Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
It’s a familiar refrain to most of us, and within the sentiment is an idea absolutely vital to any kind of functioning democracy (or any functioning society, really): there is an irreducible distinction between being physically hurt and having your feelings hurt and this demarcation must be absolute.
Physiological versus psychological.
Objective versus subjective.
The blurring of these categories leads to all kinds of terrible consequences, because totalitarianism, and a violent one at that, is the only possible outcome. Both the right and the left practice blurred lines to some degree, but I see the major impetus to obfuscation coming from the left of the political spectrum, which is why the left is so terrifying. Scott Adams says the new Republican motto should be “they are coming for you next”, and I think he is spot on!
Here is why the erasure of distinction between objective injury and subjective harm is so important: only YOU can decide if your feelings are hurt!
Think about that for a second: if I hit you with a stick, you don’t really get to choose how much that hurts. I do. How much it hurts will depend largely on what kind of stick I use, how hard I hit you, and where I hit you. A six inch metal pipe to the balls doesn’t leave a whole lot of subjective room for how much pain you will feel, notwithstanding strange medical conditions like congenital insensitivity. Thus, it makes perfect sense to create and enforce laws governing how and when any given person gets to hit another person, and the consequences. The person doing the hitting is more or less in complete control of their actions, and the harm done to others, and thus can be held accountable for that harm.
But what if I just say the dress you’re wearing makes you look like a cheap Gypsy whore?
You can call me a Gypsy whore all you like and I will just laugh in your face. Please. I am descended from Teutonic, Nordic and Celtic blood and I am as far from a Gypsy whore as you can get. But some women, especially those dark Eastern European women, who likely have a good slice of Gypsy DNA, will lose their minds if you call them Gypsy whores.
Who is accountable for the psychological harm that arises from calling someone a name?
A name that makes me laugh in contempt can make another woman blind with rage or quiver with inferiority and shame.
Who is responsible for that?
Now trade out Gypsy whore for any name you like: [insert any offensive slur here] and ask who is responsible for any harm that arises?
Surely, it is only the person at whom the insult is directed who decides whether the intended result is achieved? There are lots of ignorant, terrible words you can use to describe a black man, for example, but what impact do such words have on Thomas Sowell? On Kanye West? On Barack Obama? On any given black man? And who decides? I can throw around the N word at whomever I please, but whether that word does any harm is determined entirely by the person at whom I toss the word.
The idea that another person can be held legally, socially, ethically or morally responsible for how you yourself decide how to feel is at the very heart of the totalitarian future I envision. How can another person be held accountable for how you feel? How can that end in any way except murderously? How can anyone guess how another person will feel from one moment to the next? We can’t even guess that about ourselves, most of the time!
This is what I see the left trying to impose on our whole culture and civilization: no one should ever feel bad about anything ever and if they do, it is the fault of the person who made them feel bad. That is completely insane. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. No one can make you feel anything, except pain. Objective harm is real. Subjective harm is imaginary, and you can decide to imagine something else.
Sticks and stones can absolutely break your bones, but words can’t hurt you.
Unless you let them.
Lots of love,
Indefinitely retired because of threats against her children. Janet has graciously allowed us to republish some of her now vanished articles.