In the crosshairs of the thought police
by John BallantyneThree decades ago we used to shrug and laugh off the early stirrings of political correctness as an amusing eccentricity of neurotic left-wingers fearful of causing possible offence to minorities.
Thus a manhole became a "utility hole". The blind were described as "visually challenged". In the 1980s, the left-dominated Greater London Council forbade the use among its employees of "black" and "white" to describe coffee. Instead, they could only request coffee "without milk" or "with milk".
By the 1990s PC had become well and truly entrenched. Universities enforced gender-inclusive and culturally-sensitive language on students, with the zeal of Iran's modesty patrols enforcing Islamic dress codes on women. Academics insisted that, henceforth, BC and AD should be replaced by BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (the Common Era), thus marginalising Christianity. Christmas itself had to go, too, so it was renamed the Festive Season, and "Merry Christmas" was replaced by "Happy holidays".
In 1994, James Garner Finn sent up these obsessions in his delightful book, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times, in which he re-wrote traditional fairy-tales - sorry, "bedtime tales" - to reflect modern-day PC sensitivities.
In one of them he described how Snow White ran deep into the woods and encountered "seven bearded, vertically-challenged men". She asked them who they were. "We are known as the Seven Towering Giants," said the leader. The author went on: "Snow White's suppression of a giggle did not go unnoticed. The leader continued. 'We are towering in spirit and so are giants among the men of the forest.'"
That was 23 years ago and good for a laugh. Today we are no longer laughing.
Political correctness, starting as it did on a relatively small scale, has since grown immensely and mutated into a Godzillalike monster. It has gone far beyond its original remit to combat sexism and racism, and now enforces the far more ambitious agenda of the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) lobby.
Biology students were once taught that there were only two genders: male and female. But not anymore! Such thinking is nowadays routinely scoffed at as "binary reductionism" and "heteronormativity". Today, the Apple Corporation recognises 31 genders, and Facebook 54.
This of course has a cascade effect through the English language, with the need to devise new pronouns to keep pace with the ever-growing list of genders.
Canada is the country where political correctness has gone farthest in the English-speaking world. Authorities there can now fine someone up to a quarter of a million dollars for the offence of "mis-gendering" - that is, referring to a person with an alternative gender identity as him or her instead of by newly minted pronouns, such as zie, hir, ey, em, eir and thon.
In 2016, the University of Toronto warned Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology, that he must obey the university's speech codes or be deemed guilty of hate speech. Peterson, however, has stood his ground and resisted, despite repeated attempts to have him sacked. He is like Winston Smith in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, who dared to defy Big Brother, and has become something of a celebrity among supporters of free speech.
Whenever his enemies have employed false accusations against him, he has responded calmly with logic, scholarly research and common sense. It is noteworthy that his specialist area of psychology is recognising and analysing ideological mindsets, especially fascist and totalitarian ones. In 1999 he published a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. He has mortally offended political elites by declaring his contempt for Marxist-inspired university subjects.
On October 26, 2016, Dr Peterson appeared on a Canadian current-affairs program, The Agenda, hosted by Steve Paikin and broadcast by TV Ontario (TVO), the province's public broadcaster.
Peterson defended his right to use traditional pronouns, and declared his willingness to suffer the consequences. He said: "I think that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is probably obligated by their own tangled web to bring me in front of it. If they fine me, I won't pay it. If they put me in jail, I'll go on a hunger strike. I'm not doing this, and that's that. I'm not using the words that other people require me to use, especially if they're made up by radical left-wing ideologues."
One of the guests on the program, Nicholas Matte, a PhD candidate in the Sexual Diversity Studies program at the University of Toronto, thereupon accused Peterson of hate speech and "abusing" transgender students by refusing to use their preferred gender pronouns. Both of these misdemeanours, Matte asserted, amounted to violence.
Not only in academia, but also in government departments, the armed forces, police and an increasing number of private firms, strict speech-codes apply. Politically-incorrect statements and sentiments are now labelled "inappropriate". It is frightening how quickly people have submitted to this petty tyranny and how docile they are in accepting what authorities deem appropriate and inappropriate.
Political correctness, inimical as it is to freedom of speech and conscience, is, however, notoriously difficult to fight. It uses gentle therapeutic language, full of beguiling words about tolerance, inclusiveness and celebrating diversity. Nine years ago, two Canadian authors, Kathy Shaidle and Pete Vere, diagnosed the aggressive and subversive nature of political correctness in their book, The Tyranny of Nice: How Canada Crushes Freedom in the Name of Human Rights, and Why It Matters to Americans.
Under the smiling facade of supposed compassion for the marginalised, coercive utopians once again look for their opportunity to impose their will on humanity.
John Ballantyne is a Melbourne-based journalist and historian. He was editor of News Weekly from 2004 to 2015.