Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Wow, Just Wow! Whatever Happened In Society To Take Us Back Down This Road Again?

Oh heck, where did it start to go wrong again? As I'm sure you can remember, we used to be pretty repressive when it came to personal liberties, where anything deemed too offensive for social mores was frowned upon, contested and sometimes banned. Radio stations would not play The Rolling Stones' Let's Spend The Night Together; the film Last Tango In Paris caused uproar, as did Monty Python's Life of Brian. It even used to be difficult to be openly gay, or be involved in a mixed heritage relationship.

It's easy to look back and recoil at past attitudes, but we did seem to get a little better. We stopped being so intrusively upset about people's works of art, and about how they expressed themselves, and we grew the hell up about who people had relationships with. 

But alas, recently we seem to have gone backwards again. I can't recall precisely when - it seems to have insidiously crept into our society, but we started to find ourselves surrounded by spineless busybodies who get offended too easily in the absence of a rigorous argument or any notable reasoning skills, and thought it was their right to do so in a way that meant everyone else had to be very afraid of offending them.

And it seems they got their wish, because what emerged from this national paranoia was an even larger bunch of busybodies - those even worse than them: the people who get offended on their behalf. We've become so used to seeing people afraid of upsetting or offending other groups that it no longer surprises us when we hear of the latest person who cannot comfortably wear their crucifix necklace at work, or the latest group to be guilty of 'cultural appropriation*' for wearing sombreros on a night out, or the latest university that creates ‘safe spaces’ to protect the right of some students not to be offended (heck, did they forget that free expression, argument and debate are the essential tools for learning and for challenging bad ideas?).

What has caused us to journey from lily livered impotents to reasonably intrepid proponents of free expression back to lily livered impotents again? I can think of two main changes that might have altered the public consciousness. In the first place, the country now has a lot more diversity, which means there are a lot more minority groups with views that differ from the mainstream. And in the second place, computer technology has undergone radical changes, which means there is mass communication going on, and also that everything everyone does it pretty much under external scrutiny now.

Personally I see no reason why either of things should cause us to become spineless again, but it would appear that we have. Diversity of people has generated an unprecedented range of beliefs, opinions and cultural practices that appear to make many people uncomfortable in expressing themselves for fear of upsetting someone, or being labelled a racist or bigot. The widespread fear of upsetting Muslims is perhaps the most obvious case in point. And the extent to which everyone can have their say on social media is unprecedented too - it appears to be bringing with it a huge rise in vile threats and guttersnipe abuse, which as a consequence appears to be making many people fearful of free expression once again. But I've said it before on here, and I'll say it again - we must stop this train of timidity in its tracks as soon as possible. 

To finish, I want to leave you with a video doing the rounds at the minute - of a black campus employee confronting a young white male who has his hair in dreadlocks. Alas, this video is isn't exactly an isolated incident - hardly a day goes by without someone asserting that how someone looks, the clothes they wear, the statue they had erected, and so on, has suddenly become racist or simply deeply offensive to a minority group.

What you have to ask yourself is, what forces occurred in that young lady's life for her to so aggressively demand that a young white man's freedom to wear his hair in dreadlocks ought to be denied? She didn't just suddenly decide this for herself. Who has done such a number on this (probably) otherwise bright student to cause her to uncritically and unashamedly declare that this so inextricably belongs to 'my culture' that it trumps any personal freedoms you might have on this matter - was it parents, friends from the same 'culture', or was it those pervading busybody trends I mentioned earlier, insidiously creeping back into our society, and showing increasing signs that this is just the thin end of the wedge? Things have got to change all over again!