The Zeroth Commandment

The culture war stuff is complicated. You’d need to be willfully ignorant to be wholly unconflicted. As I wrestle with it, I try to salvage something small that is purely positive even if it is not comprehensive. Sort of a let’s not make coherent an enemy of the good idea. Just a takeaway that can be used as a north star in day to day life.

As a broad rule, many macro things break down when you get to the micro. Crowds don’t act like individuals. If we all eat fish than nobody will have fish. So in the aggregate, we may accept that talent is evenly distributed while the opportunity is not. But trying to democratize that opportunity in the macro, is not an excuse to tell an individual child to “check his privilege” in the micro.

To highlight this difference consider this example from HotelConcierge:

Intentionally misgendering someone is an aggressive act. This is true even if transgenderism is attention whoring or special snowflakism or whatever—misgendering violates the Zeroth Commandment of “Thou shalt call others by their chosen name.” You can argue that misgendering is justified, that it’s impractical to cater to every pronoun, that you shouldn’t encourage a society-wide “mental illness”—we can duke that out elsewhere—but don’t pretend it isn’t an act of aggression.

Contrast with [outrage over] posting offensive memes in a private group chat. [That] is not an act of aggression. It may suggest poor character, it certainly suggests weak judgment…, but don’t pretend the dichotomy is between victim and victimizer when there was no victim.

Discussions of political correctness go nowhere because one team is hurt by the first example and retaliates with the second, the other is hurt by the second and retaliates with the first.

When you tell that child to “check your privilege” you are calling that child by their parent’s name, not their own. You are violating the Zeroth Commandment. What about telling the parent to check their privilege? If you trace that logic up it starts to feel like you are peeling a hundred nested bananas. There might be some flesh somewhere in there but I’m not sure the fruit justifies what it took to get there.

I don’t know how to reconcile many of the tradeoffs we face, but I try to do at least one thing faithfully — adhere to the Zeroth Commandment. Every individual gets a little barrier of their own making. They can’t extend it to others. They can’t force everyone to honor it. But they can ask. And I can try. And in the order of operations, it’s called Zeroth for a reason.

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