Humans are interesting creatures and language is even more interesting. We socialize in groups and clusters, as we become more familiar with our groups our defenses lower and our language changes. We say things to close friends we would never say to a complete stranger, inflection, tone and context take on substance and hold weight. If I tell my close friend he is “being an asshole” it holds a completely different meaning than if I call the guy who just cut me off in traffic an asshole.
We’ve managed to make it this far through history navigating the pitfalls of socializing and language. While it isn’t always pretty, I think it has worked out pretty good in the big scheme. The chances that you go through life without being offended are pretty slim, the chances that you will get over it, are pretty good……or they used to be.
In an interesting evolution of culture and language, society is experiencing a quirk (at least I hope it is a quirk) of super sensitivity. While we have become more “social” than ever before, we are more isolated than I have ever seen. I can’t point to a specific time or place where things changed, but in my lifetime alone I have seen a major shift in how we interact. From face-to-face, to telephone to text and social media it seems we are moving backwards faster than we move forward and yet we label this constant sharing as progress. Cat videos aside, the social experiment that has been labeled “social media” seems to be driving the collective “US” further apart than ever.
People are offended by EVERYTHING, and somehow that has become society’s new problem. Suddenly we need to stop language which “might possibly” offend someone, somewhere. Now if I call my friend an asshole and someone over hears my comment and they either know an asshole, or happen to be an asshole they can be offended by my micro-aggression even though it was not directed at their personal asshole issue in anyway shape or form.
WHAT THE HELL? Today I saw this article on the Washington Examiner about the new website launched by the University of Michigan-Flint where “students who experience any form of bias or micro-aggressions whatsoever” can report like a bunch of little assholes. The phrase “Orwellian dystopia” gets thrown around too often, but holy crap, this is it writ large.
We will now have to monitor our language to avoid these pitfalls. Public language will need to morph into some sort of “newspeak” to avoid any transgressions. Pronouns will need to be modified or excluded to avoid offending the gender sensitive. More and more reporting websites like the one at UM-Flint will pop up at campus’ and work places across the country allowing people to report offenses. To enforce the offenses and right the wronged “thought police” will likely form to investigate each and every transgression and punishment will need to be severe in order to stop these flagrant offenders.
In the end, casual conversation will be forever changed, the trust and understanding which develops among close friends will vanish out of necessity and survival as the world descends into a gray monotone fog of superfluous non-offensive words. In short, you wont be able to tell your friend he is an asshole even if he is being one.