I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Political correctness

Political correctness has gone too far.

I can understand that women resent being excluded by collective terms like mankind and chairman. It makes sense to use humankind and chairperson instead, but to be gender-neutral with the pronouns becomes difficult. All these he or she and his or her are distractive, and the use of they and them when referring to a single individual makes me almost shiver in disgust. I usually use [s]he to replace he/she, but I have no alternative for his/her. The use of hir has not been universally accepted. Some non-fiction authors alternate between the masculine and the feminine pronouns, but it feels awkward. Sometimes I just use the feminine pronouns and leave it at that. After all, we have used the masculine ones for centuries, and it will take a long time before the men feel discriminated against.

But political correctness goes well beyond gender-neutrality.

The term mentally retarded has disappeared from the accepted vocabulary, together with the more detailed terms idiot (with an I.Q. sd 15 of 50-69), imbecile (20-49), and moron (below 20). Now we are supposed to say mentally challenged or intellectually disabled together with the qualifiers mildly, moderately, severely, and profoundly.

OK. I suppose, I can still live with that. But what about replacing short or dwarf with vertically challenged, garbage man with sanitation worker, homosexual with gay, sex change with gender reassignment, handicapped with disabled, physically challenged, or differently abled, pornography with adult entertainment, and fat with full-figured? And there are many more, I am sure. I am a bit unhappy with the homosexuals’ appropriation of the term gay, because The Gay Divorcee is a beautiful 1934 film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It is the film in which Astaire’s character, referring to the unexpected meeting with Ginger’s character, says “Chance is the fool's name for fate!”

Still talking about linguistic political correctness, in Australia we should also be careful not to say aborigine (noun) and aboriginal (adjective) when referring to native Australians. Some people might resent it.

Unfortunately, some groups use an expanded political correctness to boost their own agenda. For example, when disagreement with Israel’s policies is stamped as antisemitism.

I was twice in Israel and felt no animosity whatsoever against its people. I spent a month in a kibbutz as a volunteer and then travelled throughout the country, from the Sea of Galilee to Eilat. In fact, it was in Degania Alef, the first kibbutz established in Israel in 1911, that I met the German young lady who later became my wife and with whom I still share my life. And Jerusalem is the most fascinating city I have ever seen. How could I possibly hate Israel and his people? I don’t.

And yet, I find Israel’s handling of the Palestinians appalling, although my opposition to the Israeli policies has nothing to do with the Shoah and the centuries of prosecution of the Jews. In fact, I consider the fact that Israel identifies itself with Judaism an unacceptable, albeit for them very convenient, instrumentalisation of their national religion.

As an aside, I don’t think that the Palestinian question will be resolved soon. Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam and, at the same time, the declared capital of Israel. The two parties will never agree to share it or partition it, unless they are forced to do so. And as long as the Jewish lobby in the U.S.A. remains as strong as it is today, the American governments will never force Israel to give up the full sovereignty on Jerusalem. I personally would like that Jerusalem were declared the religious equivalent of a world heritage site. A place where Jews, Muslims, and all sorts of Christians can have free access. A territory under U.N.O. administration not belonging to either a state of Palestine or to Israel. It would be an interesting precedent, wouldn’t it?

Another aspect of our society associated with political correctness is the overwhelming and unjustified care with which one should talk about religion. Why shouldn’t we be able to criticise religions as we criticise, say, political parties? I understand that people identify with their faith and take personal offence when criticism is levered to their religion, but that is true for any deeply felt belief, isn’t it? Everybody can verbally shoot at the atheist, but God forbid (pun intended) not at the faithful! Anyhow, I am slipping away from the subject of this post. Religion deserves a post on its own...


  1. There was an interesting article in the most recent edition of The Weekend Australian called The Leecherous Gaydar or something like that. It said that the gay community have developed a protection against criticism. I assume this is because to criticise the gay community in any form (in this instance, the article discussed gay promiscuity) is to appear prejudiced, and to speak badly of this group is now considered almost as unacceptable as speaking badly of a particular ethnic group, or of a gender.
    - Evana

  2. Evana, nice to see you here!

    I just realised that you had posted a comment. I am now following my own blog, so that, if I understand it correctly, I will be notified of new comments. We shall see.

    What that article says doesn't surprise me. My only hope is that with time people will gain enough self confidence to be able to ignore potentially discriminatory forms of expression and focus on the substance.

    Once (admittedly, many years ago), when I was working in Germany, one of the managers told me: "Mr. Zambon, you work very well. You work like a German, not like an Italian..." I am still proud to be able to say that I didn't fly off the handle!