This week Bernard Darnton accidentally offends an indigenous homosexual donkey.
On Sunday I took my angel and my shepherd to church for their annual booster shot of Christianity. I like to go to the nativity play and give them a small dose of Mary and Joseph to go alongside Diwali’s Rama and Sita, Pegasus and the Chimaera (from one of the less likely chapters in The Iliad), and a rather saucy graphic novel featuring Rhinemaidens. It’s absurdity, sex, and violence -- that is, culture -- all the way in our house.
At one point, the somewhat non-traditional nativity script switched to the donkey’s point of view, with the donkey complaining about having to carry the heavily pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem. The asinine griping ended with the donkey taking offence at the innkeeper’s offer of the stable to Mary and Joseph, when he noted that they’d “have to share with the animals.” The donkey was indignant at the suggestion that sharing with the animals would be a bad thing.
The innkeeper’s insult is a crime known today as “microaggression.” The trick to microaggression is that you don’t know you’re doing it. If the innkeeper had said, “Piss off Joseph, and take Eeyore with you. I fucking hate donkeys,” the anti-donkey sentiment would have been clear. As it was, the unthinking denigration of the donkey as an inferior creature probably wasn’t even noticed by the humans, being part of the dominant culture as they are, but the hurt inflicted by the casual anthropocentrism was apparently keenly felt. (It’s hard to tell if the offence was genuine, because donkeys are generally ornery bastards.)
Microaggression can also be directed at other humans. In my previous life as Libertarianz party leader I once got into trouble for not knowing the correct acronym by which the gender- and sexually diverse identify themselves. I thought it was “LGBT”, but this is microaggressive towards the intersex. Maybe it’s LGBTI; maybe it’s LGBTQI, LGBTQA, or LGBTTIQQ2SA, for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited and Allies”. I swear I don’t make this stuff up, but even that is exclusive of hijra, takatapui, and fa’afafine. Or is it? To be honest, I wouldn’t have a clue. And I suspect I’m not supposed to. As a curmudgeonly old white heterosexual - can one microagress against oneself? -- it’s easier just to say “Other.”
I relayed all this to a family member, who laughed and said, “Why can’t they just be normal like us?” “Holy shit,” I thought, glowing in relative liberal smugness, “are you even allowed to say that?”
I assume that still counted as microaggression rather than actual aggression -- she didn’t actually claim that God Hates Fags or form a lynch mob -- and probably didn’t mean any harm by it. It’s just that old people are inadvertently way more sexist, racist, and homophobic than the rest of us, who are just ageist.
Microaggression can range from the tasteless, the thoughtless, and the impolite, through to what might be better named “nanoaggression”, “picoagression”, or even just “not aggression”.
Professor Val Rust at UCLA, charged with improving his students’ writing, was demonised -- a word sure to antagonise thin-skinned demons everywhere -- for daring to correct a student’s capitalisation of the word “indigenous.” University authorities were summoned and they quickly capitulated to the illiterate but deeply sensitive students. By asserting that the word didn’t warrant a capital letter, the professor apparently showed disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Bastard.
Regardless of colour, skins this thin are not fit for purpose. Those who insist on seeing racism and sexism in any sentence that isn’t perfectly manicured are simply too fragile to go outside. Enough genuine victims have been created through real aggression that there’s no need to create swarms more imaginary victims through perceived “microaggression.”
And yes, there is still real sexism and racism today, but if you heckle someone like Professor Val Rust, one of the inventors of multiculturalism, to silence, the only people left willing to discuss racial questions will be those with pit bulls and swastika tattoos, which might explain something of European politics.
To improve the world you need to take part in it. Pitch a tent in the marketplace of ideas. But you won’t be able to handle it if you have the delicate sensibilities of a California sophomore. Perhaps take a leaf out of the journal of an old dead white guy:
“When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?”
- Meditations 7:26, Marcus Aurelius.
And try not to be an ass.
Bernard Darnton is not PJ O’Rourke. But some Tuesday afternoons, he’d like to be.