My paternal grandmother, may she rest in peace, was a Lancashire Lass. Born and raised in Bolton, Lancashire, she was taught to be plain-spoken, in the manner of those times. The folk of Lancashire and Greater Manchester didn’t see any value in tip-toeing around the truth – my grandmother certainly never did. She was always calm and polite – she rarely raised her voice and I never saw her cry – but she always told the truth, as she saw it.
To Grandma, it was always better to tell the truth. It was better, she thought, that a bride should be told she looked bad in her chosen dress before the wedding, even though the bride’s feelings might be hurt by the remark. Better a cut, she would have said, than a broken arm. She would have made both the best and most terrifying of editors, I think; she had the right attitude and the willingness to tear something apart, just to make it better.
She was, in many ways, an immensely strong woman. My grandfather died when her son was very young and she brought my father up alone, in an age where single mothers were far rarer than they are today. She remained in the same house in Bolton as my father married and moved to Edinburgh, where he had me and my siblings. She would come up to Edinburgh to play with me when I was a child and, even after she grew too old to play with us she still did her best to keep in touch with the family. And yet, she tried hard to maintain her independence. She refused to move in with us until barely two months before her death.
I cannot help but think Grandma would have looked upon the current feminist movement (and many other PC movements) with scorn.
I’m sure there were more than a few assholes who used ‘plain-speaking’ as a cover for … well, being assholes. (They were, of course, the forerunners of internet trolls.) Certainly, the folk of that time would have thought nothing of peppering their speech with racial slurs, considering them nothing more than mere figures of speech. But the rise of political correctness has done so much harm to plain-speaking that we may be paying the bill for years to come. There are times when no amount of tip-toeing about the truth will help.
Just as there is a fundamental disconnect between hard science and soft science, between the objective and the subjective, there is a fundamental disconnect between political correctness and reality. Reality doesn’t change just because the terms of the debate have been altered.
You see, the original idea behind political correctness was that people shouldn’t set out to cause offence. And that isn’t actually a bad idea, as far as these things go. But the nebulous concept of ‘offence’ has been allowed to overwrite reality. The fear of offending someone – anyone – leads to self-censorship, that most damned of censorship, rather than facing up to the simple fact that certain unpleasant truths must be spoken, that certain unpleasant facts must be faced squarely.
The problem lies in the simple fact that PC demands a reversal of the standard accuser-accused dynamic. In a civilised world, the accuser must prove the guilt of the accused; the accused does not have to prove his innocence. But when PC is involved, the accuser is allowed to claim that he or she is offended, regardless of the objective truth of the words. The mere act of saying ‘I am offended,’ perhaps followed by charges of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc, seems to be enough to put the speaker on the defensive. But any fool can claim to be offended by anything.
This whole concept has been undermining the modern world for decades.
It isn’t hard for anyone who doesn’t have their head in the sand to realise that Radical Islam poses a threat to the entire world, up to and including every last Muslim. But politicians, rather than coming to grips with this unpleasant truth, seem unwilling to say it out loud. Watching the reaction to the Paris Attacks from many political quarters has been downright sickening. Donald Trump’s poll numbers jumped, I suspect, because Trump came right out and pointed his finger at the threat.
But one doesn’t have to look at that to see just how badly PC has eroded the fabric of our world. The current epidemic of ‘cry-bullies’ on American campuses comes, at least in part, from the simple failure of academic authorities to stand up and tell increasingly pathetic student protesters that their behaviour was unacceptable. But PC makes it impossible for administrators to do anything of the sort. (Expelling the entire football team at Missouri would have been an excellent step to restore sanity to the campus.) There are times when you just have to say NO – like you would to a child – rather than indulge adults in childish tantrums.
It is not easy – and I say this as a writer – to face up to critical remarks. There is a tendency to be angry with the person who points out the plot hole in chapter 10, or that you killed the hero’s love interest (chapter 13) back in chapter 5. And yes, writers encounter more than their fair share of critical remarks. Nor is it easy to respond with careful thought when one faces criticism from the outside. But failing to grasp that, at worst, the jerkass has a point can only lead to contempt.
Trying to put lipstick on a pig doesn’t magically turn the pig into a beautiful girl. It just makes you look stupid. Anyone who doesn’t have a strong reason to convince themselves that the pig is a girl can see that. And telling them that the pig is a girl merely convinces them that you’re a deluded idiot.
Because, you see, reality doesn’t change. And trying to put lipstick on a pig doesn’t magically turn the pig into a woman. And, most importantly of all, having the safety and security to allow yourself delusions about the world surrounding you doesn’t mean that others won’t suffer for your mistakes.