Political Correctness and the dead hand of Stalin

Let me first put my cards on the table. I am a left-wing liberal and an atheist. My core doctrine is live and let live. I could sum up my beliefs by citing the US Bill of Rights (excepting the obsolete Second and Third Amendments and the Tenth, which only relates to the US) and Christ’s exhortation to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In my life I have known what it is like to face prejudice and abuse — I have been abused for my religion (I was raised a Catholic), my class, my race and my sexuality (though I’m neither posh nor homosexual — the basis of the abuse; abuse doesn’t have to be logical). I suspect that the same is true for most people. The long-term effect this has had on me is the same as it would have on any civilized, educated individual; it has made me doubly wary of my own prejudices.  I have no wish emulate those I despise.

One of the issues that tends to exercise liberals in these days is that of homosexuality and with various pertinent questions in the news, that’s what I shall concentrate on here.  My attitude, intellectually, to homosexuality is simple. As long as they don’t bother me, why should I hassle them? In fact, it’s a little more complicated; the few homosexuals I’ve known I’ve liked a lot, leaving me somewhat prejudiced in their favour.

We don’t know why homosexuals are the way they are and we almost certainly never will. The intermeshing of nature and nurture (genetic inheritance and physical environment and upbringing) is so deep and complex in humans that to identify the causes of any trait other than the most obvious (Thalidomide or lead-poisoning, for example) is like trying to reverse-bake a Dundee cake — you never will end up with a neat pile of identifiable ingredients. What this means, in essence, is that no attitude to homosexuality can possibly be soundly based on reason. Everybody’s attitude to homosexuality is, to some degree, based on prejudice. In that situation, the only justifiable attitude for legislators is one of laissez faire towards both sides.

In Britain, we now have the so-called Hate Crimes Act. This law is a simple fraud, though, for it outlaws not only “hate crimes” but ideas that its creators deem unacceptable. It is, in reality, a direct and deliberate attack on freedom of speech.

Let me expand on this. Freedom of speech is not, cannot be, absolute. There must always be limits. Suppose Oswald Funf calls on the people to kill Jews. This is clearly something a civilized society cannot tolerate. But does it justify a specific “Hate Crimes Act”? Of course not! Funf is inciting people to murder and that was already illegal. Suppose, on the other hand, that Hank Smith comes to England and preaches that homosexuality is a sin. Is that a hate crime? According to the Act, it is. Yet it is a simple matter of opinion. Hank reads Leviticus and reads that to “lie with mankind as with womankind … is abomination” and takes this as the Word of God. I happen to believe that he is incorrect on both counts but I have no proof. We have two people with opposed opinions. Neither opinion is based on hard evidence yet one opinion is illegal and the other is not. What the “Hate Crimes” Act does, therefore, is to create the Orwellian concept of “thought crime” in statute law.  What can justifiably outlawed — murder, assault, arson etc — was already illegal.

Political Correctness is a concept that peddles itself as a doctrine of toleration and which is widely attributed to white middle-class intellectuals. Neither is true; the second is a misconception, the first is a bare-faced lie.

Political Correctness is a doctrine of totalitarianism; the very phrase derives from Soviet Marxism-Leninism. So far from seeking toleration, it seeks to enforce conformity to the “party line”. The fact that there is no “party” that we can point to is where it is so clever and so dangerous. Like all successful totalitarian dogma, it sets out its stall to appeal to the masses. Like Naziism, it targets the middle-classes; unlike Naziism, it hides behind a painted face of liberalism. Political Correctness is not liberal, though. If you offend against the party line, you will be denounced and discredited.

The idea that it is the conceit of intellectuals is incorrect. In the Soviet Union, opponents like Solzhenitsyn were classed as “pseudo-intellectuals”. It is a great paradox that the modern Stalinists are, themselves, pseudo-intellectuals. Intellectualism requires an open mind and an open ear. The adherents of Political Correctness have neither. I call them “Ottos” from Kevin Kline’s character in A Fish Called Wanda, who thinks himself an intellectual because he reads philosophy; the snag is, he doesn’t understand it. The intellectual, confronted with a concept with which he disagrees, demolishes it with reason and argument, not contradiction and denunciation. The intellectual’s attitude towards homosexuality is one of measured toleration; he emphatically does not call for the criminalization of any other opinion. Possibly the most worrying aspect of the whole issue is the fact that most of the adherents of PC are neither bad nor mad, merely stupid. History shows us that stupidity is quite the most dangerous flaw of the human character.

Meanwhile, what of the homosexuals? Well, the frightening thing is that by using the issue of their rights as a whip to keep the rest of the people in line, Political Correctness is eroding the very tolerance that it claims to be trying to promote. The reality is that society’s attitudes to homosexuality do not exist in isolation. They merely reflect the broader attitudes to sex generally and society’s attitudes to sex swing, pendulum-like, from one side to the other. One day, sooner or later, the pendulum will begin to swing back from its current position. What Shaw called “middle-class morality” will start to revert to earlier attitudes and attitudes towards homosexuality will start to harden. When that time comes, what will the Politically Correct attitude be? Well, the dogma’s success is based on reinforcing prevailing attitudes rather than carving out new ones, so we may assume that the day will come when it will be Politically Incorrect to defend homosexuality.

Don’t believe me? Open your history book to the Sixteenth Century Iconoclasts, the Inquisition or the Seventeenth Century Puritans or the French Revolution and see if anything rings a bell.  Political cant has never been and never will be a substitute for humane morality.

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