Saturday, December 24, 2016

Political Correctness and Chivalry

I've written a lot recently about political correctness, how fearful I've become of political correctness, and how I've come to approve (rather reluctantly) of polemic, ridicule and invective aimed at destroying political correctness. Drastic situations call for drastic measures.

However, not everything that claims to be a blow against political correctness really is. Sometimes, it's just somebody being a jerk.

See in this video (compiled and uploaded by a fan) how youthful conservative pundit Ben Shapiro portrays himself as a heroic crusader against PC. Around the forty-four second mark he says:

"I've spent my entire career fighting against political correctness. I'm the one who goes to public high schools with poor kids, and says to the poor kids: 'The reasons your parents are permanently poor is because they're bad with money and made bad decisions. Don't make those decisions and you'll do better'. That's politically incorrect..."

No, Ben. That's being a jerk and nothing else.

Shapiro is an orthodox Jew. As a member of that great people, one would think he would have more notion of the respect due to parents-- "honour your father and mother" is a command Jews and Christians both subscribe to. Indeed, in the ninth chapter of Genesis, Noah's son Ham sees his father's nakedness, tells his brothers about it, and suffers a curse upon all his descendants as a result. His two brothers who have covered his father's nakedness, and avoided seeing it, are blessed.

But do we really have to go to the Bible? All human culture, from Confucianism to today's teenage boys trading "your mother" taunts, understand the importance of filial piety.

If Shapiro had gone to schools and told poor kids that poverty is the result of bad choices with money and bad life decisions, that would be one thing. I don't really think it would be true even then. Free market conservatives (one of whom I am not) seem to believe that you can have a social ladder without a bottom rung, that everybody could in principle become an entrepreneur or a professional. But somebody is going to have to do the dirty and unrewarding work, aren't they?

Never mind all that, though. Let's just assume he's right. You still don't insult somebody's parents, especially a child's parents.

That's why I think we need to distinguish between political correctness and chivalry.

It's hard to define chivalry but you know it when you encounter its opposite.

Perhaps the first thing when we think of when we think of chivalry is men being gentlemanly towards women, and I do think this is important. In fact, it seems a real shame to me that the backlash against feminism has resulted in some men displaying a hostility towards the female sex in general. (I mean, men who wouldn't have been woman-haters anyway. Of course, there are natural woman-haters.) I'm strongly of the opinion that men should never speak ill of women in general, but rather the opposite. I have always liked the charming verse by Sir Charles Sedley:

All that in woman is adored
In thy dear self I find
For the whole sex can but afford
The handsome and the kind.

This is pure idealism, of course, but it's an admirable idealism.

Similarly I think women should not speak ill of men, considered as a sex. In neither case am I referring to the kind of affectionate teasing that has characterised relations between the sexes since time began.

Another characteristic of chivalry is that you don't hit someone who can't hit you back, rhetorically as much as physically. Ridiculing somebody who has no comeback is something that makes me squirm. I don't like seeing anybody 'crushed', even when it's someone touting a philosophy I find abhorrent.

I've spoken of my admiration for Milo Yiannopoulous here. There are some videos in which he takes on various progressive hecklers, and rips their argument apart. I see the value of that, as a demonstration of how poor these arguments (which, through sheer bluster, can seem so intimidating) really are. But I still don't like watching it. I prefer it when the arguments are torn apart, rather than a human being presenting them.

Another example comes to mind. My father is a terrible channel hopper. One day I was in the room with him when he was channel hopping, and he spent a few moments looking at a reality TV show which follows the investigations of the customs staff at an airport. I'm sure  you've seen these shows; various passengers are called aside and quizzed about the illegal contents of their luggage. Of course, they are caught red-handed and can't even take refuge in a lie. "I don't like seeing anybody cornered like that", I said, "without a leg to stand on". "Nor do I", said my father, changing the channel.

Another characteristic of chivalry is that you don't press an advantage, or gloat. As most orthodox Catholics will know, there is a whole generation of 'hippie' priests who are being replaced by a rising tide of more orthodox priests and seminarians. Sometimes I hear or read comments about this generation of hippie priests dying out and being replaced. I don't like this sort of gloating. It reminds me of Lenin telling the Mensheviks to go into the dustbin of history. There is a special chivalry due to a defeated opponent, or an opponent on the backfoot.

(Does this, for instance, apply to globalists after Brexit? No, I don't think so, because they are still extremely powerful-- indeed, they are still very much the dominant power.)

Of course, these matters are not straightforward. Minorities can be bullies against majorities. The weak can bully the strong, even if the prevalence of this is ludicrously overstated by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. Bullies often love to pose as victims. Emotional blackmail is an all-too-common tactic in our society ("validate my delusion or I'll cut myself!").

But even taking all that into account, I think it's important to remember that the battle against political correctness does not dispense us from the demands of chivalry-- or give us a charter to act like jerks.

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