Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All too easy to be smug rather than compassionate

It's all too easy to smugly mock "political correctness," and the silly excesses of cultural discourse that it can get itself into. In fact mockery has become all too fashionable these days. Everybody does it, even those who otherwise believe in social justice, the rights of diverse people to live by their own beliefs, and freedom. Everybody looks at the silliest excesses of those who act PC, and in doing so they forget that PC had at its root a desire to increase human dignity, social justice, and equal rights.

What I see all too often when people mock PC is that what they're really trying to do is hide the fact that they're deep down in their hearts full of regressive, repressed prejudices and bigotries. You can't change peoples' minds overnight about beliefs and prejudices they learned at their parents' knees. If PC fails, it's because it tries rational argument against deep-rooted emotional prejudices. Even when people want to give up those deep prejudices, and on the surface have done so, deep down they can still be present.

What happens when some people mock PC is that they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater because the last thing they want to admit to themselves is that they're still, in their own hearts, bigots. They do their best to conceal their shame by shaming others. That's a classic form of psychological projection: make fun of other people for what you don't like about yourself.

The hidden agenda of dismissing PC out of hand is a disguised way of saying that all people aren't created equal and don't deserve to be treated as if they were. Most anti-PC rhetoric is covertly elitist; some of that rhetoric tries to pretend it's populist and egalitarian, but it's really contemptuous of "the people" at core. It's really easy to see this happening as a hidden agenda when some right-wing pundit does it; it's more concealed when those of the left do it, too, although it's possibly more corrosive.

What all the mockery completely, willfully, deliberately wants to overlook is that we still live in a world in which people are put to death or tortured, actively and passively, for being Different, for being Other.

George Orwell once opined that we'll know that totalitarian tyranny has finally taken over the West when the totalitarian arguments all sound their trumpets about Freedom. He was right. And that's exactly what's happened to the country that I live in and love, since 9/11. I've seen civil rights being eroded right and left while people just bent over and took it up their asses about it. I've seen the gap between the haves and the have-nots gape to its widest margin in recorded history. I've seen what Benjamin Franklin, one of the Frames of our Constitution, warn us about, 200 years ago, when he said, "Those who would exchange liberty for security deserve neither."

As for the Salvation Army, fuck them: their hands won't be reaching out to any disaster areas I've ever been at the epicenter of. The day the Salvation Army funds an AIDS Hospice, I'll change my opinion about them, but not before. The Salvation Army remains one of the most regressive and political of relief agencies, with a specific list of peoples they WON'T help. They are selective not because the job of saving the world is too big, but because they are bigoted. Do they do good work? Certainly. Do they do good work evenly amongst all those who need their help? Not at all.

I give money to the Red Cross, and to other similar organizations who really do not have any politics beyond that of compassion, support, and social justice. Amnesty International is about stopping torture and increasing personal freedom and personal dignity—which are prerequisites for social justice. The Sierra Club is about preserving the wilderness for generations to come, to see and enjoy, and remember what the world used to look like.

I'll end with a personal story:

When my father retired from being a doctor, he joined Rotary, as a way to get to meet new people in the community and as a way to participate in doing good social works, which he did all his life. One thing the Rotary members volunteered to do was ring the bells for the Salvation Army at store entrances around our community during the Christmas season. Dad did that for a few years.

My father was a lifelong advocate for social justice and personal dignity. As a doctor, he went to India sponsored by the mission, to be of aid to others. He could have been a wealthy surgeon or pathologist, but he was always oriented towards helping others, even if it meant his career was neither famous nor wealthy. He always tithed part of his income to relief charities and preservation organizations, from Amnesty International to the World Wildlife Fund to the Red Cross, among others. He usually rotated among a list, giving money to three or four different charities every year.

One year, my father looked into the politics and policies of the Salvation Army. He's always been curious, and always had a real zeal for history. He found out how homophobic and right-wing the policies of the Salvation Army are, and, of his own volition, decided that he would no longer volunteer to ring bells for the Salvation Army, nor ever again donate any money to them.

This was one of the most loving things my father ever did for his gay son. I love him for this one gesture beyond what words can say.


  1. Thank you for this. I just finished talking about how I am dreading the conversation that will take place at family gatherings the next few days, as I am a "notable bleeding heart" in a sea of "highly conservative right wings". There will be mockery and ganging up on me. I feel a bit more armed. And I also didn't realize how unPC the SA was, an extended thank you to your father. They won't be receiving my castoff donations anymore.

    Have a wonderful holiday. I always look forward to your comments on John's blog. :)

  2. Hi, Kim, and thanks very much for your thoughts.

    I got an email from an acquaintance in Minnesota this morning, about all this. He told me a story of how he had put together a fund raiser to make donations, and how the SA refused to accept his donations, because it was an LGBT non-profit making the donation. They apparently reserve the right to refuse both to accept donations, and to give money, on purely "moral grounds." That is stated policy.

    I hope your holiday visit goes well, and best wishes to you.

  3. Despite my disagreement with Bukowski. I do like what you say, being bay myself. Interesting analysis of PC logic - we do all still share prejudices and hatreds, that we are perhaps too afriad to admit, or too immature to out grow.

    Mind you, like Orwell, I see the PC logic as a kind of fascist logic - excluding difference, making everyone the same - eerie logic that falls in line with the patriot act and so on. A kind of global system almost - in the west - especially now we see these security systems being put in at airports. All seems to be gearing towards a kind of global 1984 still system. Worrying.

    molto intersante.

  4. Do you have email? I'd like to chat about Bukwoski.

    I take your point, but it is quite patronising, you're pretty much saying- O, Colin, dear boy, you don't love his poetry or prose or wisdom, you simply love his Image. Now run along.

    Patronising and insulting and B.S.

  5. Patronizing? I don't know where you got that.

    I merely do not fall down in worship at the feet of St. Bukowski. The cult of Bukowski is such that if you don't slavishly worship his every word, you're a traitor. It's a lot like the cult of Dylan.

    I see Bukowski as deeply and irrevocably flawed. Sometimes he was able to turn that into angelic writing, and all too often he wasn't. A lot of his stuff is simply crap, and over-rated; if it had come from anyone else, even the cultists would agree.

    And he was never a Beat, even though he hung out with Neal Cassady once or twice.