone as far as a petition demanding the removal of the statue because its very presence is a kind of assault, a violation of the civil rights of the offended.

Think about that for a minute: art that offends, or even art that only provokes a bit of discomfort, is a violation of some sort of civil right.

What have we become when a statue that should be met with ridicule and contempt because it is actually quite banal is rather invoking reactions that imply some sort of assault on the collective population of Wellesley? Is it the topic, the subject, a nearly naked man, skinny fat with a paunch and a frog butt that fails to fill his skivvies? It does make one wonder, what with the venomous attacks on those who were offended some years ago by sculptures of a Crucifix covered with excrement, or years before that by various desecrations of the American flag. Have we succumbed to some sort of spiraling weakness of spirit or character in the ensuing years, a collective fragility driven by the growing population of the offensitive, or is there some qualitative difference in the “art”, who it offends, and how they are offended that is at issue?

That last part is a question that is probably above my pay grade, the relative effect of art on different audiences. There are a couple of things I do understand, though. Art, in all of its forms, is meant to provoke some sort of response in those who consume it. It’s my considered opinion that BETTER art makes you work a bit harder in its appreciation in order that you arrive at your own response; being bludgeoned by the artist’s intent markedly reduces my appreciation of any particular work. Some art makes some people uncomfortable, sometimes on purpose. I’m quite sure there’s a line beyond which it stops being art and truly does become an assault–free speech, after all, famously does not include the right to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theatre”–but “Sleepwalker” is as benign in this respect as it is banal.

The other question, that of our thin-skinned tendency to declare anything that makes us feel bad as some sort of assault, is something I also understand. We are trending as a society, at least at a certain educato-economic strata, to a level of offensitivity that threatens the fabric of our collective. Not only is there a greater tendency to be offended by ever tinier actions, but there is also a corresponding ratcheting up of the response to any offense. Call it the “offendedness arms race” if you will. Something that produces discomfort or offends is now something so much more. I mean, seriously, “Sleepwalker” violates civil rights laws? Other, even more trivial pieces of art have spawned lawsuits and public condemnation of any who have the audacity to question the fortitude of the offended. It’s all so silly. Have we in Western society so little to contend with in the prosecution of our daily survival that we have both the time and the energy to be offended by “Sleepwalker” and its ilk?

I dunno. Maybe it would have been different if “Sleepwalker” had been a CrossFitter.