Politically Incorrect


In the mid nineties, my husband and I decided to do a West Coast trip. We were looking forward to reconnecting with a special family, and enjoying the beauty of California.

But there was one special stopover I was determined to make, one that I had pre-planned and booked as soon as we had decided on the holiday.

I wanted to watch a taping of an episode of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect.

 

 

In Los Angeles, people beg you to come and be a ‘live audience‘ for the shows being taped. But I’ve been on a ton of game shows, a reality show, and some comedy shows, so none of that appealed. Bill Maher, on the other hand …

I’d never missed an episode. Every week I waited anxiously for Friday night to come around, and was sure to be planted in front of the telly the moment it began.

yikes political correctnessThat series, Politically Incorrect, ran from 1993 to 2002, first on Comedy Central, and then on ABC. Ironically, the show was cancelled due to … political incorrectness.

Is that not the most delicious irony?

“In the aftermath of the (9/11) attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the terrorists responsible were cowards. In the September 17, 2001, episode, Maher’s guest Dinesh D’Souza disputed Bush’s label, saying the terrorists were warriors. Maher agreed, and replied: “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, [it’s] not cowardly.”

Despite similar comments having been made in other media, advertisers withdrew their support and some ABC affiliates stopped airing the show temporarily. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer denounced Maher, warning that “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” Maher apologized, and explained that he had been criticizing U.S. military policy, not American soldiers.” (wikipedia)

Maher bounced back, with a new hour-long program on HBO called Real Time with Bill Maher, which premiered on February 21, 2003. Bill recently celebrated his 25th anniversary of on air political correctness, with a gaggle of celebrity friends. And I still watch the show religiously, every week that it’s on, and even when I disagree with Bill and/or his guests – which is quite often.

The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.” (also wiki)

political correctnessIn the wild, as a concept … political correctness is a wonderful idea. It is an effort to put the spotlight on those unconscious biases that many of us grew up with, and sometimes find ourselves blurting out at awkward moments. It is an exercise in trying to dig out those prejudices at the root, and kill them forever. Many of the things we say without thinking betray unconscious biases, because we are the products of not only our society, but of the thoughts and opinions of our parents and grandparents, who lived in a much less permissive time, and who imprinted their preconceived judgments on our little psyches when we were at our most impressionable.

And the truth is, we allow those people whom we like or generally respect, to say all sorts of terrible stuff, not normally said in ‘polite society‘ … our ‘tribe’ gets a pass. Especially if our ‘tribe’ is a beloved parent or grandparent. We may shush them in public, but we know where their prejudice comes from, whether it is warranted or unwarranted.

how woke it isBut here’s the thing – some very well-meaning people have taken that lovely, Christian, politically correct, desire to make everything and every one equal, and run it into the ditch. And while those very well-meaning people may consider themselves pretty ‘woke’ … they are actually in a clear minority.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where they’re no fun anymore (to paraphrase Crosby, Stills & Nash.)

According to recent studies, “25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” Even young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to 29, and 79 percent under age 24.

On social media, the country seems to divide into two neat camps: Call them the woke and the resentful. Team Resentment is manned—pun very much intended—by people who are predominantly old and almost exclusively white. Team Woke is young, likely to be female, and predominantly black, brown, or Asian (though white “allies” do their dutiful part). These teams are roughly equal in number, and they disagree most vehemently, as well as most routinely, about the catchall known as political correctness.

Reality is nothing like this. As scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon argue in a report published Wednesday, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” most Americans don’t fit into either of these camps. They also share more common ground than the daily fights on social media might suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.

If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration, the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.

According to the report, On this particular issue, the woke are in a clear minority across all ages.”  (The Atlantic, October 2018)

 

 

 

It seems that 79 percent of white Americans, 82 percent of Asians, 87 percent of Hispanics, and 88 percent of American Indians believe that political correctness is a real problem in America.

If you happen to be a huge proponent of PC culture, that’s gotta come as a shock. But again… irony! … not everyone thinks the same way you do! Even those people whom you believe your well-intentioned political correctness is protecting – might be just as happy if you’d back the hell off, pardner.

I don’t think a lot of people can see just how extreme they’ve become in the pursuit of ‘social justice.’ It’s getting harder and harder to justify the micro-aggression of someone who attacks another person on social media over their lack of political correctness, without seeing that the criticism itself is a lack of political correctness.

Their virtue signalling becomes very like the thinking of the critters of George Orwell‘s Animal Farm, who started with the pledge of “Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad, ” but soon find that motto a meaningless sound bleated by the sheep (“two legs baa-d”), and meant only to drown out any dissenters. “By the end of the novel, as the propagandistic needs of the leadership change, the pigs, who have learned to walk on their back legs, alter the chant to the similar-sounding but completely antithetical “Four legs good, two legs better.” (SparkNotes)

The propaganda of what is politically correct, or incorrect, is massaged into place to suit those to whom we’ve handed the power of cultural judgment.

(Don’t believe me? Google Scott Kelly/Winston Churchill.)

There is a danger in this deification of virtue signalling, the scouring and nitpicking of the words of allies, issuing ‘trigger warnings,’ and the compulsive polishing of a turd of correctness while ignoring giant piles of far more real and horrific shit going on everywhere else. All of that desire to be perfectly and pristinely correct places too much emphasis on protecting special interests, rather than the larger issues now effectively, and often literally, hobbled. (“I’d like to protest those babies in the Kiddie Koncentration Kamps, but someone on Facebook just called someone else fat!”)

This need to be more morally righteous than the rest of the world will be the death of the liberal movement. It’s not only the opponents of a PC agenda that find the mining of politically correct navel lint both contemptible and jejeune .. it is those possible allies being driven away by non-stop micro-aggressions targeting their every non-policed, casual word.

Last word goes.. as it should .. to Mr Bill Maher, and his thoughts on Halloween.

 

 

 

 

The End of History?


I wrote this column just days after the election, but was so dispirited that I never published it on Frustrated Boomers. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, it bears repeating.

This morning, Neil Postman‘s son, Andrew, wrote something along the same lines. It is worth reading.

quote: “Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

…. For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley?CMP=share_btn_fb

And here is my column, originally published on November 27th, on Bob Segarini‘s wonderful site, “Don’t Believe A Word I Say.”

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When we’re confused by where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been.

Confusion, uncertainty, masked as fear, pride, or hubris, reigns in all of us in these last days of 2016. What a year! I’m tempted to ride out the last bit hiding under my bed with my cats.

I don’t think Trump could have been elected in any other year but 2016. Not only has it been a year where we’ve lost so many of those whom we respected and loved, but a year where the horrific has become commonplace, whats-aleppowhere democracy is shoved aside as unfriendly to business,  where opinion (literally) trumped logic,  and the slaughter of millions of innocents barely raises an eyebrow.

“What is Aleppo?”  Gary Johnson asked “What is Aleppo,” while seeking the office of President of the United States. America … you have much to answer for.

We have to understand that we would never have come to this moment in history without a lot of groundwork being laid. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, amongst others, foretold days like these; it’s been in the works for quite some time. huxley-vs-orwellPerhaps Huxley, in Brave New World, understood our impressionability more than Orwell did in 1984 … it’s not that we are being denied books or access to information, it’s that we prefer entertainment to knowledge.

From the foreword to Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, Penguin edition:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

It’s not being a conspiracy theorist to understand that there are market forces, globally, that need certain conditions to occur, in order to sustain capitalism, and that those forces will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain those conditions. However capitalism, of necessity, must eventually eat itself, since it is based on continual growth.

Before we move into the next era, post capitalism, we have to deal with the mess that capitalism has made, not just to the planet, but to our thinking. We have to understand that we have been willing lambs to the slaughter of intelligence and sober thought, distracted by shiny things that hold our limited attention for seconds before our constant craving for the next sensation propels us on to the next shiny thing.

north-korea-bomb“The world’s nuclear clock  sits at one second to midnight .. but first, a word from our sponsor.”    

We have to come to grips with a constant rage that bubbles beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, a rage that has no real focus, but seizes on whatever temporarily irritates or annoys us, that compels an acting out far beyond what the situation warrants.

We have to accept that we have been lied to, in the name of business, as our resources have been seized and ruined for future generations, as species become extinct due to their habitats being stolen from them. Human greed and human need have made the chances of your great-grandchildren ever seeing a real live elephant, slim.

politicians-before-and-afterAnd, in what I consider truly tragic, we still have to somehow find a sense of trust in those we elect to lead us into this uncertain future, and I don’t know if we can suspend that much disbelief any more.  There comes a point at which we simply can’t deny that each successive political  ‘saviour’ is just a new mask on an old face of treachery, bought and paid for by market forces.

Billions of our hard earned tax dollars have been frittered away on projects benefiting commerce, not the people. In Ontario alone, before privatization of Hydro One,  it was run by one president, one vice-president, one department head, and so on. The president’s annual salary was around $420,000. Today, in Ontario ‘s Hydro (between the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (all three Public Sector Agencies)), the president reportedly earns around $4million annually, and there are 11,879 employees who make more than $100,000/year. These top earners draw combined annual earnings of over 1.6 billion dollars. 626 in management positions are making more than $200,000/year…

… while many Ontarions are having to decide whether they can afford heating or eating this winter, because they can’t come up with the money for both.

And yet, this week we’ve heard that our Prime Minister has been making the rounds, intent on privatizing yet more of the country’s assets, despite economical and historical data proving that privatization of assets can add a minimum of a third of the costs to taxpayers, when internal positions are outsourced.

Canadians on a government pension of $12 to $14K a year can only pretend for so long that the enormous government wages and pensions of civil servants and politicians make any sort of logical or humane sense.

well-dressed-lobstersDespite no recent Prime Minister having been elected with a clear majority or mandate, sweeping changes that will affect Canadians for generations have been put into place over the last few decades, with barely a whimper.  Or, if a whimper was murmured, it was simply ignored. At best, we changed lobsters and continued the dance.

And we can only look on from afar and pray for American’s who are, like it or not, about to have their historical clock turned back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of segregation, back alley abortions, internment camps, and increasing civil unrest.

Many think we’re at a pivotal moment in time, although  the events of 2016 may pale in light of other ‘really terrible years,’ like 1347-50, when the Black Death took a third of Europe’s population;  1492, when the indigenous people of America invited the wrong people to dinner;  Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845; or  Europe in 1943, when the Holocaust deaths were at their height. Certainly, Syrians will name 2016th as their country’s nadir.

franz-ferdinand-1914From History Today, ” If I was forced to name the worst year, it would probably be 1914. In July of that year, a European order that had brought peace, prosperity and extraordinary artistic and scientific progress, began to unravel. The vast conflict that followed led directly to the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the mess that is the modern Middle East. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, did we enter a relatively stable period – the ‘End of History’ – before it came crashing down on September 11th, 2001. ”

So – we’ve been here before. However I don’t think there’s precedent for this year of Syria and Iraq; unparalleled devastation creating a flood of refugees fleeing for their lives; Europe’s epidemic of terrorism, Brexit,  the Zika outbreak, horrific civil unrest in Turkey, growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria,  American peaceful protests being met with aggressive military engagement; and possibly worst of all, the unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin … these are this year’s trials. homeless-world-cup-2016

What comes after the “End of History?” Whatever happens next, it is certainly a time when the decisions and actions we – as a people – take now, will determine where we go from here, and will define not just North America’s future, but the entire planet’s.

 

 

Is It Foolish To Be Positive In A Cynical World?


I haven’t written much lately, and there’s a reason for that; I’m deeply saddened and disappointed by much of recent human behaviour, and I’m fighting against becoming cynical.

To be inspired to write, to communicate your thoughts and beliefs, is to be aware of the world around you. Everything is grist for the writing mill, whether good or bad. You “write what you know.”

main stream media owned by 6 corpsWhat are the messages we are receiving, from mainstream media, from social media, from our friends? What are we processing and regurgitating, aloud, in print or digitally? Are we absorbing the constant bombardment of information, filtering it through our own belief systems, and coming up with something that makes sense, or are we just letting it wash over us, as all too much to contend with?

In the face of injustice, as in blatant racism, or as in how those with money and power are treated differently to those without, many rush to justify what is clearly morally wrong. Unable or unwilling to actually parse the injustice, they make excuses, pushing aside their own moral concerns to side with the abuser rather than the abused. In time, that constant re-working of what goes against their own inner morality leaves them unable to clearly delineate right from wrong – every issue becomes subject to exceptions. Actual scientific facts become ‘unproven.’ “War is peace. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.” (1984, George Orwell)

Our cultural heroes are no longer men and women of strong moral character, willing to sacrifice for causes to improve mankind. Rather, we put pop stars and billionaires on pedestals, and worship their most banal efforts as triumphs. And, befitting this shallow mindset, we first build up these ordinary people, and then we tear them down, mercilessly.

candycrowleyfatshamingThe ‘mean girl’ caricature, once parodied and satirized, is now considered normal behaviour for many with little themselves to offer, beyond snide disapproval or belligerent tirades. Those who, through luck or machinations, are in positions where they could actually improve the lives of their fellow man, instead choose to belittle those who already have very little.

“Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet.”

99 want peaceLately this rush to demolish what took centuries of effort and sacrifice to create – a modern civilization with dreams of equality and peace – seems to have accelerated beyond all control. It’s difficult to remain positive and to continue to believe in the fundamental goodness of the human race.

And the irony of those attempting to pull down the pillars of society lies in the truth that they have no concrete plan for a new form of society beyond their only motivation; power, and to impose absolute control over everyone else’s lives.

I do believe in mankind. I also believe that we are at a turning point, a time when it’s still possible to turn the ship around, and get back on the right course. For civilization to move forward, we need to stop believing that social, political and religious differences should be met with intolerance. And we must demand of the people we have put into power that they work for the people, not against the people.  radical belief