The object of political correctness is to make the obvious unsayable, or at least sayable only under the threat of a torrent of criticism or abuse. This does violence to the mind and spirit: those who refrain from objecting to the false pieties of political correctness (which are intoned within organizations as regularly as in public) come to despise themselves.
Public life has never been more public than it is today, and the lives of famous people are examined as never before. Gone are the days when a President’s polio or marital infidelities were passed over in silence by a compliant press corps. A rhinoceros hide is required now, as perhaps never before, for a life in politics—though, as the new President has amply demonstrated, a rhinoceros hide is by no means incompatible with a thin skin.
Who among us has no embarrassing secrets? The constant risk of exposure and humiliation must deter many good people from seeking public office. We demand perfection and get mediocrity.
It is not even necessary any more for the famous to die for their lives to be turned into soap opera, as has happened to the British royal family with The Crown.
We like to consider totalitarianism a thing of the past, at least in Western countries, but its temptations are permanent and its justifications never very far away. Since no man is an island, no human action concerns only the actor himself. John Stuart Mill’s famous principle in On Liberty (1859) that the only good reason to interfere with someone’s freedom is to prevent him from doing harm to others is therefore as effective a barrier against totalitarianism as tissue paper against a tsunami. Potential harm to others can be alleged in practically any human action.
One of the most curious political phenomena of the western world is the indestructible affection in which the British hold their National Health Service. No argument, no criticism, no evidence can diminish, let alone destroy, it. The only permissible criticism of it is that the government does not spend enough on it, a ‘meanness’ (with other people’s money) to which all the service’s shortcomings are attributable. In effect, the NHS is the national religion.
When I asked my young patients what their best qualities were, they would almost invariably reply: “I am tolerant and non-judgmental.”
“If you don’t judge people,” I would ask, “how can you be tolerant?”
“Use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping?” — Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
In a world of perfect justice, each man would receive his due and nothing else, as Shakespeare’s words suggest. Whether such a world is possible or even desirable is another question.
Thwarted elites are not good losers. They will resort to any maneuver to ensure that their opinions prevail—which is why I believe that Brexit is by no means a certainty, notwithstanding the recent referendum.
The best way to avoid disappointment is to have low expectations—they can almost always be met. In that sense, the Clinton-Trump debates did not disappoint. No one really expected them to be an intellectual feast. Their interest, such as it was, could be said to be more in the realm of psychology, or even of pathology, than that of ideas.
You don’t choose your family, goes the old saying, but you do choose your friends. The same goes for quarrels: you choose when and where to have them, and what to have them about. Needless to say, friends and quarrels should be chosen with some care.
It is difficult to say what politicians in modern democracies stand for—other than themselves, that is. At best they seem to be the representatives, or perhaps the lightning-conductors, of the various strains of resentment by which advanced societies are now riven.