Fly on the Wall—Discursive Bushmeat and Words We Have To Eat

Cleansing our Palate One Micro-Aggression At A Time

Fly on the Wall—Discursive Bushmeat and Words We Have To Eat

With minced footfalls through societal jungles, we learn to assess emergent dangers and take a few risque risks.  Lording over us within the rarified air of popular culture, flocks of cultural influencers call us forth to this or that cause for concern – some say these denizens of behaviour feed on our decay, but that’s another story.  Oppression is everywhere, it seems.  And not least of which, we feel compelled to repress ourselves out of fear of upsetting others or having to bicker about what, to us, seem like details.  Meanwhile, the din of protest can make it hard to hear ourselves and know how we really feel without parsing ourselves out from our normative surroundings.  Just as small animals watch over their shoulder for larger predators, we in 2024 know that we best watch our step whenever we open our social mouths.

Like Muscovy Ducks lurking under foliage in a Venezuelan jungle, their plaintive quack having evolved down to an inconsequential rasp, the better to not attract the attention of a jaguar, we can find ourselves feeling a bit muted in thought – the better to avoid the prospect, so to speak, of having our heads bit off.

‘Tis an unpleasant prospect: a timid life of anxiety about being attacked.  It’s no wonder that animals in nature carry a pensive air of trepidation about the fleeting nature of their existence.  This interpretation of nature, that its reality is rather nasty, brutish, solitary, and short (as Thomas Hobbes stated reflected humans prior to their crowning of a Sovereign to enforce social order) might merely be anthropomorphism.  After all, we’re not just animals; we’re animals who think: homo sapiens, the thinking human.  Nevertheless, as we part the branches of psychological reality, we may find that an anguished, self-conscious state of worry about how one’s words and behavior are received—devoured, if you will—is the baseline of existence in the present culture.  Be yourself, but not like that, seems a hallmark of the 2020s.

Take the simplest phrase, overhead amidst the crowded grazing plains of a shopping mall: “don’t take that tone with me!” Adults the world over have themselves a time dealing with their children in public.  What a tough task!  From our emergence into toddler consciousness, we invariably find ourselves on the receiving end of assorted rejoinders, ranging from plaintive to aggressive, to please behave.  Mountain gorillas in Jane Goodall’s stomping ground demonstrate a classic exhibition of how to control their offspring: desiring a nap amidst the reeds rather than in interminable play session, a mother gorilla will quite literally place her tiny charge under her thumb and keep her there.  “Youse is goin’ nowhere”, the noble caregiver seems to say while in the background the reigning silverback blithely carries on with his video games.  Parents today might restrict Wi-Fi privileges or adopt the most time-honored tactic of behaviour reinforcement: limiting of car key access and trips to the malted milk shop.  Yet be we marmosets or Montrealers, under the surface of our socialization is the reality that we must learn to, at times, respect authority and knuckle under to the decisions made at the pleasure of the King (or Queen).  Sometimes, but not for all time or all of the time, we must live the reality that we can’t just do everything we want—lest we harm our image and face cultural repercussions.

Body and Mind, Realms Of Discipline

Physical restrictions, incarceration within the bounds of cultural expectations and conventions, are one thing.  But in today’s world the ties that bind us to one another aren’t only invisible in terms of digital electronic wireless communications; we’re lashed together by mental ropes of meaning and presentation of self to Other.  As Michel Foucault noted, it was only recently that modernity enrolled us all in a remedial program of learning to internalize our discontent rather than physically lash out at our interlocutors.  “The judges of normality are present everywhere.  We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements.”

Life becomes especially harried when ideological worlds collide; what’s when humans really get their dander up and bark aggressively.  One person’s; mic drop of a joking rejoinder can oh-so easily reduce an Other to tears.  Or, equally as unfortunate, reduce them to ghosting or unfriending or slandering the speaker despite a lifetime a mutual affinity and friendship.  Inappropriate behaviours too small to be noticed on a visual scan of the body, or even by unknowing attendants at this or that function of fundraiser or classroom, are of unique species: these wrongful acts are termed micro-aggressions.  Like in a film noir movie, where rubber hoses are used to beat a suspect so no bruises appear, micro-aggressions (we’ll call them MAs) are supposedly unsightly slights by one member of society against an Other.  However, not all MAs are created equal.  As the schoolyard bully knows, if she pushes around the sensitive dweeb with glasses (perhaps the one who grows up to be a political leader of the Official Opposition) the latter is likely to cry to his mother.  Cry MA, if you will.

We must therefore be aware that our micro-aggressive assertions depend on context and audience.  And for those wondering, MA is not an exclusively Gen Z phenomena: MA was first elucidated academically in 1970 by Dr.  Chester Pierce at Harvard.

“The standard definition for microaggression is a verbal or nonverbal slight that impacts an individual who might identify as being from a marginalized or nonmainstream community,” Gueits explains.

So, without further ado, here’s a handy summary of what counts as a micro-aggression:

Microassaults: “jokes that mock or degrade a racial/ethnic group, someone who is disabled or gender identity is an example of a microassault.  Normally, the person telling the joke will respond with ‘I was only joking.’ Nonetheless, their bias is manifested in this interaction and it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”

Microinvalidations: “Microinvalidation is when someone attempts to discredit or minimize the experiences of a person who is from an underrepresented group…  Lots of people will have the experience where they feel like no one is listening to them or they seem invisible in a room.  Many of us can probably think of a time when this happened whether it was at school or work or home.”

Nonverbal Microaggressions:

“Following someone around a store because you think they’re going to steal something.  Eye rolling when someone mentions feeling invalidated.  Turning away from or avoiding someone altogether.  Scheduling meetings or events that conflict with religious observances or obligations.  Ordering food for events and not considering the dietary restrictions of others.  Only allowing certain people to work on high-visibility projects.”

As we can see, there’s an awful lot of self-monitoring and social surveillance required if we are to keep our collective noses clean from the taint of being disrespectful to an Other.  On the other hand, the above list of what not to do or say is basically common sense.  Each instance is actually an opportunity to demonstrate that we’re considerate of others rather than in insensitive assmunsch keen to ridicule and belittle others for no reason.  (With apologies here to any assmunsches who are offended!)  True comedy, after all, begins with knowing how to address a sticky situation in a way that can give it wings – making light of a truth so that it’s not so burdensome for all involved.  The best humour includes everyone in the same joke, everyone gets the punch line and goes home happy – even if, as happens when demographics meet in the same venue, perhaps for different reasons.

Awhile ago I had a neat conversation with an Indo-Canadian about philosophy and religion; shortly, the topic turned to hairstyles.  I noted, with a glimmer in my eye, that he probably maintains an especially lustrous coif under his turban.  He laughed and agreed, saying that the need for hair conditioner is much reduced by not having his mane exposed to so many harmful UV rays.  Common ground can be gleaned by verbally noticing differences – if first we’ve taken the time to establish rapport! Jagmeet Singh, proud member of the Sikh faith, who abjure alcohol use, demonstrates this process beautifully every time he participates in a celebration of the Canadian craft distillery industry (or any other event).  Instead of being offended that others didn’t take his religion into account he gleefully downs a full ounce of fruit juice while the rest have a shot of liquor …and the crowd goes wild with appreciation!

Having said that bit about finding common ground, some people feel so entitled to the perpetual agonized efforts by others to not offend them that no amount of middle ground can be established – but, surely, none of those folks would deign to become AU students or read this article!  We best remember it’s up to the recipient alone to decide how s/he feels and what to do about it.  Like a tiny Calvinist culture of one (the Protestant intellectual John Calvin notoriously had congregants executed for laughing during a church service, despite his avowal that all of our lives is utterly predestined and beyond the purview of our illusory free will), the realm of microaggressions invokes no recourse to a priest who can listen to our confession and guide us to how we may be absolved of our sins.

To make amends of this or that MA snafu we must deal directly with our accuser, it’s a bit like the Maoist justice system where “there has been strong criticism in China that courts are given little guidance in setting standards of proof.” While reforms are improving this law of the jungle approach to achieving justice, the irony in our culture (some say) is that within the inherent subjectivity of the interpersonal realm the ways in which words are expressed and received is presently taking a more authoritarian turn – even while criminal justice in China is improving!

Behind every tone, eye contact, or phrase, lies the actual intent of whomever deploys it.  Before we cry Uncle, or shriek that we’re victims of a MA, let’s remember that none of us is free of the sin of being offensive – just ask the adults who raised you!  Within the reality context of MA the key thing to remember is that, just as when we write our essays, before we speak or write or posture we must follow the hallowed iron law of expression: know thy audience!

Foucault, M.  (1975).  ‘Quotes from Discipline and Punish.’ Retrieved from
Gueits, D.  (2022).  ‘What Are Microaggressions?’.  Cleveland Clinic.  Retrieved from
Zhang, M.  (2003).  ‘Burden of Proof: Developments in Modern Chinese Evidence Rules’.  Tulsa Journal of Comparative and International Law.  Retrieved from