All too often I see the term ‘P.C.’ being denigrated as some kind of mealy mouthed nanny state intervention depriving us of the right to freely express ourselves. I would like to tell this story in a different way.
Once upon a time it was considered totally acceptable to pick on anyone weaker than you. Those who were different – racially, sexually, physically, emotionally, intellectually… you name it, anyone who dared to be different or had no choice about failing to conform to norms, was fair game. You could make jokes about them, you could casually undermine them with cruel names, you could insult, hurt and ridicule them with impunity. As the ‘weirdoes’ (as non-PC folk like to call us) had no power, there was no fighting back. Pagans were afraid to admit to their faith. Protest, and you were no fun, a spoil sport, making a fuss. Some fifty percent of the population were also expected to smile sweetly and be good sports about routine sexual discrimination.
If you feel a warm glow of nostalgia thinking back to that, then Gods help you.
There were grass roots campaigners from all kinds of minority groups standing up to this, asking for fair, polite and equal treatment. Mostly it didn’t happen. Mostly it took legislation to stop people who felt entitled to abuse others from randomly spouting whatever inconsiderate, toxic rubbish spewed normally from their mouths. Said people have fought, and resented, and demanded to be allowed to freely express their opinions. Sometimes this is dressed up as their rights being violated, and I have encountered white, healthy, middle class, middle aged guys who truly think they get a rough deal and that one legged black lesbians get all the good stuff in life. This is because, in part, they’ve never knowingly met, much less talked to any one-legged people, black people or lesbians.
Now, let’s consider what an un-pc-opinion actually is. It’s a gross generalisation, rude in nature and targeted at either an individual or at groups, based on assumption. Being un-pc means claiming the right to insult women for being female. It’s about ridiculing the old for no longer looking like young people and mocking this disabled for the bodies they were born with. Racist un-pc statements are all about racial superiority. Most of it comes down to asserting your belief that you are better than the person you are kicking. The un-pc person gets a power trip out of kicking people with less power.
There are times when being specifically rude, or specifically offensive has its place. It has to be specific and it has to do something worthwhile. Most politicians urgently need offending into doing their jobs properly, as I see it. What great social problems do we challenge when we mock a disabled person, make jokes about ethnicity or poverty, or ridicule transgender folk? If there’s a real problem, we should be talking about it. This is not about real problems, this about how some people have a problem with other people not being like them. Nothing at all is happening here except one person causing pain to another so as to feel bigger. It’s not about freedom of speech because for it to be a freedom of speech issue, you have to have something to say. If no actual point is being made, if the whole point is to put someone down because you can… what excuse is there?
We have to challenge people who think that being powerful makes it ok to hurt those who aren’t. Using humour to puncture pomposity and challenge the powerful and hold the unreasonable to account is not the same as using humour to denigrate people with no power who have done nothing to offend you but be themselves.
I see a lot of Pagans online getting into ‘telling it like it is’ which seems to mean being as rude and careless as they feel like. It’s not good enough. Freedom of speech is not an entitlement to inflict pain for the sheer hell of it. Freedom of speech does not entitle anyone to defend an imaginary right not to know how it is for other people and why what they’re saying might not be ok.