Political Correctness II

Speaking of pointing out the foibles of politicians (as I did in last week’s entry), and speaking of political correctness, last week’s story about the U.K. Member of Parliament who called people in his district “inbred” brought quite a few comments, with most being hard on me.

Let’s see the story first, though:

For Revenge, Let’s Call Him “Politician”

Dr. Ian Gibson, a Member of Parliament representing Norfolk, England, was asked by a reporter about a study which found children in his county suffered double the incidence of type 1 diabetes than expected. Gibson, whose doctorate is in genetics and is the former chairman of the Commons science committee, theorized, “I would imagine it is linked to the fact that people in Norfolk are quite inbred.” The reporter asked if people might be offended by such a comment. “Probably,” he said, “but they are inbred.” Outrage quickly spread when the comment was published, so Gibson went on a radio show to explain. “Words like inbreeding and outbreeding are very professional, genetic terms,” he said. “We use them all the time but to the public that has connotations which they don’t understand, or feel that it demeans them and I understand that, and that is why I apologize.” (London Guardian) …What a moron — but I mean that in a colloquial context, not a “professional, genetic” context.

Jeff in the Netherlands was particularly eloquent, and was questioning rather than accusing:

After staring at this, I am not quite sure why you are calling him a moron. No, I am not upset, just confused. I could imagine you might be saying he was a moron for apologizing at all, or for apologizing in a condescending way — is that it? I hope you are not calling him a moron for saying those people are inbred — I am assuming that this is true in the ‘genetic sense’ of the word — because if they are, there should be no problem in stating the fact.

Yes, I was calling him a moron for using the word, specifically playing on the double meaning of “inbred” (in a genetic/medical sense and as a slur) as well as “moron” (in a genetic/medical sense and as a slur).

Why? Because he is a politician; he did, after all, choose that as his profession over what he trained for — geneticist. Yes, as far as I (a non-geneticist) can tell, he was essentially using the word correctly.

So isn’t it “P.C.” to object to him using it? I don’t think so: First, he’s a politician, and it’s his very job to be “politic” (“marked by artful prudence, expedience, and shrewdness; smoothly agreeable and courteous with a degree of sophistication.”) He was none of those things, save perhaps for being snobbish in his sophistication.

Second, what’s the number-one concern of politicians? Re-election. The story pointed out that when he used the word, the reporter cautioned him: people will find this offensive! He shrugged it off and used it again, thus reinforcing the offense to the people he’s hoping to court for re-election.

OK, but what if he really did want to say yes, “these people are inbred, it’s a real problem, and we need to deal with that”? If so, then he really is a moron for apologizing. (The story actually downplayed his apology; he was really falling over himself to do it, even though he did try to justify it a bit, which I did quote.)

Of course people are going to be outraged at being called “inbred,” especially considering that such is the reputation of the Norfolk area. (Such is also the reputation of the certain areas of the U.S., whether it’s true or not. Hell, in some parts of the South it’s a common to joke about people marrying close relatives: “Me and Suzy got a divorce, so I’m not sure whether we’re still brother and sister or not.”) In that context, for a politician to play into the stereotype is both stupid and political suicide. Hence, “moron”.

One last point before I go. These little discussion threads — the above, and the previous one about the reputations of lawyers — aren’t meant to be the last word on the topics. Indeed, they’re meant to start thought and discussion. And by discussion, I don’t mean between me and readers, or in the comments area below, but rather a more general context.

For instance, at a dinner party you could be like the inane people who can only talk about the weather, or you could start a conversation like, “Why do lawyers have such a bad reputation? There was one last month in Michigan who called his client a ‘hero’ after he tore his wife’s arm off….” (OK, do that one after dinner, not at the table!)

I’m not just trying to provoke thought in my readers, but in society at large. If True does nothing else, it shows we need more good thinking in the world.

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