Wussification in America
What are some examples of “wussification” in America?
by Elena House
[Incidentally, I feel the need to mention that throughout the writing of this post, I’ve had Weird Al’s “First World Problems” stuck in my head. I’m tempted to erase my rant, and just leave a link to the video, but I’ve already wasted a couple of hours writing this, and it’d probably just get auto-collapsed anyway…]
First of all, the term ‘wussification’ is not a dilution of ‘pussification’, it’s an amplification. The term was coined in the late 20th century, most likely in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, and denotes someone who is part wimp, part pussy. Etymology is fun.
Second, I should give a bit of background on myself before I rant; I feel the need to state my credentials for calling some within my native culture wusses. The version of my childhood is that I spent it in what was, at the time, the most dangerous city in the most dangerous country in the world — at least according to the CIA. There, we lived in conditions that varied between pretty good by third world standards (but pretty shocking by US standards), to downright paleolithic: some of the indigenous people we spent time with lived in a manner very similar to how their ancestors lived in the stone age.
Not included in that post I linked to above is the fact that, as a teenager, I spent 2 years homeless, living out of my 1982 Ford Escort station wagon, which was in such bad shape that a steering rod broke sometime during that period, and I didn’t even notice.
The reason why I was homeless is, well, actually a pretty short story: I had just turned 18, and I was bored. I called up my best friend, said, “I’m bored. Let’s go be homeless in Austin.” The fact that, after only a few minutes of convincing him that I was serious, he responded with “Sure, why not,” goes a ways towards explaining why he was my best friend.
So, we went (along with a couple of other friends, who only stuck it out a week or two) and were homeless in Austin, then later drove all over the West; we were homeless together for about a year, with other friends occasionally joining then leaving, and then he got bored of it and got a job in Silicon Valley instead. (Did I mention that he and I met at a magnet school for nerds, in which we basically went to college 2 years early? He went on to start a multi-million dollar software company with his brother.) I continued to be homeless for another year or so, then got married at 20 and started a web design business.
Now, granted, I was homeless in the mid 90s, at the height of the whole grunge thing, and it was, quite frankly, cool to be homeless. If you had to pick a time and place to be homeless, Austin in the mid 90s is hard to beat. (Santa Fe and Albuquerque were also nice; Oakland not so much, and Las Vegas not at all. It’s all down to the attitude of the homeless towards each other, and in LV they were extremely unpleasant and extremely territorial.) That said, even though I had a broken down, un-air-conditioned car with an empty gas tank to sleep in, I was legit homeless, and ate out of dumpsters, wore clothing snagged from donation boxes, panhandled, peed and crapped in alleyways, slept on steps and under bushes, and ‘bathed’ in public bathrooms. I even learned how to make do without store-bought menstrual products.*
My take-away from my homeless years? Good grief, you people have no idea how easy you have it! If I’d been ill or injured, I would have been treated in a nearby emergency room—for free! If it were too cold outside to sleep out safely, I could have gone to a shelter, and they’d let me sleep there—for free! Due to health & safety regs, restaurants and shops throw away huge bagfuls of perfectly edible food that people can just fish out of the garbage and take! Clothing is given away for free! Business let you use their bathrooms for free, and you can get free potable water almost everywhere! Instead of beating you or chasing you away with weapons, strangers give you money just because you asked them for it! Instead of arresting you, the police make sure you have someplace safe to stay! Compared to being homeless in a third world country (or even just lower class), being homeless in the US is a luxury vacation! No wonder so many people are willing to risk so much to immigrate.
[The above statement, of course, is horribly offensive to the American homeless community, and politically incorrect—which brings us to the rant portion of the post.]
Somehow, our national sense of perspective has gotten so skewed that we just plain aren’t aware of how ridiculous we’re being. The following is a list of the most glaring examples of ridiculous, pointless, evolutionarily counterproductive, and downright Idiocracy-imitating behaviors that I’ve noticed. I’ll probably edit this to add more as I think of more, because this is by no means exhaustive.
- We consider name calling, offensive speech, and politically incorrect opinions to be as injurious as actual grievous bodily harm. Not only is this ridiculous, it does serious psychological damage—in the name of avoiding psychological damage! Learning to deal with having your feelings hurt is an important part of growing up; it’s a skill that’s essential for healthy maturity.**
Encountering disapproval of an antisocial behavior discourages that behavior, which improves society, and often improves the life of the person whose behavior was discouraged by the negative reinforcement. Most importantly, though, equating politically incorrect speech with physical harm shifts our society’s priority away from keeping people physically uninjured. Those whose job it would be to protect us physically must instead spend time and tax money making sure that no one, not even a person engaged in physical violence or harmful behavior, feels offended.
Try this scenario: Imagine that smokers were told that they should accept and love themselves for being smokers, and that they can be healthy and attractive no matter how many packs of cigarettes they smoke a day. Imagine that there were societal pressure on the media and entertainment industry to glamorize smoking, to target products to smokers, and to generally present smoking as an acceptable and healthy life choice—one that not only does not need to be changed, but should be praised as brave and empowering.
Now re-read that scenario, but substitute “obese people” for “smokers” and “eating far more calories than their bodies can use” for “smoking”. As a society, we are rightly horrified by the idea of treating the unhealthy behavior of smoking as acceptable, and yet we are also horrified by the idea that anyone would call the unhealthy behavior of overeating to the point of obesity unacceptable. This contradiction is not just ridiculous, it causes actual physical harm to those whose feelings are being protected.
- Likewise, we consider it more important to avoid hurting the feelings of people who want to physically harm us than it is to stop them from physically harming us. Now, I’m aware that this sounds like a jumping off point for a political rant, but that’s not where I’m going with this; I’m sticking with the cultural analysis. As a society, we’ve made the consequences of hurting someone’s feelings as bad as or worse than hurting them physically or financially. Not only does this shift our national resources away from protecting our citizens’ physical and financial safety, this makes each of us far more vulnerable than we were before this cultural change, because the burden of proof required for someone to suffer the consequences of offending someone is FAR less than if physical or financial harm were involved: all that’s needed to bring those consequences down on an offender is for them to be accused. Accused, justly or unjustly, of racism, sexism, sizeism, heightism, or whatever other -ism can be hurled at you? BOOM—solely based on someone’s accusation, and without any chance to defend yourself against the charges, you can instantly lose your career, your spouse, your friends, everything. The closest thing to it in recent history is the anti-commie hysteria in the mid 20thC—but even the accused commies got their day in court (or in HUAC hearings).
- We have robbed ourselves of the gift of fear. If we’re in a situation where we feel unsafe, instead of taking steps to ensure our safety, we assume that we’re being classist, culturist, sexist, racist, sizeist, homophobic, or whatever other kind of bigotry you fancy. Fear is an instinct that aids in self-preservation; if we’re in a dangerous situation, fear lets us know that we should try to escape it. If you notice that you’re about to enter an elevator with an axe-wielding, mouth-foaming, blood-drenched person, don’t assume that they’re expressing their cultural identity and that you’re a bad person for not embracing their self-expression; assume that you should perhaps take the stairs instead.
- We have robbed ourselves and our children of the gift of failure. If you’ve ever read an honest biography of a high achiever, or an accurate account of the creation of a monumental work or invention, you will have read of a string of failures leading up to the achievement. Failure is an essential step, and learning how to deal with failure and continue on is an essential part of becoming a worthwhile human being. But failure can hurt a person’s feelings—so we take away the consequences of failure, and pretend that it was a victory instead, which leaves us with no reason to try again until we succeed, because we’ve already gotten the reward of success without having to actually succeed.
- We no longer allow our children to behave like children. We expect them to be as indoctrinated into political correctness as our adults are; heaven help the 6-year old boy who innocently pretends his fingers are a gun, or the 6-year old girl who innocently asks her best friend why her hair texture is different. Children are also no longer allowed to just go outside and play with the neighborhood kids, unsupervised—or only supervised to whatever extent a random adult passerby feels like providing—as they have for millennia. Instead, they’re scheduled within an inch of their lives, kept in metaphorical bubble wrap, and told that their play instincts are not just wrong, but outright evil.
- Conversely, we also no longer allow our children to grow up. Instead, we glorify and prolong the period of adolescence, which is quite possibly the most foolish period of a person’s life, and the one we as a culture would be best served by curtailing. We’ve made it harder—and sometimes downright illegal—for adolescents to take jobs, robbing them of one of the best ways that a teenager can learn how to be an adult. (It also severely limits the opportunities available to low-income adolescents, who may need a job to help their family make ends meet, or to save money for college.) In the name of keeping our children safe, we’ve actually arrested their development… and then we complain that they still live at home when they’re 40.
- We no longer understand the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’. To live, we need food, water, and shelter. To remain emotionally stable, we need companionship, and a sense of purpose. To thrive, we need freedom, and opportunity. We do not need a 512 channel TV package, nor a 3 car garage, nor grass that is exactly 2.5 inches tall. We don’t even need sex, although it certainly enhances our lives. We do, however, need to learn what actually matters, which is one need that often goes unfulfilled.
- We believe that we have evolved beyond the problems that have been with humanity since the beginning. I remember 9/11. I was saddened, and angry, and worried about my friends in NYC. What I wasn’t, was shocked—until I realized how deeply shocked everyone in the US seemed to be at the idea that we could be attacked. I was shocked by their shock. Didn’t they watch the news? Didn’t they see other countries being attacked? Didn’t they remember basic history? Didn’t they see the news stories about the previous terrorist attack on the World Trade Center? What was wrong with everyone? I’d been back in the US for over a decade and a half at that point, and I thought that I’d gotten all of my culture shock moments out of the way, but that was a huge one: the realization that deep down, Americans actually believed that what had happened was impossible.
We seem to believe that our level of cultural development must somehow overawe other cultures, and keep them from behaving towards us as their culture dictates. We seem to believe that some form of armor of principle protects us; that by valuing certain morals and mores—which other cultures do not necessarily value, and may in fact revile—we create an impenetrable wall of high-minded superiority that mere bombs and flaming jet fuel cannot possibly—oh, wait. Yes. Yes, they can. And other cultures, who aren’t blinded by smugness, realize that.
- We believe that any practice which can be dubbed a cultural practice/belief automatically has unassailable intrinsic value, and is sacred and must be respected. Again, this sounds like the springboard for a political statement, and again, I’m actually going to take it in a different direction. Let’s examine some historical cultures, and the practices that were deeply valued and important to the very fabric of those cultures. First, let’s consider the pedophilia embraced in classical Greece. It wasn’t just considered acceptable; it was idealized as being one of the most beautiful forms of love and the best way to teach a young boy (girls, naturally, weren’t worth teaching). The boy would, in their minds, be most eager to please his teacher by learning if his teacher was also his lover. If you actually study some of the less-commonly quoted works of the philosophers we revere from this time, you’ll start looking for someplace to vomit. Or, there’s the mass human sacrifices of the Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas, many of which were done with the goal of inflicting the most pain possible, as a sacrament. When you start seriously totalling up the death toll of their (revered, sacred) religions practices, you may even catch yourself breathing a sigh of relief that their culture is no more. Or, how about slavery? I’m not just talking about slavery in the US; worldwide, for most of human history, it has been a foundational part of almost every culture. Is that a bit of cultural identity that we should strive to protect? If we’re allowed to find fault with historical cultures, and with our own culture, why are we not allowed to find fault with other contemporary cultures?
Now, I freely admit that after having been middle class and non-homeless in the US for almost 20 years, I’ve become soft and spoiled. In Colombia, we had unheated and non-potable (but nonetheless running) water, at least when we were in town. I didn’t mind my years of cold showers, nor the hours of waiting for the reverse-osmosis water filter to work. (I did kind of mind the time that I got worms from drinking unfiltered water, although I drank it constantly so I was pleasantly surprised that I only got them once.) When I was homeless, I had heated, potable running water, even if I did generally have to make use of it almost exclusively in public bathrooms. At the time, I wasn’t bothered; after a few weeks, I wasn’t even embarrassed. Now, I get annoyed if my home’s running water takes a bit too long to heat up to a comfortable temperature when I step into the shower. Then, I ate whatever was available and not actually visibly rotten; now I fuss about the ratio of protein to carbs and try to keep my calories DOWN rather than trying to get as many calories as possible so as to not starve. While homeless, I walked everywhere, because I couldn’t afford gas or oil or coolant or tires or air for my tires or etcetcetc; now, I intentionally park further to make myself walk an extra 50 feet. Then, in spite of being 5′10″, I weighed less than the average model—oh wait, that was the good side of the dichotomy. No, actually, it wasn’t; then, I had nightmares about having Beavis arms (tiny spindly sticks) and now, I have muscular weight-lifter arms, and have set a weight below which I will not diet, because being that skinny was frightening (and unhealthy).
But behind my first world softness, there’s the knowledge that having done it before, I can do it again. And as I stare down the barrel of impending menopause, there’s an increasingly strong urge to raise my as-yet-nonexistent change-of-life babies someplace with a culture very different from what we have here in the US. I do not want them to be wusses.
ETA: for those who wonder if my current middle-class-ness means I’m out of touch with life outside my class—ehh, not so much. I spent the last several years working in a tattoo shop as a shop manager & apprentice.
We had a spectacularly wide range of clients, from the semi-retired 65 yr old librarian grandma who got the anarchy symbol tattooed in her ear, to the bank president who looks perfectly normal until his suit sleeve rides up and you see that he’s inked from collar to cuffs, to the guy we’re pretty sure is ex-KGB, to the folks who would rather spend their welfare check on ink than on food, shelter, or new teeth, to the local Ivy League supersekrit societies, to the local drug dealers (including our beloved Clue, who recently passed away and whose funeral was so heavily attended that the entire town shut down for it—everyone knew he was a drug dealer, but he was also the area’s best chef and the kind of guy who had time and a kind word for everyone), to the folks who spent so much time in jail that we had to check the local police blotter to find out whether or not they’d make their appointment, to those same people’s parole officers and prison guards, and much more.
Whenever a scary-looking, heavily bearded and tattooed, Hell’s Angels looking guy accosted me in a parking lot or dark alley, it was pretty much always a safe bet that he either wanted to show me how his new ink was healing, ask me about a tattoo idea, show me the latest work he did on his bike, or show off his latest injury. Or just give me a hug because he hadn’t seen me for a few weeks.
I moved recently, so I’ve lost touch with most of them, but yeah, I still have plenty of interactions outside of my ‘class.’ I’m chatty; I can converse comfortably with my husband’s techy Ivy League colleagues, or with soccer moms, or with church ladies, or oldskool computer nerds (especially if they can remember when ‘Enhanced for Lynx’ wasn’t a joke), or with mechanics & tradesmen (especially if they know anything about renovation—I spent 7.5 years working on a 180 yr old house, after all), or with folks who live in a halfway house, or with folks who live in a van down by the river… and I love ‘em all. People are just plain interesting, no matter who they are.
*While homeless, I also kind of learned the answer to the “What three books would you want to have with you on a desert island?” question, albeit unintentionally and with much less of the choice element. When I set off, I happened to have two books in my car: Emma, by Jane Austen, and Candide, by Voltaire. (The Emma copy was my own, and already a bit of a favorite; I hadn’t read Candide at that point, but I’d forgotten to return it to the library for so long that it had been cheaper to buy it from them than pay the overdue fines.) After about a year and a half of homelessness, I had both books practically memorized, and was desperate for something a bit lower in the brow area. I saved up, and bought Insomnia, by Stephen King. So, while I only chose 1 out of the 3 for the situation, I did nevertheless get to experience being stuck with only 3 books for a long period of time.
Bet you thought I was about to tell you how to make a tampon out of toilet paper, didn’t you… 😉
**And believe me, I got made fun of plenty as a child; not only was I the missionary kid, I was a nerd who wore glasses, and was the preacher’s daughter as well as the teacher’s daughter, was about a foot taller than everyone else, got my boobs in 3rd grade, was a tomboy, and was convinced that Bill Cosby sweaters were the height of female fashion. It wasn’t fun, but I wouldn’t trade the thick skin, the social skills, the emotional strength, the sense of compassion I developed, and the ability to see people as PEOPLE rather than as their social status or physical appearance—I wouldn’t trade what I gained for all the childhood popularity in the world. This isn’t me Stockholm Syndroming; this is me dispassionately contrasting how I respond to stressful situations with how those that I know were sheltered from that respond to the same types of situations. Yeeek. I’d hate to be them! (Besides, I got my popularity jollies as a teenager, which is a much more fun time to be popular.)
411 Note: This came from that “external brain” known as Quora. Only a select section of society reads it – and much of the “answers” need to be taken with a pound of salt. However, like this post – there are many “diamonds in the rough.”