Fragile: Handle with Kool-aid

by Brad Nelson   3/30/15

We are all emotional creatures to some extent. And perhaps some refining of the term, “emotional,” is in order. Many interpret “emotional” automatically as a synonym for “irrational” or “hyperventilating.”

I’m talking about the aspect of emotional whereby it is another guiding sense that we have. Like vision, it can be clouded or fooled. And clearly it can become too fragile to be useful.

These thoughts come to mind when I ran across an interesting article by Maggie Gallagher at NRO: Our Emotional-Fragility Epidemic:

In the New York Times Sunday magazine, Judith Shulevitz ponders a litany of recent events in which students proclaim their intense fragility and demand someone in authority do something about it. At Oxford’s Christ Church College last November, for example, students demanded that the dean (whose title is “censor” in Oxfordspeak) cancel a debate between two men on abortion and were “relieved” when they succeeded.

I’ve read of other instances of such things recently. It seems our culture, and university life in particular, is creating a truly namby-pamby type of individual.

“Something is clearly happening,” a London child psychotherapist says about a sharp increase in attempted suicides starting around 2010, “because I am seeing the evidence in the numbers of depressive, anorexic, cutting children who come to see me. And it always has something to do with the computer, the Internet and the smartphone.” All of these candidates are, no doubt, contributing factors. But I suspect there is something even more basic here: the loss of shared communal narratives and norms to give meaning to our human experience, including our human suffering. . .

For most of American history, three great and interlocking supportive communal narratives gave meaning to people’s lives: family, patriotism, and religion.  In our elite institutions, all of those, but especially the last two, are constantly torn down, described as relative at best and evil at worst, not available to the students to give meaning to their suffering or purpose to their lives.

So instead they make do with what they have: an Edenic vision that somehow the Lion will lie down with the Lamb and create safe spaces for the 21-year-old children who are suffering from invisible, self-inflicted wounds. A generation many of whom cut themselves as young teens to numb the pain literally has now morphed to include an adult generation that cuts itself psychologically — magnifying every possible small hurt and begging authority figures to help.

And when that proves futile, they lash out in their rage against those who, they imagine, have caused their suffering, because our culture turns pain into power, if it is the right kind of pain.

Watch out for these little monsters. They are everywhere now. And I can’t help thinking how libertarianism is right in line with this kind of emotional fragility. I happened upon this article at Reason.com: For Libertarians, There is Only One Fundamental Right. The subhead says it all: All further “rights” are simply applications of our basic right not to be aggressed against.

No to be “aggressed against”? That sounds very namby-pamby and emotionally fragile to me. How does one order any kind of society, carving law-and-order out of the law of the jungle and chaos, without some coercion of the individual? It’s impossible, and more than once this “non-aggression” principle has been thrown at me by libertarians. And I typically ask in return, “How could one have a safe and practical highway system without traffic rules that coerce and penalize certain behaviors? Or is it okay to go 100 mph wherever you want and to drive in the lane of your choosing simply because if you couldn’t this would be ‘coercion’?”

Are libertarians really the modern version of the rugged American who simply wants liberty? With this “non-coercion” principle there isn’t even room for normal and healthy familial relationships. (Take out the trash, son, or you’ll get no allowance.)

I agree with Maggie’s Gallagher’s analysis. Many people don’t seem to know how to handle pain and suffering. And there’s seems to be an epidemic of emotional fragility.


Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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9 Responses to Fragile: Handle with Kool-aid

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The point about religion reminds me of a point that the defecting Soviet captain made in The Hunt for Red October. His wife had died due to defective medical care, and he could do nothing about it — even the consolation of religion was denied him. (A nice example of how religion can do this is a gravestone in one of Dean Koontz’s novel for a child who died at birth: “God loved him so much that he called him home at birth.” I’ve often wondered how an atheist, especially a militant, would react to it.)

  2. Rosalys says:

    “…the 21-year-old children…”

    There’s the problem. A 21-year old child should be an oxymoron, but today it ain’t so.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Being just a grown-up child myself (which is why I surround myself with you people of greater maturity), it occurs to me that the Western conception of man as a complex, multi-faceted, multi-talented mind/body/soul is the right way to go. Right now our world (perhaps it has always been thus) is filled with a lot of simplistic concoctions that purport to tell us all how it really works. People take off on tangents of global warming, environmentalism, or even make “liberty” a fetish.

      I hope we strive here not to be perfect or better-than-thou but to at least not be simple-minded. Life is complex. And human beings are enormously capable of sharing in, and being enriched from, that complexity.

      And to just stay psychological children is a waste.

  3. Jerry Richardson says:

    Brad,

    No to be “aggressed against”? That sounds very namby-pamby and emotionally fragile to me. How does one order any kind of society, carving law-and-order out of the law of the jungle and chaos, without some coercion of the individual?
    —Brad Nelson

    I guess that falls right in line with the “right” not to be “offended” by someone’s else’s free supervised speech?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well, I’ll say again, an extraordinary article by Maggie.

      The “not be aggressed against” idea sounds like something you’d hear six-year-olds say to each other while playing in a sandbox. It might work in a sandbox with two kids, each playing with the Tonka Toy of their choice (I always preferred the cement mixer).

      But in the real world where people must interact in forms more complicated and populated than a sandbox, the “not be aggressed against” rule is truly the faint wishings of a simple mind.

      Of course, if you have a conversation with a libertarian, you’ll find that “aggression” is a moving target. It fills in as a pleasing, all-inclusive principle in place of real thought and wisdom. But when you get to the details with libertarians, you’ll always find their words are moving targets. And that tells you something, if only that their theories are either inherently unworkable or that, much like the Left, their generalities are meant to be generalities so that they can fill in the details at their will and to their advantage.

      A form of tyranny is not knowing the rules ahead of time, with grand generalities always being interpreted against you at every turn. This is how our bureaucratic enviro-wacko state works now. And libertarians with their fuzzy ethics would make this better?

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        A form of tyranny is not knowing the rules ahead of time, with grand generalities always being interpreted against you at every turn. This is how our bureaucratic enviro-wacko state works now. And libertarians with their fuzzy ethics would make this better?

        Capriciousness is a hallmark of all tyrannies. This is a large part of why the rule of law is so fundamental for a good society. Even bad laws, if uniformly enforced, are generally better than floating laws.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Capricious rule is arbitrary rule. Ayn Rand made this point very explicitly in Atlas Shrugged. The purpose of having so many laws (most of which most people have no idea of) is precisely to make everyone guilty of something — and therefore dependent on not antagonizing whoever is making the decision on whether or not to prosecute them, and how hard. Such people are vulnerable to blackmail forcing them to fall in line.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Well said, Timothy. Very concisely stated as well. This is why it’s not enough just to have some fuzzy vision inside your head that because you’ve voted “Progressive” (or conservative, for that matter) that it’s just all going to work out because, gosh, the people you voted for would never deceive you, right?

            Of course, as more and more of the political transaction becomes a vote in exchange for free stuff, corruption is the watchword. Integrity doesn’t count as much, if at all, compared to whether or not you perceive that the politician is in favor of maintaining or expanding your free stuff. Or, if your de fact religion is Leftism, it may be enough that the person you voted for spouted all the right cliches.

            Didn’t someone once say that liberty needed eternal vigilance? Well, that’s certainly not happening. Not even part-time vigilance.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Ditto. And I like the term “floating laws.”

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