By Harry Heath
We Millennials are constantly being told we are growing up in the age of political correctness. When once there was a time that thought and speech ran free, today it is perhaps the not so liberal, lefty elite that wield power over our politics, our culture and our language. And it is also all our fault, especially us university students, the proponents of quashing freedom, crying before we are hurt and melting in the face of reality, in a way that renders us a generation of snowflakes. I should begin by making clear that this is not the warranted though now commonplace critique of campus censorship. Rather it is an attempt to put political correctness, an idea that we can understand to have been established by the left and since weaponised by the right, under the spotlight.
So what do we mean by being politically correct, or being ‘PC’ to give it its abbreviation that has resulted from its ever presence in the discourse surrounding our culture? Firstly, we all understand that political correctness concerns identity and most likely collective identity. We are also aware that in practice being politically correct would involve behavioural or perhaps even policy changes; changes that are born out of a duty to basic courtesy or sinister attempts to restrict liberty, depending on which side you approach it from. What do you think of political correctness? Would you consider yourself politically correct?
This article is not a defence of political correctness if it is defined by the intolerant and infantile left that seek to use their claimed offence as a stick to beat those they don’t approve of. By this I mean the mobs who attacked the Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson who has recently risen to cult stardom due to his objection to complying with Bill C-16, a law that proposed to make not using the correct language regarding gender identity as conflicting with the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I won’t pretend that I was aware of Peterson’s work or growth in popularity until his recent interview with Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman, though I must admit that I do agree with him, on the main point at least. Peterson’s refusal to abide by a law that demands the use of only permitted words is to be applauded by anyone who believes in the freedom of the individual, though evidently not all were as impressed as I.
There is a video on YouTube of Peterson being circled by protesters following a rally held at the University of Toronto. Peterson, surrounded and bombarded with accusations of bigotry and transphobia, remains relatively calm until he is asked one question that appears to me the point where the boundary between PC politeness and PC censorship is crossed. Peterson explained that whether he will use peoples’ requested gender pronouns may well depend on how they behaved to him, to which one protester asked what gave him that authority.
“WHY DO I HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO DETERMINE WHAT I SAY? WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT?” Yes, that seems to me to be the line in the sand.
It appears that when the news supply is scarce prior to publishing deadlines, the default cliché opted for by the usual suspects in the right-wing press is that political correctness has, in fact, gone mad. This phrase, coined by Richard Littlejohn who has been a popular columnist for publications such as The Sun and The Mail, now dominates the arguments from the right on this matter. A week after the final murder was committed by the ‘Suffolk Strangler’ who notoriously killed five sex workers in 2006, Littlejohn weighed in on the event demanding that the victims should be referred to as prostitutes, arguing that not doing so was evidence of political correctness going mad.
He states: “We do not share in the responsibility for either their grubby little existences or their murders.” He then proclaims that while it may not be fashionable or acceptable to say so, death by strangulation for sex workers is but an “occupational hazard.” Finally, he opines “in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.”
Most of us understand that the victims of such barbarism should not be defined as prostitutes but as daughters, sisters and mothers, as equally deserving of our humanity as any other murder victim. But to Littejohn, this was a prime case of political correctness going too far. He saw his moment and valiantly smeared five dead women for the good old cause, the cause of sticking it to the liberal elite thought police in their metropolitan ivory towers.
Earlier I posed the questions of what do you think of political correctness? And would you consider yourself politically correct? Well it depends on who is asking the questions and who is defining the terms.
If it’s Momentum, the militant mobs of identity politics or the NUS, and political correctness is understood to be eliminating utterances that are inconsistent with a specific worldview, then no, I wouldn’t consider myself PC; and it is in all our interests that the battle against it is victorious. But if the same two questions were instead posed by Nick Griffin or Daryl from Peep Show, then yes, I am an ardent supporter of the cause for increased political correctness in public life, because political correctness to them means being forbidden to write racial abuse on houses belonging to ethnic minorities.