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The Age of the Misfit

June 7, 2001

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 abnormal.”

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.

[Breaker quote: Normality has 
become a handicap.]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 victimhood.

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.

Joseph Sobran

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Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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