There were once, only mega-scripts. People’s self definitions were shaped by mega-scripts, primarily religious. People saw themselves as fundamentally Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. It wasn’t until more modern times that these mega definitions lost some of their power. Social life became more complex, and smaller micro-scripts began to play a larger role in the definition of self. See my book “see my book” for a longer discussion of these many more modern scripts. But lately, we have begun to see the rise of a new pandemic mega-script…..PCism.
PC, I think, began in kindness. It began with good intentions. It hoped to make individuality more sustainable, safer, tolerable than ever before. It hoped to erase embarrassment, censure, bigotry, bullying. All admirable goals. But increasingly in the current decade, it has become more strident. Itself more intolerant. PC has become an Orwellian Overseer. It has become a bully that sought to end bullying. It has become intolerant while seeking to end intolerance. It has morphed into its own simulacrum. Its inability to see itself truly is evidence that it is now the simulacrum and not the original. The evil twin has taken its initial place. And it has now metastasized everywhere. It is now a mega-script. It is now a secular religion.
And who are the perpetrators of this new religion? Who are its keepers? Who makes up the new inclusions and restrictions? Self-appointed keepers and monitors are common. People in the media who have some visibility take it upon themselves to comment and circumscribe. Special interest groups with various agenda are guardians of the gate. In terms of numbers, I think these apostles are few, but their voice is powerful enough and broadcast wide enough to intimidate the many. The many also may be vulnerable because they see the good intention buried in the admonitions, but suffer silently under its wide arc of threat. A small but sufficient minority can impact public opinion through the many conduits of social media and through economic intimidation via product boycotts. The fear that the PC police engender is perplexing in its strength and breadth. I do think a large number of people passively embrace the good intentions of PC and slough off its intrusiveness and shrillness. This blunts their readiness to speak up and oppose. It is easier to go along silently.
But I think we are close to a tipping point. Such a point always comes. All strident movements eventually overplay their hand. Push back will come. It has already come in small doses. (see the Islamic cartoon demonstrations) The vast spectrum of forbidden words and phrases grows exponentially. And it grows both in numbers and silliness. (see pet companion versus pet owner) Word control leads to thought control. Control thought and you control the physical person. Fascism and tyranny are built with these building blocks. America has always had the great ability to laugh at itself. So we often do when pc gets silly. But in some cultures both now and in the near past, breaches of such silliness were met with gulags, disappearances, imprisonment, beheading, and threats to family.
Thought control can look funny until you fear your neighbor’s wrath and betrayal. Amusing until midnight knocks at doors. Free speech is already in danger. The words and conversations you can’t have in a public restaurant are many and growing. The slope is slippery; the line fuzzy. Being tactful is okay; being afraid is not. Losing your job or position because of some pc slip of the tongue or momentary mental lapse or perhaps even downright honesty of speech is life on the slippery slope of tyranny.
Ridicule is a powerful tool. It emasculates and enervates the pompous and self-righteous. Some healthy ridicule is in order here before it is too late. I believe that we are near a crucial crux here. As I said at the top, PC began in empathy and compassion. It should stay within those parameters. More than that has a corrosive effect on free speech. There are boors who use free speech that causes discomfort just as much as those who overdo pc. We should be able to tolerate both ends of those spectrums without fear.