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Political correctness wasn't necessary, but wealth made it possible - Elf M. Sternberg
Political correctness wasn't necessary, but wealth made it possible
Simon Barnes has an overwhelmingly heartwarming story about how he came to understand the necessity of "political correctness." He writes about how, once upon a time,
[i]f you were presented with a disabled child you would have been within your rights to turn your back, walk away and feel distaste to the point of disgust… and perhaps a genuine anger at those who allowed unacceptable people to be on view, walking your streets and breathing your air.
Now, he says, that's no longer the case. Now, we're expected to treat people with Down's Syndrome with respect and decency. Barnes writes,
Society has changed in Eddie’s favour. Because it would be politically incorrect to treat Eddie badly, it has become inexorably clear that treating Eddie badly is also morally incorrect.
I can't help but think that this is exactly backward. It was always morally incorrect to treat actually existing human beings, regardless of their deficiencies, as less human, as less deserving of our air, our streets, our parks. We have always known this. I can't think of a major religion extant today that doesn't have mercy and dignity toward "the least of us" as a preeminent component of its teaching. Every moral foundation in the world, be it religious or humanist, recognizes that every actually existing human being must be given the greatest rein possible to whatever capacity for agency and self-determination they have.

The fact that we've always been bad at doing so doesn't mean our morals are wrong. It means that the bar is high and we challenge each other to meet it. Barnes is observing something far more mundane than he believes: the moral path was always clear, and when we failed to follow it, it was because we lacked (or believed we lacked) the resources necessary to follow through as our morals dictated. We were too lazy. We were too stingy. His "distaste and disgust" were defense mechanisms against our deeper recognition, there but for the grace of God go I.

It's only by the relentless work of activists, by the awareness imposed on us all by social media, that the disabled and those who gave a damn made the rest of the world aware that, yes, a society where every one owned a hundred horse's power and could call anyone else anywhere else on the planet, there was more than enough money and time. No more excuses. The disabled have always been due their dignity, and it's time to stop fucking around.

Political correctness didn't impose this moral sense. We always had it. It was always a part of us. Political correctness is little more than shaming people into being what they say they already want to be: moral, decent human beings.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music: Microchip League, New York, New York

2 comments or Leave a comment
resonant From: resonant Date: March 18th, 2016 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Could the "distaste and disgust" be part of a hardwired defence mechanism against strangers? Just as with the Uncanny Valley, people who don't look or act like those you associate with your tribe or band could have historically been a threat (hostile strangers, former friends with infectious diseases), and you would instinctively shun or attack them. Once you start classifying people with differences as still officially people, and pound it into people's heads with strong social movements, this could stop reflexive ill-treatment.

(no idea if this is plausible, just been reading a lot of Stephen Pinker)
elfs From: elfs Date: March 18th, 2016 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it would be very hard to disentangle the uncanny valley effect (because that's what illness and deformation tend to evoke) with the run-on effects of being outside one's Dunbar number and the cultural equation that a disabled person uses more tribal resources than he or she will ever produce. We've managed to overcome whatever evolutionary residue the Dunbar effect has, or we'd have never managed to build cities; I suspect the revulsion toward the disabled is in the same category, and deserves the same execution on the trashheap of history.

So, I guess the answer is "maybe?"
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