Saturday, July 15, 2017

Snowflakes in July

“Snowflake” has become a standard taunt leveled against lefties who complain of racism or sexism or the like. Sometimes, the disparagement is warranted: if a college president can’t gesture while speaking lest it be perceived as a “micro-aggression,” the lunatics are indeed running the asylum. But Curmie notes two things: first, whereas there are certainly entitled and ultra-fragile little creatures on the left, not infrequently they actually have a point. Secondly, and more relevant to this essay, the left does not have a monopoly on humorlessness, hypersensitivity, or over-reaction.

This is the kind of orange fool Jon Townsend was talking about.
The other one is pictured enough.
Witness two incidents from earlier this month. In the first, Jon Townsend released a video, one of literally hundreds on his site, which is about 18th century life. Purely coincidentally, this episode first aired on July 3. In this iteration of his show, Townsend finishes a series of videos shot at Mount Vernon with a segment on the making of a custard dessert: you know, eggs, cream, sugar, and butter. This particular recipe, which comes directly from Martha Washington herself, includes some orange juice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pretty controversial stuff, right, Gentle Reader? Well, whereas the episode is officially called “A Dessert Fit for the Washingtons,” the first image we have is of the words “orange fool,” which is (of course) the name of the dessert.  And Trumpistan promptly erupted in fits of indignation (most of which comments have subsequently been taken down, but are well-documented to have occurred).

Seriously, this nice and rather nebbishy guy who does videos about colonial life was subjected to all manner of harassment because any reference to an orange fool must inevitably be a dig against The Orange Fool. Maybe it’s a copyright violation or something.

Anyway, poor Townsend released another video, entitled “The Intrusion of Modern Politics On Our YouTube Channel,” in which he makes the point, self-evident to anyone with an IQ above room temperature or to anyone who had seen the video in question: “Guess what? Monday’s episode was not about politics.” Or, as commenter Scott DeGasperis noted, “Sometimes a custard is just a custard.”

This document can still get people fired up.
If only it was for the right reasons...
The following day, more drama, this time as a result of a series of tweets from NPR. It has long been a tradition at NPR to do an on-air reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. This year, they added a 113-tweet Twitter version… and the Trumpistanis raged in further righteous dudgeon, because the tweets were interpreted as “calling for revolution” (true in 1776, not so much now), “propaganda,” “trash,” and the reason NPR is being defunded. This, of course, roused those on the left (and the sane folk on the right) to mock the pseudo-patriotism of Trumpsters too ignorant to understand that they’re complaining about the very document they claim to be celebrating.

Certainly there were idiots on the right who rose to the bait (whether or not it was intended as bait) and made fools (not, apparently, orange ones) of themselves. Perhaps there’s a little more to the story than initially meets the eye, however. For one thing, whereas Curmie is completely certain that Jon Townsend intended absolutely no contemporary political reference in offering up a dessert recipe on Independence Eve, he’s only about 98% certain of NPR’s innocence. To be sure, if this was intended to lure idiots in tin-foil hats from their lairs, it was brilliantly done. But it doesn’t strain credulity overmuch to suggest that someone involved in deciding to tweet the Declaration would have noticed that single tweets like “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” or “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us” might resonate in a particular way to a 21st-century audience. As of this writing, “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people” has gathered some 15,000 re-tweets and 30,000 likes.

Curmie is reminded of a project in a high school Government class. We were dispatched to a local shopping center with copies of the Bill of Rights written up in the form of a petition; we’d ask shoppers to sign. It’s been over 40 years, so Curmie doesn’t remember the exact numbers, but the response broke roughly into quarters: one quarter let us know that they recognized the document they’d been asked to endorse. Another quarter simply signed without even reading. The remaining half of the people we approached split mostly evenly, with younger people generally in favor and older folks refusing to sign—remember, this would have been the Vietnam era, so “right to assemble” and similar protections took on specific meanings in 1972 or ’73.

In other words, if we’re presented with something in the present, we tend to think of them in the present rather than the past. The same could be said for the NPR kerfuffle, especially if a reader comes upon an individual tweet in isolation. But, to Curmie, those capital letters, references to “Princes,” and curious (to us) phrasings ought to be a tip-off.

But there’s one last point to make. Whereas Curmie thinks it unlikely that NPR was intentionally suckering dimwits into saying something stupid, and whereas a goodly number of Trump-loving imbeciles did indeed prove their ignorance, it appears likely that not all the dumb comments were necessarily what they seemed.

Indeed, there is evidence that some of the most outrageously stupid responses to the NPR tweets, posted by “Darren Mills,” are in fact the work of a troll: perhaps a left-leaning troll who intended to make Trump supporters look even stupider than they are, perhaps just a garden variety troll troll, who just likes to stir the pot for the sake of getting people angry. Either way, there’s a good chance that we’re looking at an over-reaction to the over-reaction.

If nothing else, these two stories demonstrate just how fractured the American political system is. Hypersensitivity is encouraged by the partisan media (it’s beginning to be difficult to regard that as anything but a redundant expression), by our politicians, and by our social constructions (education, churches, etc.). A few snowflakes aren’t going to do us any harm, but if you put enough of them together, they can not only run your car off the road, but they can lead to an avalanche: taking us all downhill very fast, destroying everything in its path, and providing not the slightest opportunity to recover what we’ve lost.

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