After blogging about the new terrifying trend of Empathetic Correctness, I figure I’ll go for broke this week after running across a Yahoo News article Is America Starting to Target Thought Crime?
First, a little bit of history. In the days when monarchies were all the rage, there was one very powerful position some might not be aware of…the court jester. Every ruler had at least one jester and the jester was allowed to mock, poke fun and joke about those in power without repercussions.
The role of the jester was to offer honesty and perspective. Monarchs knew that being surrounded by too many Yes Men who feared reprisal was unwise and dangerous. The jester’s job was to ground rulers and keep them from getting too full of themselves.
I’ve been blessed to travel more than most people ever will, and not all my destinations were nice places. One thing every police state has in common is that no one has a sense of humor. Even innocent comments can be twisted into something dangerous because one is in a world where everyone is jockeying for even the slightest wedge of importance, even when it means bending the truth. Those closest can become “whistle-blowers” against crimes imagined or real. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
Public Pool Politics
Sadly, I’ve been at the other end of this. I love to laugh and relish in making others smile. Put me in a room and I’ll have them in stitches in less than five minutes. My teaching style has been compared to “If Robin Williams taught writing.” When I was a kid I studied every comedic act down to the timing and tone of voice.
In 1999 I traveled with my best friend to live in a Palestinian refugee camp. Since my Arabic was less than stellar, it was tough. Syria, like all places, has its beauty. I loved the food and people and believed I’d made some friends. One day, my guides took me to enjoy some recreation at the women’s pool where the hijab can be set aside to splash around and let loose. Being the only blonde many of these women had ever seen off a television, I was soon surrounded by eager friendly faces asking questions about my home, wanting to know about Texas and if I had a job.
In my broken Arabic I made jokes and got them to laugh. We parted ways and I was happy as a clam. The next day, my hosts warned me that it was too dangerous to return to the pool and to stay away. Apparently, one of the women had spread through the camp that I was talking smack about Assad Sr. (the ruling dictator of the time).
I’d never even mentioned Assad. Yes, I was a naive Westerner but I wasn’t THAT stupid. My last weeks there were pretty scary and I’ve never been so relieved to be on a plane.
One pivotal lesson I took away from this experience is that a nation is only as free as its sense of humor. When innocent remarks, observations or disagreements can be used against us? This is a MAJOR warning we are no longer in a free country. When certain groups are immune from criticism, jest or commentary? Houston, we have a problem.
The PC and EC Divide
I know the original purpose of political correctness was well-intended. I’m sure EC (empathetic correctness) has good intentions as well. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I was a child of the 70s and 80s and often think it was a really golden time to grow up. My best friend from the age of six was an Egyptian Muslim (and we are still friends almost thirty years later).
Our neighborhood gang consisted of Charo (Mexican), Ngyuen (Vietnamese), and Regina (African American), Veenah (Indian), Cathy (Jewish), Elizabeth (Mexican), and Erica (Choctaw)…and none of us were aware of that.
We were friends who karate fought in the yard because Ngyuen was Asian and so he was supposed to be a Kung Fu master, right? Veenah helped with science and Charo taught us soccer, because Indians were smart and Mexicans were good at soccer. Regina made us laugh because she was black and loud and fun and could Double Dutch so well we were sure she was a cyborg. Erica could decorate our hair with feathers and we could play Navy SEAL Indian Princess. Cathy declined to join us for Vacation Bible School because she was going to Jewish Camp (and we never understood why we couldn’t go to Jewish camp because the Jewish pool was AWESOME).
And all of this is racist and utterly politically incorrect.
We never knew we might offend Charo by asking him to teach us to bounce a soccer ball on our knee. We never realized how we might damage Ngyuen by assuming he’d trained in a Shaolin temple and that we didn’t even have the right country. I didn’t know I should have been ashamed to play Indian Princess with Erica or that I might hurt Regina by offering to share a slice of summer watermelon. I should have been aware that I might harm Veenah by asking for her help with my science project. In high school, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked my best friend and date to the Senior Prom, Donnie (gay), for fashion advice.
I was blissfully uneducated about how offensive I was.
We just loved each other, grew up loving each other and still love each other. Gihan (my Muslim friend) and I are still BFFs. I just had dinner with Charo and other pals a couple weeks ago. Erica invites me to birthday parties for her children. I was Ngyuen’s prom date when I was a junior and we only lost touch when he joined the Marines. I still go by his father’s house when I’m in the area even though his English hasn’t really improved since 1983…but he still loves me. Donnie and I talk long into the night when he isn’t exploring the world.
Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Loyal, Friendly, Resilient MUTT
We grew up in an America of Mutts. I’m not saying that everything was roses and unicorn kisses, but we were American and America was stronger because we could blend all these cultures and races together. Children had this strange appreciation that we all bled the same color when we fell off the monkey bars. We cared less about the color of your skin and more about the color of your bike. They have RED????
We could tell the difference between a joke in love and someone being a racist bigot and Lord help the kid who crossed that line.
We were kids who wanted to roller-skate and who constructed ramps, guns, and swords out of every discarded piece of wood. In the glow of a streetlight everyone was pretty much the same color.
Bullfrogs ran from all of us.
No One’s Laughing
These days, I find myself less prone to joke or make conversation with others of a different ethnicity or culture because, bluntly, it’s exhausting and I always seem to screw it up. I find myself hedging everything I say, backpedaling, and struggling to remember my proper and approved PC vocabulary.
I once was trying to be polite when I referred to someone as Hispanic…only to be razed for the next half hour how this person was from Argentina and NOT Hispanic and I was a jerk for not knowing this. I referred to someone as African American only to get my tail handed to me that this person was from Jamaica and didn’t like that term and it figured a white girl would be so insensitive.
If someone is mixed race? *breaks down weeping*
When others make comments about me being a racist simply because I’m white and I point out that I actually have probably the most diverse group of friends anyone could ask for…well that’s precisely what a racist would say: “I have black friends.” But *stammering* I do have black, I mean African American I mean…oh, hell I give up.
This Affects ALL of U.S.
This isn’t a phenomena exclusive to “white people,” either. I remember my husband coming home from work distraught. He worked in Corporate America at the time. One of his team members was Mexican (as in her parents immigrated from Mexico and happily embraced the American Dream). Well, on Cinco de Mayo a fellow employee (also Mexican) asked her if she was going out to celebrate with “her people.” She gave him a genuinely confused look and said, “Huh? My people? I’m American.”
The next day she was being written up by Human Resources for being culturally insensitive. Her coworker found her offensive and turned her in. My husband was having to write out her defense. A MEXICAN female was in trouble for not being Mexican enough?
How does this make any SENSE?
The real crisis in the country is we are laughing less and less. Everyone is special and fragile and needs to be handled with care. PC was to make us more sensitive and BOY did it work. Our nation has the skin of a grape. Self-importance is taking over like a malignant cancer. We walk on eggshells to avoid “offending” someone. We no longer can make mistakes. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
For anyone reading this who is a “person of color” please try and talk to a “white” person. They probably aren’t a racist, they’re simply terrified they’ll say something stupid.
And if we do say something stupid, just forgive us.
I AM the Reason for Many Blonde Jokes
As much as I read about theoretical physics, math, politics, economics, I can be…well, an idiot. I drove my Honda for three years and all the while heard this weird whistling that I couldn’t get rid of. One night, I’m in a drive thru line and accidentally hit a button near the steering wheel and discovered my car had a sunroof *head desk*. This past spring I was in Tuscon and couldn’t get in the back door of my hotel no matter how many ways I laid my electronic key on the metal pad. I assumed my key was broken and kept asking for new keys. Then I returned from dinner with Piper Bayard and her daughter (a brunette) opened the metal BOX and inserted the key. I once accidentally drove to MISSOURI.
Kill me now and keep me from breeding.
Just leaving all of this to say we need to laugh more. The world is amazing and fun but we have got to lighten UP. Yes, seek out legitimate injustice and crush it. I’ll be here for help if you need.
Maybe we should all go outside and catch lightning bugs and make the longest Slip-And-Slide EVER. I get my lawn bags from Costco, so maybe we could make it reach DC ;).
I love all of you and thank you so much for blessing me with your thoughts and stories. I am a better person every day because of you. And know I was scared to write about this and that should speak volumes in itself. But, I miss just being a kid. I don’t want to be an adult anymore.
But…if anyone reading this is an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jew, can we be friends? I don’t have an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jewish friend. Yes, you can dress me up but you can’t take me anywhere :D .
What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you, unless you have no sense of humor. Then might I recommend posting on AT&Ts Facebook page…
What are you? I’m a Scandinavian-Scottish-French-Huegenot-Sami-Cherokee. ADD THAT to your diversity portfolio!
Today, we are going to take a bit of a sideline from our acrostic. Over the holiday weekend, I was resting up from a nasty bout of bronchitis and puttering around Facebook. I’ve been long frustrated with this new culture of “Everyone’s a Winner.” Back in 2005, my young nephew was in soccer. I recall being horrified that everyone received a trophy.
What was the point for working harder? What gain did it give my nephew that I ran extra drills with him after school and off the practice field? He “won” the same trophy as the kid who showed for one game out of the season.
Trying is all that matters.
We see all over the news where schools are attempting to cancel Honors events because those kids who didn’t achieve honors “will be sad” because they are “left out.” We can’t honor the kids who traded video games or time with friends for extra work, far more difficult work.
We can’t reward those who sacrificed because those who didn’t might have their delicate sensitivities permanently bruised. We’re seeing flyers being sent home to parents that Field Day isn’t about winning, athleticism or competition and promising that “the urge to win will be kept to a minimum.”
In a world that lives and dies by competition, how is this healthy?
I can appreciate the desire to protect and shelter our young. I’m a mother. But life will not hand out trophies because of attendance. And this is all I’m going to say about that nonsense because it’s just the tip of the spear.
Sunday, I ran across something that chilled my blood. As writers we should be frightened of this new trend.
The Culture of “Special”
Yes, every person is a special unique snowflake. I wholeheartedly believe this. Every one of us is gifted with talents, drives, memories, passions that are uniquely ours. There will never be another YOU or another ME. WANA is dedicated to cultivating those gifts.
But, lately, this social disease of “Everyone is a Winner” has made me want to scream. Yes, everyone is given a set of gifts, but rewards are given based upon action. What do we DO with those gifts?
Showing up is the basest of requirements.
What I’m about to say might be unpopular, but I’m a writer not an Ad Man. Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics. Writers have always changed the world. Why? They were fearless enough to point out the unpopular. To shine a light on an ugly reality and maybe even extend some logic of how a social cancer might spread if left unchecked.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
There is a terrifying movement popping up in our universities. In my opinion, it’s the “shot across the bow,” the seed of the Thought Police.
If PC wasn’t bad enough, the new political flavor of “Everyone is so special they should never feel any discomfort” is Empathetic Correctness. According to a recent post in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior explains:
While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.
I didn’t believe this when I read it and dug deeper and yes, this IS happening. Some of our most prestigious universities are calling for literature to be marked with “Trigger Warnings” to point out any areas a student might feel uncomfortable or traumatized.
In a New York Times article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and other literary staples are in the EC crosshairs. Issues like slavery, oppression, misogyny could be “traumatizing.” Such literature might make students and young minds “feel bad” and thus students should have the option of reading something less distressing.
I know The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s Night, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, and even The Hunger Games changed me. These works disturbed me, made me weep, and most of them made me more than a little angry.
But isn’t that the point?
My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.
I even write works that challenge what we believe about our world or ourselves. What are we capable of under the right circumstances? My short story Dandelion is raw, viscous and utterly heartbreaking.
It was meant to be.
The High Cost of “Higher” Education
Higher education is supposed to expose students to other people with differing beliefs, ideas, and opinions…and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they might even learn to think critically instead of parroting. Heck, maybe they’ll even realize they’re really blessed and that there are plenty of people on the planet who’d gladly trade places and not B%*$# that the wi-fi is slow.
That is a mark of becoming an ADULT.
When I attended TCU, one of my closest friends was a refugee from Uganda who fled to the US for asylum after her father (a teacher) was brutally executed during a regime change. My other best friend’s family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria (where I went to briefly live after college).
My university exposed me to the brutality of the “real world” and made me angry enough to want to change it. So this white girl with blonde hair and a big mouth hopped a plane to the Middle East instead of Cabo San Lucas the day after graduation.
I traded a tan on a beach for a hijab. I wanted to understand even when it scared me half to death. I wanted to see if someone like me might make even a little bit of difference. To at least try.
Maybe we are offended or traumatized, but maybe we should be. Perhaps that’s what is going so wrong.
And to add an increasing burden to teachers, exactly how are they suppose to thread the needle between PC and EC?
As Chester E. Finn, Jr. points out in a recent post in Politico Magazine:
Does the history professor refrain from mentioning that Hitler killed homosexuals as well as Jews? Does the English teacher shun James Baldwin and George Eliot because one was gay and the other was a woman using a man’s name? Avoid Toni Morrison because one of her books includes a rape scene? Not teach astronomy because just two of the 23 best-known constellations are recognizably female?
I suspect why this is so disturbing to me is right now there is pushback. But what about in ten years or twenty?
Orwell predicted a world where thoughts would be controlled, and we laughed. Should we be laughing now? Alduous Huxley predicted we’d eventually live in a world driven by the Orgie Porgie Feelies of the Centrifugal Bumblepuppy. Pillars of truth would be buried under mountains of meaningless. All that would matter is “feeling good” even if there was no depth or substance. The human spark would snuff out since we only find our greatness in the crucible.
I’m not laughing.
And I suppose why I bring this up is what is the long-tail of this thinking? Years ago, I blogged about the dangers of Amazon and their strong-arm tactics. It was a level post praising Amazon but also cautioning what could happen if we failed to appreciate their past business behavior (and more than a few people called me a nut). Yet, lately it seems so many people are surprised that BUY Buttons can disappear. And this is Amazon’s business and not really my point.
My point is this: In a virtual world, books are “allowed” to exist.
Let’s take Amazon out of this and let’s speculate that another business comes along and uses Amazon’s business model and improves upon it. Fluffy Fairy Dreams takes over and does it better…and embraces EC.
What “warning labels” would be on your books or mine? With enough political pressure, could our writing disappear? If universities press down this path of making everyone happy and comfortable, will there be generations who no longer remember works like Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice? Or find them so “distasteful” the BUY buttons vanish?
We no longer need to burn books when we can just “delete” them.
I know today’s post is disturbing. It was meant to be. Maybe it should have come with a warning label ;) . Yet, the duty of bloggers (who are a form of journalist) and writers is to start the conversation. This Brave New World scares me. Yes, The Digital Age of Publishing is wonderful. Works nearly driven to extinction by the print paradigm are springing back to life. Writers can reach new audiences and emerging markets abound.
But we must remain vigilant. Who would have thought in 1980 we’d take pictures with our phone? What was laughable then is now commonplace. If we scoff at the idea that books can vanish…?
What are your thoughts? By the way, I never mind anyone disagreeing with me so long as the disagreement is respectful. Maybe I do need a tin foil hat. I’ll own that. But, maybe I don’t.
What warning labels would be attached to your writing? Did you find healing from past trauma through literature? Maybe realizing you weren’t alone? Are you writing on a delicate subject hoping to encourage a dialogue, understanding or catharsis? What do you think about this trend of being “empathetically correct”?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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