*Sniff* I have to say, reading about Heywood’s loss of innocence made me so nostalgic for those long-ago days — you know, three years ago — when I, too, was similarly, blissfully ignorant. My ears were so wet, my eyes were so wide, and the world was so full of promise then, back when Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders were the fenceposts marking the edge of the political left from the unpopulated wasteland beyond. But now, oh, I have such wonderful, wonderful things to show you…!

Libera te tutemet ex inferis!

I kid. A little, at least. For a long time, I thought “political correctness” was a term that told you less about the target than the person using it, i.e., that it was a right-wing dog whistle. I recognized that in the big scheme of things, a bunch of overzealous hall monitors in academia were petty criminals compared to the organized crime rings who controlled the political and corporate worlds. But then the online atheist environment got contaminated by a strain of fanaticism, in which the fanatics insisted that atheism must be made synonymous with their particular brand of intersectional politics, or else be cast out into the outer darkness of sociopolitical irrelevance. Suddenly, I focused on the rabbit instead of the duck, the vase instead of the two kissing faces, the half-full glass instead of the half-empty one. The basic facts of the matter didn’t change; I just realized there was more than one valid perspective here.

For me, that perspectival shift meant that I started dividing people along lines of personality and psychology rather than politics and ideology. I realize it sounds glib and trite, but ♫ I’ve been around the world, and I’ve been in the Washington Zoo, and in all my travels, as the facts unraveled, I’ve found this to be true ♫: some people are just fucking assholes. SJWs are merely a different species of fucking asshole from the right-wing Republican assholes, or the religious fundamentalist assholes. Assholes go out of their way to cause and prolong conflict. They are natural-born petty tyrants and aspiring authoritarians who are never happy unless they’re taking charge and ordering other people around in accordance with their vision. Today’s SJWs, who are busy being the most inflamed, hemorrhoidal assholes they can be in the fight against transphobia, microaggressions and pixelated representations of misogyny, will still be gratuitously obnoxious assholes in ten years when they’ve left all those childish things behind and moved on to climbing the corporate ladder or making partner at a law firm. At this point in my life, I’m not interested in making excuses for assholish behavior just because, according to some tribal calculus I don’t even subscribe to, the assholes are on my “side”. Many assholes, I find, are under the delusion that they’re grandmasters at multi-dimensional chess. They believe that by acting like assholes at the right time for the right reasons, they’re somehow reducing the overall amount of assholery in the world in the long run.

And that brings us to a fascinating thing about assholism from the memetic perspective. Almost everybody would agree, in the abstract, that being an asshole is generally a bad thing. In order to reproduce itself, then, the asshole meme has to convince the host that acting like an asshole is necessary in this particular instance. The cause is too important! My opponent is too stubborn! I revealed the truth to him, but he refuses to recognize it! He started the argument anyway! Collectively, we all think that people should stop being assholes. Individually, we all think we have a uniquely good reason to act like an asshole occasionally. Thus does assholism remain a thriving, vibrant force in the world for all time. Quite a brilliant strategy, really.

So, yes, I took a crash course in all sorts of ostensibly left-wing ideologies that I had only dimly understood before, only to come out of it convinced of their utter uselessness. Countless lectures on privilege-checking didn’t teach me a thing that I hadn’t already grasped from the old folk wisdom about not judging a man until you’d walked a mile in his shoes. I concluded that attempting to practice the universally-recognized virtues will do more to improve the world than mastering sociological jargon to feign scholarly sophistication. I don’t even really frame this as a political argument anymore. There are easygoing, reasonable people on both sides of the political spectrum. If anything, I see myself as an heir to the honorable tradition of the Taoists, who thumbed their noses and blew raspberries at those ancient assholes, the Confucians, who likewise believed that society couldn’t function without their wise oversight and strictly-regimented organizational schemes.