This is going to be a bit of a rant, so buckle up.
Rant the first.
I recently unfriended someone on Facebook for posting a snide cartoon mocking political correctness. I don’t do this often – usually I have a three strikes policy, bearing in mind that you can’t always judge tone and context from a single post that might just be there because it’s funny, and that people may have a back story that you need to understand before you wade in, with the assumption that they are simply being abusive. But there are limits.
You have to know that I am quite old. Though most of my memories are from the sixties, the culture I was brought up in was shaped by the austerities and nostalgia of the post war period. I was brought up to be ‘a lady’ – a concept which took a lot of bashing when I became a feminist. But being ‘a lady’ in a working class Liverpool council estate was never going to mean having the right accent, knowing which fork to use in a posh restaurant, or having the vapours if asked to tackle anything that looked like manual labour. The key principle that was dinned into us, at home, at school, in the school stories and the pages of Girl magazine, was that you respected the dignity of everyone you came into contact with, and you never said or did anything that made the people around you feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.
This did not mean you couldn’t complain or protest. My mother was a quiet, shy woman in general, but when she took on teachers, shops giving poor service, council workers or tradesmen who didn’t deliver, she was unstoppable. It didn’t mean you couldn’t speak plainly or bluntly if you needed to. It just meant that to us, good manners was not a polite fiction masking self-serving skullduggery or way to tell the lower orders they were uncivilised. It was a basic requirement of living harmoniously with other people. Using ‘political correctness’ in a derogative way means
a) a way to show someone else they are out of touch or
b) someone doesn’t care how uncomfortable other people are in the conversation.
It signals an intent to bully. I am too old for this. If you want to call it political correctness, go ahead. To me it’s just good manners.
Rant the second.
A plea for virtue signalling. I hear a lot about the normalisation of, for instance, terrorist attacks, politicians going on television lying to people (even when they know we know what the truth is, because they don’t care what we believe), corruption, attacks on the judiciary, abandonment of the rule of law, dependency on foodbanks, homelessness, manipulation of social media. And yet, talking about how people are campaigning to save refugees from unjust deportation, housing the homeless, saving the envoronment, feeding hungry children, protesting about oppression is ‘virtue signalling’. There is an implication that it isn’t a genuine conviction, a moment of compassion, an instinct for kindness and fairness and welcome, it’s just a narcissistic attempt to make other people look bad.
We absolutely need to normalise the good stuff. Marcus Rashford’s Twitter feed this morning is full of small businesses and community groups stepping up to feed the children the Westminster (but not the Welsh or the Scottish) Government has abandoned. When the outrageous charges for settlement certificates for EU citizens, my Twitter feed was full of Scottish people asking if we could crowdfund them. When the lockdown hit, all my social media was full of community groups reaching out to the lonely or the people shut out of work, or children worried by the weirdness of the world.
We need to see this. We need to remind ourselves about who we really are. We need to see that this country is not just the nest of vipers, divided between the arrogant entitled toffs, and the surly embittered plebs that the newspaper industry wants to show us. And we sure as hell need our government to see it. They do not represent us. They are not only lying to us, they are lying about us.
Rant over. Back to robins and poetry and some thoughts about interesting witch books next week!