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What is a trigger word, safe space, and “incel”?

It is a privilege to interact with my children and their cousins and I would like to impart some of the zeitgeist to you. Believe me when I say that there has been a shift towards righteous (and often self-righteous) intersubjectivity that is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

Intersubjectivity is a word meaning the relations between people of different subjective experiences. Tellingly, it also has been translated into common sense. But just like humor, common sense itself is the mechanical clutch between humans and often when learning to drive, we grind the gears.

Two nights ago, to wit, I volunteered a suggestion for an improvised musical theater comedy and was rebuffed. I didn’t know that “Fake Tourette’s” was politically insensitive but the performer thought it was in very poor taste and refused to even put it to an audience vote. Instead, we endured a mediocre version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood featuring parental immolation, on-the-nose characters, and vehicular homicides.

Let’s start with the recent emergence of the seemingly most absurd victims’ rights groups: the Incels (involuntarily celibate).

Although Wikipedia states the term was first coined by a future queer Canadian college student named Alana in 1993, it has been adopted by mainly angry young men to describe a state of wanting to be in a romantic/sexual relationship but unable to do so due to purported system oppression by “Chads” and “Stacys”

At this moment in history, this advanced guard of victims’ rights seems risible but just wait a few months. In the old days, someone who couldn’t improve their “game” or lower their expectations to find a partner were not considered a victimized class. But victims have rights and with that comes empowerment.

The enabling technology of the internet has allowed people to find others who support their radical subjective interpretations. Instead of joining a band, adopting a style, or demonstrating high value with social skills, Incels externalize the locus of control to outside systems and draw energy from their unique version of how the world works and why they are uniquely privileged to rail against its perceived devaluation of them.

The young people of today embrace the idea of radical subjectivity over conformity; this is not new. Youth, as a biological imperative, has always intuited that society is unjust and arbitrary and rebels with intellectual constructs.

What is new is the precision weaponization of language with terms such as “triggers” and “safe spaces”. For those that don’t know, the premise is that a trigger is a word that evokes such trauma in a person that it is tantamount to an act of assault. If you happened to choke on a apricot seed, then apricot could be a trigger for you.

If someone “triggers” you, they have violated your “safe space”. According to this branch of social liberalism, the ostensible goal of a just society is to increase the safety and volume of spaces that are safe. Of course, with all the ever expanding intersubjective Venn diagrams, the absurdity of everyone triggering everyone all the time is manifest.

Even when we take a classic trigger word, the so-called “N-word” we see how the notion of “triggering” is qualified. When articulate and well-meaning African-American comedian, Larry Wilmore, said “Yo Barry, you did it, my nigga” to Barack Obama at the White House correspondents’ dinner, there was no uproar. If Roseanne Barr had used the same phrase, the response would have been quite different.

I met a wonderful Women’s Studies professor who shared an interesting story of the “new normal”. She was approached by a student on the first day of class with a long list of rather banal words that “triggered” her and she insisted that she could not read any literature that contained these words. The professor politely declined.

If you don’t think that we have a potential problem in this evolution, consider that To Kill a Mockingbird, has been banned in many curricula for containing hate speach. Also, Facebook’s AI banned excerpts from the Declaration of Independence for referencing “Indian Savages”. The solution is not to cover up atrocious language and beliefs; it is to rather highlight them in the context of our more evolved consciousness.

I believe that the larger issue facing our society is the disintegration from within encouraged by the Balkanization of identity. Where once people aspired to be accepted by dominant culture and “fit in”, now everyone feels entitled to rage against perceived injustices, file lawsuits for hate speech, and associate in echo chambers only with people who support their radical subjectivity.

The rise of childhood autism is actually a continuum with adult narcissism, and victim culture in general. Once upon a time, kids who were socially awkward and were shamed for not learning to get along and they worked at it…now they have a disorder.

I believe the key to emerging from this dystopian slippery slope is to follow the light. I like the Hawaiian word of KULEANA which is the word for both rights AND responsibilities. People in our culture only worry about the rights they are entitled to. They don’t understand that Kuleana implies every relationship involves reciprocity. Remember “The Golden Rule”?

When our children suffer, we want to placate them. But this doesn’t teach them patience, resilience, cooperation, and altruism. When people play the victim card, few people want to stand up and be called politically incorrect or worse.

Life inherently has balance. Whereas the Hawaiian religion and culture emphasize connection, balance, and support, the new radical subjectivity seeks to dichotomize the world into the oppressors and the oppressed who are entitled to control speech, receive preferential treatment, and are, by virtue of history, now exempted from respecting others subjective triggers, safe spaces, and victim stories.

This generation acts as though they are the first to discover that sexual identity and preference are non-binary. How wrong they are! They believe that white, straight, male, patriarchy is the nefarious hand behind all of history. How narrow is their depth of field!

But the most grievous of their errors is to surrender control of their actions to words. There simply are no words that can trigger automatic actions. We always contextualize words using our minds and beliefs. To relinquish control of ourselves to mere language is to become a robot and that is the definition of dehumanization.

We close with a rather picaresque song by Leonard Cohen, recounting a casual sexual encounter with rock icon, Janis Joplin, called Chelsea Hotel #2. In it, they both consider themselves ugly but they escaped their Incel fate with talent:

And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said, “Well never mind,
We are ugly but we have the music”



I never want to leave a reader with despair or angst. Because some readers may choose to feel those emotions, I will offer an alternative vision for the future. We should accept that there are many different viewpoints that we have certain rights to; but we must also embrace a responsibility to coexist. That is Kuleana. The truth is that common sense, belonging, creating more inclusive spaces, and being mindful when we can, have always been the well-oiled clutch that keeps us linked together. To surrender into the tyranny of our own beliefs and prisons of trauma is to die spiritually.

For more information about my emotional meta tagging theory of consciousness and how it relates to a more compassionate and less robotic inner life, read my book, The Telomere Miracle.

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