The Age of the Misfit
June 7, 2001

by Joe Sobran

     I recently wrote that the golfer Casey Martin, in 
using the courts to force the Professional Golfers' 
Association to let him use a golf cart, had "struck a 
blow for misfits everywhere." Ever since then I've been 
getting angry mail accusing me of calling handicapped 
people "misfits."

     This is a silly misreading of what I said. A misfit 
is a maladjusted person; it's a psychological matter, not 
a physical one. He demands that others surrender their 
own rights in order to accommodate him. G.K. Chesterton 
summed up the attitude in a phrase: "the modern and 
morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the 

     This attitude isn't especially typical of the 
handicapped, and it's widespread among many others who, 
though physically normal, fancy themselves victimized. 
Unfortunately, the misfit now knows that he can summon 
the government to bully those who he feels are oppressing 
him by exercising their freedoms, especially the freedom 
of association. All he has to do is yell 
"Discrimination!" or "Civil rights!"

     The freedom of association is so basic that it's a 
mark of the tyranny of our time that its exercise is 
increasingly criminalized. An even more disturbing 
symptom is that we've come to accept this. We no longer 
protest when the state dictates whom we may (or must) 
hire and fire, promote, and do business with, or when it 
dictates the terms on which we may (or must) associate 
with them. Such intrusive power is now regarded as a 
legitimate prerogative of the ruler.

     We no longer have robust rights that we are prepared 
to fight for. We merely have a shrinking residue of 
things we're still permitted to do. But mere permission 
isn't freedom. Even under Stalin Russians were permitted 
to do a lot of things, provided they didn't threaten the 
power of the state. I've always suspected that the reason 
the Russians produced so many great chess players was 
that chess was one of the few activities Communism 
allowed ordinary people to enjoy. Even so, the best 
players found themselves under heavy state control in 
high-level competition; the commissars could order them 
to lose games for the sake of the national team or a 
favored player.

     The mind of the misfit, the partner of tyranny and 
often its driving force, is nowhere more obvious than in 
the homosexual campaign to force the Boy Scouts of 
America to accept homosexual scoutmasters. The Scouts 
have a very good reason for their policy: they've been 
sued by outraged parents whose sons were molested by 
scoutmasters. But such prudent considerations, never mind 
moral ones, are trumped by the slogans of "gay rights." 
The remedy for "discrimination" seems to be requiring 
everyone to be indiscriminate.

     It should be obvious that allowing homosexuals in 
the military might be somewhat deleterious to morale. As 
a rule, guys don't like to take showers with guys who 
like to take showers with guys. But such normal feelings 
count for nothing against the imperious ideologies of 

     We are all haunted by the sense that the ruling 
powers are on the side of the misfit, even when no law 
has been passed yet. The misfit is no longer an isolated 
individual; he is now an organized force, in politics, in 
journalism, and especially in academia. Tirelessly 
scolding us for trivial violations of his code of 
etiquette, he even wants to tell us which pronouns we may 
use. The comedian Bob Newhart captured this point with 
his usual subtlety in a recent commencement speech, when 
he advised graduates on how to project sophistication: 
"This can usually be accomplished by a reference to 
Kafka, even if you have never read any of his -- or her 
-- works."

     Newhart has always had a genius for playing the 
diffidently normal man beleaguered by aggressive misfits. 
His comedy exploits a specifically modern truth: that if 
you're not a misfit, you're outnumbered. In a full 
reversal of the good old days, normality has become a 
handicap, and to be normal is to be a victim.

     If the misfits were smart, they'd recognize Newhart 
as their deadly enemy. Without being overtly political, 
and while seeming to shun controversy, he delicately and 
deftly punctures those who manage to be self-important in 
their imaginary grievances.


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