Monday, October 21, 2019

Needing to Be Careful About What We Say

For those reading my previous posting, "Grossness Be Gone", in the future, context is necessary. Ten or twenty years ago, this would have read as a perfectly acceptable, though cheeky, commentary even among the fervid left.

Since then entire blocks of thought; of topic; of terminology have been walled off. One avoids even nodding in certain directions. Yet, like a fool who never got the memo, I plowed jeeringly right into it:
I am a white middle-aged man; a baby boomer. "Gross!", "gross!", "gross!", and "totally gross!". Hey, how can I defend the indefensible?

Thank heavens I'm also a Jew. That's awesome, because it stamps my victimization card. Best of all, no one would be caught dead calling me gross for being Jewish. That'd be racist!
Few would dare to write anything like this now, because, by current standards, it comes dangerously close to an assertion that white, male and boomer might be okay things to be. Such a declaration seems adjacent to white pride. It would be unsurprising at this moment in history for people to view it as a cavalier wink at Nazism...batshit crazy though that conclusion would be.

So I’m living dangerously. Monsters like me must be obliterated; forced to crawl up and die via mechanisms we've established for those beyond the pale (we're more extreme than the Soviets, who at least offered forced re-education with a pathway toward eventual reemergence, whereas our transgressors, e.g. Louis CK, are eternally banished). 

My point here is that while the right has gone absolutely nuts, it's not just them. An aberration in one group often augurs a broader issue, despite the impulse to pin it on one side. I believe this is such a circumstance. It’s nuts on both sides.

A few decades ago it was common for the left to call the right "fascists", and for the right to call the left "commies". I never understood such smears. The left at the time seemed to be urging us to treat people like people - whether minorities at home or foreigners deemed enemies by profit-oriented forces. And the right were mostly old-fashioned people lacking a sense of obligation to surrender traditional outlooks to conform to trendy moral pronouncements from distant elites. Different folks with different strokes, both understandable, and neither of them "Fascist" nor "Commie".

But now the right has ripped the veil off its fascism while the left has revealed its totalitarianism. Dark as this is, the very worst remains largely unconscious. We can feel it, our fears are keyed into it, and it controls our behavior, though we haven’t quite consciously confronted the truth of it:
We need to be careful what we say.
Cross the right, and you might activate the goons and be brutalized. Cross the left, and you risk being declared counterrevolutionary and have your livelihood/personhood stripped away. Both commies and fascists are finally coming into focus (and, unbeknownst to them, have much in common aside from tone, tribe, and terminology, e.g. Trump and Sanders both push the same buttons, stoking the very same populist anger and class resentment).

I'm not, of course, talking about “political correctness”, a quaint artifact of 1980s intellectual liberalism. This is vastly more alarming, and not restricted to the left. Consider my Muslim declaration, posted shortly after Trump’s election:
A Public Declaration
I'd like to publicly declare that I am a Muslim. I will continue to state this unequivocally even if we reach a point where it is no longer cute and facile to do so. I will not only submit to persecution and deportation, but I will avidly seek it out if that becomes federal policy. Do me first.
As I hit the “publish” button, I could sense the prickly alarm this would trigger among readers. Even in the riled-up aftermath of 9/11, such a declaration would have risked no actual danger. But in November, 2016 it did, at least a little...and still does.

On the other side of the political coin, yesterday's posting would have been acceptable 10 years ago, but presently it's only my obscurity that allows me to openly state such a view. I could be shunned; forever barred from polite society; from employment and opportunity to ply my talents. I'm a ticking time bomb.

There are things one simply doesn’t say now. We feel it in our bones. Even the fear itself can't be spoken of; meta-discussion feels dicey as well, so our limbic brains restrict behavior and expression. As in totalitarian leftist societies (e.g. USSR) or fascist rightist ones (e.g. Franco's Spain), one learns to shut one's mouth and tow certain lines. Those lines needn't be spelled out. We are made to sense them; to conform. Our limbic centers get the message.

To anyone under age 20, I must sadly explain that this is all new. This isn't how it always was. To the future, I warn: it sneaks up on you while you're consumed with hatred for The Other Side (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?). As stakes raise, values are discarded  and morality follows

The vast majority of us  - my fellow moderates who find themselves pushed into an increasingly pressurized ghetto of centrism, with precarious drop-offs on both sides - must push back. It's hard to resist fearful conformism and limbic line-towing. Yet we must.

Both left and right holler their heads off while moderates quietly ponder nuance - but that doesn't mean we must coddle the riled. Just because toddlers make a scene doesn’t require us to stoically go along. We do not need to cede to the idiots. I'm not suggesting an extremist path for moderates; that would be the ultimate foolishness. But principled resistance goes a very long way, and moderates have the numbers.

I've been talking around this point for several years, sensing that my concerns have struck readers as puzzlingly overblown. Has the message landed a bit more convincingly this time? If so, bear in mind that the lobster, in its lull, doesn't register boiling until it's too late.

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