... and I’m not talking about the advantages of buying an Apple Macintosh, although, heaven help me, I do prefer them.
No, I’m talking about Political Correctness... You know, that idea that, like Health and Safety, some would gleefully claim has run riot in the UK over the past, I don’t know, maybe twenty years, changing the way we’re allowed to talk to each other.
In the past I’ve been a little bit suspicious of the Political Correctness brigade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being civil. I’m all for treating everyone with respect, almost whether they deserve it or not. I’m told that I rather overdo the polite thing, and am a bit of a push-over in many situations, rather too easygoing, although I fail to see how. I’m also the first to stick my hand up (politely, and without shouting or swearing, and with a smile on my face) if something goes wrong and needs sorting out. Being lovely greases wheels. Treating people well goes a long way to allowing them the freedom to give you what you want while not compromising their dignity. It’s not complicated. Besides, I actually care about people, and I like to think I’m sort of nice, on the whole.
My problem with Political Correctness has been that I wonder whether it isn’t sometimes guilty of hiding the evil that people think. If someone is racist or sexist or homophobic, or in any other way bigoted about something, honestly, I’d rather know that about them. I can deal with anything if it’s front and centre, and I can meet it head-on. If the law prevents people from expressing their darker side, I might be lulled into thinking that all’s well with the world, that my neighbour or my colleague or my new friend thinks the way that I think when, in fact, they’re some sort of militant neo-Nazi madman.
I’m wrong of course, and I’m glad that I’m wrong.
What Political Correctness has actually done is help wipe out the sort of thoughtless, casual, grindingly miserable prejudices that tend to affect a society that has, historically, grown up run by old, white, conservative men. People showed fear and loathing of the things they did not understand because old, white men had taught them to. They did it without reference to their own experiences and feelings, and they did it automatically. They were wrong, and when Political Correctness defined the terms under which they could be proven to be wrong they couldn’t believe that they could be so crass and so offensive.
Most people who were once guilty of casual racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice in their every day speech quickly adopted new ways of talking. Words are powerful. If those casual users of offensive language stopped using the negative words, they probably also stopped having casual negative thoughts. Those suffering daily from the slurs heaped upon them by the stupid, thoughtless and ignorant suffered less, and Political Correctness succeeded. It made life better for the offended and the offender.
Words can change how the casual thinker thinks.
A minority of miserable bastards is wedded to its thoughts. Those people will continue to think what they have always thought. They will continue to be sexist, racist, homophobic and prejudiced in any manner of abhorrent ways. They will also continue to let us all know what they think, loudly and clearly. There is no way to dress that stuff up. What they say and how they say it will always give them away, and you won’t have to listen very hard or very carefully to work out who they are.
I wish it was possible to change those people’s minds and hearts, and their words and deeds. I fear that it isn’t. There is, however, always hope for the rest of us.