AggravationPeople like to say stuff like "It all boils down to this" and then they throw out whatever their particular favorite scapegoat is. Hatred. Intolerance. Ignorance. Greed. Original sin. Lack of patriotism. Homosexuality. Whatever.
However, the basic underlying fundamental issue of all human problems is none of these things.
It's that there are way too many goddamned people out there who will not do what I want them to.
You know who you are, too.
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Now, I posted the above in an attempt to be humorous. But honestly, the above is, probably, one of the major contributors to most human conflicts -- not the idea expressed by the post, but the attitude that the post embodies.
Dig it -- I get aggravated with your shit just as much as you get aggravated with my shit. And you can substitute any one particular proper noun for either or both parties in the above sentence. The LGBT community is aggravated with Orson Scott Card's nonsense. Wall Street Bankers are currently affronted by the temerity of Senator Elizabeth Warren daring to ask them some real questions about financial regulation. (Who the fuck does she think she is? Doesn't she know they pay her salary?) The Tea Party is sick to death of that uppity Negro Barack Obama. Karl Rove has had it up to here with the Tea Party messing up his plans for a permanent Republican majority.
And 'Joliet' Jake Blues hates the Illinois Neo Nazis.
And on and on and on and on.
A lot of crap annoys me too. I would like to tailor a virus that would remove forever from our television screens the horrifying social carcinoma that is reality TV. I would enjoy it if the Tea Party would launch itself into orbit on jets of its own concentrated bile. I think we should probably airdrop the entire membership of the Westboro Baptist Church into the Andes mountains, preferably without parachutes.
But I don't get to do that. And it's right that I don't get to do that, because while all these things are aggravating, none of them are actually causing me real, demonstrable harm. They annoy me. They aggravate me. They infuriate me. Sometimes they even hurt my feelings. But they are not shooting at me, menacing me with broken beer bottles, spreading roofing tacks in my driveway, vandalizing my property, setting fire to my furniture, or assaulting my children.
They're just talking.
I read stuff on Facebook that says, like, 'Kanye West should be banned from the Grammies for life'. And I go, 'yeah, Kanye West is a douchebag and he acts like a douchebag and if I were running the Grammies I'd probably refuse him admittance at the door'. But what did he do? He got up and acted like an asshole. He... talked.
Yeah, he made a lot of people mad and probably hurt Taylor Swift's feelings and I'm not saying that was okay, but I am saying, maybe we want to stop and think before we start saying "He did something that made us mad and hurt someone's feelings, so now he must be banned for life".
One of Robert A. Heinlein's nuttier beliefs, while alive, was "an armed society is a polite society". Heinlein genuinely believed that if you want people to be civil, you needed to legalize dueling. His reasoning, if one can use such a grand word for such an obviously completely emotional non-thought process, was that if there are possible consequences to being impolite, then people will stop being impolite... or, at least, there will be considerably less impoliteness, because rude people will get shot and then they won't be rude any more.
Now, think about that. When you boil that down to its basics, what Heinlein (and quite a few others I've read over the years who agree with him) is saying is, if someone is rude to me, I should be able to shoot that motherfucker.
It should be legal to murder someone because they said something that pissed you off.
This is madness. If you can't see that it's madness, then you probably need to stop reading this essay, because you're probably wishing that you could legally shoot me for offending you, and there's just no talking to you.
A great many people seem to feel this way... not that, you know, they should be able to haul out a gun and murder anyone who offends them in any way, but that, you know, they SHOULD be able to take otheractions against such people. That 'hate speech' -- which means, pretty much, anything that offends any one particular person or group of people who have the ears of a majority of legislators -- should be illegal. That boycotts should be organized to keep writers with controversial political opinions from being published in certain venues.
That homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to teach, because, presumably, their 'gay cooties' will get on our kids.
If any of these things seem ludicrous to you, and you are a reasonable and mature and fair minded person, then ALL of these things should seem ludicrous to you.
If you're offended by the notion that gay people shouldn't be allowed to teach (or marry each other), but you think it's just great to try to put pressure on a major publisher to not publish work by an author whose political views you intensely dislike... you're a hypocrite.
It's hard to really, really genuinely support freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. Equal access to the law. Equal opportunity. It really is. For most people, there's always a "Yes, but". I'm all about freedom of speech, yes, but... not for the Illinois Neo Nazis, because I hate them. I'm all for equal access to opportunity, yes... but... not for Orson Scott Card, because he's a bigot and I hate him. I'm all for equal access to the law, but... not for homosexuals, because it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
And I'm a firm believer in complete freedom of expression, but, you know, let's get real... the Westboro Baptist Church is a bunch of douchebags, and Kanye West is an asshole, so, you know, let's find a way to shut those guys up.
We would all like to live in a world where no one ever does anything to offend or irritate or annoy or anger us. We would all like to go through our lives and never ever ever under any circumstances encounter or perceive or in any way interact with anything that makes us feel threatened or affronted or alienated or in any way uncomfortable. We'd all like that.
But if we're adults, we don't expect it. We know it's not reasonable to expect everyone else in the world to make our feelings and sensibility a priority in their day to day existence. We understand that we really cannot presume to tell other people how they can dress, where they can go, what they can say, what they're allowed to think.
As a grown up, I understand that I have to take some responsibility for my own emotional responses to things, especially when my emotional response is something along the lines of outrage or repulsion. Essentially, my dividing line is a simple one: if I don't think someone is deliberately trying to offend me, and they're not actually causing me or someone else I care about harm, well, then, I try hard not to lose my shit.
On the other hand, if someone is deliberately trying to provoke or offend me, well, the onus shifts. Those who choose to behave in a manner that they have calculated will probably inflame the passions of others should not be surprised when their efforts are successful. Making someon else love, admire, or respect you is often difficult; making someone else really really REALLY pissed off at you is easy.
But, again... as a grown up, I have to take some responsibility for my own umbrage.
If you're coming at me to cause me physical harm or death, or to damage or harm my legitimate possessions and/or interests, then I have a right to take action to stop you, or to expect the society I am part of to take action on my behalf to protect me.
But if you're just talking shit and pissing me off, well... not so much.
Even if you're doing it on purpose, hoping to piss me off... well, that's on you, but, it's also on me. I need to be a grown up about it.
We need to stop talking so much about ways to keep other people from offending us. We need to work on not being so easily offended.
At least, if we genuinely want to live in a free society, we do.