The Case Against Tough

December 25, 2016

Bill has made a strong if somewhat begrudging case for the virtues of being tough ("The ‘Oh, Grow Up!’ Election," November 16), some of which I buy and most of which I don’t. It’s hard agreeing with a contrarian if you’re a contrarian yourself—which makes BJOL into a barrel full of starving alley-cats. You make one mild, sensible comment around here, and you get a hundred guys angrily jumping down your throat. So let’s begin mild and sensible with the points Bill made that I endorse:

1)      The world into which Bill and I were born valued toughness much more than the world we’ve lived our adult lives in.

2)      Our dads were tough cusses. Mine endured more hardship than I can imagine before I was born, the least of which was serving as an Army infantryman in combat all through World War Two. I never heard a syllable of complaint out of him.

3)      "You cannot be successful in sports if you are not tough." That’s a quote—Bill has that 100% right.

4)      Today we’ve turned "sensitivity," particularly to others’ suffering and perceived suffering, into the highest of virtues.

Look, I’ve probably put up with more of # 4)’s nonsense than most people here: I’ve worked as a college professor for the past 30-odd years, and I enjoy making cruel jokes, and teasing people, and arguing until the veins in my neck pop, as much as anyone. Probably a little bit more. That’s a sure-fire formula for getting in trouble on a college campus these days.  I write and teach fiction that contains heaps of foul language, so you can imagine my students’ reactions to that in 2016, plus as a bonus, my hobby is painting full-frontal nudes. Just imagine what feminist students who Googled my painting website made of that little hobby. Now double that, and you’ll be close. Oh frabjous joy and heavenly delight!

So adhering to standards of "politically correct" speech and thought has been an irritant to me, personally, more than you can probably conceive. I put up with this, actively or passively, every working day of my life. Every conversation I’ve had with a student for the past few decades, I’ve had to remind myself, "Shut up, don’t say that, nor that either, don’t take the bait, don’t go there, don’t even THINK that…." and on and on. It’s a nuisance that I’ve learned to live with.

Bur you know something? I’ve also come to think of "political correctness" as having real virtues I hadn’t realized before. I won’t even use that term any more outside of scare quotes, not because it’s a pejorative, but because it’s mocking of a genuine social good.

One quick (?) example before we move on to broader applications of "P.C." thinking: my younger daughter graduated from a Seven Sisters all-female college a few years back, but before she did she told me about a crisis on her campus involving a male nude sculpture that the college had installed (I won’t say "erected") in front of the campus art museum. The undergraduates, my daughter among them, were insisting that this statue be torn down, offending as it did their tender sensibilities.

I really respect my daughter’s points of view. Don’t always agree with her, but she’s a smart and thoughtful young woman whom I cherish. Nonetheless, I told her what I felt about this feminist cause, and while I tempered my language considerably for her benefit, you can bet it was far from supportive. Mostly I conveyed the kneejerk antipathy of an artist in a free society to censorship of any kind. She told me why I was wrong, and in the end (it took a while) she had me convinced:

The sculpture was actually not quite nude: it was of a flesh-colored man wearing white underpants. (I didn’t ask which brand or which style.)  There had been some recent incidents of men (obviously, not students at the all-female college) sneaking onto campus in the evening and, popping out of the bushes, exposing themselves to unsuspecting students—and sometimes more than that. It was an ongoing and recurring problem that the college had difficulties combatting. (The campus is private property, but it’s pretty accessible to anyone in town.)  Some of the students who’d been exposed to this flashing (and worse) felt pretty nervous about walking through their nice, safe college campus now, my daughter explained to me, and a life-sized statue of a man in underpants seemed unnecessary at best in the middle of the campus, and at worst downright provocative.   

My original argument had been that art is supposed to be provocative. But now I saw that there were limits on provocation that don’t need widening. Rape victims, for example, don’t need to watch films with explicit rape scenes in them. Holocaust victims don’t need to be exposed to mandatory three-hour documentaries on Hitler’s final solution. Finding ways to spare these people such traumas isn’t political correctness. It isn’t "trigger-warnings" gone wild. It’s just human decency.

It’s just politeness. Nowadays, whenever I hear, let’s say, a demagogue running for political office oppose loudly the stupidity of political correctness, I substitute mentally "politeness" for "political correctness," and see if that doesn’t put the issue into a clearer perspective. Usually it does.

"We can’t afford to be polite any more, folks" just doesn’t have the same ring of persuasion, does it? It doesn’t quite get your ass out of its seat and get you chanting "USA! USA!" quite as readily.

I don’t see the harm in being polite, though it’s the furthest mode from most of my conscious behavior I can imagine.  I am impolite by my nature, and by my training, and by my culture. Another example for you: I was brought up (I won’t say "I grew up" because that’s still in dispute) in a roughish neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when my neighborhood was about 50/50 Jews and Italian Catholics. (I pitied the rare Protestant kid in my grammar school as a member of a tiny minority group.) Referring to each other by ethnic slurs was absolutely routine: "Heeb" and "Dago" were merely identifying tags, often affectionate or friendly, so when I got to college after living for 18 years in this slur-crazy culture that was my norm, I met a fellow of Italian descent from Colorado, whom I liked a lot. To show him how much I accepted him, one evening freshman year I referred to him as "Frank the Wop."

Now it’s a very good thing that I was standing about five feet from Frank, and a better thing that there were other freshmen in the room with us, because otherwise I don’t know if I’d be here to tell the tale. Frank wanted to beat the hell out of me, while I wanted to know, "What? What’d I say? Did I say something?" Lesson one in politeness: other people may be accustomed to different standards of comportment than you are, and your standards might not be the best ones.

I tried to assure Frank that I meant nothing offensive by my reference to his heritage, quite the contrary, but it took a good long while for that point to sink through his skull, and even longer for it to sink through mine that Frank wasn’t extraordinarily sensitive. Rather, I was extraordinarily boorish and rude. It’s very much to his credit that we became good friends, going to each other’s weddings and such, and Frank eventually coached me through the most grueling and stressful of periods when I was taking my comprehensive doctoral exams about fifteen years after I called him "Frank the Wop."

It used to make my blood boil when my dad would tell me that something I wanted to do, or be, or say, "isn’t proper." I couldn’t have cared less what was "proper." If I wanted to do it, or be it, or say it, then to hell with what society demanded. But some time around my "Frank the Wop" episode, I encountered Manny the Kraut’s "categorical imperative," which in my dad’s terms translated to something like "If everybody behaved like you want to, Stevie, would this be a better world or a worser world?" And that’s the winning argument in favor of politeness, whether you or I feel like being polite at that moment.

Bill argues that it’s virtuous to be tough in the face of personal insults, and I agree with that. If everyone took umbrage at everything they felt could be interpreted negatively all the time, well, I can’t say what the world would be like, but does the term "Non-stop lawsuits" mean anything to you? Making impoliteness illegal would be living in hell.  You’d be pulled over by a cop for giving a dirty look to the guy who cut you off in traffic, and you’d spend half your life in court in the defendant’s seat, and the other half in the plaintiff’s seat, and who wants that, except lawyers?

My cousin David is a lawyer, by the way, who used to work for the federal gummint in Washington D.C.; around age 20 I wrote my first book, a novel in large part about baseball but in small part a tirade against the legal profession, which I considered at that time to be a boil on the backside of suffering humanity. After finishing the book, I visited David, who was still employed in the FCC’s legal department, and described my animosity against lawyers. Rather than bawl me out for my ignorance and obstinance, David merely held his fire and had a conversation on the subject with his younger, hot-headed cousin.  Looking back, he could have pulled all sorts of rank on me, his age and maturity levels, his advanced education, his actual experience with applied legal ethics, etc. but he chose to tolerate my offensive opinions and hear me out rather than act offended and ride off on his high horse.

I’m grateful to David for putting up with my remarks denigrating his chosen profession, and giving me a respect that my position didn’t deserve. His forbearance under my insulting (and frankly stupid) remarks made for an exchange of ideas rather than an exchange of barbs, and eventually to a general agreement between us. It’s virtuous that people often choose to endure verbal abuse, and extend this sort of patience and tolerance to their tormentors. I get that.

But extending that tolerance shouldn’t be required. Sometimes, especially when they’re not being stupid and stubborn as I was, those giving offense must tolerate being told that they’re being offensive. Offenders can’t claim a blanket privilege of "I can say what I want and you have to shut up and take it."  If David had told me instead, "Hey, Steve, you’re being a jerk. Calm down, and let’s talk about this again in a few decades when you’ve grown up a little," could you blame him? I can’t. He was entitled to be offended, and I’m certainly in no position to tell him that his tolerance was mandatory, or that he isn’t allowed to have gotten offended by my insulting argument.

Just because tolerance is virtuous, in other words, we can’t mandate it or make it the only appropriate response to feeling insulted or abused. A more appropriate response, if also a more volatile response, is to display anger with the offender.

Now, as a college professor (and occasionally a college administrator), I’ve been exposed to more than my share of students and colleagues feigning being offended just to get their way. I’m familiar, believe me, with acting offended as a tactic in winning an argument, and, yes, it annoys me. While the whole (ridiculous, IMO) concept of "trigger warnings," for example, may originate in good intentions, it is mostly employed (again IMO) in the service of students enjoying the power to tell their professors what may and may not be taught.

And I get that, too. When I was an undergraduate, it would have been cool to have that power, but now as a professor my instinctive response to many undergraduate complaints is something like, "Oh, go piss up a rope, would ya? Grow up, and recognize that the world will not always do exactly what pleases you," which is roughly Bill’s position on toughness and tenderness. ("Grow up" is actually part of his title, remember?)  It’s certainly true that the question of whose ox is being gored determines one’s position on specific acts of "offensive" behavior. As an undergraduate, I might have sympathized with the "trigger warnings" movement much more than I do as a professor.

Which is why it’s good to look at such issues from your antagonist’s position. Bill’s essay complains that "We had to learn to look at every word we wrote as a black person would look at it, as a gay person might look at it, as a woman might look at it, as a gay black woman might look at it, to make certain it was not offensive from any angle." I agree, it’s a pain in the ass to have to look at everything from the positions of many others, especially when one’s own position (in Bill’s and my case, that of middle-aged white men) isn’t viewed by others as automatically deserving of that same empathy. Where I differ from Bill, as I read him, is that it may be a pain in the keester, especially for us, but it’s also worth doing.

The world has no need to care about our keesters’ pain, not in comparison to such concepts as gay black women being able to live their lives without being told every day that they’re unimportant marginalized freaks who need to tolerate the world telling them so. That’s important, too, and I think Bill and I need to make a little room for it, as inconvenient or painful to our hindquarters as it may sometimes be.

Take the whole idea of people being called what they want to be called. On a personal level, I went through this one twice: I was called "Stevie" until about the age of eight or ten, when I decided I wanted to be called by my full name. I informed family and friends of this choice, and was only slightly annoyed when most of them compromised on "Steve" and gradually the people I would meet and introduce myself to would call me "Steven." It was no big deal, probably mostly asserting a little control over what I was called, but I can tell you how annoyed I’d feel if someone would flat-out refuse to accede to my request. Their right to call me what they wanted, it seemed to me they were saying, was more important than my right to be called what I wanted, and asserting that "right" just seemed, and seems, utterly wrong to me.

The second time I went through this almost self-same event was when my older daughter, whom her mother and I called "Lizzy" from birth, decided (again around age eight or ten) that henceforth she would answer to "Elizabeth." This time around, as sympathetic as I felt to her, the switch wasn’t so simple: I felt very affectionate towards "Lizzy," had a warm emotional response to her name and wonderful memories of everything I’d done with "Lizzy," and occasionally for a year or three a "Lizzy" would escape my lips, earning me a glare from my daughter, who was frustrated by enduring this repeated insult from her clueless and insensitive dad.

Doing what others want, and we don’t want, requires us to downplay our own importance, and to acknowledge theirs. That’s not how most people roll. We justify rolling the way we do by complaining that THEY are making OUR lives difficult, and sometimes they are. If THEY are the jerks, not we, then we don’t have to accede to their unreasonable wishes.

A notoriously jerky ballplayer, in many people’s view (although I understand he happens to be a big favorite of certain BJOL regulars, and to an extent of mine), once devoted a few paragraphs in his autobiography to complaining about people who misconstrued his name. I’m talking about Barry Bonds, of course. No, no, no, I’m talking about Graig Nettles, who as I remember from his memoir Balls (or was it Bats? Should have been Gloves), held forth on those stupid idiots who called him "Greg" or "Craig," and who persisted in mangling his first name, even after he’d corrected them once or twice. I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for this argument, or at least for the anger he put behind it, because, well, "Graig" is a pretty unusual name, and people with unusual names would do well to suck it up for longer than the rest of us in waiting for the world to come around to remembering the peculiarities of the spelling or pronunciation of their oddball names. Nettles seemed to have a particularly short fuse in this regard, and not much empathy for those who misconstrued his name.

The funny part, to me, was that that same autobiography had numerous misspellings of various teammates’ and opponents’ names. I wrote about this in my unpublished early 1990s manuscript Myths of Baseball, of which I’ve printed a few excerpts here, so this is all from memory, but I’m pretty it’s right, and it reinforced my opinion of Nettles as a comically insensitive jerk. It’s entirely possible, in other words, for someone to take his own sensitivity to such an extreme that he becomes the jerk, not the person giving him offense. That’s probably the larger area in which I agree with Bill on toughness and tenderness: it’s possible to be a jerk while proclaiming how offended you are.

But it’s not probable. Sure, there are people who assert how they spell or pronounce their names in order to make themselves the center of attention. If I had a friend who changed his name every six months (Now I’m "Jim"! Now I’m "Jamey"! Now I’m "J.T."! Now I’m "James"! Now I’m "Jim" again!), I like to think that I’d go along with each request, although around the third name-change I’d cross the street to avoid him. But most people who make requests that you address them in a certain way are NOT doing it just to get attention, they’re well-motivated (if annoying), and it’s wrong to judge everyone who corrects your form of address as mere contemptible attention-whores.

This applies, most significantly, to groups rather than individuals, and it can feel irritating to be told that you’re addressing a group in way that is no longer acceptable to them. I do feel that the nomenclature issues, for example needing to replace "Blacks" with "African-Americans" (or the other way around), can feel oppressive, especially to white people who feel that any word choice of theirs will be used to make them wrong.  Though I know that I don’t mean anything by using the "wrong" term, and though I may suspect the person correcting my usage of having ulterior motives in making that correction, isn’t it wise to suppress my argumentative side and accept whatever new name the group is demanding in order to progress with the larger, more meaningful discussion? Whether it’s Latinos demanding you call them "Hispanics," or women demanding you call them "womyn," or American Indians demanding you call them by their tribal name, or your pal Jimmy announcing that now he wants to be called "Jamesy," why not ascribe the highest, purest motivations to them, and go along? It’s only being polite.

But (at last) to my main point here: is it better to be polite, as I’m contending, or (as Bill contended) is it the higher virtue to be tough? My answer is: sometimes one, sometimes the other, but it’s vital to understand the context in which we’re choosing to be either. The dominant protocol, as Bill argued, was toughness, up through at least the middle of the past century, and since then we’ve moved forward into making the dominant protocol one of politeness. In Bill’s chosen example, that I agreed with 100%, "You cannot be successful in sports if you are not tough." But "sports" is a construct whose dominant protocol is toughness. You don’t ask your opponent for permission to score a touchdown against them—you shove them out of your goddamned way and you score the touchdown.

Within the rules of football, of course. It’s not considered "tough" to bring a firearm onto the field and kill a defensive player or two blocking your path to the end zone—it’s considered murder, and quite rude besides. But within the agreed-upon rules, there is very little politeness and a lot of toughness in a football game. We’ve carved out an area in which toughness is lionized and politeness is minimized, and we call that "sports."

Also "the military." Also "business." Maybe one or two more.  There are these few remaining areas that, as long as your behavior is within the bounds of the rules or the laws, "toughness" is dominant, and pretty much anything goes. I think we all acknowledge that. The problem, from Bill’s perspective, is that other areas of life, areas in which "toughness" was the dominant protocol, or at least an acceptable one, have shifted over to a "politeness" protocol.

Take high-school sports, Bill’s example of an area where a little slapping-around, or verbal abuse, was Standard Operating Procedure when he and I were young, but where it’s now illegal, or at least mightily discouraged.  High-school sports, of course, are not only "sports." They’re also a part of "high school," in which some people (and some high-school football players) think kids should participate, not in order to learn how to be tough, but in order to learn teamwork, and cooperation, or to get exercise, or a load of other motivations, with "’acquiring toughness" being way down on their list. The protocol of "politeness" has been introduced on a larger scale in high-school sports because football players are also high-school students, who might need some more consistency between what they’re learning as members of the football team and what they’re learning in school, where a "toughness" protocol is deemed (correctly in my view) as being totally out of place.

This actually applies on higher levels. I was just reading an article last month in Sports Illustrated (October 24-31 issue, pp. 19-20) about the NFL banning the use of the N-word between players on the field, even when the exchange is between black players exclusively and even when they’re otherwise spewing verbal abuse at each other faster than the "pops" in a fireworks-factory on fire—say the N-word, and you’re in BIG TROUBLE, mister.  This is silly stuff, on one level, but on another, how can society outlaw the word (which I have my own feelings about, like being required to use the baby-talk of "N-word," especially when I’m teaching Huckleberry Finn, which I’ve chosen not to do for the past few decades to avoid this tedious digression) but allow it on the NFL football field, where you can get an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for celebrating a touchdown too vigorously?

Or lower levels. Maybe you could argue that high-school football players need toughening, but how about six-year-olds? I’ve played football starting around the age of six, and I think it was sufficiently bracing to have rough physical contact on the field without being required to curse and trash-talk. If my mother overheard my language on the football field as I was trying to grow up, I would have had my mouth washed out with Ivory soap, which did happen on one occasion.  (Thanks, Mom—brilliant move. You really kept me from turning into a potty-mouth with that one.) We adopt a different protocol for very young kids than we do for high-school kids, stressing respect for others, cooperation, and politeness to young kids who need to have their more impulsive, id-driven urges for immediate selfish gratification tamed. I don’t think anyone wants his Pee-Wee Football player to be taught toughness exclusive of the other virtues I named above.

Sometimes being sensitive to others’ feeling IS being tough, a different kind of tough. If I were an Oregonian, for example, I like to think that I’d never get offended by someone pronouncing my state incorrectly. One of my housemates in grad school came from Oregon, and he corrected people all the time who said it "Or-a-gone" rather than "Or-a-gun." What I was starting back then to learn, purely as a pedagogical technique, was to correct my students’ pronunciations not by interrupting them to correct their pronunciation, but just by saying the word correctly if it came up naturally later in the conversation. Eventually, they might grasp the idea, and if they didn’t it was no big whoop.

A tough Oregonian would demand that the mispronouncer change his ways, right now. "You can’t insult us by pronouncing the name of my home state that way!" Of course you could also view that same behavior as being the opposite of what a really tough Oregonian would do, which is to absorb the "insult" in silence, and also whatever other insults to your state, masculinity, humanity the other person wanted to dish out, and then to expect him to tolerate whatever insults you would then heap freely on him.

In general, the protocol of polite tolerance seems preferable to me to a protocol of belligerent toughness, especially since we still have those areas where toughness is still valued. Even in sports, as rules get codified increasingly to tone down the more extreme forms of toughness (no hitting a defenseless receiver, for example,) or in the military (no brutalizing a Marine recruit in time-honored ways), my question is: Do these changes make for less tough football players or less tough Marines? I’d have to say that NFL players and Navy Seals still seem plenty tough to me. I salute them both for putting their bodies on the line for my entertainment or my safety. It also seems to me that these are more rounded, more thoughtful NFL players and military dudes, who must not only stand up under incredible physical rigors but also must now think about applying some standards of acceptable conduct while doing so.

I’ll share just one more notion of toughness and sensitivity that appalls me, though I suspect there are those of you whom it will not appall: the idea of cops shooting unarmed (often minority) civilians out of what they call "fear for their lives." Say what? They’ve chosen a line of work that is inherently dangerous, so for police officers to justify shooting people out of fear is just crazy to me. They should (in my view) be held to a much higher standard than an ordinary civilian is held to, not a much lower standard. They are trained in recognizing various levels of danger, in coping with it in appropriate ways, and in suppressing feelings of panic when danger presents itself, unlike civilians who often are experiencing danger without any systematic preparation for it whatsoever. How cops use a defense of "Hey, I was scared, so you should feel sympathetic to me" baffles me, though apparently juries throughout the country disagree.

Policing is tough work, and it requires tough people to do it. I hope my views on this issue don’t give the impression that I don’t respect the police, or that I’m categorically unsympathetic to their placing themselves in danger as a required part of their job.

But if you’re going into a tough line of work, aren’t you then required to be tough? Toughness, in this example, means saying "He took out his gun and aimed it at me, and I tried my best to wound or disable him while trying to protect myself as best I could, despite the fact that I was scared as hell, and the bullet I was aiming at his gun hand accidentally went through his heart" rather than "I shot him in the back as he ran away unarmed because I was scared as hell and thought that maybe he was running away to get a gun or a bomb or something." Extending sympathy to a cop because he was scared is devaluing toughness in one of the few places that toughness is needed. If we extended the same sympathy to everyone that juries extend to cops who shoot unarmed civilians because they were scared, I’d estimate that our prison population would be cut in half, if not by more, much more.

Toughness is definitely a virtue. Bill is right about that. But it’s virtuous in an increasingly narrow set of fields, and even in those fields is correctly being tempered with sensitivity, and tolerance, and intelligence, as it should be. Over centuries and millennia, humans are gradually, in fits and starts, growing more polite and less tough all the time, and in the main that’s a very good thing for humankind. To feel nostalgic for vanished types of toughness is understandable—I feel that way myself, though not necessarily nostalgic for the types of toughness you or Bill or anyone feels nostalgic for, but in the long run, all sorts of behavior that was acceptably "tough" have been vastly diminished over the last few centuries, or even eradicated, and that’s mostly a good thing. You know who some of the toughest people in American history have been? Slaves. And slaveowners. I don’t miss having either around these days.


COMMENTS (50 Comments, most recent shown first)

I could not have said it bettter...Grow Up Donald!​udy-woodruff-video

11:17 AM Jan 6th
Steven Goldleaf
You know, I don't actually mind the adjective "flesh-colored" in that context. It could be a deep shade of brown, and describe an African-American's flesh. "Flesh" just takes in more shades than Crayola had imagined at the time they came up with that.
12:08 PM Jan 5th
I'm late but have a few things to say. "Tough" is also letting words slide off your back. "Tough" is going to work when wellfare would pay the same. "Tough" is saying: tough shit, my side lost the election, wait'll next year. I'm not gonna hold drum circles, etc.
OK, enough venting. I hope all of us kids of the "Greatest Generation" would admit that our parents would laugh at that title. If true, what title would you give to Civil War or Rev War generation? Now, I agree that times have changed and "suck it up, Buttercup" may not be the best answer. But back in the day, that was the solution for minor injuries, anything you could treat locally and not spend money. And back then society demanded that almost everybody worked for themselves - and wrongly often locked up those that couldn't. But, we've gone too far the other way, everything is a disease and individuals are not responsible and society owes everybody a "good life with all the accoutrements" Today "Tough" is should be saying "Nobody owes you shit" but "everybody owes you a chance"
2:13 AM Jan 5th
And now I have read those 45 comments, most of which were excellent as well, made in the same spirit as your article. I even went and looked at the Wellesley statue (you can find it simply by Googling "Wellesley debates nude statue" and not worrying about any links), and I have to agree that putting it up there was pretty stupid. But who of us has not done stupid things because we didn't know any better, as opposed to doing stupid things to prove how tough we are? In our small western town, which has been victimized by serious crimes recently, including armed robberies and probable arson, the town council fired the police chief last night. The police chief is a good, decent, gentle man with more than 30 years' experience in police work, much of it in New York City, who once described to me a rather terrifying event in which he managed to take a gun from a man who was threatening him without using his own gun or any form of violence. That was tough. In my opinion the town is worse off without him than with him, but it is true that none of the crimes that occurred during his tenure over the past couple of years was solved. Clearly, the times are tough in this small town.

It is remarkable how OldBackstop managed to take an insightful and mostly polite general conversation about societal mores and twist it into name-calling and political demagoguery. Not helpful, OldBackstop, and this is my last word on the topic.
6:32 PM Jan 4th
Steven: Excellent article. I see there are 45 comments before mine, so here I'll say only two things. First, "You and Bill 'middle-aged'? Just how long are you guys planning to live??"

And second, "flesh-colored?" To many of us who remember Crayola crayons from our youths, that was only white people's flesh.

Now I'll go read as many of the 45 comments as I can. If I have anything else to add, I will, but I'll tell you I'd come to a similar conclusion about sexism in writing (always "he," and so on), and while paying attention to not writing that way was and still sometimes is a pain, I decided it's worth doing for all the reasons you give. In fact, I have to remind myself to write "he" and "him" when writing about major league baseball, because, well, that's the way it is.
6:01 PM Jan 4th
it has yet been clear to me what Bill means by tough. A couple of little anecdotes about how he grew up, so quaint. and what really does this have to do with Trump, and the Grow up Election?
I wonder about my neighbor whose wife got in a car accident, and since then he has to change his whole life to bring up 5 kids. Is he tough? Well what if he gives in to political correctness, or just believes it is right. That it is not good to offend a JERK, simple bc it gets you no where.

From my perspective, Trump is an egotistical idiot who acts as if he has Asperger's
I am not impressed, nor do I think the people who voted for him think him tough bc he is insulting people, and talking about how is going to get revenge.

Trump simply talked, and I do mean talked, rhetoric that pandered to a certain set of people, and their fears. He pandered to the nationalistic fervers who want to brag America is great again. Between people being a bit tired of the Clintons, and he offering at least a fresh face, Trump wins.

Look, he is now my President too. But I do doubt he ever could handle the opposition that Obama had to overcome. All I can do is hope that there is something different that I am missing about a man who has ever shown me anything resembling real toughness.

For me anyway, it is a little childish to think Trump won because our nation has 'Grown up' I am just hoping Trump will Grow up, I will be satisfied with that simple thing.

2:43 PM Dec 30th
++ I believe that any fat, old, rich white man who insists that a gay black woman is being too thin-skinned in her response to criticism needs to spend a little less time wrapped up in his own head, and a little more time (figuratively) walking in the shoes of others, because their situations are not close to equivalent. ++

That's a broad brush, no? Maybe I'm an old white guy who was born into such poverty that my toys consisted of gravel in the driveway. Maybe I was beat up by a psychopathic dad.

Does that mean that I get to talk and you get to shut up?

Truth is truth. What do you say we just TALK.

- Jeff
2:40 AM Dec 30th
Mr. James' point on 'toughness' isn't so hard to understand. He was very politely saying that it's time to weight the scales more toward free discourse and less toward speech codes.

My reading of him is that he casts it in these 'universal' terms so as to be gentle with his readers. Odd that so many of his highly intelligent readers miss his basic premise.

For those who are still trying to make up their minds about this issue of open discourse vs sensitivity, I recommend this article by ex-Soviet grandmaster Gregory Serper, "Political Correctness and Chess."

GM Serper relays an anecdote about his life as a 14-year-old, under the Soviet "correctness" atmosphere - he read a simple news story about GM Korchnoi defeating GM Kasparov, and since Korchnoi was "persona non grata" Serper nearly lost his career over THE TONE OF HIS VOICE reading the news.

Is this really the destination we seek? Or perhaps we should turn towards the idea of DEBATING our opponents rather than suppressing them?

- Jeff

1:45 AM Dec 30th
Very good piece.

The concept I cant stand is when toughness is substituted for intelligence, thought, reason, policy, etc. It is also substituted for any substantial reason to inflict harm on others. For example, when you hear "we need to make tough decisions on medicare" that means we are going to cut benefits for those people without any real reason to do so. Bill state of Kansas is making many tough decisions right now on economic policy, to the detriment of many of the people who will be affected by those decisions, but will little effect on the people making those decisions.

Toughness to me means many different things. Mostly it reminds me of my family, all of whom are first generation Polish-Americans who all fought in WW2. To me they were so tough they didn't feel like they had to prove it to you.

In the political arena it seems that "toughness" means I scream louder than you, that I can make you enraged so that I can direct your anger towards my policies.

In sports in somehow has morphed into suffering in silence, that being out-spoken or frank about something means you are weak. If you are quiet of frankly just abrupt with people that is considered tough. Nick Saban is somehow considered tough for coaching Alabama, which spends more and lets in more than any program in NCAA, yet gives short shrift to the media. That's not tough, that's just being an ass.

I do think it is funny that the racists tell minorities to toughen up but when you call them a racist they get offended. Hypocrisy and racism and toughness seem to go hand in hand there.
11:13 AM Dec 29th
The Washington Post 2015 Police Shootings Database has it at 26% blacks in deaths.

Less than 1 in 10 dead people (I hesitate to say victim) were described as "unarmed."
8:23 AM Dec 29th
Les Lein "Little over a quarter of all police homicides involve black victims."

Not sure where you are getting that? Most researched sources seem to make it somewhere in the 40-45% range. And among young unarmed males shot by police it is 6 or 7/1 black...

9:07 PM Dec 28th
I know this is a little off topic, but I think it's relevant. In the world of sports, the case against tough is simple: if you play hurt, you risk a career-ending injury. After a hundred years of losing quality pitchers to arm injuries, major league teams stopped asking pitchers to pitch through injuries and try to finish every game in the not-too-distant past; probably some time in the 1990s. This is especially important for young pitchers.
9:04 PM Dec 28th
Thanks, Steven. I remember being tasked with the self-obit in J school ~25 years ago, wherein I claimed to be credited with eliminating "the wave" from popular American culture. I must say I've made great progress on that front....

(Several members of my extended family have been killed or maimed by apples, so do consider yourself reported to the highest authorities.)
11:08 AM Dec 28th
1st thought: the dedication in Billy Martin's his Mom, who taught him "never take any sh-t from anybody!"
2d thought: Bill's description of what Martin would be doing if there was no such thing as baseball..."twenty to life"
3rd thought: my DI's "sensitivity" when I was in boot camp..."if you're looking for sympathy, you'll find in the dictionary between sh-t and syphilis!"

Final thought: it's NOT pronounced "Eye-rak" or "Eye-ran", Senator!
9:02 AM Dec 28th
Steven Goldleaf
P.S. But then again I'm one tough sumbitch. Also, a detail I neglected to add was that my confrontation with my chairman over assigning obits was my lack of tenure at the time. I think I'd laugh him off now, and it wouldn't be so memorable an issue for me. Tenure is a gigantic corrective to the whole "trigger warnings" mentality. If the college has literally to file an expensive (and probably losing) lawsuit against me to get me to change my teaching methods involuntarily, that means I can feel confident that I can do what I think is right, rather than test the changing winds of student preferences as to every book on my syllabus, and what I have to say about each book, and a zillion other irrelevant things.
8:00 AM Dec 28th
Steven Goldleaf
Apples, apples, apples....sorry, just had to get to get out of my system, sansho1, esp. since I don't have any idea what you mean by that warning. I recognize the use of "trigger warnings" for the well-intentioned purposes I mention (i.e., avoiding traumatizing people for no real end) and that you do, but there's very little that can't crop up unintentionally without all hell breaking loose. An example would be a student who was sexually abused by a parent trying to cope with all the mother/son flirtation and sexual innuendo in HAMLET. Just discussing that issue could set off traumatizing responses in someone who had experienced (or even repressed) such issues in childhood. I can't quite see how anyone would be able to assure every student that a psychologically traumatic issue will never arise, especially when teaching literature that often uses such material at its core, and seeks to exploit its disturbing nature. I taught a class in World War II literature a few years back, for example, every single work of which was full of issues for a veteran with some form of PTSD--but isn't that a given in a course that is listed in the course catalogue as being about WW II? One of the first journalism courses I ever taught had an assignment in writing one's own (projected) obituary (which is basically everyone's first job on most newspapers, writing obits for people now living and healthy, in that it can be reviewed by a more senior staffer for errors with no pressing need for publication)--one student complained that I was traumatizing her by forcing her to contemplate her own death, and refused to do the assignment, complained to my chair about me telling her "Tough. Do it anyway," etc. It was a mess, especially since my chair was uninformed about the standard practice of writing obits, etc. Not sure I answered your question, but feel free to ask again if I haven't. I wouldn't mind if college came with a blanket "trigger warning": "You will at various points over the next four years be exposed to material you may find disturbing" should cover it, no? Worked for me, and I had to imagine that warning without ever being given it.
7:05 AM Dec 28th
Enjoyed reading this. One question I've been wanting to ask a college prof -- "trigger warning" seems to me to be just an in-vogue name for a content advisory, and as such doesn't presume professorial self-censorship. If your course deals in potentially sensitive subject matter, doesn't saying so up front help to forestall the time-wasting meta digressions when the sensitive stuff comes up? Or is the concept subsumed into that of the college campus as a "safe space", which, of the two concepts, strikes me as the far more insidious one? Thanks for any response (any response that does not include a mention of apples, that is...I don't want to get into it......).
6:12 AM Dec 28th
I would think that the goal for most Americans is a colorblind society. What is keeping us from that? Why is the country MORE divided and racial tensions even higher as Obama's social policies have propagated?

Until a generation has raised with a society that takes a color blind attitude in regulations and media messaging, our kids will continue to be raised thinking the AAs are victimized, no matter how many black presidents are elected. And white kids are going to be raised seeing that AAs can riot and attack cops and it is held to a different standard. And the subtle effects of those mindsets will continue to lurk in hearts.

Decades ago Clarence Thomas, in saying enough is enough in Affirmative Action, asked where will it all end? Well, while there are people making a living from the victimization culture, it will be hard to end.

Racism, Inc.
5:47 AM Dec 28th
Nice piece, Steven.

I believe that any fat, old, rich white man who insists that a gay black woman is being too thin-skinned in her response to criticism needs to spend a little less time wrapped up in his own head, and a little more time (figuratively) walking in the shoes of others, because their situations are not close to equivalent. Additionally, I don’t see those people who preach “sticks and stones…” to others as being any less apt to whine when their own sensibilities are offended.

My friend tells of the time when his toddler was engaged with a playmate in a fierce tug-of-war over a toy, with both of them shouting at the other, “Share!” It is always much easier for us to give advice than it is for us to receive it, and somehow the advice we give doesn't seem to apply equally to us.

As for the police, I have tremendous respect for them and the job they do. However, I had a memorable encounter with more than a dozen armed federal agents, whose "leader" later told my lawyer that, if he had his way, I would have been shot on the spot of our encounter. It turns out that his assessment of my actions was incorrect, but that would have been of little comfort to me or my family had their not been certain safeguards in place to protect me. I don’t expect a cop to shoot a gun out of my hand, but I also don’t wish to encounter a cop whose attitude is that I am just one more worthless lowlife to be handled with extreme prejudice. I get that it’s a dangerous job, and that such an attitude may arise from a desire for self-protection; however, such a culture is unacceptable for any “free” people, and I do believe that this culture is not at all uncommon in law enforcement.

1:18 AM Dec 28th
Luckily we all love baseball, so agreement is possible, though we may disagree greatly on other ideas.

If you think there's a war on police, I can see that you care about safety, about the men and women of law enforcement losing their lives. I also don't want cops to die. But consider the point of view of someone with darker skin--that the war on black people by white people is several hundred years preceding now. I can't just say, "I wasn't responsible for that; it's okay for me to ignore the ramifications that still exist."

Practically, what it comes down to for me--I don't have to worry about my son getting mistreated by the police. I am confident that he will not be wrongfully killed unless he Really does something to provoke it. A black father probably does worry about his son being mistreated by the police.

Of course all lives matter. Black Lives Matter doesn't mean literally ONLY Black Lives Matter, it means 'we're still being mistreated, as if we don't matter'.
8:11 PM Dec 27th
I'm all for everyone treating each other with respect, but political correctness is not a synonym for respect. Political correctness means that some people have a right not to get their feelings hurt, while they can say any hurtful thing they want.

Take Black Lives Matter. They get upset when someone says that all lives matter. Their whole movement is based on a lie ("Hands up. Don't shoot"). They're wrong on the larger issue. In 2013 blacks made up 42 percent of all cop killers when the race of the killer was known. Little over a quarter of all police homicides involve black victims.

Since the war on cops started, crime has started increasing again. This helps no one except the racial demagogues who have a stake in keeping animosity alive.

College campuses could use a little more toughness and tolerance. The terms "snowflakes" and "cry-bullies" are well deserved.

6:42 PM Dec 27th
This is a fantastic article. BRAVO!

Another word which might be substituted for 'Political Correctness' is Respect. Blind respect is expected in regards to law enforcement, military, elders, etc; why isn't basic respect of all peoples a reasonable expectation?

Is asking white, conservative Americans to consider the values of non-whites or non-conservatives a breaking point?

Also, reading the comments on your article I had the thought--'The internet replaces debate with monologue'. A face-to-face argument requires give-and-take, silence, thought--internet comment boards seem to allow bulk posting of an opinion/nine opinions and there's no dialogue between parties, which is key to understanding the POV of someone with different views.
4:53 PM Dec 27th
We've got an analogy to the Protestant-Catholic wars here. The war needs to stop ... but! Both sides point a finger and say, "it's THEM who needs to lay down their arms and surrender. THEY started it."

They start arguing in the pub. Each side proves its moral high ground by pointing to, "You remember when O'Neill did THAT to Kelley?" And here we go. Let's each side win the argument by pointing to a long list of grievances. Number 1, 2, 3 ... 78, 79, 80 ... is that really the philosophical resolution to this debate?

White guys SHOULD restrain themselves more than gay black women because, "You remember what that one cop did to that teenager?" You think the other side can't lever its own list of grievances to wallow in and savor? It could but the Catholics shout them down, "It's pure head-in-the-sand denial. Don't bother."

The title of the article leads into the idea that --- > our true peacemaking efforts would be toward a general atmosphere of respect all around. The comments, however, betray the real sentiment here. Those confederate flag wavers need to get with the times.

- Jeff
2:44 PM Dec 27th
2. Political Correctness. Steve, you want to use "Politeness" as a synonym...but it ain't, not how the simple avoidance of the "n-word" has metastasized into everybody sues if they don't like the sign on the door where then pee.

Using the wrong word, whether by ignorance or by malice, has become, in this weird little decade in America, license to kill, license to smear, destroy lives, reputations, careers.

But the real insidious part of this is how perceived "micro-aggressions" are used as just another political arrow in the leftwing quiver. "My opponent dodged the draft, and voted against the minimum wage, and...uh.....what was the other thing? Oh yeah, he's a racist!!! He used the word "colored" in 1978 more than three weeks after it had been declared a slur by a 41-38 vote in the teacher's lounge. There also is anecdotal evidence that in fifth grade he said his teacher was "Oriental"...or her rug....anyway...Vote for him and you will be needing a cart pulled by freaking therapy dogs and a 55 gallon drum of cocoa just to get over to the big Cry-In at the Student Center."

It's the first thing a Democrat candidate will look at...."how can we say my opponent is sexist?" Was he ever convicted of harassing anyone? Accused? He ever hire someone who was, or did, or might have..."

What the Democratic Party has done is bring Lenny Bruce's darkest Frankenstein to life....a society mined with trigger terms and smarmy righteous people ready to attack you physically, personally or professionally for any transgressions, large or small.

My liberal-artsy Hillarista daughters told me Trump was a homophobe so many times that I finally called them out. "Okay, I can see you calling him a sexist, due to that whole pussy grabbing thing. And I get that you will say the wall thing is racist. But what the hell did this raised in NYC limousine liberal ever do say or that indicates he is going to eradicate the gays?

"Omigod, running mate has supported CONVERSION THERAPY!!!"

The emasculation, pardon me if that is offensive, of the Offended-When-Politically-Offended campaign and media machine will be one great outcome. Trump is to be credited for taking them head-on and powering right through the bullshtt. I don't know of anyone else who had the courage to slay that dragon.

11:24 AM Dec 27th
I see two interesting things here:

1: Expectations of Police and use of force. People who publish on this should be required to do a ride-along with some inner city cops responding to domestics and shots fired calls. I think many sheltered Americans view it as if Officer McGuillicutty showed up as the Bowery Boys were peeping through the fence at a Dodgers game in 1936 and mowed them down with Thompson submachine guns, when a gentle cuff in the ear until Dad gets home was the appropriate response.

But the reality is the the majority of police confrontations are triggered by somebody calling the police to a scene where bad shtt is going down. They don't call Al Sharpton or the nearest college English Department. The artiste painting dead babies on his used tighty whities doesn't have a beeper go off. No, it's a squawk and the cop is thrust into a moment that may be the most horrible or violent or dangerous one of someone's life, but may be just another day in the life of a cop.

Then he or she is thrown into a confusing that guy in the window just watching or is he involved? Is that a cell phone or a gun? That woman said they ran in that building and they had guns...but she seemed pretty whacked on drugs and I couldn't understand her accent and maybe she just deflecting away to save her boyfriend: "Officer, they are looting the Food King!"

When a cop lands in these situations, he is quite likely up against men who are younger, have little to lose, are on drugs, and have allies in the neighborhood watching, taping, yelling or aiding. They are gladiator-trained, whether street or institution. They are armed to the teeth. And in today's America, they have to have another reason for their hands to quiver, because no matter what the actual circumstances are, they are likely to face a national slut-shaming if they shoot a black man. Doesn't matter if it is a 300 lb berserk guy like in Ferguson who is reaching into your car. Doesn't matter if he is a desperate felon feigning injury, whose arrest will mean a decade or more in jail like Baltimore (actually doesn't matter if you don't even shoot him, as in Baltimore). Doesn't matter if you aren't even white. That black man will be garbed in martyr's robes, his cute middle school picture from a decade ago will be in the rotation on MSNBC, and his criminal record and violent history considered a racist faux pas to utter and spark screaming interruptions on talk shows.

For my youth, anyone who attacked a cop was considered the worst of the worst and subject to re-doubled vigor in being captured and convicted and punished. Under our current administration, it means that, in the worst case, your mom will be invited on stage at the Democratic Convention.

Instead of showing up at cops funerals and giving Solomonesque eulogies acknowledging every side's pain, Obama should be telling youth that if you point a gun at a cop, expect to be dead, and anything above that result is solely the cop's largesse. And tell them if they are told to assume the position, and they don't and resist arrest, tell them they are going to be assuming the position in C-Wing for T-Bone for a few years.

THAT would have saved lives. Obama instead chose to have Black Lives Matter idiots to the White House.

PC to follow

10:50 AM Dec 27th
Steven Goldleaf
I will always remember fondly the folks waving Confederate flags and jeering at Democrats, telling them "You lost. Get over it." Not only rude but head-smackingly un-self-aware. Got to be a record of some kind, or at least tie the record.
9:01 AM Dec 27th
Fireball Wenz
Toughness is something we should strive for in ourselves, and perhaps try to inculcate it in our children. But to urge it too strongly on others is a dangerous thing, especially when you don't know their circumstances.

Taosjohn has it exactly right. We should be loathe to give offense and slow to taker offense. That is the formulation.

I am glad that society no longer allows high school football coaches to boot kids in the ass, and that parents can't whack their kids with a leather strop. There is no need of either. I fail to see Bill's connection between Trump's appeal and "toughness." What I saw is one group of self-styled victims telling all other groups to "get over it."
8:50 AM Dec 27th
It's not being defended, Steven, it's being denied. Pure head-in-the-sand.
6:55 AM Dec 27th
Steven Goldleaf
If I could supply just one unarmed minority person killed by police (who overwhelmingly are found not guilty by juries when their cases even get that far) that would be one person too many, astros34, but sadly I can find you s few more than one:

Have you not seen the video of an unarmed black man shot in the back (in N.C., I think, this year) by a cop, while trying to escape? Do you find the cop's story credible, that he was in fear for his life? Didn't it look to you like he was (unknowingly) captured on video trying to plant some sort of weapon on the corpse? Do you just dismiss this case, and others, as, what, being non-existent? Inaccurate? Fake? Ambiguous? I find it not only credible, but indicative of all the other cases that have NOT been fortuitously filmed by an unseen stranger capturing it on video.

If I (or you) ever have a mental breakdown, and act in a life-threatening manner, I like to suppose that the police are going to try to capture me (or you) alive, and put me on trial or put me (or you) in a mental hospital where we can get the care we need, rather than act as judge and jury and execute me (or you) then and there, based on the thought that otherwise police lives are in danger. But I'm a dreamer. Waving a gun around in public is a virtual death sentence. Or would be if I weren't blond and fair-skinned. There's a great disparity, if nothing else, between people killed in encounters with police, depending solely on their race--I don't see how that disparity can be defended.​
3:45 AM Dec 27th
Stated another way .. if 'gay black women' had 100% as much responsibility to be careful about the feelings of old fat white men ;- ) as vice versa, then everything in the article would be right. - Jeff​
7:58 PM Dec 26th

- from my iPhone :- )
7:32 PM Dec 26th
This logic would all be 100% sound if 0c were abour politeness all around. It ain't . PC is about conservatives not saying anything liberals don't want ta hear.

My considered opinion,
7:30 PM Dec 26th
I agree a person should not insult people, but I think we as a society sometimes get too sensitive when people accidently assault them. My opinion is we need to work with others and forgive them more.
6:20 PM Dec 26th
Rob, I'm honored to have elicited a response from one of my favorite writers!

First of all, you mentioned crucifixion twice; I thought it obvious I was speaking figuratively about it.

Anyway, I'm at work (on break) so I don't have time to run down any of that, and that's on me. Sorry. I do know that we don't have all the facts, and a lot of the time when they DO come out, if they don't support the initial "cop shoots unarmed minority" story they aren't reported by the liberal media.

Rob, you or anyone else, is welcome to refute my assertion. I'm not going to try and debate here.

3:47 PM Dec 26th
Due respect to astros34, I would find his argument more compelling if he could provide comparative lists of a) people who have been shot while running away, or on the ground and unarmed, or otherwise presenting little mortal threat; and b) police officers who have been crucified, even just figuratively.

The truth is that our justice system is heavily weighted in favor of law enforcement. And while crucifixion certainly is not in order, if you don't have reasonable laws, education, and enforcement, we'll continue to see far too many non-threatening human beings gunned down.

I mean, the literature on this is extensive.
3:00 PM Dec 26th
I was reading this, nodding sagely, up until you got to the point about cops shooting people out of "fear." You gave an extreme example of someone shooting someone in the back "out of fear" which I don't think is happening. (If there's been at least one PROVEN instance of this I'll be surprised but I'll still stand by my point). If someone is pointing something that even looks like a gun at the cop (especially a toy gun!), the cop should be allowed to shoot him without fearing public backlash.

It's also easy to say "he should have shot to disable" but many, if not most, cops who try that are going to end up shot and sometimes killed themselves. Hesitation caused by fear of public opinion in a possible life and death situation will get cops killed, too.

There ARE bad apples among cops but most of them are brave souls who take their jobs and responsibility seriously and few (if any) of them want to have to shoot at all outside of the range. If you want anarchy, keep crucifying cops for doing their jobs and soon we won't have enough of them to keep order.

And no, I'm not a cop or any sort of law enforcement and have no close family who are.

FWIW, an excellent article up to that point.
2:27 PM Dec 26th
I second these emotions.

(Great work, Steven.)
10:29 AM Dec 26th
I apologize for taking an easy shot at Trump. I really didn't want to sidetrack this thread onto presidential politics.

MichaelPat, I'm with you all the way on the 'unwritten rules'. That was exactly my feeling about the reaction to Bautista's thrown bat or (most absurd of all) Alex Rodriguez running across the mound. That's the culture of taking offense being elevated to record heights.​
10:09 AM Dec 26th
Would it be so tough for all of us to be half as quick to take offense and twice as careful about offering it?
9:55 AM Dec 26th
What I really like about your article Steve (I kid! Steven!) is that it's this sort of discourse we need to get past the political polarization that has overwhelmed society. People need to start seeing the other point of view, and trying to understand it, no matter how instinctively abhorrent it seems to be. Most of us want the same things. To feel safe. To feel successful. To feel loved. Finding those shared connections by exploring other points of view is exciting, enlightening and helps make sense a world where on a surface level it seems that half the people (the half that doesn't agree with you) is insane.
9:54 AM Dec 26th
One of the most interesting areas of this toughness - political correctness issue in sports is when a player violates the 'unwritten rules of the game', or is accused of 'showing up' the opponent.
These 'tough guys' do indeed demand their own version of political correctness.
Mr. Trump, who regularly decries political correctness, has no problem accusing commenters of unfairness when his ox is gored. He has his own understanding of what it is politically correct to say about him, and will do his level best to 'enforce' it. How tough is that? Isn't he just trying to re-define what is politically correct?
8:53 AM Dec 26th
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks for the super-competent tech assistance, Steve, and for the kind words. Coming from you, that means a lot to me.
8:40 AM Dec 26th
Well, I'm still not sure what the problem was, but here's how I solved it (worked with both Chrome and Firefox): if you get the Server Not Found (or something similar) message after clicking on the link in Steven's post (ignore mine), go to the address bar and erase the last five characters. The top item in the resultant menu is the article in question.
8:33 AM Dec 26th
Nope, sorry, that didn't work either. I'll keep plugging. Maybe the problem is at my end.
8:27 AM Dec 26th
There was something wrong with that link, but I found it anyway.

Try​s.html (at worst it should get you to a search menu). I'm an extremist when it comes to freedom of artistic expression, but I hope I'd pick my battles more intelligently.

There is SO much in this excellent piece that deserves comment. I'm reminded of Kenneth Clark's remark, at the end of his monumental TV series Civilisation, that courtesy is how we demonstrate that the feelings of others matter.

But I agree that the culture of taking offense has gone too far when you can't teach Huckleberry Finn, as pure an expression of the American mind as has ever been written.

Seems to me there are two kinds of toughness. There is the internal kind, which is embodied in the old saw about sticks and stones, and derives from a sense of security and confidence. There is the external kind, which is no more than bluster, and often serves to disguise an inner suspicion that the blusterer is anything but tough. The external kind expresses itself relative to others, the internal kind to one's own environment and circumstances.

Two examples, picked more or less at random: Donald Trump's toughness is external, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's is internal. Mark Twain's is internal, that of people who are offended by his brand of realism is external.
8:26 AM Dec 26th
Steven Goldleaf
Here you go, Don, complete with photo:
Imagine coming upon that around twilight, or after dark, if you're an 18-year old woman, alone, and you've been assaulted already by a naked man on this campus.
6:27 AM Dec 26th
Mr: Goldleaf:

I agree with your argument 100%. Especially this passage:

"Doing what others want, and we don’t want, requires us to downplay our own importance, and to acknowledge theirs. That’s not how most people roll. We justify rolling the way we do by complaining that THEY are making OUR lives difficult, and sometimes they are. If THEY are the jerks, not we, then we don’t have to accede to their unreasonable wishes."

Thanks for addressing this issue in such a thoughtful manner.
1:21 AM Dec 26th
Where do I look? (Private message if you wish.)
10:04 PM Dec 25th
Steven Goldleaf
Don, You may want to look at how the administration and the directors of the campus art museum justified (at first) the installation of that particular statue. I haven't followed up this story, but I know that there were some pretty intelligent adults who explained their reasoning for at least a few months. The students had to argue, and protest, and rally before someone listened to their complaints, so it had to be more than "Yes, this is stupid, but we're going to put it up here anyway." That might have been where they ended up, but it wasn't where they started out.
8:08 PM Dec 25th
"...and a life-sized statue of a man in underpants seemed unnecessary at best in the middle of the campus, and at worst downright provocative. "

I've spent my adult life on university campuses, so I know whereof you speak. But this does not seem " worst downright provocative." It is flat out terminally stupid.

But let me tell a story. I taught for 25 years at a second-or-third tier public institution in Indiana, in the business school (I am an economist by trade). I also have a rather long-standing interest in the visual arts, and have, over the years, acquired a substantial art collection. And I was, for more that 10 years, on the committee that advised out campus's art gallery director on exhibitions (and I curated two). One of the most powerful exhibitions was put together by two close friends of mine, and it was a critique of the artistic focus on the female nude; it was called "Reversing the Gaze," and it was about male nudes as depicted by female artists. I thought that, in context, it was brilliant, and it made you stop and think is you were capable of stopping and thinking.

Why do I (still) think that exhibition was brilliant and a public statue of a not-quite-nude male on a campus that has had, shall we say, incidents of naked men accosting (or attacking) women is stupid? Well, one was a criticism of an aspect of the history of art, while the other was terminally stupid. What else can I say?
7:26 PM Dec 25th
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