Which is worse: political incorrectness or self-censorship?



Jim Callan’s thoughtful blog today about the ever-growing hordes of word police set me to thinking.

Which is worse: political incorrectness or self-censorship?

Ideology is the worst enemy of free thought. Often when we think of ideology we conjure up the huge world thought systems that grow up, have their day and fade away. Religion is the classic case in point.

If you want to be excluded, just go to church.

Political creeds are no less ominous than religious ones.  We can be sure the words that come out of our mouths will be judged by their rightness or leftness, their affinity with a particular political party or movement, where they fit in any number of current debates.  Race, abortion, war, violence in the schools, gay marriage, and hundreds of other social issues divide people into polarized groups.

The irony is that most of the people involved in the debate are decent, loving individuals, the sort of persons to whom you would entrust the care of your child.  But as these individuals merge into the groups structured around an ideology, they lose their ability to listen to their consciences, rather hearing only the Siren songs of a spokesperson reciting the party line.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American thinker of the mid-twentieth century wrote about this in his best known work, Moral Man and Immoral Society.  His thesis was that the more a person becomes subsumed by a larger group, the less he can hear the soft whisper of conscience.

The problem with self-censorship is that it deafens one to that whisper of conscience.

Therein lies the worst thing that can happen to a society established on the notion of freedom of expression: the voices who have something to add to the public debate fall silent.

We can look at it from two sides. The crowd’s side is that it does not want hear strident words of opposition, for it has its mind made up.

If on the other hand, the person of conscience quells the still small voice ringing in her ears and refuses to speak her mind it amounts to one thing: moral cowardice.

Writers beware.  To undertake the profession of self-expression is a perilous journey, perhaps the most important occupation.

Without people who are willing to say what they have on their  minds and record their thoughts for others to consider, we are doomed to a world of political correctness, a world where the unfettered rantings of those in power go unchecked until the whole world falls into darkness.



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