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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