On the Conflation of Shouldn’t with Can’t

For the perpetually outraged, criticism is often conflated with persecution. It’s a neat trick, but a dishonest one, a kind of rhetorical jujitsu that makes abusers over into victims, justifying further abuse. You see it a lot in discussions of political correctness and the First Amendment, which some people (mostly, in my experience, cisgendered white men; OMMV) seem to take as a license to be an asshole without the possibility of repercussions. In fact it’s often a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, with the criticism (taken as persecution) after the fact justifying the being an asshole to people in the first place.

And here’s the thing: You do have that right. You CAN be an asshole. You just shouldn’t. You don’t HAVE to be polite and respectful to others. But you should. And when you aren’t, you should not expect others to be polite and respectful to you, or care what you have to say. It’s really that simple. Political Correctness is simply, for the most part, being respectful to other people on their own terms, just as you would like them to be respectful to you, on yours. It is a recognition of the inherent equality of human beings, whatever their demographics might be.

There seem to be a lot of people these days who are feeling under attack because people not like them (women, POCs, the non-cisgendered) are demanding to be treated with the respect and privilege they themselves take for granted. They take it as a zero-sum game, a hierarchy in which if someone gains, someone else must lose, and since it isn’t them gaining, it must be them losing.

But the only thing they’re losing is the right to be an asshole to others without repercussions, really. And again, you can still be an asshole. Nobody’s starting pogroms or making laws that says you can’t treat people different from you like shit. It’s just that you shouldn’t (you never should have), and if you do, people have the right to call you on it. If you don’t want that to happen, don’t be an asshole. Better yet, take a moment to ask yourself just why you feel the need to treat others like shit in the first place.

Slowly but surely, human civilization is progressing towards a place where everyone can enjoy the respect and opportunity that’s been historically reserved for the folks at the top of the pecking order. And that’s a good thing. For everybody. Because when everyone has the opportunity to live their life to the fullest and to reach their fullest potential, we all do better.

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