Political Correctness: Reflections on Being an Asshole
Political correctness is the poison-tipped sword pointed at the armor of the average American asshole, for the asshole is on a great, noble quest, larger than that of humor, cruelty, or domination. Assholes stand behind a great bulwark of free speech in order to assert their basic human rights. And in the name of freedom, they cast their gaze upon the hurt and horrified sword wielders, and dub them “snowflakes”. These great knights of vulgarity are righteous in their endeavor to preserve traditions and fortify the American spirit against the delicate.
It is a lovely fairytale. We have heard similar tales from local citizens at a nearby bar, from our grandfathers and uncles at holiday dinners, and from asshole celebrities, like Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh. I am therefore a bit sad to present the argument that their tale is mere fantasy invented by assholes, for assholes, to protect them from consequence and remorse.
One cannot ever be certain which words, gestures, outfits, or social media posts may be offensive, for offense is entirely the domain of those who perceive it. This is a frustrating truth, especially to those of us who write and crack jokes now and then. Satire may be taken as truth. Parody may be viewed as propaganda. Shenanigans may be seen as insults. This, friends, is the risk we take in the delicate art of communication. If only wishing made it so that I could control the reaction of every eardrum and eyeball so that what I find humorous was laughed at, and that the absurd was recognized universally.
The fault does not lie with the offended, though. Delicate sensibilities can arise from grief, fear, anger, and being shit upon throughout one’s entire life. Just as the asshole cannot control the domain of perceived insults, the offended cannot control the filter through which they digest words and deeds. This is the consequence of so many disparate roads of experience intersecting, criss-crossing, and getting tangled like a knot of spaghetti.
Since neither the asshole nor the snowflake has control, the ongoing saga of enduring each other’s company must be done with a series of deliberate choices, and a fair acceptance of consequences for those choices.
When the common asshole ventures to make a joke or commit an act that he senses may be reviled by snowflakes, a calculation must be made: What is the price he is willing to pay for the expression?
Even the most impudent assholes will typically never don blackface for Halloween, for example. For even if the asshole himself is not offended, and he intends no malice in the act, he, at the very least, recognizes that society has established mores against the practice for the last fifty years. The price for doing so would be extreme: The asshole may be violently attacked, may attract the attention of local news, and may lose his job, friends, and any shred of social standing he had left. Ostracism is the bare minimum price for such a crude act.
This is an extreme example, of course. The difficulty for the average asshole can be in calculating the cost of acts or words for which mores are still being formed, or remain unclear.
Returning to the Halloween scenario, an asshole may dress in caricature form as a Native American or a Mexican. The taboo exists, but not quite to the extent that complete ostracism is the cost. The nature of such an offense is still evolving, and so the rules and consequences are shifting even from year to year. It is understandable that the moving goalposts of offense are confusing and frustrating to assholes, but these shifts must be added to the risk-reward calculation for wearing such a costume. The thinking asshole might consider that such a costume is a high-risk proposition. Not only might people be more vocal in their offense than in prior decades, there could be personal consequences for the asshole.
Not every situation is so grievous for the asshole, however. Sometimes the calculation is more nuanced. For example, when I consume a surfeit of wine at Thanksgiving and become an asshole, I must make the calculation: If I tell my mother’s favorite story using a mocking voice in order to provoke laughter from others at the dinner table, I may make her cry. Or I may provoke her to do the same against me or someone else I love. Or she may take away my wineglass. I have to accept these consequences for my actions instead of dubbing her a snowflake who needs to “get over it” or alter her sensitivity and perception.
Many an asshole believes that he should not be vulnerable to such consequences because of the rights of free speech provided by the United States Constitution. The link between the First Amendment and protection from political correctness is engineered to fortify the asshole’s position of righteousness and patriotism. Except that this is an unfortunate misunderstanding, or deliberate perversion of the First Amendment’s powers.
The scope of the First Amendment merely affords protection against government persecution and prosecution.
The list of consequences for the average asshole entirely outside of the scope of the First Amendment includes (but is not limited to): Social shunning, withdrawal of political support or paid sponsors, termination of employment or work opportunities, and protests.
The self-aware asshole should also be mindful of his own sensitivity. In an example of the snake biting its own tale, the average American asshole marks the vulnerability and victimhood of others as a drain on good sense and decency, mocking safe spaces on college campuses, and perpetuating jokes about trigger warnings. This is an ironic wail of sensitivity over the delicacy of others. In a sense, this is the asshole trying to out-snowflake the snowflake by being sensitive to the sensitivity of others.
The more common-sense solution is to simply stand back and allow society’s fluctuations to sort out how sensitive the youth of our country should be. As it is, society has collectively deemed, to-date, that such coddling measures are on the ludicrous fringe, and are almost implicitly humorous. But if assholes, including myself, choose to aid the fluctuation by adding our mockery to the cacophony, then we must accept any consequences that result. Because it is not a grave sin, perhaps the greatest price we will pay is that we have pooled our sensitivity with those who have outraged us with theirs.
Understanding these rights and consequences is essential for the asshole to recognize that political correctness is a fantastical weapon that does not threaten him. It is a vapor, conjured by magicians in decades past to excuse asshole behavior and to plead for no consequences.
It is time for the asshole to dismiss the apparition of outrage at oversensitivity, and recognize that he is, in fact, just an asshole. We are, as Americans, all assholes, in reality. So every day, in every way, we judge how little or how much we want to test the boundaries of good taste, ethics, and offensiveness, and we manage the results and accept that certain principles of anguish, anger, and hurt are fully out of our control. We cannot bend conceptions to match our projections, when it must be the other way around.
And in those cases where we choose not to bend, then we accept what comes our way. For that makes each of us the noble and responsible asshole, and not the brute or cad who lives in a fantasy of victimhood. That is how we fortify the American spirit and dismiss the delicate bully.