Having been accused once or twice of being a quart or two low on empathy due to my refusal to allow personal feelings to trump reason, I approached an op-ed in the Chicago Maroon with my usual trepidation. It was written by Lily Grossbard, “a first-year in the College majoring in gender and sexuality studies.” The headline was, “The myth of the coddled college student.”
Geez, I wonder what she’s gonna write.
Trigger warnings are frequently lampooned as “coddling” students, or as shielding them from exposure to the difficulties of “the real world.” I would argue, however, that not only are trigger warnings of crucial importance for protecting the emotional and physical health of the student body at large, but they also actually allow for, and even promote the discussion of triggering topics.
Well then. It was the usual rationalizations of adoptive trauma, the ADHD of college feelz, combined with a backward grasp of promoting speech. Ironically, it was far better written than most such essays, shorter on jargon and reflecting a fairly strong grasp of organization and language.
The striking aspect of so many college student essays is that they’re incomprehensible. This stood out because it was well written, if insipid. I would give her an A for style, even if a C for content. Writing is hard and Grossbard did a fine job explaining herself.
After reading her op-ed, I went to the comment. That’s where I found this:
Confederate flag avatar. Osama bin whatever handle. Derogatory physical characterization. And the word, “twat.” The perfect storm of everything that proves that along the spectrum of stupidity, at the intersection of insanity, Lily Grossbard wins. It’s not because Grossbard’s argument has merit, but if one wants to sit down and chat with someone, most of us would pick Grossbard over Osama Bin Moron.
Why? Why is there always some idiot child who must, through the insertion of needlessly offensive and facially stupid language, prove that no matter how wrong one person may be, they aren’t nearly as bad as the idiot child.
Watching the “testimony” of Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn before the United Nations group working on ending “cyberviolence,” both offered characterizations of the horrible things people wrote to them online, threatening harm, rape and calling them all manner of sexually-charged mean words.
While their characterizations fall short of proving their point, as they tend to be a bit hyperbolic in describing things that hurt their feelings, and they include relatively benign claims, like “you suck,” as if this is tantamount to “I know where you live, plan to break into your house at night and rape you,” they do have an argument. The idiot children argument.
There are, of course, plenty more, ranging from rape to murder. Of course, there are plenty of truly sick people on the internet, there being no sanity test for buying a keyboard. And there is no shortage of infantile trolls who, hiding behind rocks, enjoy a catharsis they would otherwise be denied because no one in real life gives a damn if they exist. I wonder why that could be?
This impulse to write something outrageous and offensive is the best argument there is for those advocating that speech has gone too far. No, these aren’t compelling arguments in the sense that they fall within a categorical exception to the First Amendment and must be silenced. But to fall back on the legal right to be an asshole is not an argument for being an asshole.
Does anyone suppose that comments like these have any utility in making a point? Well, no one with even a smidgeon of a brain, to be sure. But they serve a great purpose for those who want to silence speech; no reasonable person doesn’t find such comments disgusting and idiotic. When advocates of censorship show writing of this sort to others, everyone cringes. No one, but no one, thinks you’re funny, persuasive, or in any way worthwhile.
To respond that, yes, they’re awful comments but “I would never write that” and “you can’t stop the idiot child from exercising his right to free speech,” is to miss the point. We can stop it by replying to the idiot child to shut up, to meet this impoverished speech with better speech. We don’t have to tolerate it. We may advocate for the right to be as stupid as they want to be, but we can simultaneously let them know that they’re not winning any admirers, and doing extreme harm to the position they purport to further.
And it’s not like this is limited to gender issues, or college kids, or wimpy male advocates ashamed of what they find between their thighs. Or blacks, Catholics, Jews and especially Muslims. The list is long and covers pretty much every group there is. Whoever you are, there is some idiot child out there who hates you and feels some pathological need to let you know so in the most offensive possible way. Aren’t you special.
There is a never-ending stream of comments here proclaiming all cops, prosecutors, judges evil scum who must be destroyed. No, the reader won’t see them because I won’t publish them. It actually pains me to think that readers here are idiot children, and what I write feeds their psychosis. Then again, who the hell knows what feeds their insanity, as people in search of outrage and something to hate will invariably find it, no matter what or where.
If you’re one of these people who, because you use a nifty screen name like Osama Bin whatever, think you are making points by uttering disgusting and offensive attacks and threats, you are. You’re making the point that censors want you to make. You’re making the point that people you want to be “on your team” want nothing to do with you.
Is that what you’re trying to accomplish? If so, you’re succeeding spectacularly. But here’s the message from those whom you would have as your friends and allies. Shut the fuck up, you asshole. You’re a disgrace.