Remember that childhood rhyme "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? It seems that more than ever, adults are finding ways to proclaim that words do hurt.
Stephen Fry hit the nail on the head this week when he spoke out about our increasingly infantilised culture. In an interview with Dave Rubin, Fry lamented how some students today cannot bear to read books and engage critically with plays like Titus Andronicus and Macbeth and other great works of literature, because they might be "triggering", as well as criticising safe spaces and a culture of self-pity.
Of course these comments have been met with widespread criticism online, but it's not the first time he's offended the masses. In 2014 at a Labour party fundraiser, Fry commented on the Operation Yewtree investigation into historic sex abuse. Claiming that only 50% of those held under Yewtree were found guilty, Fry said those who falsely accused celebrities that were found to be not guilty should be punished.
Obviously this does not fit well alongside the progressive narrative of believing women no matter what evidence is presented, or lack thereof. Fry's gall to defend "innocent until proven guilty" landed him a backlash, much like when he made a joke at the Baftas earlier this year about a friend, and he left Twitter following the furious social media response.
Fry is not alone in his exasperation, however. Many liberals have taken to calling out the "regressive left" for their actions during a time when left-wing politics has become increasingly repressive and hostile to new ideas. Anyone with the ability to think for themselves can see how emotionally based their arguments are, and as a result both lazy and cowardly.
As a society, we should base our belief system on facts and hard evidence, not on feelings. In ancient Rome, it may have seemed like common sense to kill blasphemers to avoid plagues and earthquakes. Even though they lived 1,400 years ago, people like those Romans are gaining power and influence today.
As far back as civilisation stretches, people have sought to suppress other's views. We try and have people fired, take legal action against them and stymie the distribution of their work. Outrage culture has a long history – and it seems like it is not going to stop any time in the future.
Our lives are now dominated by the language, social order and rules of victim culture. Today, some quotes that are deemed offensive – whether it's from celebrities or a stranger in the street and later shared in an attempt to go viral on Facebook – make more headlines than actual serious crimes. This is despite the fact that there is nothing criminal or harmful about having a disagreement or a different opinion (for now). Unless one is inciting violence, free speech is not dangerous and should in fact be encouraged in intellectual debate.
Fry states in his interview with Rubin "to say the word rape, is to rape...". He later added: "Well I'm sorry, and it's a great shame, we're all very sorry that uncle touched you in that nasty place, and you get some of my sympathy, but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy." Many people now feel they can't speak freely because others might be led to think unpleasant thoughts about something that might have taken place in their past. Some people are purposefully confusing what Fry said as condoning sex abuse. He wasn't. Of course we all know it is a terrible thing.
On the same day Fry's comments were reported in the UK, a man was jailed in Bournemouth for raping a women, a doctor who is already serving a jail sentence for raping two children admitted 13 further sex attacks on policewomen and a mother was jailed for stamping her 21 month-old baby to death. None of these crimes gained anywhere near the level of attention as Stephen Fry's words.
Since the rise of grievance industry, the US has been doomed to continue down this path of infantilisation – and other Western nations have followed. Students think it is common sense to purge white men from debate to avoid "micro-aggressions" or make them wait to speak in class.
Just as it was before the Enlightenment, we have returned to a state that Fry explains as having "deep infantilism" where "people can't bear complexity". We've returned to primitive thinking.
The study Microaggression and Moral Cultures by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning provides some insight on our current societal predicament. The more primitive people of the past predicated their laws and customs on the concept of an "honour culture". They were quick to take offence, and were prone to violent acts, so that they could project strength. In contrast, civilised people were more likely to follow the model of a "dignity culture", where conflicts are resolved by using a third party to mediate.
The norms of the regressive left are a twisted mix of honour and dignity cultures. Our society's fixation with victimhood has encouraged people to react violently to every perceived slight, and those same "victims" attempt to work the system and appeal to powerful third parties to resolve their problems. The more you seem offended, and the greater appeal you have to others as a "victim", the more power you have as a marginalised class. For the perpetually offended, inventing conflict is better than avoiding it.
The reality is that most of the people claiming victimhood status today haven't been the victims of any real trauma at all. They simply enjoy the affectation of victimhood. They want the spotlight. People who have suffered traumatic events don't usually crave the reopening of their mental wounds in public. Many want to keep their trauma private and move on. There is also a difference between the ephemeral 'trauma' of, say, a waiter writing a mean word on a customer's receipt, and someone who was sexually abused as a child. As Fry said: "There are gradations, nobody wants that, they want to be told and to say: 'This is good, this is bad'."
Sadly, Fry's depiction of campuses today is no exaggeration. Recently, a girl at Edinburgh University was nearly thrown out of a meeting after being "accused of violating university 'safe space'" by raising her hand. In the US, with the Republican primaries reaching their climactic height, messages of "Donald Trump 2016" have been written in chalk on university boardwalks across the country, and allegedly triggering students and violating their "safe spaces".
These are simply recent examples, but there are plenty more in the past, and unfortunately plenty more to come. The only way to combat this exaggerated sense of victimhood is with a dose of harsh reality. As Fry concludes, "self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity, get rid of it, because no one is going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. And the irony is we'll feel sorry for you if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Just grow up".
I can think of a lot of people who should take his advice to heart.
Lauren Southern is a political sciences student and a contributor for The Rebel Media and Spiked.