The wisdom of the inner asshole

Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners. George Carlin

FT_16.7.20.offenseA new Pew survey published last week carries this headline: “In ‘political correctness’ debate, most Americans think too many people are easily offended.” The graph to the right indicates the differences based on political persuasion.

At a time when the appropriateness of language has become a political issue, most Americans (59%) say “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use.” Fewer (39%) think “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

I’ve watched this issue blossom during my life. In addition to walking to school in the snow five miles uphill (in both directions), I endured an adolescence where the operating mantra was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” So today, I want to take a step back and examine this issue, for it’s one that affects us all to one degree or another.

I decided long ago that if there is a God, then the essential human question has to be what’s the proper relationship for me regarding my deity? This is such a problematic question that many simply walk away from the concept of any higher power, for when dealing with God, there can be no such thing as me on top. People deny the existence of any “power” greater than themselves for lots of reasons, but the core always seems to come back to this relationship, because it has historically been used to manipulate people. This is especially the case with those religions requiring a special priesthood to settle matters between humans and their God.

I got an earful about this relationship with God when life slammed me into a chair in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. That was in 1998. I had a ton of excuses for drinking, but the first thing I really learned in AA is that alcohol — drinking — is only a symptom of the disease. Alcoholism, they taught me, is entirely about the “ism,” which stands for “I, self, me.” Ugh. You mean I’m the problem? Yup. Not only that, but this acknowledgement is the key to solving the matter of drinking, drugs, sex, food, gambling, religion, or whatever your addiction happens to be. I was too weak to overcome addiction on my own; I needed that higher power to help me, even if I had to make AA itself my higher power. As a sign in my treatment center read, “There is a God, and He isn’t you!”

According to “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, we are “restless, irritable, and discontented” unless we “can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which (we) see others taking with impunity.” The problem, therefore, isn’t with the drinks; it’s with the restless, irritable, and discontented part. Take that away, and the drink ceases to be a problem. The same is true with any addiction, even religion.

There’s one group of people who cannot handle this aspect of 12-step recovery, for they are convinced that justifiable victimhood blocks — and always will block — access to the self-centered core of “restless, irritable, and discontented.” They insist their suffering is caused by external forces, and therefore out of their reach. These poor souls insist on suffering and re-suffering every wound, and for them, healing isn’t and cannot possibly be in their power or even God’s power. They blame others, including God. They just want the pain to go away. They don’t consciously choose to be victims, but that is their sad lot. They are unable to see that suffering is indeed a reaction to abuse, because for them, it’s impossible to reach, because they’ve become their own abusers. The original abuser is long gone, yet the victims are still being abused. This bizarre malady is always accompanied by a sense of self-worth so low that self-blame has taken over as the principal reaction to the abuse, a perpetual state of being pummeled from within during which the actual abuser doesn’t have to be present. Such is the power of trauma with its horrible memories and events. In this way, however, the victims are able to gain a twisted sense of empowerment to which they cling in a desperate attempt to prove their own specialness. “My suffering is so much worse than anybody else’s.” or “You’d be the same way, if you were treated as badly as I was.” or “That’s easy for you to say, but you weren’t there.” or “Yeah, but my trauma permanently rewired my brain.” These all may be true, but they are irrelevant when it comes to applying the solution (I can change the way I react today).

In some way, shape, or form, they will convince themselves that the uniqueness of their suffering separates them from everybody else and that nobody could ever understand how much they suffer. Like Linus and his blanket, they cling to their abuse as a bizarre form of comfort, even though they will gasp in anger when such is suggested. They are incapable of letting go, and any suggestion that they “should” is greeted with umbrage and more pain.

This, in fact, can be a nearly impossible nut to crack, but again, AA looks to the solution, which is internal, and never to the outside influences. We conduct a “fearless and moral inventory” to get at causes, but only so we can deal with them with our sponsor and God’s help. There is no license to hang onto anything, because we’re trying to learn how live life without the restlessness, irritability, and discontentedness. Why would we continue to give the past “free rent” in our heads when the whole idea is to be free of pain and suffering? Again, the degree of suffering has nothing to do with the cure. It’s all or nothing, because life demands it be so. We call this “living life on life’s terms, not our own.” It’s not easy for anyone who’s walked the path, but it does lead to a remarkable peace that replaces the restless, irritable and discontent. We cease fighting. We get off our own backs. We leave the baggage behind and move forward freely. It is an amazing and lasting discovery with which I learned to like myself and the person that I was always intended to be. It’s not “faith;” it’s all reasonable and logical, and I defy anybody to disagree.

It’s impact can be very similar to the Christian “born again” experience, with one glaring difference. The wreckage of the past must be dealt with in AA, whereas some Christians believe it magically disappears through the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let me save you a lot of trouble by admitting that it doesn’t.

I bring all this up, because there’s a lot of “living life on my terms” going around today. It’s most visibly demonstrated in the liberal concept known as “political correctness” and its accompanying, albeit dubious, right to not be offended. Whether it’s race, gender, age, religion, or any other self-identity we use to define ourselves, everything today is fair game in the choice to be offended. It doesn’t matter if it’s in word or deed, the threads of the tapestry we have become (as opposed to the melting pot) are stitched by umbrage and our right to shut down any other thread that may offend us. You are allowed to make a fool of yourself if you wish, but you are not permitted to offend me with that foolishness, because I am the sole judge of what is or isn’t offensive to me. You have no say in the matter whatsoever.

Is this not actually an attempt to manipulate life on my behalf? A way to avoid the pain of my own restless, irritable, and discontented condition? In this view, I “manage” my pain by building an artificial wall around myself and demanding that others respect its fallacious boundary. The essence of this belief shrivels in the light of the reality that we humans are completely incapable of managing our lives, because, well, shit happens. It’s a recipe for discontent, because those we wish to manage are also human and incapable of living up to our expectations for them either.

Thus, we have flipped the script and force others to be responsible for our state of mind.

And of course the most ridiculous aspect of this is the absurd notion that it’s my responsibility to warn you if there’s even a slight chance that what I’m about to say or do might be offensive to you. Seriously? The pendulum has swung so far that not only can you determine what offends you but also completely pass the responsibility for your umbrage to others. It’s unbelievable to me that people can sit there with their bare faces hanging out and expect (yes, expect) that others must be aware enough of the sources of their poor distress that we are required to warn them ahead of time. Do you really think life gives a damn about your feelings? Or that we, as life’s representatives, must bow our knee to your specialness so as to educate ourselves about your “triggers?” Seriously?

If I’m responsible for my speech and actions, am I not also responsible for that which I find offensive? If that’s the case, then freedom from offense is to find a way to react differently, and I choose that rather than the comfort of poor me. It’s the old “sticks and stones” concept.

Again, recovery from living life on my terms is different than understanding the cause or conditions that led to the discontent in the first place. No understanding whatsoever is required to embrace a right relationship with the supremacy of Life, for it begins with a simple acknowledgement of my condition as a member of the human race. Self preservation — one of the base requirements of living — is highly prone to distortion, because humans look around and assume that limited resources mean we must compete for them, and it’s a zero-sum game. This creates a fear that AA describes thusly: “The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands.”

I love this Bible verse as it relates to the discussion here. It’s a strong reminder that human nature often leads to self-betrayal. It comes from Solomon’s (we think) Ecclesiastes, chapter 4, verse 4: (NIV) “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Human nature is a lot less complicated than most people think. We want what’s best for us, not the other guy. Even where one’s religion states that it’s best to keep your head down or where the good of all is paramount, the bottom line is always the same: what’s best for me. And that certainly includes the “future me” — as in where I’ll reside in the after life — which is a pretty handy device for justifying suffering of the have-nots through “saving” them from eternal damnation. For Christianity, the process of “saving” souls is self-centered by default, the evidence being that we count and keep track of the souls we save. The only possible reason is the holy attaboy attached to our good works. Right? I doubt there’s a topic more studied throughout history than this selfishness, and yet, we’ve only complicated matters as we’ve climbed the tower of self interest. When human nature plays to itself, the final results are always disastrous. Always.

aholeWe want to be liked. We want to be nice. But the reality is that as human beings, we aren’t very likable and we’re often very much not nice either. I realize there may be rare exceptions, but to be blunt, we’re assholes, each and every one of us. I feel very fortunate to have discovered recovery, for it has taught me that the best response for me is to accept that inner asshole, even embrace it. Why? Because it actually helps me to keep it from impacting my everyday behavior. In this way, embracing my inner asshole is an advantage over everybody else, for people generally flee from admitting the darker shades of human nature. “Asshole?” we respond. “Not me!”

Of course, there are those who would suggest I’m being judgmental about people I don’t really know, and I accept that. However, I’m not really saying that YOU are an asshole, because the wisdom of embracing your own inner asshole is yours only if you accept it. Hence, only YOU can claim this truth for yourself, but I strongly encourage you to do so. You’ll be amazed at what follows, for the degree to which you struggle with yourself is tied directly to your willingness to accept your own weaknesses as a human being.

“O wretched man that I am,” it turns out, is a secret doorway to freedom.

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