Every evening, I walk through a steep, narrow road from McLeod Ganj, where Mr. Dalai Lama lives, to my home down the hill.
A large dog runs madly around his house like a wild animal, trying to jump over the fence whenever he sees me. I find this strange because I am no threat to him. If he wants to socialize with me, he could have politely negotiated with his Buddhist human. I think he is being victimized by himself.
I feel similarly towards people who are easily offended. I don’t know what is wrong with them.
Philosopher David Livingstone Smith begins his book Why We Lie with the story of Mel, a little girl who digs out corm, an edible bulb, from rock-hard Ethiopian ground in the dry season when food is scarce.
Little Paul watched her. When Mel was done, Paul started crying loudly. Paul’s mother came out and ran after Mel, assuming she had harassed Paul. Paul picked up the corm and started eating, making sure nobody was looking.
Is Paul a “snowflake”, a “crybaby” who is too fragile to survive in the adult world? Is he too sensitive that we need to build “safe spaces” for him? Is he mentally ill? Is he, well, a social justice warrior?
We know these are ridiculous questions. Paul is just misbehaving. Paul is an annoying child. He is greedy and manipulative, not empathetic. He’ll do fine in the adult world, so long as it is governed by similar incentives.
And in many ways, it is. We need to get real and see bad behavior for what it is. It is more productive to punish Paul’s bad behavior. It is more important to protect Mel and build safe spaces for her.
The Benefits of Being Offended
Social justice warriors (SJWs) and the “easily offended” behave the way Paul did.
This is not a far-fetched analogy. Their critics miss this because the views and strategies of the “easily offended” reflect society’s dominant ethic. It is lack of sufficient imagination that stops people from seeing the obvious.
Deep down, people think it is “human” to be offended. But human beings are easily offended because it is an easy way to get along with others who are often quite manipulative.
In other words, this is predatory behavior. The easily offended may “sincerely” believe that they are wronged. But that doesn’t prove anything. It is possible to “sincerely” believe slavery is a humane institution, just as many did long ago. And who says Paul doesn’t sincerely believe in his own “victimhood”?
It is also evolutionarily unlikely that the easily offended are “snowflakes” or “crybabies”. People don’t flinch away from uncomfortable truths because they are too fragile to handle the truth. It is unlikely that evolution designed out brains to evade reality, to preserve our self-esteem and cope with anxiety. It is costly, possibly fatal, to evade reality.
There are better ways to preserve our self-esteem and cope with anxiety. It isn’t likely that nature made us “sensitive”, at the cost of ignoring reality. Humans are eager to take offense, because evading reality is socially useful, especially when others share our biases. It is greed and power lust that makes people predisposed to feeling offended.
Social justice warriors, for example, are eager to call out “misogyny” and “sexism”, because both men and women have positive stereotypes about women. Women were seen as very important throughout history because they are the limiting factor in reproduction.
In a group of 10 men and 10 women, even if 9 men die out, the man who remains is sufficient to impregnate all women and help the group achieve its reproductive potential. Testes produce sperm more inexpensively than ovaries produce eggs. It’s hard for a woman to have more than 12 kids. If a woman dies, the reproductive power of the group is diminished. Our ancestors, hence, did everything they could to protect women.
If you weren’t biased in favor of women, you didn’t leave descendants. Feminism isn’t modern, as they say. It is a primitive, tribalistic mentality.
We all are descended from ancestors who were biased in favor of women.
Men were, and still are, seen as disposable. This has nothing to do with genuine compassion, fragility or sensitivity. This is politically motivated behavior. Many intellectuals who ought to know better have accepted the fundamental premises of feminism because they are agreeable.
All pretensions to contrary notwithstanding, being agreeable is not about being kind. The agreeable are bullies who want to get along well with their fellow bullies. Both men and women behave ridiculously in the name of protecting women—to look good, for personal gain, to police the male dominance hierarchy, and to destroy their competitors. This is predatory behavior.
The “easily offended” are not too attached to principals, as their critics assume. They don’t care about ideas. But they care a lot about getting along with their tribe and gaining political advantage over their victims.
If you think it is “human” to feel offended, think about this: Why are you tempted to feel offended, instead of, say, debating your opponents? Why do you find debates so tiring? Why do you fear your ideas can’t stand on their own merit? There are people who find the experience of feeling offended undesirable. Why do you feel so differently? The reasons, of course, are unpleasant, and you probably don’t admit them to yourself.
It is strange we find it unacceptable to question how reasonable someone’s “feelings” are. It is strange we find it acceptable to say, “I am offended.”
Should we blame the parents or a “snowflake economy”?
Nevertheless, there is something really wrong with the argument that “overprotective parents” have coddled an entire generation of fragile “snowflakes” who imagine themselves as special.
To begin with, there is no evidence that overprotective parenting makes children fragile. The intolerance of social justice warriors is not something unprecedented. Intellectual freedom and free speech were never the norm. Human beings are, by their nature, intolerant.
This doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but there is nothing surprising about this, given our evolutionary past. Is it even plausible that the world was more tolerant in the 20th century when Marxism was in vogue? If anything, we have become more tolerant over human history, though moderns are more intolerant in important ways.
There is something more important that social justice warriors and their critics miss.
There is a huge difference between feeling oppressed by cruelty and feeling oppressed by disagreement.
These impulses are not just different, but stem from opposing motives and values. People who feel more oppressed by cruelty are less likely to feel oppressed by disagreement, and people who feel more oppressed by disagreement are less likely to feel oppressed by cruelty.
There is more than a grain of truth in the belief that Millennials are coddled. When you subsidize something, producers have more of an incentive to overproduce.
Feeling offended is no different.
The media and university administrations take microaggressions so seriously that students have more of an incentive to feel offended. Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barret has been studying emotions for over 25 years, and she argues, quite convincingly, that emotions are created, not triggered.
As she points out:
“We’ve scanned hundreds of brains, and examined every brain imaging study on emotion that has been published in the past 20 years. And the results of all of this research are overwhelmingly consistent. It may feel to you like your emotions are hardwired and they just trigger and happen to you, but they don’t.”
We are more in control of our emotions than social justice warriors would have it. The solution, of course, is to stop subsidizing bad behavior.