Beyond 1984     

The lessons of Participation Trophies

We have arrived at our destination. We kept waiting for the post-apocalyptic climate-ravaged dystopian-future perpetually predicted by many and eagerly expected by others. Just our luck that the Nuclear Armageddon we prepared for during the Cold War left us helplessly distracted and woefully unready for a viral pandemic that left vacant minds and deserted buildings as nothing more than the spoils of some future war.

Our dystopian future is here. As Darwin’s evolution grinds on at its usual pace, our inborn elemental analog nature works through its last cohort, Generation X. The generations below us are digitally hard-wired, so the process speeds up after the demise of Gen X. But here we are. As foreseen with a twisted sense of some new reality. The lovingly bespoken of New Normal. I call it the now normal. One letter makes all the difference.

Remember the good old days? Not the fictionalized Happy Days Boomer one that whitewashed and covered up racial violence, sexual repression and obsessive authority, but the real good old days. The late 1970s and most of the 1980s. Especially as a member of an as-of-yet-unnamed-generation coming of age in the summers of freedom. Those days rocked, mostly because parents were totally not around.

We literally got our asses kicked all the time. Paddling was still legal in schools, and sadistic teachers got their rocks off humiliating students. Hard-ass coaches thumped the hell out of you if you messed up, in public, after pulling you from left field, mid-inning. Every parent had express permission to slap the crap out of any kid acting a smartass. And all of them called our parents. And we got our asses beat yet again at home.

Then we had to deal with the other kids. Did I mention bullies? All the time. Sometimes, a few of them at the same time. So you get your ass kicked. A lot. As a short, red-headed, bespectacled dork. And then something happens. You get sick of it. You start resisting. A blind-rage punch to the nose of a weak bully. He folds. That wasn’t as much of a thing as it always loomed to be.

It is starting to happen now. Resisting. And speaking out and talking back. And not stopping. I can tell it is working. Complaints are getting louder and shriller. And completely unhinged from actual word meaning. It is quite amusing to observe and comment upon.

Take for instance the recent controversy surrounding certain journalists and criticism of their work. Some journalists feel that it is within their purview to comment on other journalists published work. I feel that is a rational and realistic view. I believe it is a field of the journalism profession, no? I follow and subscribe to a variety of journalists representing a variety of views. Some here on Substack. Some not. Some critical of others’ published content. Some not.

One of those writers commenting on another’s published work is Glenn Greenwald. The journalist whose work he is commenting on is Taylor Lorenz. I googled and her Fortune 40 Under 40 Bio came up first, and is pretty impressive:

As the role of a technology reporter has evolved into a more sociological profession, the Times’s Lorenz has cemented herself as a peerless authority. During her stints at the Daily Beast and The Atlantic, her name became synonymous with youth culture online. But this characterization amounts to a reductive view of her coverage of the ways in which people of all ages use Internet platforms today. Sometimes the phenomena she highlights are zany or creative, such as high school students using Google Docs for group chats. Just as often, her reporting calls out abuses by influencers or elected officials spreading hateful messages. She herself has experienced harassment firsthand in the process of investigating new online communities. Also this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s published various theses about our common (virtual) lived experience. Readers scratch their heads in disbelief as Lorenz manages to unearth trend after trend that, despite seemingly infinite scrolling, millennials even 10 years her junior never stumble across. As she told her employer in a Q&A profile last year, her method involves multiple social media accounts per app, spending an hour on TikTok every night before bed, and, most of all, asking “why,” rather than merely “what?”

Man, what a badass journo, right? As a daughter dadx2, that would cause me to humble-brag! She grew her role into a “sociological profession…” all the while becoming a “Peerless Authority.” She “calls out abuses…” At 36, she is a total girlboss. So what if a guy writes a critique of her work? Big deal. Pound sand and may I have another please. But wait, what? It is a big deal? But why?

Here is a tweet complaint of Greenwald’s commentary, and the thread. Scroll through and laugh, I did!

“very normal to use your million+ followers to bully a younger journalist for sharing their mental health struggles in a tweet that has literally nothing to do with you”

“It's a well-known fact. Flaccid, sexless losers that live in Mom's basement on fast food and video games seek out females to go after on social media. They bully, boysplain then wonder why women are revolted by them.”

She wrote a piece in NYT in which she lied about something important, and then lied again in subsequent article, all while she was obsessing and stalking some rich dude on an invite-only Clubhouse call platform. She actually tweet-bragged about it saying she got a burner account and issuing a challenge to him to “try and block me now.” And then after her non-apology crybully scold-screed, she wrote another piece in which she actually strung the following words together, making even Orwell blush,

“Clubhouse’s users have conducted unfettered conversations.”

Oh my! “unfettered conversations.” Are your freakin kidding me? I had to look it up just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Dynasty mushroom parties in the late 80s after all.

Unfettered: not controlled or restricted : FREE, UNRESTRAINED

She was concerned that free words and phrases were being tossed around in private without HER moral supervision. But let’s back up. She is pushing 40 years old. Closer to 50 than 20. Her defender describes her as “a younger journalist…”. Greenwald is 54. Technically correct, but completely misleading. If he were dating her, those same critics would be defending it. The mad-tweeter then describes Greenwald’s published critique of Ms. Lorenz’s published work as a platform to “bully…” Pull out the mental health struggles card and it looks like three of a kind. Game over, right? Not.

Ok, let’s move on to Exhibit B: actual online personal attacks. “Flaccid, sexless losers…” sounds like something a real bully would say, only with different words. But real bullies used to say it to your face. Now they click it. These bullies are even weaker and softer than the bully I punched in the nose. It took an actual punch back then to win. In this situation, and many others, a literal word of criticism is received in visceral terms, as if it were an actual physical blow.

BUT LET US BE CLEAR: CRITICISM OF ONE’S PUBLISHED WORK IS FAIR GAME. IT IS NOT HARASSMENT.

Never mind Greenwald and his family and professional situation, as if it really mattered, now that he occupies a discarded overlap of needed-no-more demography on an intersectional off-ramp. White males are white males. Even gay white males. Even married gay white males. Married to a man gay. No more study needed. We know all there is to know. Period. And the judgement is in. Guilty. Of everything.

Really could care less that there might be, even could be, not as if there really is an actual wide swath of white males that fully represent the entire spectrum of what Demi Lovato calls the “alphabet mafia.” Facts like that get lost in translation when painting by the numbers. Words become weapons against me but are power to truth expressions from me. Thanks for helping build the intersectional highway – now get the F$&# off!

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So what caused this infantilizing of the modern American young professional? Participation Trophies. That is it. Should I continue? Do I need to?

Participation Trophies celebrate mediocrity. And force others to celebrate it along with the faux winners. When one celebrates not losing, it builds in a person a sheltered mentality. And an ability and proclivity to celebrate fake achievements openly for personal benefit. One is plainly and publicly celebrating a negative outcome and encouraging more of it.

The real winners, now turned into equalized losers after the effort, are standing there going why did I grind my ass off? I am stumbling a bit here to conceive of the mindset that truly believes in the value of this type of achievement. Or lack thereof.

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I write about identity and vulnerability and how they are a huge part of the Gen X core being, and how protecting one from loss or grief, in the long term, causes huge damage. It basically retards the emotional growth and development of adolescents. It removes conflict, confrontation and resolution from the endless stream of daily struggles. It creates and nourishes a sense of complete entitlement. No speedbumps, hurdles or challenges. It replaces growth with status.

The ultimate manifestation of that belief system is encapsulated in the college admission scandals of late. The unmitigated gall of wealthy people to bribe their kids into college with fake sports identities is astounding, even to this hardened cynic. The Youngest Daughter has spent more than half of her life playing and coaching softball. She turns 21 in June and started at 9 years old.

She grinds her ass off every day and has done so for well over a decade. She sacrificed almost every childhood activity. Every birthday cake was at the ballpark. Every vacation was a trip to a tournament. Every Thanksgiving was spent in Vegas, playing ball. Non softball friends drifted away. Relationships? Forget it. School dances and other activities missed because of games or practice or travel. Practicing after homework in the dark. Playing in pain. Bleeding and broken. In temperatures below freezing and above 120 degrees. And failing. A lot. Softball does that to you. As do all sports. All that to earn a college scholarship. And play college softball.

Here is a novel thought for those rich kids: Why not just grind your ass off and earn something? Oh. Thought so. You need to ride the backs of others you deem inferior due to their class. Talk about cultural appropriation. You are stealing the identity of an athlete. You are taking their work ethic. Something that you are diametrically opposite of.

Unlike a sincere (ahem) sign of cultural appreciation and respect, like growing cornrows, or wearing a Kente cloth, stealing an athlete’s identity is theft. You profited off the hard work of another and claimed their success and sacrifice as your own. It is pathetically disgusting.

But it was predicted and predictable. I am imagining people like these kids of rich folks and people like Ms. Lorenz really never had an actual moment of difficulty in their lives, comparatively speaking. Media reports say Ms. Lorenz attended a $90K Swiss Boarding School. I cannot even imagine what that experience is even remotely like. Much as I am sure Ms. Lorenz cannot fathom what a day in the life of me is like. I am ok with that.

What I am not ok with is Ms. Taylor Lorenz claiming a false moral superiority based on her upbringing. A definition of class warfare is “economic coercion such as the threat of unemployment or the withdrawal of investment capital.” The ultimate goal of her actions and the real-life outcomes of her writing cancels out the lived experiences of others, usually others less fortunate than she, the privileged bully.

In todays intersectionality topography, previous avenues of cooperation have been shut down. I always picture human beings not on a linear spectrum, but more like a SpiroGraph. In the human characteristic diagram graph below (I drew it myself, could you tell?), one can see the area of Human Characteristic Overlap (HCO) is quite small in comparison to the overall area.

The four circles can represent any human characteristic you want, color, gender, orientation, whatever. By focusing on that small area, the HCO, we could do so much more meaningful work to create harmony. Because no matter what else we are, we are all human beings at our core. We need to find out what we can agree on soon, or our disagreements will erupt even more than they now are.  

In the linear model, identity conflicts are treated as collisions causing select damage, and then redress, to only a specific portion of the person, based on an identity. At first, with only a few identities, there weren’t too many collisions. Now, it is a 100-car-pileup! At some point, some identities became disposable. Or they need buttressing from a stronger victimness. Quality still reigns, but quantity counts too.

If one is intellectually lazy, or willfully ignorant, it is much easier to focus on the wide-open space of differences. And then to infer ill intent and malicious motive of others while simultaneously conferring guilt and judgement on same said others for the inevitable self-prophesied failure of the accuser to gain any measure of self-actualization or intrinsic happiness with their existence.

Whew! That is a long-ass way to say these people who have lived pampered lives without any substantial conflict to overcome are passing judgement on less-fortunate others as to why those less-fortunate are so less-fortunate. And it usually has to do with skin color or another ism. It is always the sufferer’s own fault. And the other at fault is usually a white male. Any white male will do. They are all the same. Racism has been made to stand in for classism.

Lest you think that this is a whiny white male bitching about the normal white male stuff, go ahead and think it. Hopefully, after reading this post, you may begin to realize that there is a spectrum of white maleness that gets papered over in this environment. Hey look, skin color is a major factor in life. I get that. But it is less of a factor to some that it is to others. Why is that?

In a fascinating piece titled White Gay Men Are Hindering Our Progress as a Queer Community this collision on the intersectional causeway takes on a televised high-speed chase feeling. This is going to crash soon, and it is going to be explosive! We cannot wait. Stay tuned.

In the constant churning of victimness, the Victim Industrial Complex bores easily and quickly tires of old heroes and dead martyrs. Newly fractured souls, self-chosen and self-identified, and often in loudly announced then deleted tweets that demand privacy, celebrate self-induced emotional freefall, and are then grief-terbated into super-victimness status by cluck-clucking sycophants. All about status. And likes. And retweets.

Another area experiencing a pile-up of contradicting identities is the language of abortion-rights and trans folks. The linguistic cartwheels and semantic somersaults being performed by highly credentialed and ostensibly smart academia should be included in the Olympics this summer. I read this in the article

“Men and nonbinary folks need abortion access…”

I agree body autonomy is a human right. But when explained like that, to a group vilified as science-deniers, more nuance and explanation would be nice. Now, if it was explained that men and their female pregnant partners have access to abortion rights, right on. That is their choice. Here is a great piece Torrance Stephens wrote discussing the biology.

But to just leave it at the implication that there is an intersectional demand for abortions for pregnant men, because you believe that “simply having a uterus does not make one a woman” sounds like a demand for blind acceptance rather than an invitation to discuss, learn and grow.

We are scold-told “You must celebrate the thing that makes us the most different. Even a constructed difference. And if you do not publicly celebrate it according to our standards of celebration, than it is you with the problem.” This is causing much tension in this country.

Asking questions of one’s publicly held theories and critiquing published work is not heretic or harassment or abuse. That sounds like Old Rome back in the day.

And on that topic, there is a wide gap between tolerance for and celebration of. I can tolerate things I do not like all day long. I don’t have any interest in shutting down or stopping something that other consenting adults’ consent to do. I usually decide to not subscribe to something I do not like. Or I turn off that channel. Or I do not download that app.

I certainly wouldn’t surreptitiously stalk a rich dude in a private chat app in a cheap attempt for elevated status to publicly discredit him for saying things privately that I do not like. That would be weird, right?

But you cannot force me to celebrate it. That is when you get on the fightin’ side of me. And when it comes to whom supports what, thanks to the linear collision model of intersectionality, right-thinkers in a tribe based on color are strong people, capable of independent thought and action, perfectly able to cast votes for candidates causes they support.

But wrong-thinkers in a tribe based on color are transformed and infantilized back to dependent being’s incapable of independent thought and self-determination. Add on another identity or two, and more reasons for scorn. These wrong-thinkers are now race or gender traitors. Because they believe in the politics of whiteness. Because they were gullible to the white guy. Again. How lazy is that? And morally repugnant.

We are so beyond 1984.