“That’s Crazy!”

Sorry, y’all. I got a horrible cold that I couldn’t shake; I’ve been on the sofa for a week. I’m back in action. Did a spin class this morning, and I’m catching up on all the conversation from last week.

In the meantime, I have one anecdote. Jonah went to orientation at his college last week. It was sort of like college camp. He slept in the dorms, attended ice-breakers, and listened to presentations on various topics for two days.

One of the presentations that he attended was about words and phrases that you can’t say. Student leaders showed the group a power point slides on the bad words and gave them alteratives. Jonah said some of the words were obviously offensive. He knew that he shouldn’t say “that’s retarded!” or “that’s so gay!” But he was surprised to learn that he couldn’t say “that’s insane!” or “that’s crazy!,” because it could be seen as a microaggression against those with mental illnesses. They discussed safe spaces and trigger words.

What Jonah took away from that presentation is that some people on his campus are crazy and that he wants to join a fraternity, because he thinks that there will be fewer crazy people in a fraternity.

If I can’t respond to Donald Trump’s tweets with a simple “that’s crazy!,” I’m at a loss. Can someone provide me with another response?

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90 thoughts on ““That’s Crazy!”

  1. They also told us that drinking and tobacco wasn’t allowed in the dorms. College is a good place to learn about the difference between which rules somebody puts out there and which somebody can meaningfully enforce.

    Though when I say the president is insane, I mean that very literally.

  2. And, you know, no one’s going to set him on fire for saying “That’s crazy.” But if he does, and someone objects, at least he’ll know what they’re talking about rather than being completely confused.

    1. Like I was completely confused when I got to college and found out that Yom Kippur doesn’t involve a goat. I guess if you learn about Judaism from a priest, you get the answers from before the destruction of the Temple.

  3. I find describing people as “at odds with consensus reality” works pretty well for me, but you probably have to sound like I do (impossibly pretentious, that is) to carry it off.

    1. I drove my daughter through Daly City a few months ago, precisely for the purpose of singing her that song. It was her view that I was – wait for it! – crazy…

  4. Darn. I was hoping the ban on “That’s crazy!” was due to its overuse by Kardashians as the de facto response to every event ever.

  5. If only they could ban college kids from using the word “literally”.

    Every other sentence I hear from my kids and their friends contains that word. I literally can’t stand it.

  6. But for real, your kid is upset enough by a talk about language that people may consider rude that he’s considering retreating to a frat because he’ll feel safer in there? Is he all right, or were you being hyperbolic on his behalf?

    1. Think of crazy at college as being like a financial return. English class lets you take the short position, a frat lets you take the long position, and put them together to get a hedge fund for crazy.

    2. Doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me. He meets some new people. One of the first things they say to him is that there is a long list of ways he could accidentally and unintentionally offend them. So he decided to find a place to hang out where people aren’t so easily offended. Happens all the time, albeit usually not in such a formal setting.

      1. Huh. “Here’s a list of things that could offend people” seems to me like exactly the reverse of setting someone up to accidentally and unintentionally offend people — it seems to me like a courtesy to people from different discourse communities to explicitly explain local manners to them rather than expecting them to figure out what the rules are by experiment. But I guess if you know people who’d find that threatening enough to need to shelter from it, they’re out there.

      2. To be fair, he is only 18. You might couch it in terms of getting familiar with norms in college and the workplace.

      3. Sure — it just seems like an unusual reaction to college orientation specifically. Like, I’d think that a kid would expect college orientation to include a certain amount of “Here’s the rules for how people generally behave around here, it might be different from high school, depending,” and being surprised and upset by a talk along those lines strikes me as peculiar.

      4. Wow. I think it’s been a long time since any of us had college orientation, but presumably many of us have started a new job within the past ten years or so, and had an orientation. I don’t recall being told at any time that describing an idea as crazy would constitute a microagression. Has anyone else experienced that? It’s bizarre. No mainstream blogger (by which I mean the spectrum from Kevin Drum to Glenn Reynolds) would ever use “gay” or “retarded” as a term of abuse, but all of them refer to various ideas as crazy.

        Colleges today are definitely a little out of the mainstream. It’s not too surprising that the guys at the deli despise the little darlings who go there.

      5. The example our host gave us is don’t say “that’s crazy” or you might offend someone. That seems way over the top to me. I’m sure it was one of the more extreme examples, but even so. It sounds like you’d be walking on eggshells around anyone who thinks that way. If “that’s crazy” is over the line, who knows how much stuff you’d never think of is over the line?

    3. The thing I guess I’m reacting to is ‘you might offend someone’ is a pretty low stakes possibility. That is, “that’s crazy” is in my use vocabulary, and I wouldn’t react to it as out of line from anyone else. But I’m aware that there are people like, say, Marianne in this thread, who have personal experience in some manner with mental illness/psychiatric treatment that makes ‘crazy’ as an all-purpose term of abuse somewhat wearisome to hear. And so I use ‘crazy’ less when I remember to, and I really use it less in terms of spinning out vividly specific metaphors.

      Saying ‘you might offend someone’ is the gentlest possible way to tell someone that people do exist who would react negatively to a turn of phrase. What you do with that information is up to you — you can decide that you’re happy to offend people in that category, and go for it; you can make an effort, particularly around people you happen to know to be particularly sensitive to something specific, and apologize if you do screw up and offend someone; or I guess you could restrict your interactions to people who you’re sure aren’t going to be offended by anything you’re likely to say. Going straight for the third option seems weird to me — it’s not as if risking causing some offense is a major personal risk.

    4. Yeah, I overstated it. He’s mostly considering the fraternity path, because every bio-engineering major that he’s met so far has been extremely boring.

      1. With science-y people, the boring ones are sometimes easier to take than the self-consciously “interesting” ones.

      2. I seem to recall that not too long ago you were alluding to peer trouble in high school that seemed to displease you. I Without knowing the specifics, I can only believe that the frat environment isn’t going to improve on that. Hanging out with the frat boys is going to do wonders on the beer pong/treating women respectfully/cultivating good study habits front. Yes, there are schools where frats aren’t like that but most of them are MIT.

        Well, whatever. College is where you make your own mistakes rather than having your parents make your mistakes for you. On my part, when my kids are in college they are free to join a frat but it’s going to be clear to them that they are going to pay the entire bill for it. No way am I going to pay for them to live in the frat house, dues, the inevitable legal fees, etc. (OK, I was joking about the legal fees, but only half joking…)

      3. Is it just “you shouldn’t use these words because you might offend someone” or are there other consequences (written up for bias incident, which may affect your dorm standing etc.)?

  7. Well, it is frustrating when mental illness is considered the same thing as incompetence. Jokes like “Seems like he went off his meds today,” make me cringe as psych meds are part of my life.

    1. I also continue to use crazy, but also try to limit it when I think about it.

      For me it is it’s an extension of being precise about language (as well as not offending). If I were literally (am I allowed to use it if I mean it :-)) concerned about someone’s medications — maybe appropriate, but probabably not useful speculation unless I am their mother or doctor — but why use it if that’s not what I mean?

      I’d be freaked out if my kid wanted to join a frat. One thinks the idea of a sorority is hell, so no worries there. The other loves company, but is adamantly opposed to psychoactive substances, including alcohol. But another rule I learned is never say never. Better to evaluate based on the reality and not speculation.

  8. I’m hoping they gave some context? “That’s crazy” is way different from “That Susan is crazy!” (right???) I don’t think they will every have any luck policing basic phrases.

    Although, admittedly, I’ve become a lot more careful in my language after losing people in my life to suicide. I no longer say “that puts me over the ledge” or the aforementioned “He must be off his meds” or anything along those lines. And my friend with actual OCD has educated me on claiming anyone who has a neat desk must have OCD. So, definitely lessons to learn in the language we use. But not saying “that’s crazy?” That is a bit of a stretch to me…

  9. I also don’t think it is necessary to take student leaders as the voice of ultimate authority. They’re learning how to handle such presentations just as much as the student are learning how to get along at the university.

  10. Also, right. A perfectly reasonable reaction to a presentation like that, depending on the details, might be “That was a bunch of bullshit; no one is taking it seriously, right?”

    1. Well, no one at the frat house is taking it seriously! Peter Salovey and the other people who drove Erika Christakis from the Yale faculty take this sort of thing very seriously indeed.

      1. Right. Yale’s statement after Christakis resigned was super cruel:

        “Erika Christakis is a well-regarded instructor, and the university’s leadership is disappointed that she has chosen not to continue teaching in the spring semester,” the statement said. “Her teaching is highly valued and she is welcome to resume teaching anytime at Yale, where freedom of expression and academic inquiry are the paramount principle and practice.”

        I mean, I recognize that the criticism of what she said made her unhappy, but I think describing her as having been driven off the Yale faculty is overstated.

      2. If you read Erika Christakis’s statements, rather than the self-serving drivel produced by the habitually dishonest Yale administration, you will see that my description is not overstated. But I know that in progressive circles, only some victims matter.

  11. My town provides swim lessons to every possible group of people in this town, except for disabled people. I wake up in the middle of the night stressed out whether Ian will ever have a supported work place and housing or whether he’ll be living in our basement until we die of old age. And people are worried about hurt feelings over language? Really? I want that problem.

    1. My cousin’s kid has Downs and she has a supported housing situation. It’s not too big of a stretch to think that demand will provide some movement on similar programs for people who are likely to need much less support. Of course, they live in California and I think that state of residence will matter.

    2. I know people who use “autistic” to derogatorily describe awkward behavior, either jokingly about themselves or others. I bet if someone told his friend to “stop acting so autistic” and then laughing in front of Ian you wouldn’t find it very cool. In fact, I remember you getting pretty upset about girls making fun of Ian on the playground awhile ago. Words aren’t nearly as important as housing and jobs, but they are important, both in their ability to hurt in the moment, and as a reflection of social attitudes. I don’t see what’s so wrong with pointing out that people should be mindful of others when they speak, even if you disagree with the particular examples (and I completely agree with MH that anything said by college orientation leaders should be taken with a massive grain of salt. My orientation leaders taught us that all oral sex required a dental dam. Pretty sure the girl waving the dental dam around in the presentation was the first and last time I’ve ever seen one.).

      I say “that’s crazy” or “that’s insane” a lot when talking with my close friends and possibly strangers on the internet, but I’d NEVER say those phrases around my schizophrenic god brother, and I’d think twice before referring to a person as crazy or insane if I’m around strangers.

    3. Do we really need to choose? I’d like to think that we can have both housing and services for disabled people and a world where people aren’t intentionally assholes all the time.

      I say “that’s nuts!” a lot and if I were in that orientation session I’d probably internally roll my eyes a bit and the acknowledge how saying that really could be offensive, think about my language a little bit more, and probably keep on saying it with slightly less regularity than I did before. It wouldn’t be, like, a major challenge to my identity or way of living, as some seem to consider it to be.

      To me the bigger question is why conservatives are all of a sudden so butt hurt about these kinds of things. They complain endlessly about snowflakes and their safe spaces and their response is to flee back to their own very durably constructed safe spaces. I imagine many of the kids in that orientation grew up in the safest of safe spaces, living some of the most privileged lives imaginable. But god forbid anyone draw even the slightest bit of attention to their possible shortcomings, lest it trouble their minds for like two seconds.

      1. “They complain endlessly about snowflakes and their safe spaces and their response is to flee back to their own very durably constructed safe spaces.”

        I’m guessing that the guys at the deli who jeer at Laura and her husband have known more hard knocks than Jerelyn Luther.

    4. I know.

      Presumably Jonah has a similar perspective.

      My younger child is the typical one in our family. After a lifetime of being the kid in the class most sympathetic and ready to help anyone disabled or struggling, he’s an RA at a small liberal arts school and his eyes are forever rolling at the endless (and in his eyes, useless) sensitivity trainings. His assessment is that the curtailing of language actually takes the focus off helping people become more sensitive, empathetic, and respectful.

      I’m not even attempting to excise “that’s crazy” from my vocabulary, but I would never describe a person coping with mental illness as “crazy”, either.

      1. It sometimes seems like an arms race to eliminate all the possible phrases that can offend. We don’t say retarded any more, but I have certainly heard kids refer to someone as “special”. I don’t know how to convey it in writing, but the way it is said leaves no doubt that they are referring to someone who is mentally handicapped.

        For a while, handicapped became differently abled and even physically challenged (stupid phrasing – as if this is just something to overcome if you just try hard enough.)

        So I understand why your son views the sensitivity training as largely useless. Changing the words from retarded to special didn’t really change the attitude.

      2. I get that changing the words didn’t eliminate all problems, but the kids I see are much nicer to kids with problems than I recall kids were when I was growing up.

      3. ” the kids I see are much nicer to kids with problems than I recall kids were when I was growing up”

        indeed. And, interesting to hear that this is the case outside of my very bubbly bubble. And we do not have anyone in our extended family who is high support or needs significant accommodation, so the tolerance and acceptance and accommodation has been learned in our extended society (and school) and not in the family.

    5. I really do see these issues as part of the same continuum. I believe having supported work and housing and swim classes for disabled children is part of the accepting people who are different from us in our community, accepting that our schools, family, friends, society, country, and world is inherently a diverse place with many different needs and wants.

      I think people can be selfish everywhere, and that includes people who are very careful to use the right pronoun. So I’m not going to say that the person who cares about that will also care about providing supports in a working environment. They may well be willing to accept the costless solution of accommodation while being unaccommodating when asked to provide supports that reduce efficiency, or cost money, or impose other costs. So, not the same thing, but to me, still part of the attitude of accommodating differences.

  12. I say “Oh my God” as an expression of surprise. I don’t see anything wrong with it. My grandmother hates that expression, because she doesn’t believe in taking the name of the Lord in vain. She doesn’t even like “Oh my gosh.” When I’m around her, I don’t say oh my god, or even oh my gosh. I say “my goodness,” or nothing at all, because it’s a tiny thing I can do to be considerate to her. I suppose some people could say my grandmother is “policing my language,” and the real freedom-loving thing would be to swear up a storm around my grandmother. I think that would be being an immature ass. Similarly, if people introduce themselves to me, I call them by the name they choose. If someone says, “My name’s Richard, but call me Dick,” I call them Dick. I don’t insist on calling them Richard because I think Dick is a stupid nickname, because it’s rude.

    If someone around me told me they’re mentally ill and they’d prefer I don’t say, “that’s insane” around them, I would make a mental note to not say it around them. Not because I love oppression or even because I think the phrasing is offensive, but because I believe that if I can exert minimal effort to make people feel more comfortable, I’ll do it. Likewise, if someone presents as one gender but asks me to use different pronouns, I will. I might slip up, but it’s really no skin off my back to say he vs. she, just like it’s no skin of my back to call someone Dick instead of Richard.

    Obviously there are limits, and if someone told me that they were triggered by the word “the,” or something, I’d shrug my shoulders and tell them to see a therapist to develop better coping mechanisms. At this point, a blanket ban on “that’s insane” wouldn’t seem reasonable to me either, and I’d probably ignore it,* but I would watch my language around someone who told me that they specifically were hurt or uncomfortable by the language.

    *Of course, there was a time when “that’s retarded” was perfectly acceptable too, and it’s not any more because of a campaign to educate people and change their language. When the campaign first started, people insisted there was nothing wrong with using “retarded” as an insult and people complaining were PC Nazis. In 40 years, maybe people will look at us and say “I can’t believe they used ‘insane’ as an insult, how terrible,” or maybe it’ll be completely forgotten. Who knows.

    1. You need to be careful about equating offense to religious people with politically incorrect microaggressions. Erika Christakis did that, by questioning why the university policing of Halloween costumes didn’t extend to those which offended religious conservatives. There’s no place for those kinds of thoughts at a contemporary university.

    2. I try to be tolerant of what I see as a belief in religious mythology, and also try to avoid the phrases associated with “taking god’s name in vain” in general would try very hard to avoid “oh my god” around people who disapprove of it. I wouldn’t come to a Halloween party dressed as Jesus or Mary (or, sexy versions of those characters, either). Have folks encountered those costumes at parties?

      1. “I wouldn’t come to a Halloween party dressed as Jesus or Mary (or, sexy versions of those characters, either). Have folks encountered those costumes at parties?”

        Sure, popular when I was in high school and college along with pregnant nuns. I don’t remember people getting bent out of shape over it.

      2. But, the key is if they do get bent out of shape, what should you do? Because, the folks saying don’t wear feather headdresses *are* offended. And, the same folks saying “we’re a culture not a costume” would not advise dressing up as pregnant nuns, or sexy nuns, or . . . . as the HuffPost article advises, mocking other people is not kind. I certainly have many mocking opinions about religion but I try hard not to mock when my opinions will cause hurt. There are those in my camp who think that Christianity in America as being monolithic and powerful that it is immune to mocking, because of the power of the old majority and the lack of a history (mostly) of oppression. I think that even if it were the case in the past, that mocking Christianity was mocking power, by the powerless the past, it will not be in the future and thus even that defense is invalid.

      3. bj said,

        “But, the key is if they do get bent out of shape, what should you do? Because, the folks saying don’t wear feather headdresses *are* offended. And, the same folks saying “we’re a culture not a costume” would not advise dressing up as pregnant nuns, or sexy nuns, or . . . . as the HuffPost article advises, mocking other people is not kind. I certainly have many mocking opinions about religion but I try hard not to mock when my opinions will cause hurt. There are those in my camp who think that Christianity in America as being monolithic and powerful that it is immune to mocking, because of the power of the old majority and the lack of a history (mostly) of oppression. I think that even if it were the case in the past, that mocking Christianity was mocking power, by the powerless the past, it will not be in the future and thus even that defense is invalid.”

        Here’s the thing–anybody who is capable of making their cultural preferences stick and punishing violators (whether through public shaming, mob violence, or civil or criminal measures) is not powerless.

        Insofar as one can punish, one is powerful, and hence should be cautious about the use of that power.

        And these days, the power to punish is at everybody’s fingertips via social media. So, we’re all powerful now, at least in a large enough group (which can always be found online, no matter how exotic the cause–like video game reviewing).

        Mark Twain had some interesting things to say about lynch mobs, by the way:

        “The average man don’t like trouble and danger. You don’t like trouble and danger. But if only half a man–like Buck Harkness, there–shouts ‘Lynch him! lynch him!’ you’re afraid to back down–afraid you’ll be found out to be what you are– cowards–and so you raise a yell, and hang yourselves onto that half-a-man’s coat-tail, and come raging up here, swearing what big things you’re going to do.”

        https://steemit.com/twain/@stevescoins/the-speech-of-colonel-sherburn

        There’s also a tendency to see oneself as a victim even when one is an aggressor. For example, believing that one has the right to force other people bake and decorate cakes for one is aggressive behavior, as well as being arguably a violation of the 13th amendment, which forbids “involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

        A peculiarity of the current age is that everybody, of whatever political complexion, can wind up feeling beleaguered thanks to social media, no matter how privileged their position objectively is. (Case in point: Donald Trump. His self pity is one of his least attractive features.)

        I suggest the following:

        –Avoiding unnecessary harshness (it only convinces the choir, anyway)
        –Use your facts. If you’re right, you’ll have lots of them.
        –Not believing that one’s own feelings are automatically worth 10X as much as everybody else’s (a current plague–see Donald Trump again)
        –Not believing that the feelings of one’s political confreres are automatically worth 10X as much as everybody else’s
        –Not assuming ill will
        –Not treating simple disagreement as proof of vice (some of your political opponents are fine people).
        –Not treating agreement as proof of virtue (some of your allies are terrible people).
        –Fighting the all-to-human urge to get people fired for private opinions that have nothing to do with their job (especially nasty and cowardly if they are a local political minority and you are in the local political majority)
        –Not expecting others to digest and master a new War and Peace’s worth of shibboleths every two years. Older people are never going to be able to keep up–you’ll just annoy and alienate them. And yeah, there are new old people every year and fewer and fewer young people–old people are the future.

        (That’s a Portlandia clip–well worth your 90 seconds.)

      4. AmyP has made a splendid list, with which I would like to associate myself. And, piling on, as Instapundit regularly writes: “You want more Trump? Because that’s how you get more Trump”

      5. –Not assuming ill will

        The whole Trump campaign was basically premised on the fact that I and everybody like be was actively trying to destroy America. Trump voters forced a hard choice where none was necessary, but the election made is very clear that nearly everything I do is going to me assumed as an act of ill will. I don’t know how to stop that, but I’m certain that pretending not to notice is going to fix things.

      6. I also don’t see how the “upset the most reliable voters against Trump to defeat Trump” is supposed to work.

      7. “For example, believing that one has the right to force other people bake and decorate cakes for one is aggressive behavior, as well as being arguably a violation of the 13th amendment, which forbids “involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.””

        This is a very strange argument to make by someone who I thought was anti-abortion….

      8. “This group was reliably voting against Trump but didn’t turn out in the same numbers that they did in the previous election so we should try to offer more policies that please them” seems much more sound as far as political reasoning.

      9. Wendy said:

        “This is a very strange argument to make by someone who I thought was anti-abortion….”

        Let’s just say that some people see spousal and child support as “involuntary servitude,” too.

        Here’s a fix that covers both abortion and child support as exceptions to the 13th amendment. I’d argue that when one consensually engages in reproductive activity that one has essentially signed a waiver on the possibility that reproduction is going to ensue and that one is going to be responsible for the well-being of the hypothetically ensuing child. (That explanation doesn’t cover rape or statutory rape, of course, but you’ll notice that that theory is essentially the one that we currently apply to fathers.)

        Now, we could argue that baking a single cake commercially binds one in a similar lifelong way to bake cakes for everybody who asks for a cake and decorate it in whatever way they are told to decorate it–but that’s a rather substantial decrease in liberty for very little increase in the public good.

        http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-cake-election-day-2016-11

        (Being a long time and devoted reader of Cake Wrecks, I think it would be a better world if more people would pass on cake jobs.)

        Also, lets turn your argument around. Does it make sense to tell a woman that she can have an abortion any time she wants an abortion…but she has no choice but to make cakes or arrange flowers against her will?

        And honestly–some people will do virtually anything legal for money. Heck, plenty of them will do illegal stuff for money. Is it really so hard to find a willing cake baker or florist?

        (In the past year, my 14-year-old at the time made some absolutely exquisite cupcakes with white fondant cherry blossom on white buttercream icing with gold sprinkles. They would have looked totally appropriate at even the fanciest wedding. It’s not that hard to put something together–a 10-year-old child could literally do this. Heck, you walk into the grocery store and you just ask for a massive sheetcake with white icing and Congratulations on it–done!)

      10. Wendy,

        In any case, anything that can be reasonably described as “involuntary servitude” should be minimized at all costs, with as few exceptions as possible.

      11. Amy’s set of principles for keeping conversations civil seem pretty good to me, on the whole. I think where we’d quibble would be the areas of controversy.

        Let’s take this one “Fighting the all-to-human urge to get people fired for private opinions that have nothing to do with their job” and apply it to something that came across my feeds today, a viral post on facebook:

        The location is a Dunkin Donuts, where a young man with autism is sitting with his aide having donuts and coffee, behaving atypically, but not significantly disturbing anyone.

        “To my disgust, two teens in front of me kept chuckling and whispering to each other and staring every time he touched the wall. While this [the whispering] bothered me, I didn’t think it was any reason to do anything. As I waited . . . , I saw one of the employees laughing in the direction of the other employee on break. They both had to be at least in their thirties or forties. The laughing man handed the two teens their coffees in front of me and said ‘here’s our entertainment of the day, bright and early.”

        In the old days, I wouldn’t have heard of the incident. Nowadays, stories like that can spread like wildfire and they have video attached. Does this have “nothing to do with their job”? Should there be consequences? What consequences?

      12. Amy wrote:
        “I’d argue that when one consensually engages in reproductive activity that one has essentially signed a waiver on the possibility that reproduction is going to ensue and that one is going to be responsible for the well-being of the hypothetically ensuing child.”

        Nope. We can stop right there. 🙂

  13. If anybody tries to sell me anything in December and doesn’t say “Merry Christmas,” I’m going to scream until they properly commercialize the name Jesus. We should make it that no man might buy or sell, save he that uttered “Merry Christmas.”

  14. Speaking of forced indoctrination of an audience of young people, the politicized speech to the Boy Scouts was a new low for Trump. They aren’t even adults.

  15. It was actually pretty funny to watch Jonah’s face as he described the presentation and our subsequent discussion. Jonah is an extremely left leaning kid. He was a Bernie supporter and followed the election discussions closely on Reddit. He’s a son of two PhDs living in the Northeast. But he has never been exposed to these language discussion before. I’m much more likely to rant about political solutions to problems than language usage.

    He was shocked that the student presenters gave their preferred pronouns before beginning their discussion. After he told me about the presentation, I told him about Halloween costumes and cultural appropriation. I told him that some people didn’t think that white women should braid their hair.

    Because we all here have strong opinions on this topic one way or the other and have been part of these discussions for a long time, I really liked having a tabula rasa in front of me to see his reaction. (It was jaw-dropping shock.) Try it out on your kids for fun.

    1. Interesting comparison, because my kids are perfectly comfortable and way more aware than I was of the preferred pronoun discussion. My 13yo encountered it when he was 10, at a cycling camp, three years ago). It doesn’t phase him at all, and in fact, I was the tabula rasa react-er. My other kiddo played sports with a transgender child (who was transgender at school, but not in the scout group he was in with another friend of my kid, which created serious language issues). For quite a while, when my son was told that someone was getting married, he would ask whether they were marrying a woman or a man — there was no default in his young mind.

      And, when he watched Hillary Clinton, he had not one iota of concern that she wasn’t “presidential” or that he couldn’t take her seriously, or that she was “shrill” or any of the other biases against women with power. So, I feel like I’m way behind.

      I’d be intrigued in understanding the cultural differences — East Coast/West Coast? Public/Private school? personal social circles (kiddos have several unconventional families among classmates, including iterations gay, lesbian, couples, some with biological parents in the pictures, others not)? Our liberal sanctuary city? Family discussions? We discuss atypicalities in our family, from disability to race to gender to religion to sexuality to ethnicity.

      And this is Rutgers — I would have been less surprised if he was going to Sarah Lawrence or some version there of.

      Of course, personality always plays a role.

    2. Yeah, I’m kind of surprised Jonah was so surprised. I live in your old neighborhood, and my kids are in an NYC public high school in Harlem, and this stuff is completely familiar to them. Not that bits and pieces of it don’t strike them as over the top or funny (like, ‘crazy’ as an absolutely prohibited word does come off as over the top, but they wouldn’t be shocked by thinking of it as something to be careful about), but nothing you’ve mentioned would faze them in the least.

      Like, people announcing their pronouns surprised him? That’s really odd to me — I’ve got friends with a trans kid in NJ public schools (I’m terrible at towns — Monmoth Beach, maybe), and the school was very sophisticated and very supportive about his transition.

  16. I think what’s disheartening about the speech presentation is that it’s simplistic and prescriptive, when in reality, developing empathy and learning to understand the perspectives of other people is the work of a lifetime, tends to have more to do with intentions than diction, and is fraught with complexity. College should be a great place to start that process, but when a university offers a quick little orientation like this, it doesn’t suggest much faith in the humanities curriculum or the culture of the campus overall. Corporate HR departments run this kind of program as a fig leaf to show off when lawsuits arise, but I can’t imagine they’re any substitute for real education and thoughtfulness born of experience.

    On the other hand, there’s also something prim about it. I hear this kind of presentation in the voice of some Margaret Dumont character, rolling her r’s: “Come now, you ruffians, this is how we behave as proper ladies and gentlemen.

    (On the other other hand, these presentation should come with a caveat: “We’ll look past this and far worse transgressions if you’re vital to our sports program.”)

    1. Jeff S. said:

      “(On the other other hand, these presentation should come with a caveat: “We’ll look past this and far worse transgressions if you’re vital to our sports program.”)”

      Ooooh. There is that.

      Maybe everybody needs to get issued a chart showing what liberties their particular college status allows them?

      Top athlete–one free rape
      Middle range athlete–one free grope
      Rank and file athlete–one extra slice of French toast in the cafeteria

  17. It’s really going to be hard to enforce PC in mental health talk.

    To take an obvious example, I think people make a very good case that Donald Trump has narcissism and/or ADHD.

    Should it be completely verboten to say that, even though you can find ample evidence in a quick perusal of his Twitter feed?

    Take, for example, DJT’s tendency to toggle between praising and trashing particular individuals, based 100% on whether or not they are completely fulfilling his current needs.

    Likewise, I saw somebody mentioning that John McCain seemed unwell a few weeks ago and lo and behold–it turns out John McCain has brain cancer.

    I don’t think it’s feasible to rule out those kinds of discussions.

    1. This suggests that the important thing is success in enforcing the PC. My view is that the important thing is to be able to show off to your friends how enlightened and woke you are. And for that, the faculty lounge and the kaffeeklatsch are both utterly swell.

    2. dave s. said:

      “My view is that the important thing is to be able to show off to your friends how enlightened and woke you are. And for that, the faculty lounge and the kaffeeklatsch are both utterly swell.”

      Even (or especially) in the faculty lounge or kaffeeklatsch, people are going to want to talk about mental health stuff informally.

      In personal life, it’s simply a matter of survival, in terms of being able to take care of the people around us.

      –Could George be depressed? He hasn’t left the house in a week and he won’t look for work.
      –Could mom be a hoarder? Her fridge is packed full of moldy food.
      –Could dad be starting to get dementia? He’s entering all these sweepstakes and ordering all this random stuff from telemarketers.
      –Could little Sophie have an eating disorder?
      –Could Noah be autistic?
      –Steve is so bright but spacey–could he have ADHD?

      It’s pie in the sky impractical to think that it’s possible to raise awareness of different mental health issues, accept the need for appropriate care, but never ever speculate about it. Only a person with no life experience could believe that.

      I feel like the belief that one can just make those topics off-limits is a) not actually helpful b) physically impossible and c) impossible to combine with public awareness and support.

      I kind of get how it’s possible to use an ever changing correct vocabulary to preen over less enlightened human beings in other contexts–but I don’t think that a gag rule is even workable for mental health.

    3. Many people think Trump has dementia based on his worsening behavior later in the day, which they call “sundowning.”

      1. It’s not even close to what that looks like for real. I don’t want to get into it, but it’s much, much more clear cut.

      2. I’ll defer to your greater knowledge. Dementia is not something common in my family (we’re big on alcoholism and bipolar disorder).

      3. Wendy said:

        “Many people think Trump has dementia based on his worsening behavior later in the day, which they call “sundowning.””

        How do the 3 AM tweets fit in?

    4. The objection is to using “he’s crazy” in its colloquial sense to describe outrageous, unacceptable behavior, not to describe a mental illness. It’s probably not OK to use “crazy” to describe mental illness, either, but they are different objections.

      I’m opposed to diagnosing mental illness/disabilities/diseases unless one has the expertise to do so and has personally examined the individual (generally, fairly applied to Donald or Barron or John McCain).

  18. AmyP, since when is expecting a business to not discriminate “involuntary servitude “? My wife’s Jewish grandparents remember when certain bakeries wouldn’t take orders for Jewish weddings. I guess those bakeries are now in involuntary servitude since they are no longer allowed to do that.
    As for agression, give me a break. I’ve experienced real aggression, such as when a group of skinheads tried to run me over with their car.

    1. Do Jewish people not know how to make cakes? Were there no Jewish bakers? Why put money in the pocket of a person that doesn’t want your money if there’s any way to avoid it? Why would a person want a bigot making their cake?

      I just don’t get the last one–it requires a lot of faith in one’s fellow man to entrust an important job to a person that you think hates your guts. I would not eat a cake baked by a person that didn’t want to bake me a cake.

      It is aggression to unleash government power on one’s fellow citizen for trivial purposes, to run them out of business, to deprive them of their livelihood, to fine them, to drag them into court, etc.

      Really, does it take that much imagination to realize–if I were a baker, I wouldn’t want to make a cake for every occasion?

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/3797823/Adolf-Hitler-denied-his-birthday-cake.html

      Also, if it’s only aggression to be almost run over, do you also want to get rid of the term “microaggression”?

      1. Yeah, separate but equal really worked well the last time we tried it. Does it really make sense to require a short-order cook to make someone a sandwich if he doesn’t believe in integration, when there are private homes people can eat in?

    2. The aim ought to be, making sure that gay couples can get a cake. Not, kicking some poor bastard who doesn’t believe in gay marriage in the teeth. If there’s a bakery in town which will do this, the guy who wants to turn away business should be okay, if a little poorer. Walmart should not be able to say no, they are really a public utility. But – Dennis and Geena Bakers? Why not let them turn away the business. If Dennis and Geena are the only bakers in town, make them do it. But if there’s an alternate provider, what the hell?

      1. dave s. said:

        “If Dennis and Geena are the only bakers in town, make them do it. But if there’s an alternate provider, what the hell?”

        The thing is, even if Dennis and Geena are the only professional bakers in town, they are not the only bakers.

        Anybody with a working oven is potentially a baker.

        We’re not talking about a situation where there’s a blind guy with a seeing eye dog who depends on taxis for transportation and (theoretically) all the taxi drivers in town are Muslims who won’t take dogs in their taxis. In that situation, the blind passenger is suffering a major hardship in terms of basic life functions.

        (Personally, I would be fine with individual taxi drivers or companies refusing dogs, but I think the state licensing people should make sure that enough drivers who are willing to take dogs are getting taxi licenses. This would also be a reason for cities to be more liberal about Uber.)

      2. So, we’ll start litigating the details of whether a blind person is able to get access to transportation, based on the availability of other services that could substitute (for example the percent of drivers whose religion objects to the dog in their vehicle, the distance the person would have to walk, the availability of other busses and other transportation, the availability of a friend who can drive the necessity of the individual actually going wherever they want to go?). Those are indeed the floodgates I imagine opening if the Colorado case is decided differently.

        We do have both laws and licensing requirements that address seeing eye dogs, but, allowing a religious exception based on the free exercise clause could presumably be used to selectively restrict taxis to people with seeing eye dogs.

        Fascinating that this question actually has come up in a fairly substantial way in Minneapolis. Apparently in 2007, 75% of the cab drivers at the airport were muslim, and they were told by their religious leaders not to transport passengers with alcohol or dogs resulting in 100s of denials of service per month. The taxi commission decided that there would be license suspensions if service was denied. The result (as far as I can parse) seems to be that those muslim drivers who wanted to follow the religious edict left the taxi cab business. To me, that is the solution for those who refuse to serve in a non-discriminatory way. No one has to be a baker or a cab driver or a photographer (and, in the (case of baker/photographer, they can also just forgo the wedding business). There is no requirement to serve, merely a requirement that if you do chose to serve, you do so in a non-discriminatory manner.

    3. The Economist had a nice summary of the issue currently before the Supreme Court — a baker, Jack Phillips, in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple’s celebration, a case they have accepted.

      The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court on the basis of the Commerce clause, forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, color, or national origin. It doesn’t forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. But, Colorado has a law that does include sexual orientation, and a Colorado agency ruled that the baker was in violation of that rule — if he baked cakes for weddings, he could not discriminate against a gay couple. The baker’s case seems to be based on the First Amendment and the free exercise clause.

      I would be interested in knowing where Amy found the “involuntary servitude” argument — it’s not the basis on which the Colorado case is being litigated. And, the arguments of “they can go to another bakery/bake their own cake/. . . ” have been litigated with respect to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and not upheld.

  19. The traditional and majority (though not universal) view is that the First Amendment and the value of free expression that it embodies override the principle of non-discrimination. So if Lin-Manuel Miranda wants to cast all non-white actors in “Hamilton” in the service of his artistic vision, he has a right to do so. (In contrast, an airline does not have the right to hire all female flight attendants, even if the customers like it better.) As applied here, this principle would mean that a baker can refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding, because the cake expresses a message, but cannot refuse to bake birthday cake for a gay person, because the cake does not express a message. (Or at least, it does not express a message that the baker objects to.) I don’t see any expressive conduct in giving cab rides to passengers with dogs.

    There’s also a free exercise (of religion) component of the First Amendment. That might protect the cab driver. There’s also a traditional doctrine that “common carriers” (think: ferrymen) have less freedom to pick and choose customers than most businesses. That might cut against the cab driver. There’s a lot more dispute about what the free exercise clause means.

    1. y81’s discussion is the one that’s being argued, in various forms, in the Colorado litigation, that the cake is an artistic creation and would involve a message (though there are contradictory arguments that Phillips refused to bake a cake for an event, and not for its message). That the free exercise clause should prevent Phillips from participating in an activity that is against his religious beliefs (especially since Kennedy carved out a religious exception in Obergefell).

      I presume there will be parsing of the decision along these lines, to differentiate it from the more general argument that dave & Amy seem to be making: Would they generally argue that discrimination on any grounds is fine, as long as it doesn’t prevent the person from receiving a service. Is that a correct interpretation? And are there services that you wouldn’t expect people to do themselves (deliver their own babies, for example)? Or if there is only one doctor who will deliver babies of interracial couples, or lesbian couples, or disabled couples? What if you have to travel a hundred miles to get to that doctor?

      Many of us believe that that extending the free exercise clause to cover non-participation of a non-religious entity (like a baker or a photographer) in a celebration following a gay marriage (the Colorado case was a celebration, not a wedding) could open floodgates, but I don’t think I would venture to guess what the court will do.

      1. “Would they generally argue that discrimination on any grounds is fine, as long as it doesn’t prevent the person from receiving a service. Is that a correct interpretation?”

        –That is one way of expressing the principle of “reasonable accommodation,” e.g., that an employer should not require Saturday work from an observant Jew, so long as other employees are willing and available to cover the Saturday shifts. Most people’s reaction to these cases depends on their sympathy for the religion of the person making the request, and the identity of the person being required to make an accommodation.

      2. bj said:

        “Would they generally argue that discrimination on any grounds is fine, as long as it doesn’t prevent the person from receiving a service.”

        I’m very discrimination-friendly.

        Let me give an example where you may agree with the value of legal discrimination.

        http://www.teenvogue.com/story/safeher-uber-for-women-safe-sexist

        I know a lot of people like the idea of Uber for safe teen and young adult transport, but it’s not magic. Uber is not some sort of magic bubble of protection for your teen or young adult–it’s just a guy (usually) with a car. What you get is convenience (usually)–safety is not guaranteed.

        http://nypost.com/2017/05/10/uber-driver-accused-of-kidnapping-raping-passenger/

        http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime–law/new-florida-uber-driver-accused-raping-year-old-girl/GS69hbTAr5sWUHGa7RVr8J/

        http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/exclusive-brooklyn-woman-recounts-traumatic-rape-taxi-article-1.2101285

        Normally, getting into a car alone with a strange man is very high on the list of safety no nos for women. And yet we make an exception for taxis and Uber…And we may have to if we live in a big city without a car, are having car issues, or have some sort of family logistical SNAFU.

        But what if it was possible for female passengers to be guaranteed a well-screened female driver? Nothing is perfect, but I think a lot of us would appreciate having the option available, especially for our less street smart teen and young adult daughters. And yet that totally is discrimination to insist on a female driver.

        Similarly, I think that female drivers ought to have the right not to pick up male passengers. In fact, I think all drivers should have the right to refuse any passenger.

        OSHA says that “The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) data indicates that annual homicide rates for taxi drivers (and chauffeurs) from 1998 to 2007 ranged from 9 per 100,000 workers, to 19. During that period the rate for all workers was at or below 0.5 per 100,000 workers. In other words, taxi drivers’ homicide rates were between 21 and 33 times higher than the national average for all workers.”

        https://www.osha.gov/Publications/taxi-driver-violence-factsheet.pdf

        Ay yay yay!

        Regarding your doctor example, in my perfect libertarian world, a hospital would be free not to hire any doctor.

  20. “Can someone provide me with another response?” How about, ‘My goodness. From someone else, that remark would be surprising’

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