I may have left the wrong impression yesterday in writing that readers detest big words and closely reasoned arguments nowadays–that there’s a kind of war on thinking, and that some of us who like to think things through (even if we don’t always do so effectively) are starting to feel lonely. “Targeted” may be too strong a word; and as soon as a word like that flickers across my mind, I shift to recollections of self-perceived victims saying that newly empowered Trump supporters are threatening them on the streets.
So let me be clear. I didn’t vote for The Donald–honestly, the final vote I cast last year was in the primaries. (Verbum sagacibus sufficiat.) But I am not a Trump-a-phobe, either. My latest encounter with big-league suppression of speech was in a class of English majors last fall. Annoyed that so many of the group consistently skipped our meetings and/or didn’t produce homework, I tried to pave over my irritation on one mid-semester occasion. I remarked, “Well, I guess we have ten students missing today because Question Four drove them to suicide.” You would have thought that I had uttered the “n” word or announced that the Holocaust was a Jewish-devised myth, judging by the reactions of three or four girls. I was so stunned and appalled by the willfully uncharitable interpretation of my little bid for levity (one girl charged that I was “satirizing suicide”) that I devoted most of the following class to a defense of the First Amendment… to no avail. I didn’t move any of those who had pounced on me with both feet. Instead, they trotted out some rather Maoist arguments about how people need to think before they speak and society (read “government” as the Will of Society) should enforce the consequences of “not thinking” (read “not kowtowing to the hyper-active sensibilities of protected groups”).
Late in the semester, much water having flowed under the bridge, the same class was working in groups on a challenging task. One girl declared very audibly in frustration, “I think I’ll just shoot myself.” I peeked around for any hint of a response. All heads remained lowered with utter fixity. I couldn’t make out whether nobody had registered even a blip on the indignation screen or whether–just as likely–they all realized that one of their one had done exactly what I’d done, and nobody wanted to acknowledge it.
So… please accept my clarification. The political ideology that imagines itself the home-sweet-home of deep thought is, in my experience, the most repressive of openly shared ideas. I do understand the complaints of those who’ve been hooted at by rednecks in pick-up trucks. Every time I try to use my old-fashioned push-mower in the front yard, someone drives by and shouts, “Faggot!” at me out the window of that invariable, stereotypical pick-up. I don’t know why. So it’s more manly to park your gluteus maximus on a riding mower and burn gallons of gas than to force a manicure upon your grass with brute strength? As a walker of long miles in my youth (I once covered 600 miles around Ireland in a month), I’ve also had projectiles hurled at me from passing vehicles that might have killed me outright if they’d landed a headshot. Apparently, pedestrians are also “faggots”. Non-faggotry clearly has something to do with gas consumption.
Yes, homo inerectus is among us: I get it. And he always will be–you need to get that. My beef is that people who used to think and converse in a calm, civil manner are cutting each other off now. That’s a crying shame.