Some words are burned into our psyche, but used for whatever purposes suit our secret feelings:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Well, yes. Of course. And these lofty words are sufficiently vague, easily misunderstood, as to justify our rejection of the laws of physics, the parameters of human nature, the limits of reality. We take comfort in the certainty of the righteousness of our beliefs, and yet, things aren’t really working out terribly well as people demand their self-evident truths be accepted by everyone else, all of whom have self-evident truths of their own, which are often in conflict.
I awoke this morning to an email from Jordan Rushie, with the comment, “I’m not even shitting you.” It included a link to a story about how a woman, “a feminist and atheist,” suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by “online harassment and Twitter trolls.”
Jordan’s “I’m not shitting you” was meant to convey the absurdity of her claim. I, on the other hand, don’t find it absurd at all. I don’t even find it surprising. There is nothing surprising about how a challenge to one’s assertions can bring about suffering. One of the tenets of progress is that everyone has a right to express one’s feelings without traumatic reaction. It’s similarly unsurprising that she refuses to be silenced.
Whatever we feel entitled to has become an unalienable right. We will not forego our rights, and anyone who disputes us violates those rights. There is a laundry list of words used to describe this violation: oppression, trauma, prejudice, hate.
There is a problem with this approach. It’s untenable. One person’s right infringes on another’s. Whose right wins? Well, yours does, silly. The other person’s right is wrong; your entitlement prevails.
But we can’t all be the big shot in the private corner office. We can’t all be beloved on the twitters. The laws of physics preclude us from simultaneously occupying the same space. Innate intelligence presents an insurmountable obstacle to all of us being the most successful person in the world. Some just don’t have the smarts to get to Harvard, to get that gazillion dollar job, to impress the person we want to love us, to adore us, to admire us. We do not all have superpowers. Some of us are condemned to live lives of quiet desperation.
Children will fall down on the playground and bruise their knee, no matter how hard parents try to prevent harm from happening. Women will need to take leave from their jobs to bear children, because child-bearing is something only women can do.
If they choose not to have children, they will bear certain inevitable consequences, such as the loss of the joy of parenthood. Society will bear the loss of a laboring oar to pay for social security for people who already have more than a child today can hope to achieve. When these women take leave, businesses are supposed to pay them for the time they don’t work, because businesses magically make money to cover non-productive workers.
It’s not fair. None of it is fair.
School children are suffering an epidemic of anxiety and depression. Yet they graduate unable to write, cipher or think. It’s chalked up to performance anxiety, but they still can’t perform. They are being harmed by the best of intentions, the American dream that every child should go to college and work in that corner office making gazillions of dollars, while enjoying the love and adoration of someone whose life is dedicated to supporting their entitlement to the pursuit of happiness. People who are fat, or unpleasant, or narcissistic, struggle to find that special someone, their soul mate, but the problem isn’t them. They are entitled to be fat, or unpleasant, or narcissistic, and they are also entitled to demand that life produce their mate, even if no one likes them.
We have more today than we have ever, as a society, had before, and yet less. We’ve not achieved “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” If anything, we seem to be getting further away from it. There are pockets of success, though they seem to be fleeting. There are so many great ideals in play, such as gender and racial equality, but which give rise to little more than conflict as entitlements clash. We are, as a society, pretty damn miserable. Progress isn’t working out nearly as well as it was supposed to.
It’s a terrible shame that Melody Hensley suffers from PTSD because of her experiences on twitter where her assertion of her rights resulted in a negative backlash, but the only cure is to silence the rights of others. She sounds pretty kooky, but aren’t kooky people allowed to be happy too? Except everyone can’t be happy when their happiness is in conflict with someone else’s happiness.
It’s horrible that young students suffer outrageous rates of mental illness as well. What are we doing to them? How can we allow ourselves to harm children? Especially since it’s for naught, as their trauma has failed miserably to turn them into smarter, better students. If anything, they’re far less educated than their predecessors.
What we are no longer capable of doing is assessing the viability of indulging our every whim, our right to personal happiness. Progress cannot come at the expense of reality, no matter how strongly we feel that the things we wish for are right. We are not entitled to every “right” that would make our world perfect. We will not all get a corner office. Not everyone belongs in college. Some women are smarter than men, and some are not.
If we’re not going to be miserable, to make our children miserable, to suffer PTSD whenever someone tells us we’re stupid, evil or ugly, we’re going to have to be a little more realistic about achieving our perfect world. It’s not going very well at the moment, and pushing your agenda isn’t going to change the laws of physics, no matter how much you feel entitled to pursue your happiness.