WHAT IS IT TO TRIVIALIZE?

I killed a wasp the other day. I murdered a wasp the other day. These have two very different meanings. Why? Because killing means killing, whereas murder means wrongful killing, and presumably no one, or almost no one, thinks it’s wrong for me to have killed that wasp. The term murder includes a moral assessment, whereas killing does not.

To trivialize something is to assign it little import. No, because then it wouldn’t be odd to say that Canadians have trivialized the results of the municipal election in Vladivostok, Russia. But it would be odd. It would be odd because to trivialize something means to assign it less import than it deserves.

But desert, not unlike murder, is a moral term. We don’t think Canadians have assigned the municipal election in Vladivostok less import than it deserves because import is an indexical. That is, that something is important is not a well-formed-formula. It requires a to-whom. We grant that the results of the municipal election in Vladivostok is of little import to Canadians, but we don’t think they’re morally required to assign it any greater import than they have. And it’s for that reason that it’s nonsensical to say they’ve trivialized it.

It’s one thing to report on what Canadians self-report on what they do and do not find important. Pollsters do this all the time. But it’s quite another to conclude from these self-reports what they do and do not find important. The latter is best identified by behaviour. In fact this is just the distinction decision-theorists call ‘declared’ versus ‘revealed’ preferences. For example, many people say their number one priority is the environment, but it’s clear from their voting behaviour that, as Ronald Reagan put it, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

But it’s yet a third thing to pronounce on what people should or should not find important. I say this because I’ve been accused – and no doubt you have too – of trivializing what to our accuser is her Precious. I’ve gone on record confessing that of the things I care least about, global warming and the results of last night’s city council meeting are in a dead heat. This drives some of my colleagues apoplectic, which might be part of the reason I say it.

But I’ve more recently been accused of trivializing the indigenous women and girls who’ve gone missing or found murdered in Canada over the past several years. What I could do is what we’re all supposed to do when being polled for our reaction to some patterned atrocity like this. We’re supposed to virtue-signal our shared high dudgeon, and then, if we have any sense, keep our mouths shut. But the asshole got my back up. So fuck that! Two can play this game. And I can play it at least as well as he can.

Two hours down the coast from where we have our summer digs in South Italy, lungs are filling up with salt water, not by the hundreds but by the thousands, because the passage on one of those dinghies from Tripoli to Lampedusa didn’t include the price of a life jacket. But apparently I’m supposed to care about indigenous women but not black women, or at least to care more about the former than the latter. And he accuses me of racism?!

Most people can’t afford to call this kind of stupidity out. They have to get along. I don’t, at least not anymore. So let me recite what I’ve decided is going to be my new mantra:

The technical name for people who initiate this virtue-signaling game is ‘dumb fucks’. I used to try to disabuse dumb fucks of their dumbfuckedness. It can’t be done. So now I just tell them to fuck off!

 

 

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