It is quite symptomatic for people today, especially young people on the internet, on tumblr in particular, to replace natural and necessary, yet recently (and not-so-recently) rejected human behaviour and interest with superficial and very limited reproductions. And, to be quite honest, it worries me.
Take political correctness, for instance. I am in no way speaking against politically correct behaviour—on the contrary, I think it necessary. However, the form of political correctness we know and use today is an insufficient replacement for proper manners and considerate behaviour. Manners, of course, were rejected a short time before extreme political correctness came into fashion, as outdated and classist. For a short time, people roamed freely across the internet, being just about rude and offensive, and then the opposite came into being.
The problem with this Opposite is that, rather than becoming a renaissance of manners, it became much more of a perversion of them. It is all the more classist, despite being used most fervently by those who claim to fight classism, and it is strict and limited, and always out of date. Rather than intending to always treat all people courteously and with consideration of their very feelings, one intends to treat only a few groups of people with such consideration, and without much care for each person belonging to any of these groups as an individual. In fact, it seems that for many people the point of political correctness is to be always as rude and misbehaving and unfriendly as possible, except to a few chosen peoples, as a collective entity, who might not in any way be offended. These offences are changed regularly, and can only be properly known by the initiated, contemporarily educated, young (or trying to behave as a young person would) who spend most of their time online.
No matter how good the intention, if a person isn’t perfectly up-to-date in their language or their understanding of specifics, they are made the villain of the play. I have addressed this before, and I have to say again, that it is a better aim for one’s behaviour to be unspecifically and unconditionally good, rather than overspecifically and exclusively perfect. To treat people with consideration and friendliness is not as difficult as it might appear, and even if one may struggle to do so, it is worth training. There is nothing classist even about more elaborate manners, in fact, as those can be acquired through simple consideration of one’s own actions and through watching well-behaved people, it is much less classist than expecting people to behave in a way that requires specific education, access, and social environment.
Now of course, many argue that there’s too many well-mannered people who behave very much politically incorrect and offensive towards people’s feelings. This is due to the fundamentally wrong idea of manners that many (especially young) people have nowadays. The behaviour employed by a great many rich and privileged people is often equated with traditional manners, even if said people behave terribly, and every sort of inconsiderate behaviour towards more modern sentiments is associated with older generations. But the thing is actually quite simple: If people behave in a way that they know hurts another’s feelings, offends another’s personal sensibilities (not to confuse here with polite disagreement!) then they are, in fact, not polite, not well-mannered, not considerate or courteous.
If your aim is to be good to people, as individuals, and all people, then you don’t do things that hurt them, at least not intentionally. You respect them both in regards to socio-political (race, gender, class, etc.) as well as purely personal matters and feelings. And this according to each human being. That’s not speaking against political correctness in the least—but one should remember that a stilted consideration towards specifically chosen people, without much regard to their individuality, and with absolutely no care for anyone else, and no effort to behave decently, is not worth much. If applied in such a way, then political correctness is merely a protection for those who want to treat others badly without being exposed.
(It helps, of course, to view humanity as a whole, interconnected and inseparable, with smaller, overlapping, open-boardered inside, yet each human being an individual, rather than, as it is so often now done, divided into many small, impervious groups which, in case they overlap, form even stricter, smaller groups.)
And take social constructs. A current trend online is memes and comics and shorts stories about how “weird humans are”—often from the perspective of aliens, sometimes of pets. How humans care about each other, how they do nice things, even if they don’t appear necessary in a commercial, efficient way, etc. Also posts about how people in history and pre-history have always been people, and have always cared about each other. The appreciation for all of these things is quite wonderful, and long-needed. However—not all, but a large portion of those things are, in fact social constructs. But of course, social constructs are considered bad things, so they are not called that. Instead, we learn that “humans are weird” whenever they do something that is not either selfish, or efficient, or both. Even if appreciative, we learn it in a negatively-tinted way. How weird it is! To think that humans are indeed—well, what? Humans.
But you see, social constructs are not fundamentally bad things. Nor good, either. Being a social construct doesn’t make a thing bad. It does not make it good, but it does very much make it human. The idea to say, “this does not exist in biology, it is a social construct and therefore bad/fake” is a way stripping humans of their humanity. We are social, and we ought to be social. That does not mean that we have to stick to every social construct there is. In fact, questioning, examining, changing and adjusting, even abolishing social constructs is as much of a socially constructed behaviour, and it is surely necessary at times, and it has always been done.
To consider unselfish, good, caring, or playful and creative behaviour to be “weird” is, even when meant positively, not the right way to approach it. It is not weird. It is not unnatural, it is purely natural, and necessary. It is also not exclusive to human beings, though of course, according to our understanding particularly developed among us. And it shouldn’t cease to do so—after all, wouldn’t it be much better to stand against those who claim that only selfishness and efficient work are necessary? No! There’s many bad or outdated social constructs, but humans are social animals, and we change, and the things we create and construct and develop change with us. Different social constructs in different cultures and eras do not prove that social constructs are fundamentally bad and unnatural, they prove that they are, in fact, natural, and that they can be altered.
But the derogatory way of talking about good and necessary things brings me to the subject of education. It’s a pity that what used to be considered general knowledge is now called “useless facts”. Despite pointing out that they are the best-educated generation of all time, and much smarter than older people, today’s youth is victim of a very strict, career-oriented education. This, of course, has been created by older generations, and is often criticised, but that doesn’t change its effect.
Knowledge needs to have a use, otherwise it is called, deliberately, “useless”. The studium generale is of the past, so is any form of general and recreational knowledge and education. And this surpasses class. Whether its the studies of rich people not intending or needing to put them into practical use, or the underestimated, wide knowledge of common and tradespeople.
Fortunately, nowadays people have a better access to university education than they did in the past, even if they don’t come from a privileged background—academia is not as strictly reserved for the rich and privileged as it used to be, although there is still a lot to be worked in that direction. However, as strange as it might sound, knowledge becomes more and more a privilege of the academic, regardless of their background.
If you don’t gain knowledge for a career, and if it is not a commercial career, then it should at least be an academic career, then why earn knowledge at all? And why learn anything out of your field? And why in a way that cannot be put to use, even if the knowledge you have gained is just the same?
What is now called, rather apologetically, “useless facts” and considered a waste of time to read, are, in a much more accessible form, thanks to the internet and easily available books, what used to be sought-after knowledge, just for the knowledge itself by earlier generations. Not centuries, but just a few decades ago. Very often, people who are now deemed to have no use of academic interests, learned about things for personal use, and people who worked in academic fields studied things entirely unrelated, and people who were not going to have a career learned for the sake of learning.
But now knowledge needs to be monetised, or at the very least certified, even if it is not supposed to be used in a professional environment. All other knowledge, all personal knowledge, is deemed useless, a waste of time, (and insufficient to put into conversation with better-educated people, even if they are less informed on the chosen subject—but that is an entirely different matter and unrelated to this) and as such even immoral, as people are made to feel guilty for enjoying knowledge without putting it into professional use.
This is helped by the popular idea that in the past only professionals and academics, and a certain kind of rich people, and then only men, knew anything. But as a matter of fact, very often people who worked in handiwork, women with no intention or prospect of a career, and even rather poor people (though that depended heavily on time and place) were quite well and diversely educated. Knowledge was not deemed useless, but valuable, even when people could not assume to earn money or esteem through it.
And “useless facts” and all the non-fiction and documentaries, as well as free online courses and all that is so often looked down upon as a past-time for people who don’t know what to do with themselves, are proof that people still long for knowledge, and for an intellectual occupation, no matter how unproductive and inefficient it might be. And that should be supported, not degraded, and not apologised for. Reading books and articles on things that interest one, visiting university lectures without being enrolled, even reading little tid-bits of funny and obscure historical or scientific facts, should never be something to feel ashamed of.
And even more so, even if many older people did not have the same opportunities as young people today, it would be very foolish to assume that they are uneducated, just as it is very foolish to assume that people in earlier times were only sitting in the mud, thinking the earth were flat.
“Useless facts” of course, are just like “humans are weird” an apologetic degradation of a thing actually liked, and valued. It seems a common reaction nowadays. A sort of fear, “Look at that silly thing I made, it’s really not good!” — “Why, it’s fabulous!” This is not a reproach, much rather a caution. Because in such cases, there’s not many to call it fabulous, the derogatory name will be adopted by the majority, and the good thing painted badly.
And now for Kindness, the most exhausting subject for a little composition like this one, and thus, appropriately, with a capital K. We all want Kindness, we all want to be kind. So far, so good. But kindness is not conditional. Friendliness is, politeness is. Kindness, like Love, is not.
So many people explain why you cannot be kind to everyone, why kindness to some people is evil to others. But that is wrong. You are mistaking kindness for friendliness, and for support. Kindness is unconditional. If you want to be kind to some people, but think others undeserving, then you don’t really want to be kind, you want to be nice, to be friendly, to be polite, to be politically correct, or to be supportive. All necessary and valuable by themselves, all, at least to a degree, selective and conditional. And all, for the receiving person, pleasant.
Kindness is not necessarily pleasant or opportune. You are not kind to a person by supporting their bad actions and intentions. You are not kind to a predator by supporting the harm they inflict. On the contrary, if you fight against the bad a person does, you do them an act of kindness, inflict kindness upon them.
We can and we should try to act kindly towards everyone. We should practise kindness, train it, nourish, and cultivate it, and plant where it lacks. That does not mean that we should always be nice, that we should support everyone’s wishes and goals, or to be always compliant. To practise kindness means very often to oppose.
But if your approach to kindness is conditional, if you want to exempt certain people from it, if you want to do them bad, than you contribute to the Bad rather than the Good, and only half-heartedly, superficially to the Kindness the world needs.
But a necessary fight against the bad a person does is not the same as self-indulgent malevolence towards the people who are made the symbol of what one considers, or even what might really be, what is bad, or a part of what is bad in the world.