"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Avoid Unpleasantness–We’re Too Emotionally Fragile

In a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article, Judith Shulevitz writes about the emotional fragility of college students and how they are influencing administrators to help keep trauma away.

At Oxford’s Christ Church College last November, for example, students demanded that the dean (whose title is “censor” in Oxfordspeak) cancel a debate between two men on abortion and were “relieved” when they succeeded. “I’m relieved the censors have made this decision,” said the treasurer of Christ Church’s student union. “It clearly makes the most sense for the safety — both physical and mental — of the students who live and work in Christ Church.” (Maggie Gallagher, National Review)

Christ Church College

On the other hand, as Gallagher reports, Chris Hernandez, a cop and former combat Marine says:

If your psyche is so fragile you fall apart when someone inadvertently reminds you of “trauma,” especially if that trauma consisted of you overreacting to a self-interpreted racial slur, you need therapy. . . . I must be old-fashioned, but I always thought coming to terms with pain was part of growing up. I’ve never expected anyone to not knock on my door because it reminds me of that terrifying morning decades ago.

It certainly seems as though we are living in a mollycoddled age, afraid of our own shadows, and pleading others to be nice. Everything is off limits – race, gender, ethnicity, physical size and characteristics, accent, religious beliefs, and moral judgment. Bullying, which is no more than ugly duckling natural selection and a preparation for the tough adult life ahead, is outlawed.  Shaming, the best way to enforce conformity to majority norms, is considered hurtful and unfair. 

At the same time, public discourse has never been more divisive. Liberals have no problem mocking Christian fundamentalists, openly and aggressively criticizing their ignorance and retrograde beliefs. Steam from conservative Southern boilers is scalding when it comes to Washington progressives. Left and Right lambaste each other online, on the stump, and in every political forum available.  There is no concern for political correctness when it comes to calling out the political opposition.  Why then, do we tread so lightly when it comes to individuals?

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The cult of diversity is a good place to start.  In primary school every child is taught that they are special, each gifted with a unique talent or ability.  A student may be as dumb a a knot on a tree, but praised for his ability to jump or color within the lines.  No student should be ragged, razzed, or even mildly criticized.  Self-esteem is more important than academic performance, and no one’s feeling should be hurt.

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In higher grades, awareness of race, gender, and ethnicity is reinforced; and children are put into these arbitrary categories and encouraged to define themselves by them. No one is allowed to impugn, criticize, or mock any other. They are sacrosanct and untouchable. Open discussion of the persistent ineptitude of black communities to right themselves is forbidden. Challenges to conservative fundamentalism and Biblical absolutism not allowed. Discussions of the social implications of gay marriage or the moral considerations of abortion are off the table.

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Members of each group are told that their beliefs are valid, right, universally defensible, and therefore immune and protected.  This sense of righteous entitlement continues in college where progressive theology is pervasive.  Defamatory, insulting, and ‘hateful’ speech is outlawed. Lecturers are screened to keep the campus a debate-free zone, one which can remain philosophically pure but isolated and insulated from contentious debate.

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Parents, too must share the blame for emotional fragility.  They have become risk-averse and over-protective of their children while at the same time promoting them shamelessly regardless of their ability or talents. Intimidating parents demand good grades and special attention.  They are quick to cry racism or reverse favoritism, and are unremitting in their demands. They have an exaggerated and fantastical opinion of their children, and want to shield them from criticism and promote them at all costs.  Again, it is no wonder that children grow up with an unrealistic self-appraisal.

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Finally, American culture is all about happiness, positivism, and good feeling. Death and dying are no-no topics – morbid, negative, and depressing.  Moral values and religious faith are considered the bedrock of American values and should never be challenged.  The righteousness of American political action is the basis for patriotism and love of country. A belief in American exceptionalism shields us from European realism. Our long history of isolation has allowed us to be simplistic and comfortable in our assessment of international affairs. 

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The irony of all this self-protective and insulating behavior is to drive resentment, hostility, and aggression underground. Virulent racist, misogynist, and prejudiced sentiments do not disappear simply because a liberal establishment outlaws them by diktat. In every home in America, every private club, and every self-selective enclave such sentiments are expressed.  They will disappear  only when social equality is achieved, and if history is any guide, that is unlikely to happen.  Human society has been stratified, unequal, suspicious, and hostile ever since the first human settlements. 

Children will continue to be artificially protected and coddled until risk-aversion erodes enterprise; self-esteem degrades academic performance; and diversity retards assumption of moral responsibility.  The country cannot maintain its intellectual and economic superiority unless the constraints which limit children’s will, ambition, and energy are removed.  Not all people are equal, the fittest survive, and the most talented and able rule.  A reconfiguration of childhood rearing and education is needed to focus on these essential, unmediated realities.

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