BY JAMIE FOSTER
For the past 25 years the left wing intelligentsia, who the Americans have so badly misnamed ‘liberal’, carved the rules for public discourse in tablets of stone. Political correctness became both a hackneyed cliché and a powerful orthodoxy. That was until Brexit and the election of Trump shattered that new zeitgeist and left fragments of it strewn across the sand like shards of a low rent Ozymandias. Free speech is breaking its bounds much to the consternation of its gaolers. Does this mark the end of civilisation or the dawn of a new age of political debate?
The reaction to it has been as violent as it has been predictable. On both sides of the Atlantic the still discordant wavering multitude came together in silence to freely vote for freedom. Pollsters, journalists and assorted ‘experts’ smugly predicted victory for the losing sides. They counselled restraint to the Neanderthal dissenters in the inevitable event we Remained in Europe or St Hillary acquired her birthright.
When the hob nailed boot was on the other foot they lost their corporate minds. Wailing and gnashing of teeth has become prime time viewing on media that was once ‘mainstream’ but is now trailing in the wake of the new ‘social’ interloper. What was it that upset them so?
The answer is simple. Their vice like grip on the rule book had slipped. The social norms they had worked so hard to enforce had lost their magic. Something had gone wrong.
So is the new Dark Age upon us? Have we decided to allow evildoers free rein to express their most base desires?
The answer to this question is more complicated. Even the dullest pencils in the box have realised that familiarity has bred contempt for the screeches of ‘racist, sexist, homophobe’ that anyone who inadvertently stepped on a taboo has been subjected to for decades. The sharper pencils wonder whether these labels meant much in the first place.
The mischief that they all point to is the same. Discriminating against individuals on the basis of a prejudicial reaction to a characteristic common to a group is wrong. It is wrong to dislike someone you have never met because they are black, gay, female; or for any other reason that is not associated with the inner workings of their mind. It is wrong because it dehumanises them. It casts them out before they have had a chance to prove their worth. It makes them irredeemable, untouchable, a pariah.
Guess what? So does labelling people you have never met as ‘racist, sexist or homophobic’ on the basis of words that you don’t like. It is the same mischief. It is a prejudicial discrimination where a human being is branded as unworthy because they have dared to say something wrong. Any chance of persuading them to a different view is lost. They have been expelled from the discourse.
It is the prejudice that is important, not the target. It is no worse to prejudge a black person than a white person. Terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ exist only to allow the user their own prejudices while condemning those of others. Challenge prejudice but don’t dehumanise those guilty of it. We all are from time to time.
Tolerance, Dear Readers, is the willingness to put up with things you do not like. You are not tolerant if you welcome things you do like. Tolerance is a virtue up to the point that it is a weakness. Tolerate that which is lawful and refuse to tolerate that which isn’t and you won’t go far wrong. Prejudice should be discriminated against not tolerated, in whatever guise it arises.
Discrimination is a valuable tool that allows us to distinguish between that which is good and useful and that which isn’t. Being ‘indiscriminate’ used to be frowned upon. Don’t confuse discrimination with prejudice. Prejudicial discrimination is wrong. Rational discrimination is what separates us from sheep. Remember to discriminate between the responses to words and actions.
We are learning that we do not have to be cowed or silenced when the gatekeepers shout anymore. This may lead to some people experiencing unpleasant conversations they might otherwise be protected from. In this regard they will be achieving the equality those protecting them claimed to have desired. Whoever you are and whatever you look like you have the same opportunity to join the conversation now. It will cover uncomfortable topics and the rhetoric may be undesirable. The hurt will pass. If we talk rather than shunning discussion it is just possible that we really can come together. Just don’t think that your knee-jerk reaction is morally purer than anyone else’s. It isn’t. Put down your labels and your sanctimony. As the late great Bob Hoskins assured us. “It’s good to talk.”