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Showing posts with label politically correct. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politically correct. Show all posts

Friday, December 25, 2015

Political Correctness and the Rise of Donald Trump

“I got a feeling about political correctness. I hate it. It causes us to lie silently instead of saying what we think.” 
Hal Holbrook

There has been widespread condemnation, from across the political spectrum, of Donald Trump’s latest outlandish suggestion of barring all Muslims who are not US citizens from entering the United States. This is not the first time he has tread heavily into the territory of race, religion and ethnicity. Mr. Trump launched his campaign pronouncing that all Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers and should be shipped back to Mexico. Since then he also has offended women, blacks, news anchors, the wider Hispanic diaspora, and the list goes on.

I have read many social media posts and news articles dismissing Trump as “un-American” and as someone who does not reflect American values. Yet, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers and popularity have remained largely unaffected and his support continues to grow. A recent poll indicated that 68% of his Republican base would support him if he ran as an independent (Source: USA Today) and he has 37% support nationally.

It is easy but would be dangerous to dismiss Mr. Trump and his passionate band of followers as crazy right-wing republicans and white supremacist bigots. Or to consider them a passing anomaly that has nothing to do with the growing fears and frustration of a large percentage of the American’s. I have heard journalists like Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity try to argue the merits of some of Mr. Trump’s assertions, and I suspect that fears about Islam, terrorism and immigration are main stream, even if the hate rests in the fringes. It is just that the majority of people are too scared to express even reasonable views freely for fear of offending someone and being branded a racist.

I am not suggesting that we seriously consider any of Mr. Trumps’ proposals, but to simply dismiss them and the fears of a growing number of Americans would be far more dangerous. If we do, these frustrations will only continue to fester, turn to deeper anger, and come out in even uglier ways. The question we need to ask ourselves is why does Donald Trump exist as a political force?

Trump is part reality TV star, part American dream, part frustration with politicians and lack of leadership, and part a product of political correctness gone awry. Trump is a cancer built from all the problems we have swept under our carpets for far too long in an attempt to create something resembling a society where nobody is ever offended.

Think about the fact that his greatest appeal is that he says, does, and sounds like most normal people do; like your politically incorrect grandfather, father and uncle. He routinely makes gaffs, says dumb things, lashes out in anger, but never does he come across as scripted or disingenuous politician trying to sound politically correct and thus totally unnatural. 
I am sure that political correctness, when it started on college campuses a few decades ago, was well-intentioned and genuinely meant to educate us, make us more aware and sensitive to other people. It was meant to help us become accepting of other beliefs, faiths and cultures. But today it seems to have become about trying to mould everyone into thinking, sounding and saying the same things. It has become the default weapon to shut down all alternate world views and is being used to prevent people from speaking their minds.

The point is that we all do and say stupid things and we all have prejudices and biases. We always have and we always will; that is part of being human. Today, it feels like political correctness (PC) in America has metastasised into a way to chastise anyone and everyone who does not fit some random litmus test. But all we are succeeding in doing is shutting down alternate viewpoints and muzzling people who do not think the same way, or agree with our views. It is this avatar of PC that is in large part responsible for creating and unleashing the monster we now call Donald Trump.

This is a very dangerous thing in a democracy that claims to value freedom of thought and speech above all else. Because freedom of speech also means allowing people who view the world differently to air their views, no matter how offensive, hurtful or heinous we might find them to be.

Not everybody thinks the same way about homosexuality, global warming or taxation. However, there is a stark difference between someone who spreads hate and someone who simply disagrees; and not all disagreement is rooted in hatred. We need to start making those distinctions and respectfully disagree with people, but not try to muzzle or force them to change their views by shaming them. Instead, we need to show people a better way through our actions; that is the only way you to change someone’s mind and long-held beliefs.

We need to make sure that the mainstream voice is more powerful and thus drowns out the hate. Think about the fact that there are still many Nazi sympathisers and active members of KKK, but the power of the mainstream has driven them into the wilderness, and made sure they stay ostracised and in the fringes of society.

We need to accept that everyone lies, fibs and says things that are sexist, racist, and homophobic. This does not make you a liar, racist, misogynist or a homophobe. We are human and will never be perfectly polite or politically correct because part of being human is doing and saying dumb and hurtful things – sometimes in anger, sometimes out of frustration or pain and very often in a misguided attempt to be funny.

I do not want to live in a world that is so superficial and forcibly sanitised, that we have to worry about everything we do and say. If we continue down this obsessively political correct path, all we will achieve is to alienate friends and family, and fuel the hatemongers even more. One day we will wake up to find that we have stopped independent thought, free speech, social experimentation and personal growth.

Our greatest ability, as humans, is not to be perfect in everything we say, do, feel and think, but to learn and change, after we have been shown a better way by others.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dangers of Politically Correcting History

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
Augusten Burroughs

If we want to, we can find fault with Mother Teresa, as a Hindu right wing group in India recently did. I have no doubt that she made mistakes, misspoke, and if we scrutinise every moment of her life we also will find numerous events and instances where there is cause to be critical of her actions and possibly even some of her deeply held beliefs. This is because even a saint is human, and therefore beautifully flawed like the rest of us.

There is a very dangerous movement underway in America, one that feels like an attempt to re-write history to make it more sanitised and politically correct, and therefore less offensive to people today. What is most frightening about this is that it is being done in a way that completely disregards the historical time and context. It is taking an irrational and one-sided view of history by trying to apply a modern day lens to it.

A few years ago a Mark Twain scholar and his publisher New South Books decided to release versions of the classic novels ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ deleting the word “Nigger” and replacing it with the word "slave" (Source: Publishers Weekly article).  That is akin to painting clothes onto a Picasso’s Blue Nude painting because women today find it offensive.

This movement is threatening to spread beyond desecrating works of art and of literature, setting its sights historical figures by attempting to re-evaluate their contributions to society, but evaluating from inside a blind and alarmingly inane fog of political correctness.

The irony is that this is happening under the guise of promoting inclusiveness and greater tolerance. The people championing this cause do not seem to realise that shutting down all alternate viewpoints and censoring historical facts (to fit their worldview) is the very definition of intolerance.

At Princeton University, a protest led by the Black Justice League is demanding that the college “publicly acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson,”  America’s 28th President, and take steps to rename the public policy school and residential college” and  remove his visage from every corner of the campus. (Source: NYTimes article).

Wilson grew up in the land of the KKK, the Deep South, and clearly held pro-segregationist views, as demonstrated by his efforts when US president to remove black officials and administrators from government. He also stood steadfast in refusing to admit black students during his tenure as president of Princeton College. Yet, he is also the same man who “oversaw the passage of a range of progressive legislation previously unparalleled in American history. Samuel Gompers, the most visible labour leader of the time, described Wilson's achievements as a "Magna Carta" for the rights of the workingman” and Wilson was one of the leading supporters of the League of Nations. (Source: Huffington Post article). There is no question that Wilson’s legacy is a complex one and that he held some detestable views, if we are to judge him with today’s cultural lens. But he did not live in the 21st century and that is precisely the issue.

Wilson, like most men (unlike a Hitler or Idi Amin) and like the vast majority of human beings, is a multi-faceted and complex person. So, before we attempt to erase from history books the likes of Winston Churchill or Woodrow Wilson, we need to stop and ask ourselves a few serious questions. Were the behaviour and views of these men a symptom of the time in which they lived and of their upbringing? Did these men devote their lives to spreading hate, akin to a Klansman or Hitler? Are we looking at the sum of their parts, over the period of their lives and not just one aspect of what made them complex beings? And most importantly, will doing this not just simply tilt the pendulum of history in the other direction and once again fail to present the full picture?

Would it not be better for us to use this moment of greater awareness as an opportunity to ensure that we can start to provide a more complete picture of these men, and therefore our history, rather than attempt to scrub or rectify it?

Also, if we go down this path, then we must think about how and where we would draw the line. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson were all slave owners. Abraham Lincoln famously said in a debate, in 1958, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…” (Source: We all know what Lincoln went on to do; so how should we now allow people to judge him – racist or reformer?

Nobody is suggesting we sit back and accept a one-sided view of history or accept a view that might justifiably have been ‘white-washed,’ but eradicating every flawed figure within it is not the solution. Human beings are complex, multi-faceted, ambiguous, emotionally charged and irrational beings. Our greatest strength is not in learning how to never say, do, think or believe things that may be inherently wrong, but in our ability to change. Greatness comes not from being perfect, but from the ability to learn from our mistakes and change even our most deeply held beliefs, as Abraham Lincoln showed us.

We will do future generations a great disservice, hurting the cause of tolerance and equality greatly if we attempt to take the opposite but still one-sided view of these men. So instead of expending our effort to erase murals and tear down busts and change names of buildings, let us re-examine history in an effort to add colour, to present the full and complex picture of the people they were.

Tolerance can only be promoted through a deeper understanding of the flaws and complexities that make us all unique and human, not by pretending we can ever be perfect.