Saturday 20 April 2013

Offence, Political Correctness and Censorship

Could someone please tell me when it became the greatest cultural taboo to cause offence - almost, it sometimes seems, worse than murder? When did it become such an evil thing to say something that upsets people?  And why is our language now being twisted by neologisms that are as tortuous as they are execrable?  What are these terms that blossom on the tongue of the zeitgeist like a cancer?

We could blame Political Correctness - the tabloids frequently do so - but this isn't the cause.  Rather, it is the supposedly more palatable term for censorship - or more to the point, self-censorship.  Political correctness is not the cause, but the symptom of the malady.

And the malady, when dissected, comprises three main parts.

The first part we shall simply call:


Part of the problem seems to be that we are expected to make everyone feel 'included' in any discourse; to consider every possible form that humanity might take, and then tippy-toe around any characteristic that might make any of those that have such a characteristic feel in any way different.  Skin colour, physical disabilities, sexual orientation and anything else that one might care to name or think of.  But different from what, or whom?  The largest set outside their particular subset?  Their interlocutor?

Black people are now Afro-Caribbean.  Never mind that Africans and Caribbeans often dislike one another intensely, as many Caribbean people harbour a grudge towards Africans, as the ancestors of the latter sold the ancestors of the former into slavery (Europeans may have been responsible for the slave trade, but raptor states such as Dahomey grew fat on the trade and supplied the 'merchandise' quite happily).

Disabled people are now 'differently-abled' because they might get upset by anyone mentioning that they cannot walk, see, hear or whatever.  But the shying-away from the obvious fact that someone has a physical impairment that affects one of their senses or their mobility or cognitive ability really does seem ridiculous; the difficulty they have makes them no less of a person, it just makes them a person with a difficulty.  What is the point of trying to hide from the fact?

This, however, is by far the lesser part of the disease.  The usage of nouns and adjectives such as these have a habit of shifting around every few years; it is simply the language redecorating the walls, not making structural alterations, and with about as much real significance.

No, there is a deeper aspect to the illness, marked not by the labels it insists upon but with the shift in thinking it demands of everybody.

And so to the second (and unorignally named) part of the malady:


Not only must we be vary careful with the nouns and adjectives that we use, but also the verbs.  We must avoid any mention of anything at all that could possibly allude to there being any kind of a difference between those perceived as being the 'mainstream' and those who are of a 'different' group.

Helen Lewis sets this out very succinctly - and far better than I ever could - on her tumblr article 'Perfection in Language'. She uses a wonderful example:

...Imagine walking out of your front door, stopping the first person you meet and explaining your beliefs to them....
 Of course, I’ve already done something wrong in that opening paragraph. I’ve asked you to imagine walking out of your front door. But I can guarantee you that if I wrote that in a piece, I would get at least one comment “gently reminding” me that some people can’t walk, and some people can’t leave their houses. I’ve been ableist.

Now, what is wrong with walking out of your front door?  What could be more normal, more quotidian, than that?  Are we supposed to believe that those who are unable to walk, or to leave the house, will be mortally wounded by the reminder that the vast majority of others are able to do so?  That those that cannot see must be cossetted with a false belief that there is no such thing as sight?

So we are to avoid any reference to walking, to seeing, to hearing, to running, to living.  And to avoid any reference to these things we must erase them from our thoughts.  We must curtail not only our tongues, but also our brains.  We are to deny to ourselves that our everyday, normal actions are everyday or normal; we must not only pretend to a blind man that there is no such thing as sight, but we must pretend it to ourselves.

Now, it has been the case from time immemorial that if there is an enemy to fight, a process of 'othering' is first undertaken.  It is the psychological distancing of one's own group form the target group; propaganda is often used as part of this process.  In so many of the major wars that have been fought, each side has demonised the other, to make the other side hateful and something less than human.  Because then, the slaughter can begin in earnest.

Now, however, we find that this process has been turned inwards, and we are forced to 'other', to demonise, ourselves.  Be it skin colour, being able-bodied, mental acuity, wealth, ability - whatever you care to name.  If you find yourself in an advantaged or majority group, you are to apologise for yourself and believe yourself to somehow be at fault simply because - to continue Ms. Lewis' example - you are able to walk out of your front door.  Nothing less will do than everyone prostrates themselves at the feet of everyone else, each begging for forgiveness whilst simultaneously demanding that as many others as possible kneel before him as penitents keening their mea culpas.  Genuflect before the masses, the few that are many and the many that are few.

And this leads us to the third, and deepest, part of the disease - the very thing that political correctness, this cultural Marxism that has crept into our world, purportedly seeks to cure:


The aim of the politically correct mode of thought is to be all-inclusive. We are to censor ourselves in order to not cause offence to any 'group', or to those that get offended on their behalf.  But this is where we find the cancer at the heart of the left-wing mind, the worm that devours the root of the ideology.  And it is this:

By treating every conceivable 'disadvantaged' group with kid gloves, by singling them out for special treatment, any differences between that group and everyone else is highlighted, not diminished.  By refusing to allow any subset to be treated in the same manner as the main set, division is created.  The left would seek to invert what they perceive as being the historic order of things, to turn the 'privileged' white heterosexual male from being at the 'apex' of society into being the lowest and most despised group, and to take those at the very 'bottom' of the pyramid and raise them to a position of exalted status.  And of course, to be at the top of this new world order requires no effort on the part of the new elite; rather a lack of effort is all that is demanded.

This inversion is intended not only to affect the perceived hierarchy of society but also the effort required to reach any particular station.  Are you able-bodied? Hard-working? Independent? Determined? Ambitious? Talented? Then you are a sucker.  Because in this new order, the harder you work, the further down you will go.  You cannot work your way up the ladder - all you can do is slide all the way down.  Refuse to work, blame your background, society, anything you like, and you will rise.  The great shall be abased and the abased made great - the promise of Christianity has come about, but in a wholly secular and hateful manner.

Naturally, the proponents of this way of thinking countenance no dissent.  This uber-tolerant mob can tolerate anything other than a difference in opinion.  Do not dare to speak out, do not think of pointing out the absurdity of the premises, do not imagine that you can go against something that so clearly has the love of humanity at its heart and above all do not, do not examine that discomfort, that cognitive dissonance that perturbs you.

Helen Lewis did, this very week.  Within hours, her feminist and politically correct comrades had hounded her into closing down her Twitter account, to suspending her blogging and writing.  What hatred and bile spewed forth, simply because she dared to try to apply reason.

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