Happy individuals know 1. how to get mad.
And then 2. turn the anger off, calm down, and move on.
Unhappy people either 1. never get mad: never muster enough energy to overcome a difficulty, make known a really necessary complaint, assert themselves, break through to the next level
Or, 2. they are constantly mad, and are never really calm, and can never move on.
This can be confusing for the rest of us.
We might temporarily confuse the anger of the constantly angry person with the short-lived, purposeful, anger of the happy individual.
We might not understand the calm of the happy person, confusing it with the indifference and passivity of the unhappy person.
We might completely misread the sudden rare, directed anger of the happy individual, thinking it reflects unreliability, inconsistency, and lack of control. “Weren’t you happy a minute ago?”
We might even admire the constant anger of the unhappy person for its consistency.
We might confuse the blank of the unhappy person for the calm of the happy person.
“Snowflake” is a ubiquitous term today, one I do not use, because I think it is a misnomer, and it is the subject of this essay only because I wish to attempt an analysis along these lines.
A “snowflake” refers pejoratively to the hyper-sensitive person, often on a college campus, who cannot handle information, historical or political, which tramples on delicate feelings and beliefs—concerning those who are strongly and innocently disadvantaged in fundamental ways.
But to care about others, even in a hyper-sensitive manner, is a good thing. Good or bad in social relations turn on delicate feelings and this is to be human and social. Period.
I don’t care a fig about this notion of the “snowflake” who can’t handle this or that. Sensitive and considerate is always good.
I do care, however, about the happy and the unhappy person—the constantly dull, or the constantly angry person is not happy—and is rarely a good thinker. This has nothing to do with being a snowflake, and more with being ignorant, and unhappy.
The cross-dressing, Harvard literary critic, the heir to Helen Vendler, Stephen Burt, begins his recent essay, “Writing About Yeats in the Age of Trump” sounding exactly what everyone might think a “snowflake” sounds like:
“Like many of you, I have spent the days since the election in a combination of frantic distraction; intermittent, flailing activism; attempts to focus on my private and professional life; and fear. The more I read from experts in relevant fields, the more I envision the next four, or eight, or ten years not so much as a Republican administration—enacting policies that will hurt immigrants, people of color, and the poor—but rather as a kleptocratic, potentially authoritarian, generation-long takeover, one that could extend outward and downward from Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue into the federal judiciary, the civil service, and the national security state.
“I have not lost my interest, nor my belief, in the powers of poetry. But my goals for my own poetry, and for the ways I write about poetry, are not what they were before November 8. I used to believe, if not in Walt Whitman’s late-1850s optimism, then in the chastened patriotism, the qualified trust in elections and popular culture, that he found even in the Gilded Age. I have opposed critics who use, as unconsidered, generic praise, the word ‘revolution,’ on the grounds that few good things are harder to break than to fix. I have argued—and I still believe—that our ways of reading and our ways of hearing poetry, like our ways of eating and our ways of understanding kindness and violence, have roots older than we are, older than the twentieth century, even though they have changed, and will change. And I have aligned my own poetry, most of the time, with incrementalism, with a way of reading that (like W.H. Auden’s, like Elizabeth Bishop’s) pays some homage to the deep past.
“I also wanted my poetry to champion the femme, the elaborate, the playful, the serifed, the feathered, the self-consciously involute, the magenta and the chartreuse, even the ornamental: ruffles, dessert. I wanted that poetry, and other contemporary poetry too, to take pleasure in small things, and to push back against a patriarchal, instrumental, coarse, results-first, adult-driven, queer- and transphobic capitalism. I called those goals for poetry ‘nearly Baroque,’ or rococo, and I found its closest modern precedent in Marianne Moore.
“Our president-elect appears to enjoy the rococo, too, but it is the wrong kind of rococo: not delicate craftsmanship as a blow to misogyny, but the gilding of every conceivable surface, the flaunting of a wealth he has used to hurt others, as a boastful public spectacle. Trump represents the end of liberalism, the end of self-restraint and public kindness delivered through flawed, long-lived institutions, at least on a national scale. The social contract of Paul Wellstone and Richard Rorty, of A. Phillip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt, and for that matter of Barack Obama, seems all torn up.”
If this isn’t “snowflake,” what is? One of the two traditional parties wins the presidential election in the traditional manner, and Burt feels “fear.” Burt makes a great, breathless, elaborate, post-election, point about “poetry” as it applies to him—Burt. Totally in earnest, he describe his poetry’s “ruffles” as a blow against “patriarchal capitalism.”
But this only points up what we are trying to say about the “snowflake” label. It’s meaningless. This quotation from Burt is excessive rhetoric bursting forth from a highly successful critic. This is not “snowflake” trepidation. Burt is using ruthless, cunning, rhetoric in highly educated, full attack, mode. Snowflake? This totally kicks ass—in a completely “take-no-prisoners” manner.
Burt feels “fear?” Reading Burt’s reaction to the election, I’m genuinely afraid of Burt.
He’s pushing “snowflake” buttons, but he himself is clearly no “snowflake; “it doesn’t matter how much he claims to prefer “magenta” and “chartreuse.”
Burt’s argument is utterly disconnected and unhinged, in a manner frighteningly black-and-white and uncompromising. “Snowflake” has nothing to do with it.
In speaking of Trump, Burt tosses reason and perspective to the wind. Last time I checked, every law and institution of the United States remains fully intact, going back to the founding of this country in the 18th century, and yet Burt speaks as if Eleanor Roosevelt, Richard Rorty, and Barack Obama just a short time ago made this country.
The lack of historical understanding is downright scary: “Whitman’s late 1850s optimism?” I’m not sure why Whitman is mentioned—the American Civil War began in 1861, so “optimism” seems a strange thing to celebrate here—as if “optimism” were the way to describe the world of November 7, 2016—as brought to us by president Obama and secretary state Clinton.
Burt is not being a “snowflake” at all.
He strikes me as someone who is in pain. And angry.
And playing with matches.
I would describe him as angry, and unable to let that anger go.
If Burt is a “snowflake,” then I’m a “snowflake.”
I would tell him, accept this hug from another snowflake. Please, go back and read your history, and try to let go of your anger. O isn’t life complicated? You are making me afraid.