We’re all children here

986
Bisexual Book Awards photos

Casting Aspersions

There is an ever-present tendency in governments— all governments in all times and places— to shoulder a self-assigned responsibility to coerce the citizenry to lead “better” lives— lives that are more moral, healthier, more orderly. That is, more moral, orderly and healthy according to the fashion of the moment as embraced by those in power.

There are people who just want to get on with their lives, and there are also those who also want to get on with your lives. This second group is comprised of people in authority— any sort of authority: police, legislators, preachers, college presidents, mayors— basically anyone who can make a rule to which you have to pay attention, or suffer the consequences. These people all know best. Of course they do, or they wouldn’t have authority, would they? They know how many calories you should consume, what you should wear on a rainy day or, like Mayor Bloomberg, how big a soft drink you should buy— oh, they know everything about just about everything. They can’t be argued with because they know they are right.

…there has been a strong trend to homogenize the queer community, marginalizing all those who do not fit the respectable, middle-class image….

People who know what’s best for other people and can implement their opinions in law are, when it comes to maintaining a free society, among the most dangerous people in the world. In the worst case, Lenin and Mao were such people. Mayor Bloomberg does not, of course, rise to such a totalitarian level. He is not a savage dictator. He is merely annoying in the extreme with his intrusive policies.

There is a name for the process such people engage in: infantilization, the reduction of adults to the level of children. An excellent local example is the no-smoking policy instituted at Mercer County College as of January 1, 2013. For years, smoking at Mercer was relegated to a few little sheds, all, with one exception, located in very out-of-the-way places. Those in authority, however, clearly felt they had an obligation to decide for the adults who comprise the college students and staff how they should live their lives as regards this issue. The proffered reasons were mere tissue-thin excuses. Secondhand smoke was mentioned. Since the designated smoking areas were in places where only those who smoke could possibly be affected, that reason was obvious nonsense. The real reason was perfectly clear; the college’s leadership had decided that, because of their superior wisdom, it was time to tell other adults how to live their lives. After all, anyone who chooses to smoke is making a bad decision, right? Smoking causes cancer. We have an obligation to protect people from their own bad decisions, do we not? So goes the authoritarian reasoning.

Many things cause cancer, including nitrates in processed meat. Shall we ban hot dogs? Conversely, many people smoke all their lives and do not develop cancer. For example, my grandfather did and he lived to be 97. When one weighs the pros and cons and makes an informed decision, it is called “being an adult.” When the decision is made on one’s behalf by someone who “knows better,” it is called “being a child” or infantilization.

In 1949, S.I. Hayakawa published a seminal book titled Language in Thought and Action. In it, he identified what he called snarl words— words that automatically produce a hostile reaction, as well as words that produce a subliminal positive reaction. Free is such a positive word

The decision to force others to be healthier, more moral, more organized or whatever goal the authority figure has set sights on, is always packaged in the most concerned and correct terms. There is an effective but not very subtle art to such packaging. In 1949, S.I. Hayakawa published a seminal book titled Language in Thought and Action. In it, he identified what he called snarl words— words that automatically produce a hostile reaction, as well as words that produce a subliminal positive reaction. Free is such a positive word. Free is good; free stuff, free country, bringing freedom to oppressed peoples— all such usage strikes a chord we tend to endorse without further thought. Such usage can be seen in Mercer County College’s posters announcing the new rule. We are informed that the college is to be “smoke-free.”

This is intended to conjure an image of a campus shrouded in toxic fumes, at last breaking into the sunlight of freedom, while, I suppose, all the people dance and sing. What it actually represents is the arrogant imposition of the will of a few people in power who think they know best how we should lead our lives. Infantilization.

In pursuit of a “higher purpose,” those in authority may feel justified in straying from the truth. Sometimes this departure is egregious as in the case of marijuana prohibition, a cause so debased by exaggerations and outright lies throughout its entire history as to be laughable, had it not caused so much damage. Sometimes the departure is merely specious ornamentation as in the case of the statement by a MCCC official that total smoking prohibition was “the wave of the future” at colleges. In fact, we know of no major college or university where such a prohibition is even contemplated.

Mercer’s policy, of course, will not work. History provides ample proof that prohibition of a popular vice merely criminalizes it and drives it underground. The attendant fines will simply increase an already high level of resentment while placing the college’s security personnel in the invidious position of having to make life more difficult for the students whom they are supposedly there to protect.

I use the example of Mercer’s new rule as a microcosm of a much larger trend in our society— one that historically goes all the way back to the beginning of our nation and is certainly experiencing a revival of strength in the present day. Moreover, it is a pattern of thought and action that empowers not only those in governmental authority but can infect any who are in what they conceive to be leadership positions— even, ironically, in civil-rights movements such as LGBT liberation and equality.

For some years now, there has been a strong trend to homogenize the queer community, marginalizing all those who do not fit the respectable, middle-class image. The trend assumes all queers should be monogamous suburbanites who work for and with “the system” and never do anything to raise the eyebrows of their straight neighbors. That this is the very antithesis of what our revolution was about has been conveniently forgotten by much of our present politically correct leadership. There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with being a monogamous suburbanite. I am one myself but that is my choice.

The LGBT revolution took place with the intention of empowering choice, not of dictating it. That fact, which is at the very heart of queer liberation, cannot be repeated too often or stressed too heavily. Otherwise, we will stand in need of another revolution— this time against ourselves.

Toby Grace is Out In Jersey magazine’s Editor Emeritus

 

Toby Grace is Out In Jersey Editor EmeritusCasting Aspersions

There is an ever-present tendency in governments— all governments in all times and places— to shoulder a self-assigned responsibility to coerce the citizenry to lead “better” lives— lives that are more moral, healthier, more orderly. That is, more moral, orderly and healthy according to the fashion of the moment as embraced by those in power.