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The Cult of Microaggressions

March 20, 2013

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The Cult of Microaggressions

While reading up a couple of weeks ago on the Oberlin College KKK fiasco, I became fascinated by the various Web pages at colleges such as Oberlin, Smith, Scripps, and similar advanced, lesbian-heavy institutions for the documenting of “microaggressions.” Since the Ku Klux Klaxon can’t be sounded every week (at least not yet), in the meantime young people are encouraged to fondle and document for posterity the subtlest of slights they feel they’ve suffered.

As I pored over the microaggressions endured by victims/students at expensive liberal-arts colleges, it struck me that this ongoing dumbing down of America is a joint project of both sexes, with men and women each contributing their own special something.

In the wake of the Obama campaign relaunching the Battle of the Sexes a year ago, it’s worth noting that the peculiar contemporary version of ressentiment that assisted the president’s reelection can’t be blamed on either sex alone. The current mode, of which microaggressions websites are only the outer edge, combines female conformism and self-absorption with male abstraction, aggression, and gang loyalty.

First, though, what are microaggressions?

The Smith College site explains:

A microaggression is a brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignity, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicates a hostile, derogatory, or negative slight or insult….

“Screaming about microaggressions is a privilege only for the officially unprivileged.”

So far, that definition sounds pretty much like the stuff of human life. At many a family reunion, I only learned on the ride home that, say, Aunt Sue’s effusive thanks to Cousin Linda for her present was actually a devastating putdown that my lumbering male brain was simply too rough-hewn to register.

In fact, “microaggressions” could be an apt description of the matter of much of British literature and theater, such as the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Evelyn Waugh, and John Cleese. The Brits may be the all-time world champs at blandly hurling microaggressions from their stiff upper limits.

For example, in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the rich country girl Cecily righteously announces, “When I see a spade, I call it a spade.” The rich city girl Gwendolen impassively replies, “I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.”

Not all of literature is confined to microaggressions, however. In The Iliad, for instance, Achilles expresses his lack of rapport with Hector by dragging the Trojan prince’s dead body behind his chariot.

This knack that the English had developed 3,000 years after the wrath of Achilles for keeping their hostility toward each other swathed in formal manners may help explain their success at conquering other countries. The ability to keep one’s internal aggressions micro aided the British in such external macroaggressions as the subjugation of India. It’s likely not a coincidence that the Victorian English-speaking cultures that invented most of today’s major sports (which limit male violence with objective rules of fair play) also came to dominate the world linguistically and militarily.


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