Political Correctness--the Curse of Civilization (DATE DE PARUTION 15 JANVIER 2009)

By David T. Jones on June 18, 2009

We can be confident that, as soon as our long ago ancestors started living in caves, there was "correctness"--social, political, tribal, etc.  Just where do you throw your bones after cracking them open and sucking out the marrow?  Just where do you perform your bodily functions?  Or who speaks (grunts?) in what order in the group meeting?  

And as civilization advanced, we have become aware in historical records of the intricacies of court life and which infelicities (an inconvenient wife conveniently dying) may get you banished from court.  Or it wasn't so much what Oscar Wilde did--but with whom.  Or the Aunt Jenny maxim of carriage etiquette, "I don't care what you do, so long as you don't frighten the horses."

But as societies become more intricate, the rules change; old ones are dropped 

(none of the 200 horses in your auto engine are frightened regardless of what is happening in the back seat), and new ones come to the fore.  Sometimes, the new rules are even more confusing than the old ones--or a reverse of historical precedent.  Just what is wrong about Thomas Jefferson sleeping with Sally Hemings--even if he did which is far from proved--and who should give a second thought to yesteryear's relationship that wouldn't get a second thought today?   

And the more multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious, multi/multi societies become, the more shards of the society are open to offense.  Or their representatives become "injustice collectors" seeking to expand their sociopolitical space by reducing that of others with the linguistic equivalent of sharp elbows.  In that vein, little more than a decade ago at the University of Pennsylvania, in an incident that still arouses heated discussion, a noisy party featuring some large African Americans, prompted a non-African American to shout out a dorm window, words to the effect that "you water buffalo should take your noise to the zoo."  The student comments were deemed offensive, and he was scheduled for sensitivity training.  But then a variety of First Amendment advocates took up his cause, the university president was pilloried in national press, and sanctions against the student were suspended.  However, you can also be sure that nobody since has employed the words "water buffalo" on the Penn campus above a whisper.

Thus it is not that Canada is unique in being politically correct, but rather in an era of carefully calibrated correctness, Canadians do it with greater inane panache than elsewhere--and not just in human rights commissions.

Toronto's Tongue Troopers.

It was stunning in November that Queens University should announce it was empowering six "student facilitators" to monitor discussions that may contain "racist or homophobic remarks."  Somehow these six Solomons were to take advantage of "spontaneous teaching moments" to teach--what?  That the individuals being spontaneously taught had said a naughty word?  Expressed verbally a discordant thought?  Why does this leave the shiver/shudder down the spine of anyone even vaguely aware of the political monitoring that dominated communist states during the Cold War?  This (how soon we forget) generated circumstances wherein children were encouraged to report parents who love for the Great Leader was less than fawningly obsequious. 

And just what was supposed to be the consequences for the individual who rejected the opportunity to engage in a spontaneous teaching moment?  Or responded disrespectfully to those attempting such instruction, e.g., according them a verbal "Trudeau salute"?

Denatured as university has become, there is still supposed to be the opportunity for vigorous exchange--even of discordant ideas.

White Man's Disease.

And then Carleton University in Ottawa decided to cancel its annual fund raising campaign for cystic fibrosis when its Students' Association voted 

17-2 against supporting a disease "recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men…"  Although a furious public reaction resulted in a quick retraction of this ban, sometimes an event epitomizes a type of blithe stupidity couched in bland correctness that is hard to differentiate from deliberate viciousness.  

Frankly, it is irrelevant that the rationale cited by Carleton's student association was wrong; to wit, cystic fibrosis affects males and females equally and is hardly limited to whites.  It is, intra alia, the intimation that white males deserve to suffer and die or that only diseases from which all humans suffer deserved Carleton's attention.  No, in the evolution of the Carleton conscience something has been lost--the appreciation that human suffering is universal, not divisible by gender, race, religion, and that the humane society does not differentiate between the qualities of such suffering.   


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