The Problem Of “Respect”

Everyone, as Aretha Franklin once sang, wants a little respect. Today in America we constantly read and hear about the battles of various groups and individuals demanding the respect that they feel is being unjustly denied to them. However, part of the reason that respect—or the lack of it—has become such a dicey issue for many may be quite simple: The very definition of the word has undergone a startling transformation over the past generation that ensures endless divisiveness.

Respect was at one time something that you earned. A special talent or accomplishment was a sign of distinction. You were lauded for your honesty or service to others. You worked hard and created a good life for yourself and your family. Your daily life made you a role model whom others wished to emulate. The respect of others was the natural outcome of the life that you lived.

It is much different today.

Respect is now, according to those who typically label themselves Liberals or Progressives, something that is granted by society at large rather than earned by individuals or groups. Hence, many now demand that schools, government, courts, businesses, sports teams, the entertainment industry, publishers, news organizations, and private associations provide the respect that people and groups deem they rightly deserve, and those who continue to cling to the apparently outdated idea that respect is earned based on effort or intent now find themselves at loggerheads with those expecting unquestioning acquiescence to their wishes.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the notion of respect that is now common currency among elite opinion makers is divorced from any test involving behavior or belief, and those who persist in attempting to discuss whether the respect being sought is actually warranted are guilty of—abracadabra!—the worst kind of disrespect.  The common understanding of what constitutes respect today, which renders it wholly different from previous societal norms, is one that exists in a value-free vacuum where the withholding of it for any reason whatsoever is proof of hateful attitudes, and this only reinforces just how desperately necessary the grant of that respect actually was.  Got that?

It should be obvious that this definition is, in daily practice, an inescapable rhetorical trap.  To even attempt a discussion based on evidence or reason is considered de facto proof of both discriminatory intent and the entrenched societal discriminationthat informs the efforts of the poor sap who mistakenly believes a thoughtful conversation is possible.  Resistance, as the Borg on Star Trek used to say, is futile.

The circularity of Woke logic is maddening to both the mind and spirit—and guarantees never ending conflict and discord.  Unsurprisingly, discussions tend to devolve into eye rolling and attacks that enflame without illuminating, and the mutual, frustrating incomprehension is driven by the basic lack of a common understanding of what respect actually means.

Given how dogmatic and anti-intellectual these efforts to garner societal approval through bullying and insults typically are, it is perhaps shocking that they have thoroughly captured our systems of education from kindergarten to graduate and professional schools, but this is less surprising than it might seem.  

Post-modern theories, which hold that both truth and morality are meaningless social constructs, have longed reigned supreme in academia, so ideas that reject both evidentiary standards and individual judgment dovetail nicely with an intellectual atmosphere that finds both terribly irksome and unnecessary.  

Arguments are a lot simpler and easier when you can discard pesky facts and contradictory data, which explains a lot of the flabby thinking and brittle sensibilities of supposedly well-educated thinkers in elite institutions today.  What you feel to be true is today far more important than what can be proven to be true, so we can now readily dismiss any reality that does not match what we prefer to believe.  So much for intellectual rigor.

Children crave approval; adults should seek respect.  However, what is often being demanded today is much closer to a child’s yearning for unconditional approval than the traditional adult concept of earning respect from the rest of the adult world through one’s efforts, expertise, and accomplishments.  

Placating groups and individuals who are undeserving of our respect has contributed greatly to the fragmentation of our country and the precipitous slide of the standards of both behavior and discourse that afflicts our society today. To continue along this path is a prescription for a national catastrophe. We must change this—and quickly.

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