“The accusation of sin is moral virtue’s deadly gin,” said William Blake in The Everlasting Gospel. “Political correctness” is the latest distillation of that liquor and drunkenness on it is rife. Someone in the public eye need only make a slightly tasteless joke and the next thing they know there is a Twitter mob condemning them and, sometimes, demanding that they lose their job.
What is this phenomenon all about? How has a desire for social justice led to something so irrational and destructive?
The answer is that it hasn’t. Attempts to make someone feel ashamed for saying something insensitive don’t arise from concern to make society a more polite place. They arise from the will to power over another. They arise from our selfishness. We may fool ourselves that we care about the injustices small or large which are going on in the world, but if we really did then we would do something more constructive about them than to identify a “bad guy” and point our finger at them.
The will to power over another is hard to resist. Of course we have to be careful about how we try to get it, because we don’t want to suffer social stigma ourselves by coming across as a jerk. But the distancing effect of social media combined with the reduced sense of responsibility which arises in mass behaviour makes the Twitter mob the perfect outlet for the will to power. This doesn’t just occur under the guise of “political correctness”. There are also right wing manifestations.
Why does this will to power over another exist?
Because of our state of insecurity. Think of the concept of the pecking order. The first hen pecks the second hen. To peck back at a hen who is stronger is going to just make things worse, but she wants to take out the frustration on someone, so she pecks the next weakest hen. There is a chain of oppression. We are caught up in just such a chain, but the first oppressor is inside us – it is the voice that says : “You are not good enough!” Think back to when we were at school. We get caught doing something against the rules. Our first response might be : “Billy was doing it too.” We try to take the pressure off of ourselves. And this is what happens when we try to make someone else feel bad for their behaviour.
When we look at our own behaviour or that of others we should begin by assuming that it is probably driven by selfishness. Usually it is, regardless of what self-glorifying shine we try to put on it.
But selfishness is just the natural self-directedness of the suffering individual. We are only selfish because “You are not good enough!” is gnawing away at the base of our psyche.
If we cultivate unconditional self-acceptance then we can approach life from a position of security. We will still be motivated by self-interest, but our interest will be in the pleasure which comes from forging loving relationships with others and the satisfaction which comes from solving problems. And the way that we will make the world a more just place is by spreading the culture of unconditional self-acceptance. Self-accepting individuals are much better at standing up for themselves and won’t give a damn if someone calls them a naughty name.