Feel My Pain, Do As I Say
November 27, 2007
Richard Chappell has been pondering claims of victimhood in a pseudo-sensitive age.
We've developed a disastrous social norm according to which anyone can win instant brownie points by claiming to be a “victim” - and doubly so if their claim is made qua membership in some “community” (“As an X, I’m offended...”). Maybe the thought is that all communities are equal, so if one is feeling a bit hard done by, this must reflect some injustice, and certainly not any shortcoming on their part.
Indeed. As we’ve discussed here several times, there’s apparently no end of people who want us to feel their pain before we do exactly as they say. It’s the passive-aggressive approach to coercion, and it’s enormously popular among shameless opportunists and the terminally dishonest. The appeal to hurt feelings is particularly noxious as it implies - at least to some who see themselves as champions of the underdog - that the complainant is entitled by default or is somehow being oppressed. Insofar as “communities” are often ideological groupings with unrealistic, even ludicrous, ideas about the world, and with rules regarding what members of said group are permitted to say and do, then “communities” are unlikely to be equal in their merits or their fostering of success. The woes of a given group, whether real or imagined, may depend in very large part on the ideas and beliefs shared by many of its members.
There’s no more vicious character trait, we’re taught, than being insufficiently “sensitive” to others’ feelings. Manipulative liars are hunky dory - nobody cares about intellectual honesty - but the moment you make someone feel bad, social disapproval is sure to follow. Maybe this is legitimate when it comes to personal interactions: as private individuals, we should of course be considerate of others. But the public sphere should not be governed by the same norms.
Well, civility is generally a good thing and one should, wherever possible, avoid being a horse’s arse. But in the public sphere, one may well be obliged to explain why it is one doesn’t belong, or wish to belong, to a particular “community”, or why one doesn’t accept irrational or unilateral demands, not least regarding the range of facts that can be stated and questions that can be asked. And, however civil, a realistic exchange may still upset those who choose to be upset, prompting howls of indignation and the rending of garments. But hurt feelings aren’t arguments; nor are they proof of wrongdoing. Regardless of how much howling is involved, and regardless of how many people choose to join the howling, some feelings are simply unwarranted, or dishonest, or just thuggery disguised.