Friday, January 24, 2014

The Apology Society

We have become an apology society. This obsessive need to flagellate oneself in public is being driven, of course, by political correctness, which has engendered the idea that there is an inherent right not to be offended, especially by speech. This runs directly counter to the First Amendment, which sanctifies the right to speak freely; but the denizens of PC are systematically undoing this sacred right for, as usual, the sake of political gain and their own egos.

Let me be categorial: There is no right not to be offended. There is, however, a fundamental right to express oneself, free from persecution. But in our society today, though one cannot be legally prosecuted for offensive speech, one's life can be made a hell for it. Those who are accused of offensive speech are subjected to pillorying in the media, and demands are made that they be censured, forced to apologize in public, and fired from their jobs. What makes this current malaise even more pernicious is that it is the bugaboo of one particular political ideology: liberalism. The left has made it abundantly clear that it favors tolerance and freedom of expression, but only for those who agree with it politically. And since it is the left that invented political correctness and defines and redefines and enforces it, the apology society is nothing but politically-driven censorship. "But," they will argue, "we do not demand that people be prosecuted for speech." No, you have your own methods of punishment. You will publicly humiliate the offender and engineer the destruction of his or her livelihood. And you will do so in the name of correctness. Unable to use the law as a bludgeon, you use publicity and economics, the effects of which can be just as harsh and destructive as prison.

We have recently been forced to witness the sorry spectacle of Duck Dynasty. I had never heard of Duck Dynasty and had never seen it and, having learned something about it, do not wish to. It is, as far as I can tell, merely another wart on the face of reality television, which is the latest derogation of the habitual unreality of television. However, its main character was thrust into the public view when he stated that the Old Testament teaches that homosexuality is abnormal. Now, while I do not believe that, just as I do not believe the Creation story, I know that many people do, and I would not demand that someone be dragged before the court of public opinion for having said it, humiliated for having said it, suspended from his program for having said it, clamor that he forfeit his career for having said it, or insist that the force of the government be brought to bear in order to stifle him.

As far as I know, you are free in this society to say that the Bible teaches against homosexuality, and that God created Adam and Eve, and no one should have the power to compel you to remain silent. I may disagree with what you say, but I will not insist that you be shut up; indeed, I might even welcome such assertions since they are so easy to refute. But this is not enough for the daemons of political correctness, who use the power of interest groups to pressure spineless politicians and corporate executives to muzzle any speech with which they disagree. The most troubling aspect of this sinister phenomenon, however, is that it is being mainstreamed in our culture, often with the eager collaboration of politicians and the media.

Now we have the Governor of New York declaring that people who disagree with the left on matters of abortion, gun ownership and the definition of marriage are not welcome in that state. (This scabrous declaration was then echoed by New York City's new mayor.) Earlier we had the Mayor of Chicago telling a restaurant chain that, because its owner contributed to traditional-marriage causes, his business was no longer welcome in that city. Whatever happened to the principle upon which our free society was based that declares: I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it! That was courageous talk; political correctness is craven censorship. The Governor of New York and the Mayors of Chicago and New York City are fools, but they are something worse (since foolishness can be forgiven); they are agents of mischief, because they are undermining the principles of liberty on which our nation was founded. They fail to see that the point is not homosexuality or gun rights or abortion; it is the future of free speech in America.

Every day on the news I hear references to "The N Word" as if it referred to some sort of blasphemy that dare not be uttered. Of course, this expression, which people use in place of the word itself, merely causes the listener to think of the word, producing the opposite effect to that intended; rather like telling someone, "Don't think of an elephant." The fact is that people have become so intimidated by the forces of political correctness that an entire vocabulary of forbidden terms has emerged in our society, and otherwise intelligent, well-educated people skirt fearfully around them as if they were ancient curses never to be invoked. We have seen this sort of verbal paranoia throughout history: Say the name of God out loud and you will be punished! Say the name of the devil three times and you will be punished! Let others know your real name and you will be punished! Now we have our own forbidden lexicon of which we have been taught to live in fear; and who gets to determine its contents? The political left.

I refuse to be intimidated. I am a writer, the inheritor of a profession thousands of years old, whose practitioners have pointed the way to truth and pointed out hypocrisy when everyone else in their societies had gone either mad or corrupt or stupid. I do not fear language - any form of language - and will use whatever words I feel I must to convey to my fellow citizens what I esteem to be the truth of our condition. But, as always, with freedom comes responsibility. I will not use language gratuitously nor with the calculated intention to hurt, but I will use it, all of it that I have at my disposal, how and when it seems to me appropriate. For my colleagues, especially in the film business, who censor themselves and others for political purposes, I have nothing but disdain. The words, "You cannot say that," are to me a challenge to honor and perpetuate the sacred traditions of the writer and the writer's profession, for which many have given their lives, invariably at the hands of political bullies.