There are many things that drive me crazy. This doesn't exactly come as a revelation to those who know me, but there you have it. Some things just defy explanation - you get so exasperated by them, words fail you. I'd like to think that's one reason why so many ridiculous statements go unchallenged - they're so breathtakingly insipid, it's not possible to articulate an argument against them. At least one that's cogent, that doesn't consist of words spelled like retching sounds.
At any rate, I repeat that there are a lot of things that drive me crazy. One of them is P.C.-thought. For me, this surpasses adequate description - it falls into one of those as-yet unnamed categories. At least, until today. For today I found an article that has come up with the word that almost perfectly describes my feelings for Political Correctness.
And that word is: stupid.
Not just that Political Correctness itself is stupid, although it is. Not just that the things the P.C. Police obsess over are stupid, although they are. No, it's that the people who fall for this garbage are, themselves, stupid.
Writing last week at Armavirumque, the blog of the excellent New Criterion, Kenneth Minogue describes the same feelings that come over me every time I read in the paper or hear on the tube about one of these insane cases:
They are generally about the extreme cases, known in the trade as “political correctness gone mad.” The question raised is thus: when was it ever sane? These cases constitute a large and fascinating body of data making the case that we are in modern societies surrounded by a great deal of alarming stupidity, especially at lower levels of responsibility.
Don't you love that? We're "surrounded by a great deal of alarming stupidity." Yes! The old joke in one unnamed Southern state was that voters had turned against a candidate because his sister had gone to New York and become a "thespian." We laugh at that because it sounds ridiculous - as, indeed, it is. And yet Minogue speaks of a case in Britain where "a paediatrician was nearly run out of town because a vigilante mob thought a paediatrician was a paedophile." He goes on to cite a disgusting incident at Barclay’s Bank that I'm not even going to try and describe, mostly because I don't want to break my fingers pounding them on the keyboard. Just read about it in his article. Suffice it to say that Barclay's, and their smug management, don't come out of it very well. (And if this quote: "We have a robust approach to equality and diversity and do not tolerate discrimination" doesn't make you wretch, you've a stronger stomach than I, Gunga Din.) As Minogue says in conclusion,
This is a stupidity story, not a victimisation one. The executive in question was making a lot of money and can no doubt look after himself. But it is I think important that we should all know about corporate cowardice and about the companies who indulge in it.
Corporate cowardice, indeed. (Although this description could be extended to cover places like schools, which are really just government-run corporations anyway.)
And Minogue is absolutely spot-on in saying that these exercises in irresponsibility by people who choose of their own free will to be offended need to be held up to the light and exposed for what they are. It is not that the comments that offend them are insensitive (although, undoubtedly, a few of them are); it is rather that these people, in demonstrating their outrage over such comments, show themselves for what they are: stupid. (This is not to say, by the way, that the people making these supposedly offensive comments in the first place aren't stupid as well, since stupidity doesn't appear to be a zero-sum game. But stupidity, as we all know, isn't automatically the same thing as insensitivity. It also isn't a crime, for which we can all be grateful.)
Take the Tiger Woods flap, for instance. Now, Al Sharpton, whatever else he might be, is not stupid. He's a rabble-rouser and a demagogue and a number of other things, but he's definitely not stupid; he knows exactly what he's doing. It's the people who fall for his shtick who are stupid. What is particularly despicible about the whole thing is that there are things that are offensive and need to be condemned. (Piss Christ, for example) And yet people like Sharpton agitate on things that are completely unimportant, purely for their own gain. Their cast of hangers-on enable them, and the stupid legions out there fall right into line, parroting Sharpton's blather - just as he knew they would. So words become crimes, thoughts become suspect, anyone with a mind to think and a mouth with which to express those thoughts becomes a potential fugitive from the Thought Police. Think that's an exaggeration? Ask Mark Steyn.
Minogue entitled his article, "Freedom's Collapse," and I agree. As much as I worry about hte loss of freedom, however, I'm equally concerned about the loss of the ability to think. There are plenty of people out there with whom I disagree, but I respect their intelligence and enjoy their company because they're smart people (who just happen to be wrong). But there's just no way you can respect the kind of stupidity that emerges from this morass. It signals an end not only to freedom of speech, but intelligent discourse as well.
We should take Minogue's advice and point out these incidents whenever and wherever they occur, and do it fearlessly. You know, it might even be fun - just think of it as a game, like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. And why not? There is, after all, no shortage of asses out there.