I’m still trying to digest the result of the election in the US. An aspect of that shock result is Political Correctness. Many Trump supporters appear to have a visceral dislike for Political Correctness. I can understand that. Political Correctness is not easy. It’s not easy because it is a concept that calls for an intellectual and emotional engagement with subjects many would rather ignore.
It’s a concept I’ve struggled with for a number of years. On the intellectual side is the tension between Political Correctness and Free Speech. And trying to understand why Political Correctness is necessary and useful. Emotionally it’s difficult because it demands one assess one’s own situation, then exercise a certain amount of empathy towards others. Making an effort to compare one’s own struggles with the struggles of others. Possibly admitting that while things aren’t great, they are less great and for much more complex reasons for others
That is not an enjoyable journey. I’m a white, working class, straight man with a middling level of education. My travails, both structural and individual, are the most important things in the world to me. The things I know, everyone should know. What I take for granted, should be the norm. The struggles I experience, everyone should sympathise with. My station in life is not satisfactory and that should be the sole occupation of the chancers and/or ideologues who seek to represent me.
This is an easy to maintain attitude when one lives in a working class, white, almost exclusively straight environment. Even the few years I did in college, back in the early nineties, didn’t do much to teach me about those ‘others’. In part because the environment wasn’t diverse but also, to be honest, because I was an arrogant little shit who didn’t need to learn anything. Even the ten years I worked in Dublin didn’t do much to expose me to difference.
I worked caring for people who were a lot poorer than me, but I saw our difference as one of degree rather than of order.
Remarkably, when one considers the sewer that Twitter has become, it was in that weird and truculent environment that I first began to actively engage with Political Correctness. When I joined Twitter, it was for the express purpose of engaging with nerd culture and explaining to everyone why their political beliefs were wrong and mine were right. The former I enjoyed and still enjoy, the latter was an eye opener.
I happened upon people who were more educated, more intelligent and who’d had more diverse experiences than me. My infinitely self-centred world-view began to crumble. And it wasn’t because of a series of bitter battles with PC heads trying to correct my thinking. More it was just being in an environment that valued thoughtful use of words (yes youngsters, Twitter did have a golden age) caused me to begin to exercise a little more restraint.
The people I was interacting with, were people I wished to continue interacting with. So I had to adapt. This can be construed as ‘knuckling under’ or as a process of reflection and learning. Knowing my personality, I couldn’t have manged the latter without a certain element of the former. If there’s one constant in my struggle to learn new things, it’s my reflexive arrogance telling me I don’t need to know new shit. I already know all the shit I need to know.
It was and remains an uncomfortable journey. And I don’t mean I miss using racist, homophobic and misogynist language. What I miss is being the centre of the universe. I miss not being able to prioritise my struggles and my beliefs. I don’t like having to second guess the thoughts and feelings I have. I don’t like not being certain about absolutely everything. I struggle with treating a debate as an opportunity to learn rather than arena in which to dominate and win. I really don’t like that as our world falls apart my biggest concern is finding a formula that perfectly balances the exigencies of Free Speech with the necessities of Political Correctness.
I stumbled upon Political Correctness. I think that scares me. It scares me because I know that if Trump had appeared ten years ago, I would probably have been a supporter. I try to take some comfort in thinking that possibly he would have been too ridiculous even for unreconstructed Paul, but I’m not sure.
Political Correctness is hard. I understand why people, people from my background, would attack it. That pause before opening one’s mouth. That boring ass research. That patronising response from an obnoxious leftie. That genuine suffering that must take second place to some stranger’s suffering. That loss of certainty. That imposition of new rules that do nothing to improve your situation. The constant feed of easier and thus more appealing answers.
Political Correctness is undoubtedly one of the most progressive intellectual movements of my lifetime. It is an intellectual movement that actually improves lives rather than merely speculating about improving lives. And it actually saves lives. But it makes emotional demands that I fear many are unable or unwilling to meet. Who better to appeal to that emotionally insecure aspect of our characters than a man-child?