People react to things. It’s a crucial part of how our central nervous systems (CNS) function as living organisms. Burns, freezes, pain, possible further pain, possible death—humans are going to yank away their body parts or duck underneath something if suspect any harm will come to them, and possibly live longer as a result. We have receptors formulated specifically for the purposes of feeling hot, cold and other forms of chemical or mechanical pain all over our bodies, and we have things like myelinated neurons to make certain signals go faster than others and interneuronal connections to mediate, facilitate and override the speed at which we can reflexively act because of them, or because of things we sense which we interpret as being potentially death-or-pain inducing.
But many humans have allowed this invaluable evolutionary trait to seep into their day-to-day lives and core value systems, and hijack their everyday decision-making process. They have taken the concept of reaction, and, perhaps unintentionally, interjected it personally into their social and civil lives. The term for it is ‘reactionarism’, and those who hold to it like some kind of pissed-off epoxy, reactionaries. Maybe you’re familiar with the term, maybe not, but likely, as an adult, you’ve met, are friends with, are related to or have had passing conversations with such a person.
Most every personality trait you find in a person, in the moment you deal with them, for all intents and purposes, is fixed. While psychologists will argue just the opposite, that personality is a totally mutable aspect of who we are, the mutability is bound to occur over the long term and, firstly and quite exclusively, when the individual decides it’s time to mutate, or change. Otherwise, over the course of a single conversation, there is absolutely, and I mean absolutely, nothing you can do as their friend or relative to change them or their way of thinking about a thing, if that thinking is the result of reactionarism, just as you couldn’t convince them to not jump out of the path of a moving train. Other people do not function as the interneurons of a personality that has become the equivalent of a reaction-oriented, human CNS. Hostage negotiators, psychologists, counselors-advocates, religious leaders or random people in a crisis situation who have the guts to speak up might be able to convince somebody not to do or say something stupid in a moment, and might be the retrospective catalyst for individual change, but they are not going to extrinsically alter the complex wiring that makes up anyone’s way of thinking. And it’s been that way of thinking that has led to one’s personality, and all its defining traits.
So, forgetting about them and their immutable piggishness—what do you do?
Living peacefully alongside them is an option, but if their reactionary behavior is impinging upon your personal freedoms to just be a healthy, happy adult, what are your rights and options?
Well, to use your words, and say something like this:
Why do you let that nonsense get to you? It’s got nothing to do with you. Oh, your “personal rights and freedoms,” is it? You, Knuckles Scrimshaw, living at the Birchwood apartment complex in Eugene, Oregon, concerned about finding a job still, about your health, about your finances, about get social services squared away, about child support—those issues affect you? Directly? You, Snobomish Dinkadoo, with your million-dollar home in the hills and your asset-based, disposable income lifestyle and mounting debt, what are the actual threats to your existence? Look, I know virtually the whole world thinks like this, but why do you waste the mental energy on things that don’t directly affect you? Well, I think I already answered that, unintentionally, but ask yourself, Why?
Why do people protesting a thousand miles away from you (or a couple hundred, which is for all intents and purposes the same) bother you? You’d let a tsunami bother you, but why a soon-to-be dispersing group of lefty protestors, assuming it was done peacefully (which not all protests are, be they left or right)? You’d let a nearby nuclear meltdown bother you, but why activists who want to make their lives, and the lives of those who need some help, a little better? You’d let military invasion by a neighboring country bother you, but why a Gay Pride Parade? You’d take a mudslide seriously, but why a human being who realizes they’re not the gender they’ve been told they should be (but don’t want to be anymore) since birth?
Those first examples make sense to us all, because they involve biological self-preservation. Not so much the second.
Here’s a thought—why not treat it like the figurative entertainment show—a circus, say—that it really is? Like, you walk in, you walk through, go, “Oh, man, look at that. That’s interesting. Oof, now *that’s* disturbing. Okay, time to go home.“ Not, “Oh my God, the bearded lady is going to infiltrate my state legislature and make it easier for bearded ladies to do things in my community, making it harder for *me* to do things in my community somehow!” And: “Crab Boy is going to be integrated into the same grade school as my son?! Well, I don’t want my kids being influenced by that kind of lifestyle! What if they start walking on all fours, scooting sideways and shit? Or start pinching people in inappropriate places? He’s not human anymore. He’s Crab Boy!”
Crab Boy is still human. So is the bearded lady and all the clowns. And the Elephant Man…the real Elephant Man? That guy was more civil than you’d be in fifty-seven lifetimes at the Deadsoul apartment complex. Or wherever you live.
I mean, sure, they treated him like a chimp in a monkey suit, because “they” were London high society in 1890, and basically the Knuckles Scrimshaws and Snobomish Dinakdoos of the time. It wasn’t about helping him, it was about helping them get a few laughs at his expense. But he was more civil than they were. Which means more civil than you were.
So to you, Messrs. Scrimshaw and Dinkadoo, and everyone else worried about the world becoming one giant Crab Boy or bearded lady, I say: Get over it. It’s America. Nothing stays the same and stop hating things because they’re different. And stop hating yourself, because that’s where all your hate originates.
Also: grow up.
Because your kids will, regardless of your willful aversions or impediments to overall change. As will everyone else of their generation, whether they want to or not, long after you’re lying in your grave, still pissed off that you couldn’t wall off half of Idaho to keep all the Crab Boys out.