The Problems With America Today: (1) The Blurred Lines Between Jest and Insanity; and (2) The Rise of Unhinged Political Correctness

As a moderate/centrist,  I endorse neither purely liberal nor purely conservative ideals.  Our diverse America is a melting pot of leftists, rightists, and in-betweeners, but I think–or I wish–that we would be able to agree on an objectively sound, fundamental framework upon which society may operate.  Such a framework should promote healthy discourse and mutual respect, irrespective of whether the context involves differing viewpoints or controversial jest.

Today, a Facebook acquaintance–let’s call them “L”–posted a tragic video where an orangutan is clearly seen fighting off a bulldozer that is destroying its habitat.  No rational person would deny this to be true or question why it is tragic.  While the methodology that we might utilize to resolve this problem may vary depending on whether we employ a conservative or liberal approach or a compromise of the two, we can all agree that what is happening to this animal and its habitat is a problem.  Below, we see the Facebook interactions between L, L’s friend C, and myself (the jester).  These are three separate images, arranged chronologically from left to right:

(Keep in mind that I know L to have graduated from a prestigious school.  I personally met L at one point in my life, and have had sufficient interaction with L to know that  L is intelligent.  We will give C the benefit of the doubt by virtue of C’s association with L, and assume the same of C.)

Note that, at the outset, L and C agree–as rational people would–that the video is heartbreaking.  That’s where I come in with my joke:  I suggest to L and C that the whole thing is a misunderstanding, and that humans are using the bulldozer to help the monkey get down from the tree.  I present the ludicrous argument that the orangutan is “high-fiving” the heroic bulldozer to show its gratefulness for being rescued.

Arguably, some may find that joke to be in poor taste.  On the other hand, others may detect its blatant sarcasm and interpret it as social commentary.  The latter is what I was going for.  Apparently, there is a third way to interpret my comment: Rather than treating the comment as a joke or as satirical work, some may interpret it to be a truthful statement of my honest beliefs.  Clearly, given C and L’s critical responses, I did not get my point across to them.  In their defense, text-based communication can be confusing because there are no physical cues from which we can ascertain sarcasm. To come to their defense even further, C and L may have witnessed so much stupidity from others that they truly thought I literally believed that the bulldozer was helping the orangutan.

Still, there are two problems with this result:

  1. It doesn’t matter if L or C are intelligent.  A comment, no matter how ludicrous, has clearly triggered them.  I call this the “Trigger Problem.”  Now, two people is a minuscule sample size, but I have experienced countless analogous interactions in my life to believe that the Trigger Problem is real and prevalent.  The Trigger Problem will help to explain the meaning behind the first part of the title of this blog post, “The Blurred Lines Between Jest and Insanity.”
  2. While the “L’s” of the world will try to be constructive about how they respond after being triggered, the “C’s” of the world will immediately and mercilessly attack the person who triggered them.  I call this “Merciless Bashing.”  Again, L and C constitute an unreliable sample size, but for all my intents and purposes, their behavior suffices to mirror what I see time and time again in broader society: the alignment of triggered constructive-criticizers (e.g. L) with the triggered merciless-bashers (e.g. C).   The concept of Merciless Bashing will help to explain the meaning behind the second part of the title of this blog post, “The Rise of Unhinged Political Correctness.”

I. The Trigger Problem and the Blurred Lines Between Jest and Insanity

C is upset.  C rips into to my comment by questioning the presence of the bulldozer, by highlighting that the orangutan was “slapping,” not “high fiving” it, and to point out that what I am saying is the “misunderstanding.”  C is a victim of the Trigger Problem, because C dismisses any possibility that I might be joking.

L is likewise disappointed, but more forgiving.  L states that I am only “seeing what I want to see,” and that I am oblivious to the sole utilitarian function that bulldozers serve.  Ironically, L closes by alleging that I have “missed the whole point by a mile.”  L too, is a victim of the Trigger Problem, because L similarly dismisses any possibility that I might be joking.

The Trigger Problem is very real.  As a society, we have been so set against one another–either by external forces or by domestic turmoil–that we are quick to accept the sincerity of a third person’s assertions even if we believe those assertions to be meritless.  In other words, while we might find someone’s opinion to be preposterous, we do not doubt that it is still their genuine opinion EVEN IF, in reality, it is actually a subversive statement rather than their genuine opinion.  Simply stated again, we become so “Triggered” that we immediately jump to the ramifications of an adverse opinion (by reacting to it) rather than investigating the underlying motivations of the said adverse opinion.  Case in point: L and C never for a second considered that my comment was meant in jest.

Of course, one would HOPE that a perpetrator’s motivation would be benign–that they would be fueled by such things as jest, or even trolling, rather than nefarious intent to subvert.  But what we hope for is not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality.  We must be pragmatic about the motivations of perpetrators–something that both C and L fail to do, and something that I worry American society as a whole is failing to do.

The takeaway is that the Trigger Problem fosters division and unrest between the American people.  When the lines between jest and insanity become so blurred that we cannot differentiate between a joke and an insane remark, we attack one another rather than engaging in intellectual, civil, discourse.  In the context of ongoing foreign interference in American politics, how vulnerable does our nation become when we are so susceptible to being Triggered that we forget to question the motivations behind those doing the Triggering?  When you reflect on this question, consider Aleksandr Dugin’s book Foundations of Geopolitics — and if you did click that link, scroll down to this relevant bit:

In the United States: Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists.” Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

II. Merciless Bashing and the Rise of Unhinged Political Correctness

Above, I refer to L as a “constructive-criticizer.”  By that, I mean that after L has been Triggered, L responds constructively.  In a way, L has given me the benefit of the doubt.  L actually believes that I am being sincere.  L believes that I truly believe that the bulldozer is “trying to help the orangutan get down.”  L’s criticism of me is constructive because, despite clearly being shaken by my ridiculousness, L maintains their composure and tries to reason with me.

Further down in the conversation, L tries to reason with me by deferring to my own claims about God and logically bringing them back into harmony with L’s point of view.  I admire L for this, and I wish that, even when falling victim to the Trigger Problem, triggered individuals would redeem themselves by reacting constructively and rationally as L here did.  For that reason, L is actually not illustrative of the “Merciless Bashing” which has given rise to unhinged political correctness (I will talk about this concept further below).  Still, as I mentioned above, what is alarming is the alignment of triggered constructive-criticizers (e.g. L) with the triggered merciless-bashers (e.g. C).  That is, L and C react to me in unison.  While L’s reaction is more constructive, it does not conflict with C’s more hostile position to the extent that L does not second guess C. While L does not openly endorse C’s position, L’s commentary only subtly contradicts C’s position; moreover, in the end, even L unforgivingly points out that L believes me to be “brainwashed.”

Let’s talk about C and why C is perfectly exemplary of a Merciless Basher.  I have stated above that L’s commentary subtly contradicts C’s position.  This is because L actually believes that I believe the monkey was “high-fiving” the bulldozer.  On the other hand, while C, like L, fails to realize that I am joking, C outright mercilessly bashes me when C states: “If I ever need an attorney to defend me when I’m clearly in the wrong… Robert Rafii is the man that will turn the blame of my wrong doings onto my victim.”  I do give credit to C for clicking on my name and investigating my Facebook profile enough to ascertain that I am an attorney.  (C and I are not Facebook friends, and I do not personally know C.  C’s participation in the entire exchange is made possible by virtue of being a mutual acquaintance of L and I.)

Arguably, and noting that I expressed concern about America’s vulnerability to foreign interference, C’s reaction is more effective in the context of detecting and eradicating attempts of subversion.  Still, C must dance a fine line between investigating my motivation versus mercilessly bashing me.  Ultimately, C fails to recognize that, at best, my “benevolent bulldozer” statement was satirical, and that at worst, it could be considered trolling.  Instead, C rips into my character and creates division between us by suggesting that I am a shady lawyer.  (Again, and as an aside, note that L contributes to the problem by not acknowledging that C should not be so merciless.  I do believe that L genuinely thinks I am sincere in my assertion that the bulldozer is benevolent.  Yet, L does nothing to scold C when C attacks my sincerity.  Through omission, the constructively-critical L is still in alignment with C the merciless-basher.)

Merciless bashing restrains society to the point of encouraging political correctness.  If enough people become so fearful that they will be attacked for voicing their (popular or unpopular) opinions, society will move towards becoming more politically correct (“PC”).  When “PC Culture” becomes rampant, then unfunny “comedians” like Hari Kondabolu gain platforms that they do not deserve, and society will be distracted from real, actual problems that divide us.  While I don’t agree with all of PragerU’s videos, their Guide to Political Correctness drives home my point better than I ever could.

Now, let’s tie everything back to our Facebook exchange.  Toward the end, when I ask for permission to write a blog post about the exchange, C refuses on the grounds that I “toyed with their emotions for my own personal gain.”  C beautifully illustrates the problem with PC Culture: Political correctness places “feelings” and “emotions” above logic.  C goes on to boldly suggest that I “created a situation that was real to some” — that some would actually believe that I believe a monkey understands what it means to “high-five,” that my pastor says “the relationship between monkey and man is as sacred as the relationship between man and God,” and that “research has shown that clearing trees is great for the environment.”  C subconsciously roots for political correctness because it SAVES FACE for C.  Instead of acknowledging that I fooled C (like L bravely did when L stated that I “must be trolling”) C spares such embarrassment on the basis that C is a victim whose “emotions” were “toyed.”

Of course, the original Facebook exchange was never private.  Legally speaking, I don’t need anyone’s permission to write this blog post.  I felt that it would be polite to ask, and more importantly, it would be interesting to see how the C and L would respond.  In retrospect, I am glad I asked because C’s refusal (and C’s self-stated grounds for refusing) reinforces my argument about PC Culture.  Nevertheless, and only out of respect, I have obfuscated L and C’s identities.

In conclusion, I believe that the biggest problems facing America today are (1) its vulnerability to subversion on the grounds that the lines between jest and insanity have been blurred, as well as (2) America’s vulnerability to rampant, unhinged political correctness.  The long-term political and economic implications of this dire duality shakes the very foundation of our American democracy and threatens our place in the center stage of global relations.  While this writing does not offer a solution to the problems it outlines, perhaps highlighting the issues and making people aware of them would suffice to preclude our great society from falling into a trap that it has set for itself.  We can begin by being more open-minded about what “triggers” us and by contemplating on how far we are willing to go (or not go) to be “politically correct.”

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