“The term “political correctness” has always appalled me, reminding me of Orwell’s “Thought Police” and fascist regimes.”
– Helmut Newton, January 2000.
Here’s a question. How much have the champions of political correctness – aggressive, hectoring, intrusive and goddamn self-righteous as they are, benefited our lives over the past four decades?
Some would argue that they’ve taught many of us a much-needed lesson in common courtesy and respect for others; whatever their sex, age, religion or ethnic background. But when times and attitudes change it’s not necessarily for the better.
In PC heaven, I would be banned from stating that Hitler was evil, on the grounds that I wasn’t alive in the days of Nazi Germany. Nor would I be allowed to say that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which established Britain’s constitutional monarchy, was indeed glorious, while the French Revolution was an abomination.
So I think a fair point would be: Don’t judge the past by the standards of the present.
As for the Seventies, the standards and mores present then, much as we may recoil in horror at them today, they were then completely accepted forms of behaviour. Even living now, and having a ‘modern’ viewpoint, I lived then, and I know that you cannot definitely judge past events effectively.
This was an age, after all, in which television output included the likes of The Black & White Minstrel Show (where the white dancers performed in blackface), golliwog brooches were given away with jam, and football players, DJ’s et al had no concept of sexual harassment. Anywhere. And dont even think about ‘Love Thy Neighbour.’
In recent times, there has been an explosion of cases where allegations of sexual assault (and worse) have been levelled at numerous personalities in the public eye and some deservedly so. Where not, this is where a reinterpretation of past events, according to current views, comes into play.
I’m arguing that there are many cases out there, where such prosecutions have been brought, are wrong and completely unsubstantive. I’m not defending the likes of Jimmy Saville (may he rot in Hell), but cases such as Cliff Richard, Dave Lee Travis and others should never have been given credence from the start. This vogue for witchhunts, so beloved by the media (its in our human interest to know, dont forget…) has resulted in the utter destruction of lives and careers.
The truth is that its just bad history to view peoples’ past conduct through the prism of the prevailing attitudes of the present day. But for the most part those who apply modern standards to historic characters, events and times do it merely to feel smug about themselves.
I bet that nine times out of ten, they would have behaved exactly like the people they condemn, had they been around at the time.
Or take the modern fashion for politicians to apologise for Britain’s conduct in the distant past – whether the slave trade or the Irish potato famine – or to dish out pardons, often posthumously, to people found guilty of behaviour that is either no longer a crime or is viewed more kindly these days.
I’m sure that it must have given the chinless, brainless cretin that is David Cameron a warm glow of self-satisfaction when he secured a Royal Pardon for Alan Turing, the gay code-breaking genius who made such a colossal contribution to our victory in World War II. But considering that it was the outright persecution of Turing purely due to his sexual orientation that resulted in his suicide; a fat lot of good it will do now for the poor sod. Especially when taking into account his conviction for gross indecency in 1952, (when homosexual intercourse was a crime.) The words cruel’ and ‘wrong’ quite definitely apply to this archaic, geriatric old law.
We never gain anything by reinterpreting history to suit ourselves and our current times. It’s a blatant alteration of historical truth more deserving of Orwell than an objective observation of history.
Am I being too blunt and insensitive? No. And I doubt that anyone with an ounce of common sense would differ either. Why?
Ask Alan Turing.