Disapproving of people who aren’t “Normal” went from a virtue to vice within my lifetime.
I still see a lot of baffled resentment about that shift in public morals.
I still read a lot of pushback, and a sense that something’s gone terribly wrong.
If you strip away all the rhetoric and conspiracy theories that call marriage equality and gender neutral restrooms a subversive attack on normative institutions in prelude for the ushering in of a totalitarian state that demands full ideological compliance at all times, you’re left with a portrait of some very simple, wrong, but simple feelings underneath:
People miss being socially rewarded for conformity.
People miss being socially rewarded for enforcing it.
People resent being punished for what they were once rewarded for.
The shift in public morals changed the rules on what it took to be seen as a good person.
It used to be about not doing anything weird, and looking down on anybody who did.
Now it’s about not doing anything cruel, and looking down on anyone who does.
There used to be people it was not only OK to be cruel about, but REWARDED to be cruel about.
People fear the loss of unity that a loss of conformity-as-a-public-moral represents to them. They don’t understand what that unity cost, and don’t understand that it was a facade that was no more true then, than it was now, and just required a lot more people to hide, pretend, live unsatisfying inauthentic lives, and often suffer anyway, because the people who fear this were the ones conformity came easily to. They were the ones around whom the idea of “normal” was designed.
They built their senses of self partially on a bedrock of pride at being “the right kind of person.”
They see the idea that there even IS a “right kind of person” going away, as a threat not only to the unity of their nation, but to the socialvalue of the principal virtue from which they’ve always derived their standing and self-worth. Public tolerance of nonconformity, and public intolerance of intolerance toward it, feel like an existential threat.
If you’re wondering what animates and underwrites some segments of the modern Conservative outrage over ostensibly harmless live-and-let-live tolerance being adopted as the norm, and why they cast objection to them as FreeSpeech issues on THEIR behalf rather than HumanRights issues on someone else’s, this is how that logic works.
Within their lifetimes, whole swaths of the belief systems they were raised with and feel religiously and culturally virtuous for espousing, changed entirely without their buy-in from things everybody was supposed to agree with Or Else, to something you’d be treated badly for asserting.
Practically Overnight, as far as they were concerned.
And since these changes came from outside their communities –
And since these changes regarded discrimination and basic human rights –
They were accompanied by changes to the law regarding who it was ok to shun and treat differently.
That answer used to be “Someone”
That answer is now “No One”
All they know is they got a taste of what it was like to suddenly feel like pariahs at the hands of people who suddenly asserted influence over the laws of the land and didn’t respect their values or beliefs, and accomplished all of this without their consent or agreement, practically overnight.
It became NOT OK to hold beliefs that they held dear, not just on a social level, but also on a legal level, where those beliefs meant engaging in discriminatory practices against “the people it’s morally appropriate to treat badly.”
And That Was Terrifying.
It was the closest thing they’d ever felt to persecution.
Legal protections granting equality to the people they felt dutybound to shun and look down on felt like the government, acting at the behest of radicals who “didn’t love this country” (read: love it exactly how it was) felt like an attack not just on the character of the nation but on their individual right to self-determination and free thought.
So the next time you’re on a comment thread and you encounter someone dashing off manifestos about liberal nazi thought police, while you still won’t (i hope) respect and agree with them, you’ll at least know how they came to be as freaked-out as they are by things that nobody should mind, and why they see nothing but tyranny and totalitarianism in a public morals shift that says cruelty’s not ok.