We doe not therefore by nature seek Society for its own sake, but that we may receive some Honour or Profit from it; these we desire Primarily, that Secondarily: How by what advice Men doe meet, will be best known by observing those things which they doe when they are met: For if they meet for Traffique, it's plaine every man regards not his Fellow, but his Businesse; if to discharge some Office, a certain Market-friendship is begotten, which hath more of Jealousie in it than True love, and whence Factions sometimes may arise, but Good will never; if for Pleasure, and Recreation of mind, every man is wont to please himself most with those things which stirre up laughter, whence he may (according to the nature of that which is Ridiculous) by comparison of another mans Defects and Infirmities, passe the more currant in his owne opinion; and although this be sometimes innocent, and without offence; yet it is manifest they are not so much delighted with the Society, as their own Vain glory. But for the most part, in these kind of meetings, we wound the absent; their whole life, sayings, actions are examin'd, judg'd, condemn'd; nay, it is very rare, but some present receive a fling before they part, so as his reason was not ill, who was wont alwayes at parting to goe out last. And these are indeed the true delights of Society, unto which we are carryed by nature.--Hobbes De Cive, 1.2 (emphasis added) [HT: Terese Bejan Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration, p. 87)
Self-styled realist and adult critics of attempts to raise concern over microaggression on college campus tend to respond either with derision or, more politely, with the thought that students need to be prepared for the real world. (Here I ignore the implied further derision that a university environment is somehow artificial or unreal.) Such responses have a peculiar quality: for, first, derision instantiates the very offense being protested. It is as if a petty thief responds to being told that theft is a crime by stealing another Cartier watch. Of course, theft does occur in the real world, but it does not follow it should be acceptable. Fair-minded commentators may well disagree how to reduce and prevent theft, and under what conditions a would-be Robin Hood turns from villain to hero. But, second, to point to our very imperfect, world as a justification for an aggressive unwillingness to engage with the youthful concern over microaggression is to side foolishly, without argument or justification with an immoral status quo against would-be-improvements. I’ll explain why I call this stance ‘foolish’ below.
Teresa M. Bejan's learned and wickedly funny book, Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration, notes that Hobbes treats of what we now call microaggressions as a serious topic for reflection. (Bejan calls attention to it on p. 2 of her introduction, and then returns to it in her chapter on Hobbes.) Hobbes notes that in the marketplace of life (the real world) the merriment of many of our ordinary social interactions comes at the expense of others (especially when they are not present). And some such mechanism is also part of the social glue that generates factions. The intent may not be to hurt others -- rather the motive is pleasure (or laughter) - but such joy is not innocent, even if jocular, because it generates both hurt in the recipients and creates potentially dangerous partisanship.*
My point here is not to rehearse Bejan's ingenious analysis of Hobbes's treatment of and attempted solution to the problem of microaggression. (Bejan's own sympathies are not with Hobbes but with Roger Williams--about which some other time.) Rather it is to note that Hobbes had no doubt that microaggressions were a part of the real world and dangerous to civil peace because they reinforce a pattern of mutual hurt and, when combined with factionalism, this can degenerate into outright civil disorder or war.
It is fair to say that Hobbes was no snowflake and not somebody who confused his own wishes for reality.
From a Hobbesian perspective one can say that, purportedly world-wise folk that belittle concern over microaggression with further derision or dismissive-ness are fools because they reinforce a pattern of behavior that can lead to civil conflict and only a fool would wish that. The previous sentence is compatible with a rejection of Hobbes's and Hobbesian solutions to the problem of microaggression.**
Microaggression was the topic du jour ca 2015 (recall this blog post, and I was late to the game). It's not in the news anymore, and so my analysis is not topical (relevant/newsy, etc.) But with the benefit of hindsight we can also see the student concern ca 2015 as a canary in the democratic coal-mine. That some of our students were demanding to be in environments with less derision toward others showed a concern not just for (creating a safe environment for) their own education, but for our civic health. Now, while we're hanging over the precipice of civic disaster, their concern seems prescient, and unheeded.
*To be sure, not all the cases that Hobbes has in mind would count as microaggression. For, with microagression the aggrieved party needs to be a minority or subordinated group. Given that Hobbes lived in a very hierarchical society, microaggression in our sense are by definition endemic in his time.
**Hume and Adam Smith both thought that commercial friendship was more authentically friendly than Hobbes seems allow, but they also recognized that it could be a source of faction--Smith, in particular, worried about mercantile collusion.