Fear and loathing in the 21st century

Dear Diary:

We go about our lives in this country in fear. Yes, perhaps we are conscious of the threat of terrorism but now that we have run away and proven the Jihadist claim that we in the West simply don’t have the stomach for a fight, we think that’s probably fading. Why, after all, would there be any point in attacking people more than happy to supplicate?

No, we are afraid to even open our mouths and speak. Our little knees knock at the very thought of having a bit of a laugh let alone a serious conversation.

We tremble and huddle in societal corners, cowed by the spectre of some metaphorically hideous old matron berating and humiliating us for our thoughts, should they ever pass our lips, our Facebook posts and our Tweets. All thanks to the scourge of political correctness.

It emerged in the early 1980s and was designed then, or so it seemed, in a reasonably civil fashion to make us more aware of the unintended consequences of our language upon others – primarily in terms of gender, race and ethnic origin, and that, without intending to do so, we might cause offense and, perhaps worse, embarrass ourselves. Fair enough. It was certainly uncivil to be running about telling jokes about “so there was a (insert perjorative) woman who made her livelihood dancing naked, a black gentleman, a young man of south Asian origin and a Ukrainian sitting in a bar . . . “

We all endeavour to be pleasant social company and are willing, if we wish to enjoy the same, to adapt to changing social mores even when it occasionally involves explaining to very elderly parents that no mother we don’t refer to those ladies as Negresses anymore. This social evolution (“honey I really don’t think you should tell any more Catholic jokes when we are over for dinner at the O’Malley’s”) was, however, dangerously perverted by two developments – one legal and one cultural.

Human rights agencies were originally designed to ensure people were not treated in a prejudicial fashion in terms of gaining and retaining employment and accommodation – matters in which tangible harm to a person may occur. That, though, wasn’t enough and in a creeping series of decisions over the years, “harm” was redefined by virtually every such body in the country so that it included intangibles such as damaged “feelings.” Feelings, of course, are by their very nature self-defined and the assumed wisdom became that if Person A’s “feelings” were hurt or they were “offended by” a statement by Person B, it mattered not whether Person B had said a perfectly reasonable thing or not, Person B had no option but to withdraw the statement and apologize and even then might run the risk of being dragged before a veritable Kangaroo Court, fined and publicly shamed. Person A’s “feelings” trumped all the previous notions of social and legal judgment and reasonableness.

There was no longer any need to search for the Reasonable Person because their services were no longer required.

The other is that school systems imbued into what are now two generations of Canadian Eloi the notion that their feelings have social primacy; that individual rights no longer exist in a natural balance with societal group rights. In doing so, they invented (yup, they just made it up) the “right” to live unoffended – intended or otherwise. Any old-fashioned notion of “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” went out the door along with “suck it up buttercup: it’s a tough old world out there and – guess what – if you can’t tough it through a little taunting you won’t stand a chance unless you discover a couple of vertebrae.”

As a result, we are now all victims, either because we get upset when people say things which offend us or because we live in constant fear that someone will take offense from something we say and we will be thrown in the stocks of social media. And with the longstanding notion of “reasonableness” tossed aside by our institutions, all feelings are valid simply because we feel them. Oppose or even question a public policy objective and you are at risk – as occurred without apology recently from Kathleen Wynne to Ujjal Donsanjh – of being a racist and a xenophobe. Germaine Greer can be banned from university campuses because her insistence that a vagina is a requirement for definition as a woman. Oxford University can be brought to its knees because the very presence of a statue of Cecil Rhodes makes people feel “unsafe.”

If you’ve got nothing to actually go on that a person said, talk about “dog whistles” and imply that even though they never said something offensive you have decided that they probably meant to and are offended anyway because “we all know what that meant.” And so on and so on until we don’t even talk to each other about anything that actually matters anymore, so afraid have we become.

We talk about the weather but certainly not climate change or the cultural evolution of the country. People who have a moral belief that a fetus is an unborn child may not be a sitting member of the governing party.

This is the age of the Neo-Puritan. In it, we are surrounded by Joe McCarthys. Yet we have not yet found a Joseph Welch to ask the Wynnes and the Nenshis and the others: “have you no sense of decency?

Perhaps it was all well intended. Perhaps it was all to ensure we had our fun more politely. But we are an increasingly earnest and humourless people because, as John Cleese further explains here (and above), comedy depends on our ability to understand our imperfections and have a bit of sport – sometimes at our own expense and sometimes at the expense of others.

The Pravda of political correctness in this country is its mainstream media, as many readers are likely to agree.

They are the ones who, when the irascible if not always likeable Ezra Levant was fighting for something as fundamental to media as the right to free expression, stood mute. They are the ones who, when human rights tribunals were without legislative authority (see above) expanding their own purpose and meaning, stood blind and mute. And they are the ones who while freedoms of conscience were being stomped on by the governing party stood deaf, blind and mute.

Yet they are the ones who today beg for mercy from the public’s judgment as their industries die. The reason? Perhaps, as this piece from the CBC’s Neil MacDonald alludes to, it’s this simple: they are afraid to seek the truth, lest some take offense from it.

Speaking of the guardians of journalistic freedom and democracy, there was not a peep from them following the ejection from the public announcement of Alberta’s resources royalty review of one of their number attempting to report on the same.

We understand that Sheila Gunn Reid (among Twitter’s more, um, direct commentators) doesn’t actually fit in with the crowd, being of a conservative predisposition and all that. But how do media expect the public to stand up for their “rights” when they won’t stand up for those of one of their own?