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So, as even the cave-dwelling Taliban must now be aware, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended (perhaps permanently) from the BBC following a row in which he is alleged to have thrown a punch at a producer.
Since the news of this broke, a storm has consumed the British media in a way that must bewilder outside observers. Despite the official explanation, many have sought to connect the dispute to Clarkson’s long-standing hostility to political correctness, the insinuation being that the Left-wing BBC has forced Clarkson out for his provocative sense of humour and ‘fringe’ opinions.
I don’t personally buy that. If Clarkson’s views were so intolerable to the BBC executive, they would have discarded him long before now. It seems more likely to me that, in this isolated case, the Beeb is telling the truth. You can’t throw punches in the workplace and survive. In any other field of work, the result would be the same.
Nevertheless, the underlying issue that has dominated public discourse in the last week – the issue of political correctness – is worth talking about whatever the provocation. It is far from hyperbolic to say that in Europe’s post-war history, there has been no concept more damaging.
What exactly is political correctness? According to its defenders like English comedian Stewart Lee, it is nothing more sinister than an ‘institutional standard of politeness’. According to its critics meanwhile, it is the spear-head of cultural Marxism, a covert method of Communist expansion advocated by the Frankfurt School.
Who is correct?
The latter explanation has gained a lot of (tarnished) popular support ever since Anders Breivik promoted the idea in 2011. In his manifesto, the killer quoted Pat Buchanan as saying ‘Cultural Marxism is Political Correctness. Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism’. Nevertheless, the truth – as they say – has no agenda, and so we’d be wrong to discard this because of Breivik’s personal stupidity.
And more than anything, we shouldn’t discard it as it seems to be the correct explanation. Allegations about the Frankfurt school aside, political correctness is clearly a political project of the Left, and only of the Left. It benefits no-one else. It serves no apolitical function.
As a quote attributed to the great writer Doris Lessing has it: “Political correctness is the natural continuum from the party line. What we are seeing once again is a self-appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others. It is a heritage of communism, but they don’t seem to see this.”
Such a quote, if its attribution is authentic, is hard to knock down. Lessing was no reactionary, and one does not need to be reactionary to spot the absurdity of thought-control. It is believably posited that George Orwell, having survived miraculously into the present day, would have some unkind things to say about this erosion of the right to private autonomy.
Of course, politeness, the cloak with which PC has long sought to disguise itself, is a positively essential virtue. You should never be rude or unkind without reason, and there are very few reasons one can ever find. Politeness is distinct from PC in that it is voluntary. It is a virtue we may embrace or discard, at our own risk.
Should you be free to call a black man a nigger? Of course you should. But as a corollary, when that black man beats you to a bloody pulp, you will have no claim to public sympathy. Some things are self-regulating.