Limp wrists and coddled minds

Limp wrists and coddled minds October 13, 2018

So I’m in the middle of reading The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidtand, and I will write something up on it when I’ve finished, but in the meantime, here’s a one-paragraph summary of where I am so far.  Noting the rise of conflicts on campus, of demands for “safety” and elimination of dissenting ideas, the authors have identified three Untruths about the world that it believes college students have fallen victim to:  (1) everyone is fragile and needs to be protected, (2) feelings matter more than objective reality, and (3) it’s Us against Them.  The combination of these Untruths is toxic, as students, in a very new (post 2013) development, believe that upsetting statements/ideas/words can damage them, that their perception matters more than the speaker’s intention, and that anyone who’s not unambiguously, unquestionably on their side is their Mortal Enemy.  The authors also cite the insights of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that dwelling on the negative and catastrophizing events is harmful to one’s own mental health, and the insights of sociology that much of what is happening is a groupthink-type occurrence where groups behave in ways that individuals wouldn’t dare.

And today I happened on an article in today’s Tribune, “Democrat depicted as a puppet in GOP campaign ad says it’s homophobic against him.”

Here’s the context:  here in Illinois, it is Michael Madigan, uber-powerful Democrat, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, controller of the Democratic party purse strings, who is the GOP’s bogeyman.  The state Republican Party’s mailers carry one consistent theme:  Michael Madigan is the source of government mismanagement, overspending, corruption, and everything that is going wrong with the state; therefore, voters should be sure to vote for the Republican candidate in order to disempower him, or at least prevent him from accruing further power.  This is true to the greatest degree in the state House, where more Democratic gains would produce a veto-proof majority, and, on the other hand, sufficient GOP gains (which I understand to be pretty unlikely) could dislodge the Democrats’ hold.  And, indeed, as long as the Democrats retain control, Madigan retains control, because his tight control of the party machinery (and, more specifically, money) means that he controls individual Democrats’ votes.  But even outside of state House candidates, GOP mailers are consistent in their theme of “vote for our guy, because his opponent is a Madigan lackey.”

And that means imagery of a marionette, with Madigan as the puppeteer.  In this case, Democrat Kevin Morrison, running for Cook County Commissioner, is portrayed as a marionette whose limbs are controlled by strings, because he will do Madigan’s bidding in raising property taxes.

And the claim?

A Democrat seeking to unseat Republican Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider is accusing the state GOP of mailing out a homophobic campaign mailer, though Republican officials say it’s only meant to call the challenger a political puppet. . . .

The mailer depicts an extra-large Madigan crouching next to a comparatively tiny Morrison who’s depicted as a puppet. The ad portrays Madigan animating the puppet version of Morrison who is midpose with what appears to be a limp wrist.

Morrison countered by sending out a campaign fundraising mailer accusing Schneider of sending out an attack ad “picturing me with a ‘limp wrist,’ a bigoted caricature of gay people.” . . .

Morrison said he doesn’t buy the party’s explanation.

“Everybody knows a limp wrist is meant to be derogatory and an attack on LGBTQ individuals,” he said.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports LGBTQ candidates across the country, condemned the mailing as “a clear anti-gay dog whistle.”

“Let me be clear: Tim Schneider and his team knew exactly what they were doing when they altered a photo of Kevin Morrison to show him with a limp wrist and on his tiptoes,” said Annise Parker, the group’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Can we all agree that this is preposterous?  The anti-Madigan refrain is so constant in the mailers I’m receiving (and I’d flip through them to see if I can find one with my local candidates portrayed as puppets, but they all go straight in the trash) that it’s nonsense to claim this is all just an anti-gay slur.  And, yes, the “limp wrist” visibly illustrates that the strings are holding up the arm.

Now, my first reaction was a cynical one, that this is no more than an attempt to rally a progressive Democratic base, and drum up some attention for himself.  But he is running in a Republican district, and, although his background is that of a budding career politician, having worked, according to his biography, for Democratic politicians’ campaigns beginning in 2012 immediately upon graduation from college, his (short) list of policy positions is solidly that of a moderate, middle-of-the-road politician, claiming that he will “fight against regressive policies like the disastrous Cook County Soda Tax that disproportionately affected our community” and fight for “a budget that eliminates wasteful spending and solves the County’s fiscal issues.”

Which means that I don’t think this is really a matter of thinking there’s something he can cynically exploit here, since voters in this district aren’t going to have much sympathy for a complaint that really sounds very whiny, and he knows better than to promote himself as the choice for right-thinking progressives, either.

It’s possible that his objective in voicing the complaint was to get the attention of, and funds from, a national organization, so that the strategy was more of a long game, rather than the short-term objective of winning this particular seat, which, near as I can tell, he doesn’t have much chance of, as one of the very few County Commissioner seats in Republican hands, hed by Tim Schneider, who is simultaneously the chair of the Illinois Republican Party.  If his aim is really to advance himself in his political career and running for office is just one step along the way, throwing out an accusation of bias could be a useful tactic.

But it really looks much more like a symptom of the “coddledness” that Lukianoff and Haidtand diagnose, in which every statement, every action, every image, that could possibly be interpreted in a malevolent way, much clearly be seen as exactly that, and must strenuously be called-out and objected to, to prove that you have been victimized, and your side is in the right and the other guys are wrong, without regard to whether that’s a reasonable and appropriate reaction.  And it stands to reason that someone who graduated in 2012 and has been immersed in politics ever since, would succumb to that worldview.

And, yes, dear readers, I will fill you in on the rest of the book after I finish it.

 

Image:  from https://www.maxpixel.net/Strings-Marionette-Puppet-2470594; public domain

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