The phrase ‘political correctness’ is a slippery weasel. It involves reducing common courtesy to absurdity. Most people have sufficient manners to avoid saying ‘I don’t like Jews’, or ‘all Scots are mean’, or ‘Muslim men make bad fathers even though they don’t drink’ – even if the people making those statements have the misfortune to believe them to be true. So, if someone said ‘Aboriginal men make bad fathers because they drink’, they would be making an offensive statement based on race. Most people would have sufficient courtesy to avoid making any such statement in public because other people would very likely be hurt, or offended by such a statement – and the object of courtesy is to avoid our hurting other people when that hurt can be avoided. (It also distinguishes us from gorillas.) And it would be downright silly to say that such a simple exercise in good manners could be dismissed as political correctness, whatever that phrase might be taken to mean.
At the other end of the line, it would be just as silly to say that we should not address a group of men and women as ‘guys’. That would be worse than silly – it would be bullshit.
So, we are talking about matters of degree, and there may be differences of opinion at the edge. But if there is a problem, it is not one that troubles most people. In truth, it is an issue that is confined to a very small number of people in government and in the media and in those revolting things called think tanks.
The term ‘political correctness’ or P C has in truth become abused and debased. People of a reactionary cast of thought claim that their freedom of speech is imperilled by exponents of political correctness. Commentators in The Australian pepper their pieces with this complaint tirelessly. In the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel, it is a machine-gunned cliché that rat-tat-tats with the same ghastly monotony as ‘sovereignty’, ‘free speech’, ‘free thinkers’, ‘elitism’, ‘populism’, ‘activism’, ‘systemic political bias’ (from The Australian!), ‘draining the swamp’, ‘identity politics’, ‘sovereign borders’, ‘open border activists’, ‘pride in Western culture’, and ‘fundamental Western values’. (Those last two are black-shirt Dutton sinister – so much for the East!) Here is a simple example:
The P C left can smear us with false accusations of racism and we have no recourse to action under the RDA.
(As Lenin asked, who are ‘we’?)
Here is another sample:
The restive public is leaning towards political figures who oppose the P C establishment’s open border lunacy, its intemperate approach to channelling public funds into the activist class in the media, academe and non—government organisations, and its censorship of politically incorrect speech.
In that piece, the author used the word ‘sovereign’ or ‘sovereignty’ on nine occasions. I wonder what that word meant on any of them. This is transcendental bullshit.
Now may I offer what looks to me to be a sure–fire case of political correctness? Let’s say that you believe that anyone who believes what Trump says is a fool and that anyone who agrees with him is a jerk. If you dared to express such a view, they – the people who support some aspects of Trump – will come down on you like an avalanche. What might be your crime? You – Brother or Sister – have looked down on and insulted the people, the ensainted and sovereign populus. You have therefore branded yourself as part of the dreaded ‘elite’. It is as if you had outed yourself as an ‘aristocrat’ in Paris in 1793. Shame on you! Do not pass Go, but go straight back to Eton.
Here is an example of a reprisal by the politically correct. As you may know, the Murdoch press is very jealous of the ABC. They make war on Aunty. Almost every day, they air some complaint in a petulant, bitchy and unprofessional manner. On 10 November this year, one piece began:
ABC Breakfast presenter the Virginia Trioli has been caught live on air saying Donald Trump’s supporters should be ‘subjected to an IQ test’ and that Mr Trump must have been looking at his wife’s breasts while voting.
She’s been ‘caught’! The author of the piece goes on to tell us that Ms Trioli has form. She has also been caught on air making ‘crazy’ circles with her finger next to her ear when Barnaby Joyce was on the TV. Was she suggesting that our Deputy PM is nuts?
Well, perhaps the Murdoch press over-sauced the goose here. They do pose, after all, as the champions of freedom of speech – except for the ABC, and anyone who criticises one of their darlings. And while we recoil with horror at the suggestion that Trump voters might be subjected to IQ tests, we presumably just put to one side one of Trump’s more lunatic suggestions – that he and his opponent be subjected to a drug test before the next debate.
Now, we may be forbidden to query the intelligence of those who voted for Trump, or for Farage or Boris Johnson, but one thing is certain – these people are downright gullible. Some in the press thought that Trump averaged twenty lies a day. On any view, he was making promises that were contradictory – as did Farage and Boris Johnson. ‘Gullible’ here means not just that people want to believe, but that they are susceptible to being duped or deceived (or ‘gulled’). And the gullible in each case will now face the discovery of the price of their deception. The promises are already being repudiated, and how many might be fulfilled? You can have even money that apart from protection, the only promise that he will keep will be to cut taxes on the filthy rich.
It is curious how our wishes distort our thoughts. The Scots philosopher David Hume said ‘Reason is and Ought Only to be a Slave of the Passions.’ A very meticulous and conservative political commentator on the BBC, representing the Tory party, refused to acknowledge that a giant Farage ad in response to open migration that showed an endless line of Syrian refugees was racist. Indeed, he went further and said that the mere suggestion that the ad was racist was one of the very factors that had incited the populus to rise up against the elite. You will recall that Ms Oriel also complained about ‘us’ being dubbed racist and being left without the statutory recourse open to the P C left. The wheel of political correctness has come full circle – if you call someone out on racism, you may just be consigned to the P C left – at least by people in the elite who cannot be bothered to think. Or who have been frog-marched into intellectual oblivion by the IPA.
And let us come back to ‘identity politics’, a notion that I don’t follow, but which causes great grief to the IPA, and other reactionaries. With whom has Trump identified? Poor white losers – that’s what the pros tell us. And for salvation, the same poor losers are looking to a billionaire who was born into the American version of the purple, who has never been left in need, and who has never had or lost a real job. And if those of the meek are his clients, to use a Roman phrase, what language will be adequate to express their response to their betrayal by this gross and rich egomaniac? .
Finally, I may say that I met Virginia Trioli about 25 years ago. She had been assigned to interview me while I was being bashed up on the ABC and in the lesser media for a gross crime of political incorrectness. I had queried the intelligence of radical feminists, and the professionalism of some lawyers. I may have been the only libel lawyer in Melbourne who was not consulted about suing me. It all happened in the course of my defence of Helen Garner and her book the first stone. I very much enjoyed my chat with Virginia. As I recall, she thought that the whole thing was ridiculous. I’m glad to see that another generation’s worth of time in the commentariat has not dimmed her sanity, or her wit. God knows, we all need both.
A sugar tax?
In a book that hopefully will be published shortly, provisionally entitled Language, Meaning and Truth, you will find in a chapter on logic the following:
One form of fallacy recurs all the time in political argument. ‘The State should not worry about the welfare of children being brought up by same-sex parents – just look at the mess that so many heterosexual parents make of bringing up their own children.’ ‘Don’t worry about dying of lung cancer from smoking – you can just as easily die from heart or liver failure from drinking.’ If the argument is that it is good to avoid harm of a certain kind flowing from one kind of conduct or cause, it is immaterial to that argument that the same or a similar kind of harm may flow from another kind of conduct or cause. One of the arguments against the English abolishing slavery was that if the English did not do it, others would. Coal miners say that if we don’t dig it up, others will. When you state the position like this, the argument is obviously a fallacy – but you hear it all the time.
We see a similar fallacy on the issue of a sugar tax. We have a problem with obese children. Sugar, especially in soft drinks, is a major cause. The problem can be attacked in many ways – say, by education or by increasing the cost of the damaging product. Both are applied to cigarettes, and are working. The tax solution is working is working elsewhere on sugar. But politicians who represent sugar growers say that the problem can be dealt with by dieting and exercise. But if you can apply a, b, c, and d to fix problem x, it just does not follow that because you can apply c and d, you should not worry about a and b. If your doctor says that your heart condition can be treated by diet and exercise, you would be mad to conclude that because you can exercise you will forget diet and knock back six Four’n’Twenties a day. You might soon be a dead lunatic.
Another response was tried on Sky News. The tax proposal was denounced as ‘The nanny state on steroids.’ This combination of clichés is not an argument. If it is a way of saying that this intervention by government is excessive, it begs the question. Most laws interfere with freedom. The question is whether that interference is justified. Since we are talking about the health of children, it is hard to argue that the state should leave the field open to individuals. It is also hard to argue that it should be left to parents. We don’t do this with education, and what if the parents don’t believe in doctors?
Mr Joyce should come clean about what is driving him to come up with his bullshit. Peta Credlin, on Sky, may improve with time.
Poet of the month: Rosemary Dobson
The Greek Vase
In the garden a Greek vase brimful
of leaves fallen from the grape-vine.
When the wind blows
The tendrils spill out like an alphabet. Twisting
tendrils join the letters in phrases.
is blown my way – some words perhaps dissevered
from the Iliad or the Odyssey
re-formed by hazard
of wind and season. Treading carefully
among sentences, lines, whole stanzas
on the paving
I think: or are they not inscriptions
for Musa and Erinna, friends of my childhood
in cryptic calligraphy.
Beautiful indeed were Musa and Erinna
their epitaphs are composed in an unfamiliar language
and written in leaves by the wind.