Putting things into perspective…

Today I want to share a guest blog, from a friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous. I will just call him Jeremy, and he is from Ohio. I corrected a spelling mistake here or there, but that’s pretty much it…

Hey Jochen. I like your blog, I really do. But I still think you don’t really get it man… There IS a silent majority, but it’s not as racist as they keep telling you guys. And it’s not as poor either, as we’re often told on cable TV. I mean, don’t get me wrong. There are a couple folks like that here, but that’s not the point! We just are the hard working majority who is tired of having people who have never once in their lives worked an honest job tell us how to live our lives. We’re the opposite of people who have only seen classrooms and libraries and shiny offices, and still think they know how the world works and looks like.

I mean, you guys in the big cities, like at your university in New York, you are so proud of all the stuff you can do: theaters and ballet and museums and so on. But how often do you actually think about the people who are necessary for you to eat something? Or the people who build the cars and trains and planes you drive and fly around in? Or the people who take all of your trash out of the city, and I bet that’s a lot!

And I mean, I went to college. And I’m proud of my BA! But I work at the local Walmart and I see what’s going on around here. Quite a few jobs just vanished over the years. I’m not even saying the Chinese took them, but two big plants where a lot of people worked are closed down now. And then they start telling us that to get better jobs you need to go to college. Didn’t sound so bad in the beginning either.

So, yeah, I got my degree, and took out a loan for that too. And now I make just about the same kind of money my dad used to make when he was working, without a degree. I mean, that’s just bullshit, man. And you sit in your office, and I don’t say you’re not busy doing something smart or something, but whatever it is you do, it doesn’t provide food or clothes or anything for anyone…

Anyway, just wanted you to know that we’ve just had about enough of people who seem to go to school for the sake of staying in school or working some kind of paper job. Of people who know nothing of how hard it is out here, but who keep telling us how it really is, when it’s not. You think life is about getting smart and learning, right? Well, guess what, it’s not. It’s about doing your job, and better doing it well, because you’ll be fired otherwise. I guess you’re just lucky that you don’t have to worry about whether or not you still have your job in a couple months or so!

The reason why we vote for Trump and why we don’t care about what all the media keep pushing: finally there is someone who doesn’t pretend you have to be smart to make it! I mean, be honest: you’re just angry because he doesn’t behave and talk like someone from the city… He says a lot of stupid things, ok… but he never says things in a way that shows off his education. Nothing he says is like, I will only talk to you if you can talk like you’re some kind of dictionary. So leave me alone with your New York Times or whatever news you read!

So yeah, we finally want to get something back from you guys. The way I see it, someone needs to show you that for too long you have lived your cozy city lives thinking that you don’t have to care about anyone but yourselves. We want to get some respect man! And each and every time I read about how you laugh about Trump and his family and his campaign people, I know people around here are getting angrier. And then we laugh because he scares the shit out of you guys. I mean suddenly all of your education doesn’t matter, because it’s a democracy. And the majority wins, remember?

So, yeah, just wanted to say you really don’t get it.

After reading this for a few times, I must admit that I indeed have never worked in a capacity of providing food or any other kind of tangible resource to anyone. The only instance I could remember was when I was a child and helped some relatives of mine to collect their potato harvest, but I guess that doesn’t count–I wasn’t doing it for people I didn’t know or for money. And it is true that during almost all of my adult life I have worked in an office of sorts, programming or writing. Does what I do make anyone’s life better? Only insofar as my colleagues’ own work in academia isn’t as difficult, I guess. But what I produce doesn’t feed anybody, or keep anybody warm or comfortable, or doesn’t get people from A to B, or helps in producing any everyday merchandise

What I want you to know, Jeremy are a few things: I actually am grateful, extremely grateful about my position in life. I don’t have to worry, really, about my job or about the next paycheck, or the one after that. And I admit I don’t think often enough about those who truly provide for most of what I eat, or how nothing I have and use depends on a small army of workers, who produce and distribute everything I own and use. And I don’t think about the conditions under which they do their jobs. I am sorry for not recognizing that, but…

If Trump really wanted to represent a silent majority, one we don’t hear and think about enough, why did and does he have to use so much offensive language? You know that I’m gay, and I am super sensitive when I hear someone talk who doesn’t seem to understand the kinds of struggles that come with being in the minority, and a minority that is being treated poorly at that. I think Trump really could have had a majority if he didn’t use so much defamatory and derogatory language against women–another silent majority, by the way–or against immigrants. The fact that he doesn’t seem to care about those who he thinks are expendable is terrifying to me, because I keep thinking who’s next?

I understand that you want to win. Who doesn’t…? But from the little I understand about politics, while you’re in politics to win–for your point of view and your values–you don’t do so by completely disregarding the other side’s perspective. And I believe I do get it (a little better now, at least): there has been a growing other side that has been completely underrepresented in politics for far too long–people for whom higher education isn’t so much something they think is cool or makes them better people, but rather for whom education is something to get a better job, and that’s something they have been told repeatedly by everyone in politics… And the elites in both parties really haven’t listened enough what really matters to you…

Quite honestly, though, I would rather wish you wrote in Bernie Sanders’ name… while he may seem to come across like being elitist and far too much on the left, I don’t think he actually is… And with that I now need to disclose that Jeremy isn’t a friend, but someone I thought of this morning as an “alter ego”, someone who better remind me that each and every voter rooting for Trump has the right to do so, and has his or her reasons. I may not agree with their way of weighing the evidence, and I may be frightened, but as soon as I ridicule their reasons or pretend that what those 40 percent of voters think doesn’t matter, I absolutely deserve their anger and their ridicule in return…

Past the point of no return: Donald Trump being absolutely non-PC

Ever since Donald Trump started running for president, one major talking point—and certainly the one related to most if not all of his gaffes and to what extent he ever went “too far”—is the idea that Political Correctness (PC, i.e. that certain things should not be said out of respect for the consequences of thinking and talking that way) has gone out of control.

First, for me as someone not from the U.S., this term refers to a situation where a thought occurs to an individual, with the thought being based on a class/group-based stereotype, and this thought has been found to be detrimental to this class or group’s overall (e)quality of life, then this thought should not be voiced (to avoid reinforcement) in public—with maybe the exception of situations in which it clearly is used in a comedic way, for instance as part of a stand-up routine, suggesting the audience is supposed to be aware of the not-being-serious context.

As an example, the stereotype that women are weaker than men could find its expression in the thought that “women can’t handle it when it really gets tough,” a bit like Donald Trump’s stamina argument about Secretary Clinton. Using this language as part of a (political) debate would, as far as my understanding goes at least, be an opening for the debating opponent to draw the “PC card”; in fact, if he or she didn’t, it might even lead to questions after as to why the PC card wasn’t drawn, as people are supposed to notice this kind of thing and make it a point to raise concerns.

So, coming back to the original point: Conservatives, including several other Republican primary contenders, have from the moment that Donald Trump began to run for president made the very strong argument that “PC has gotten out of control.” In other words, the claim is that our mental lives have been put under a kind of “tyranny of the thought police,” (other) people who won’t allow us to voice our opinions in the way we want to.

While it may seem tempting to approach the over-arching question (should some thoughts be policed) from a First Amendment (i.e. the right to free speech) perspective, I want to avoid that. The main reason is that I have little doubt that both Conservatives and Liberals agree on the idea that some thoughts need to be controlled (for instance thoughts that are in themselves “unconstitutional”), but that generally the best form of control is self-control, and not externalized control. And the First Amendment says nothing about people’s need to police their own thought, but merely that the government is not supposed to take that job.

That being said, the question then remains: to what extent should individuals (be asked to) control their own thoughts and language, and in favor of what outcome (i.e. some greater good)? It is important to point out that in other areas of political disagreement—for example drug use—the roles between Conservatives and Liberals are pretty much reversed. In those cases, Conservatives consider the values of public morale, conforming to Calvinist work ethic, and also (biological) life itself to be of such importance that behaviors threatening these values, such as drug use or certain sexual behaviors, ought to be prohibited (by law).

The crucial difference to me seemingly is to what extent people from the two sides of the political spectrum hold beliefs about (1) how and when they need to and still can exert self-control and (2) whether the consequences of failed self-control are dire enough to warrant a prescriptive-rule model. With free speech, I think the main issue is that if self-control is not prescribed in any way—thoughts do not need to be controlled in favor or any values—an intelligent observer would simply then expect that other values, such as fairness and treating other people with the same dignity, are “second best”.

In principle, I am all in favor of having no prescriptions on when and how to apply self-control in all areas of life, but equally as Conservatives wish to curtail abortion to preserve life, in fear that without any regulations people will turn to abortion for even the most whimsical of reasons, I hope they can now observe in Donald Trump the problem with not curtailing thoughts and speech at all.

But just as Conservatives, by and large, seem to fail to understand that by not regulating firearms this inevitably leads to “individual, bad apples” failing to possess the necessary self-control in the presence of too many guns, they now seem baffled at how someone who has made a kind of personal war against PC his signature move clearly fails to exert the necessary amount of self-control when it comes to what he says. Donald Trump clearly has reached the point of no return, and maybe we could use this as a highly visible example to explain that, maybe, just maybe, there are reasons to demand at least a modicum of (public) self-control when it comes to what people say