In my previous post I talked about the use—misuse—of a term: Snowflake. It was brought to my attention that I myself may be misusing it or at least misunderstanding it.
It derives from Fight Club, as a negative. “You are not special snowflakes…you are not unique…” More or less. Tyler Durden exhorting the new members of a club no one is supposed to speak about. Which kind of automatically makes them special. Exclusive club, deeply hidden, secret, and very radical. How much more special can you get short of joining the Masons or being recruited by the NSA?
The term then entered the language by way of gaming, applied to people claiming unique privileges—usually unearned—in the course of some rule-heavy role-playing extravaganza. It went from there to an appellation attached to Millennials of a certain mindset who had absorbed the pseudo-Montessori-esque lessons of specialness and uniqueness and then took it to the next level as sinecure that they, being unique and special, can do no wrong and are allowed to exercise a degree of privilege and intolerance based on that assumed status.
Like all such terms, obviously, it has been handed on, re-purposed, reapplied, contorted, enlarged, expanded, and now, today, it is being used to label anyone even glancingly allied to that other wonderful term that has come to be applied as a derogation, the Social Justice Warrior.
That’s the problem with labels. They start out one way, they inevitably become something else, and then history gets retroactively rewritten to incorporate the new meanings.
Democrats belong to the party of Jim Crow.
Republicans freed the slaves.
As if those claims describe what they are intended to today.
What I have witnessed and heard is the appropriation of the label Snowflake by people who are unfriendly to messages and arguments about social justice, equality, political correctness, diversity, and related issues so they can apply it where needed to shut down debate. Classifying someone as a Snowflake (or a Social Justice Warrior) is little more than an attempt to categorize what they have to say as a specific kind of rhetoric which we are not obliged to listen to or credit because it only describes the presumed delicate, unique, and supposedly privileged character of the speaker. We don’t have to listen to them because, well, it’s just the way they are.
And somehow these delicate souls manage to harass the virtuous manly men (male or female) who have right on their side to the point of silence.
I haven’t, if you’ll forgive the mixed usage here, seen the silence. On either side, frankly. What I have seen is a big fat fence raised between the deponents made up of labels.
Now, labels can be useful. I like to know which aisle contains the pet food as opposed to the household drygoods as opposed to the liquor. I like to know which building houses what services and addresses are very handy. I even like knowing what kind of music I’m likely to find on what station and it is helpful to know where in the bookstore I can find History as opposed to Humor.
But when it comes to people, labels are useless impediments to dialogue and intercourse. And just because those people over there insist on using labels does NOT justify labeling by anyone else. Because it is the nature of such things—language—that usage is hijacked, meanings change, and context shifts.
Back in the Sixties, there was an event in San Fransisco. There was a funeral for Hippy. The label, the tag, the identity. Because the people at the core of the counter culture saw what was happening—that what they were, how they dressed, talked, acted, was about to be appropriated as fashion. They knew that all they intended, all they meant for themselves, all they held important was about to be changed by the normal misuse of the American dialogue. So they declared Hippy dead and they held a funeral. There was, after that, no authentic hippy.
It didn’t stop the entire country from assuming it knew what a Hippy was and that they were all around.
In the Fifties the label Communist was horribly misapplied. A wide net of philosophical and political opinions caught people up and labeled them and lives were ruined. Because it’s easy to think in labels. Action follows thought.
I don’t care for labels like that. Especially when deployed in such a way as to shut down meaningful dialogue.
What I am seeing is the use of a term that once described something quite different being applied by people who think they have the right to determine what is meaningful by excluding what they think is without merit.
Does this go both ways? Of course. Labels have universal utility. They are shorthand. The problem with them is they make it easy to not think.
Just in case anyone thought I meant something else.
I’ve heard it a lot recently. Snowflakes. “Those snowflakes.”
It’s an insult. It means, apparently, thin-skinned, easily offended, a lightweight, someone prone to knee-jerk reactions to certain things which the ones applying the label don’t see the problem with. “We mustn’t offend the snowflakes!”
What topics? It has something to do with political correctness, which is another one of those labels which has lost valence through overuse and misapplication.
What is political correctness?
Well, others may have their definitions, but mine is to speak truly about a subject rather than resort to cliché. To find out the reality before talking through one’s hat, using whatever popular cultural handles that may be lying around.
You can pretty much pick the topic and find disagreement over things ranging from stereotyping to cultural appropriation. There’s the popular opinion, then there’s the fabrication, and then there’s the reality. P.C. ought to mean we go for the reality, which requires a certain amount of work and a bit of sensitivity, which seems in short supply. And if you have no sensitivity, why would you bother to do the work?
Of course, if you don’t do the work, where will you ever get any sensitivity.
So we have a new label, a category—actually a steel-reinforced closet—into which and by which we can dispense with the need to deal with the issues raised by the behavior being tagged as that of a Snowflake. Once so labeled we can simply use that term to dismiss whatever might be upsetting them.
It’s hard then to know if what is upsetting them has any legitimacy because the conversation has now stopped.
Here’s a thought: those applying this new label seem to believe that these are delicate people who get flustered at the mere mention of opinions with which they disagree. What if that’s not it? What if it’s more likely the final loss of tolerance for dealing with attitudes, opinions, and treatment with which they have been subjected to for years and they’ve finally reached the point of saying “You know what, if you can’t see through your own bullshit, I don’t have to either help you or put up with it anymore.”
What if a good number, maybe the majority, of people being labeled Snowflakes are actually of such a toughness that it took years and decades of being misheard, misunderstood, categorized, dismissed, and otherwise bullied before they finally just had enough and decided to slam the door in your face?
I’ve been bullied. The one thing that becomes clear, finally, is that being bullied has no rational cause. Nothing you can say or do will change the fact that the bully just wants to hurt you. It’s not rational. They will bully you because you don’t fit some cool profile or they sense that you’re vulnerable or—more relevant to this situation—that you, just by being, represent a threat to their self-image. You can’t negotiate, you can’t “be reasonable,” and you sure as hell can’t educate them out of their desire, their urge really to put you in a box and keep you there.
You abuse someone long enough they will snap back. Right now, voices are being heard that have needed to be heard and certain people, who thought as long as the room was quiet everything was fine, are trying to shut them down. This is nothing new, this has been the reality for a long, long time. Now we have some acting out. Now we have some payback. Now the “nice, quiet, well-behaved so-n-so who was never a problem before” is standing up saying enough, and so a new label is required?
What you are seeing as hypersensitivity is really just the final loss of patience. If the conversation had been engaged honestly long ago you wouldn’t be facing a challenge to authority like this. And claiming you’re the ones under siege is one more example of the myopia of too-long hegemony.
Every time now I see or hear that label being used I think “Have you looked in a mirror lately? If anyone’s being hypersensitive…” But no, that’s wrong. It’s not hypersensitivity. It’s insensitivity.
Now, go to your room. Write a thousand times “I will not be an insensitive jerk and pretend it’s a defense of conservative principles.”
You just don’t like the message and you think creating and using a new label will fix the problem. Like that ever worked before.
Feeling a bit abstracted and commentative this morning. Politics is depressing and energizing at the same time, did you ever notice that? The devouring of the corpus publius…
Wandering the streets, trying to fit what was with what is, seeing the skeleton of what you used to know beneath the layered detritus of the now. I see the same things but they no longer register the same way. Is this, perhaps, nostalgia, intense homesickness, nosta—homecoming—algia—pain?
The past is there, but I am not. I can only note what it once was, testify where it had been, validate the now because the scaffolding of then holds it up.
Or maybe I’m just tired.
We are a pattern-anticipating sensate creature. Where the patterns mean nothing we can oblige the emptiness by bringing our own meanings and applying them. It’s as pleasant a pasttime as any other, until we begin believing our own significations to the detriment of the previous occupants. Even knowing the traps, we can’t help it. We want to, and sometimes we do, but more often we just think we do. Know, that is. The inability to accept the process leads to tight spaces with no room to maneuver. Squeezes our expectations all out of true.The patterns persist even when the desires change. If we appreciated them for what they are and resisted the urge to impose our own hungers on them, we might find what we need and feel better about it in the process.
But what do I know? I’m just a science fiction writer who takes pictures.
Hope you have a fine day.