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What Penguins Teach Us About Microaggressions


The penguin is the most noble of all animal kind. Fearless, unrelenting, it is a creature that knows no equal among its fellow birds. It wears the cleric’s black in mourning for an afflicted world, yet its fair collar binds not only its neck, but its whole torso, for its life and ways are purer than that of any clergyman.

Neither icy waters nor assailing winds cause it agony, nor do ravenous seals or vicious whales cause it fear. Instead, it faces all these things undaunted. Its ways and duties are not done violence by any uncontrolled passions. It has a disciplined mind, which pursues its ends, waddling with sober disdain for its obstacles.

It lives the life of an ascetic, knowing no shelter, fasting for long winters, yet it lives a life of utter freedom, guarded from harm by the very frozen tortures that assault it, for the highborn penguin goes where no seal or sandpiper would dare venture. It knows no malice, living in harmony with its penguin neighbors; it knows no jealousy, living in common with its penguin mate.

Cicero once noted that man alone among the animals stands erect upon two feet, freeing his head to draw away from the senseless dirt and gaze upward to the unchanging heavens, to man’s true origin. He was wrong, since he did not know about the penguin. Man must share the privilege of reverencing the benevolent gods and their divine reason with the heavenward penguin, and let him not look down on this pious bird on account of its short stature, for at least it dressed for the spectacle (and surely the gods disdain nothing more than discourtesy)

The wisdom and discipline of penguins truly impresses me. From what I can see, the power of reason within them subdues everything within their being—a sagely being, in every way surpassing the apparent whimpering frailty of their human kindred.

Penguins Are Noble, Unlike Us

Now someone of a scientific persuasion—perhaps a scientist—might be compelled to inform me that the penguin does none of these things out of a stoic discipline and heroic reserve. Rather, it does these from irrational instinct. This should only increase our shame, for we see that a simple bird does from thoughtless instinct what man, endowed with deified reason, cannot.

Penguins bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with grace; or one might even say pride, if pride were not a vice unbecoming of penguins.

Penguins bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with grace; or one might even say pride, if pride were not a vice unbecoming of penguins. People, instead, bear it with unceasing complaint, if they even bear it at all. More commonly, the slightest unpleasant perturbations cause us to descend into callow lament and sniveling grievance; I speak, of course, of “microaggressions.”

My word processor has produced a jagged red line under the word “microaggression” I have just typed. I believe it wishes to inform me that the word does not exist. It seems that my computer has joined the penguin in the ranks of those created beings endowed with more sense than modern Americans. Whether the word does exist or not, I agree that it shouldn’t.

It should not exist because it is rude, and moreover, annoying. It should also not exist because it often ruins good dinner conversation. To civilized and cordial people, these two reasons should be enough to do away with the entire idea that people’s words and gestures are filled with an insidious oppressive motive.

It is the law of hospitality to assume the best of people, and to put the best construction on their words. After all, conversation is a wild and impulsive activity. A certain amount of graciousness must be allowed towards those who loose the reins of their tongues. One must expect the unexpected when practicing the unshackled art of talk.

We Shall All Get Together and Weep

In the process of researching the novelty of “microaggression,” I discovered that those promulgating this idea were not civilized and cordial people. They were not really even people, and certainly not penguins. Rather, they were feminists.

I expected such sickly, impotent griping to come from feminists, but not from real people.

This much I expected, for feminists, like the patriarchy, seem to be a sort of global clandestine conspiracy, intent on destroying everything I enjoy, like talking or sitting comfortably. But then I stumbled across the so-called “Microaggression Project,” a website dedicated to preserving the spiteful, unthinking brainstem reactions of certain maladjusted individuals before their higher reasoning functions can calm them.

There I found all sorts of people complaining of being the object of invisible aggression. There were gays, blacks, Asians, straight people who act gay, and black people who act white, all complaining that people had the very impression of them that they actually had themselves! It was a dark day: I expected such sickly, impotent griping to come from feminists, but not from real people. A contagion had spread, and what little dignity mankind maintained here and there as a remnant of a remnant was lost.

A large number of the complaints seemed to revolve around race. One person remarked: “In high school my white teacher told me, her Asian student, to wake up. I was in the second row, right in front of her, and clearly awake. I could only stare back in silence.” Another, “I’m shopping for a birthday card for my dad. He’s black. All the cards are for white dads.” My first response to most of these stories is to knit my brow, look sideways at their propagators, and say, “I don’t believe you.” But the more appropriate response is, “Why do you give a damn?”

The Longing for a Blank Paradise

They say religion is a crutch for the weak, since it prepares them for a paradise to come instead of a hell that is present for now. From what I have seen, secularism has become an amputation for the already crippled, since it prepares them for a paradise that will never come, instead of the hell which will never end.

The world these limp-wristed Americans dream of is a colorless hash, void of greatness.

The Buddhist will tell you “Life is hell,” and the existentialist that “Hell is other people.” The native of Priene knows well that “All men are wicked,” and the native of Bethlehem that “All men are liars.” The world is a terrible and violent place. If it were not so, the Buddha would not have tried to transcend it, the existentialist unthink it, the sage king tame it, or the Jew despise it. There is no escaping the way things are, nor is there a cure for it. Life is filled with much evil.

And I do not think I would have it any other way. It is nothing but idiocy to spend your days in childish protest against it. The world these limp-wristed Americans dream of is a colorless hash, void of greatness. They long after a paradise beyond good and evil, where all like animals quietly do nothing of import; no one bothering, no one being bothered. I find it a cloying vision, like a painting with many bright colors, all rendered flat through the utter absence of black.

No One Can Call You a Victim Without Your Consent

Give me Rembrandt. He knew that light only shines in the darkness. For without such darkness, no radiance would ever manifest.

If there were not some ugliness in the world, there could be no beauty.

It is meaningless to be just if there is no injustice. It is meaningless to be chaste if there is no lust. It is meaningless to be kind when there is no cruelty. It is meaningless to be forgiving when there is no sin. A wise and cultured person does not fall limp before the harsher realities of the world, but bears them with equanimity, and in doing so, shows forth the riches of his soul.

If there were not some ugliness in the world, there could be no beauty. Of course there is racism; if there were not, against what would the minority prove his worthiness? Of course there is sexism; if there were not, who would the woman in her good sense put to shame? Of course there is classism; if there were not, before what pride would the simple prove their nobility?

One should be glad to face any tribulation, for Fate has found him worthy of the contest. He is a good contestant if he faces Fate with calm and the sneer of cold command and, having conquered, greets his foe with a handshake. But our modern aggrieved, rather, decline the game and take their ball home to sulk.

Many will say I am victim-blaming. Rather, I am explaining that no one can call you a victim without your consent. One is only a victim when he is helpless before the forces that assail him. The one who accepts the contest, we call a challenger; and the one who wins, we proclaim our champion and victor. Do not shirk away from difficulty and injustice. One best despises the works of the unjust by bearing them all justly. An opponent is most strongly rebuked when his object looks peacefully back at him, saying, “See, sir, it did not hurt me.”

Now I have written too much. Let me conclude with a vignette.

Once upon a time, an Athenian trader was conducting business with a barbarian Scythian during the winter. It was the custom of the Scythians to go about unclothed, bearing the elements unflinchingly, whether rain or cold, upon their bare body, perhaps in imitation of certain Antarctic birds (the penguin, for example).

The Athenian asked his trading partner how he could withstand the miserable cold while naked. The Scythian replied, “Why is it that you do not cover your face, though it is cold?” The Athenian answered, “My face is used to the cold.” To this, the Scythian retorted, “I am all face.”