My weekly column in Lá Nua is published today. I’ve recently considered translating some of these that feature topics I want to discuss with a wider audience. However I’ve noticed that, whenever I try to do that, I tend not to repeat myself, but rather end up writing a new article, often with new ideas. It’s probably for the best: another take, a second draft.
Today’s article deals with a topic which has concerned me for some time: the almost casual and, to me, astonishingly shameless expressions of racism and bigotry which occur daily on Irish blogs.
Much has been written (and especially blogged) in praise of the “freedom” of blogging. The lack of editorial control and censorship are viewed as liberating and considered, quite rightly, to be a “good thing”.
I think it is good. Even if I don’t like what people write, it doesn’t change what they think. And if what they think is hateful, racist, bigoted or ignorant, than it ought to be out in the open where it can be challenged.
Of course they see it differently. If your response to social issues is to single out a class or group of people to hate, then it won’t take you long to find like-minded people online who will give you all the validation you desire.
The thing is though, it’s not the racists and bigots that concern me so much. Extremism tends to be self-limiting. But there is a larger group of (young?) people who do not consider themselves intolerant, but who have fallen for the line that “political correctness” is some kind of tyranny which seeks to limit debate and place disadvantaged groups beyond criticism.
It may be that blogs and discussion boards are giving a voice to people who have until now not had the opportunity to participate in debate. They have never stood before 300 members of a college society to defend an argument on its merits. They do not have the experience of hearing viewpoints and opinions radically different to their own. They have never heard their own side of the argument expressed in anything other than sectarian and bigoted terms.
“I’m not a racist, but …”
It’s worth repeating for the benefit of bloggers, the reasons why responsible media organisations have editorial codes in relation to the use of “unparliamentary language” and why we have legislation in relation to incitement to hatred.
It doesn’t mean that we cannot criticise the actions, values or lifestyles of a particular group. But we must be careful that such criticism is valid, avoids generalisations, and does not cross the line into race or ethnic or class based hatred for hatred’s sake.
The reason why older generations have been careful to hold this line ought to be obvious to anyone who knows the slightest thing about 20th century European history. If we allow ourselves to use pejorative labels to denigrate any group of people on grounds of race, religion, gender, orientation, etc., then we have taken the first step towards de-humanising them. History ought to have shown us that, once that step has been taken, we can rationalise anything.
As Damien commented, “political correctness” ought to be considered no more than “respect for others”. This basic respect is the birthright of every human being, regardless of their color, creed or criminal record. Failure to accord the minimum respect due to another human being diminishes both parties.
Two things continue to shock me. The inability of some Irish people to contain their rage when they see black people driving cars (“What next!”). And the inability of some to contain their glee at the verdict in the Pádraig Nally case. For what it’s worth, I believe that justice was done by acquitting Pádraig Nally. But just because Nally is not guilty of murder does not mean that Ward “deserved to die”. The tragic fact remains that a man was killed. If you think that is something to celebrate or to joke about, then I wonder what else you find funny?