A couple of years ago, in the middle of an intense, protracted, hilarity-inflected conversation, my sister Kiskilili invented the term “snoof” to designate the imaginary beings sometimes posited mid-argument to bolster the claim that ________* is harmful. The snoof-positer isn’t herself harmed by ________. She’s too intelligent, too intellectually sophisticated to be hurt by ________ personally. But she just knows there are snoofs out there–hordes of interchangeably childlike people who aren’t quite as bright or worldly-wise as she is. These poor snoofs are earnest, blank souls, liable to be utterly confounded by the first deviation from the sacred orthodoxy of ________ they encounter.
Snoofs, needless to say, must be protected at all costs. And so well-intentioned attempts to make the world safe for snoofs are born–attempts to make the world more consistent, more univocal, more bland. The snoof-protectors themselves don’t suffer in the face of disturbing unorthodoxies, but they argue for censorship for the sake of the snoofs they are vigilantly herding into the confines of their imaginary intellectual sheepfolds.
On closer inspection, snoofs sometimes turn out to bear a striking resemblance to our former selves. But this is the thing: there are no snoofs. There are only people, in all their otherness, in all their complex, messy glory. These other people bear no necessary relationship whatsoever to our own histories of faith or disillusionment, or to our own histories or present realities more generally. It’s not for us to orchestrate their intellectual safety or to correlate their stages of faith or doubt.
This is not to say that children shouldn’t be vigorously protected from adult realities, and introduced to certain complexities at appropriate stages of development. I completely support parents’ right and responsibilities to drastically censor the world for their young children (although it’s also true that children tend to know more about the world sooner than their parents sometimes want to admit). And, more to the point, this is not to say that people don’t get hurt by feminism, patriarchy, or horrifying misuses of Q-tips (see below). Of course they do. But when we speak of the harm institutions and ideologies have done, let’s speak in specific terms of specific people rather than imagining up unto ourselves hordes of our former, sillier selves.
Please don’t feed the snoofs.
*Take your pick: feminism, patriarchy, Marxism, capitalism, failing to get one’s earwax regularly irrigated