By Brian Clegg
I’m not a great fan of political correctness (PC) when it comes to some of its current excesses, such as getting all worked up about Mexican restaurants handing out sombreros. However, if there’s one man who can single-handedly push me into the PC camp, it’s ‘journalist’ Kelvin MacKenzie. I am proud to say that I have never bought a copy of the Sun newspaper, but my favourite paper, the i, has a daily ‘News Matrix’ section where it quotes snippets from other papers, and I came across this impressive rant from MacKenzie:
For far too long, the PC brigade have got away with it. Nothing derogatory can be said about multiculturalism, the excesses of “feminism”, climate change, the poor and their responsibilities to stand on their own two feet.
I don’t know where to start on that sloppy bit of writing. Firstly it’s poorly written for something published in a national newspaper. It shouldn’t be ‘the PC brigade have‘ but rather ‘has‘. In the second sentence he misuses a list by grouping together things that simply don’t fit together, such as ‘the poor and their responsibilities’. But, of course, the real distaste here is for the content.
The bit that stands out is “feminism” – in inverted commas. This is aggressive punctuation, similar to the way I referred to MacKenzie as a ‘journalist’ in the first paragraph. In my case it was a suggestion that it isn’t an appropriate label, and MacKenzie is giving feminism a kicking by using those inverted commas. However, that’s just the start. While I do agree that there is a tendency to use PC to avoid sensible criticism of multiculturalism, feminism etc. it is absolutely bizarre to lump a scientific topic like climate change in with cultural movements or a group of people.
I don’t think there is enough free speech in this country, and I don’t think that being politically correct should ever prevent free speech – but equally, there’s nothing politically correct about arguing back when people make a remark you don’t agree with. By all means criticise aspects of these things (I say ‘aspects’ ; as I don’t think you can actually make derogatory remarks about climate change, any more than you can about gravity, just about the actions we take to deal with it) – but don’t call free speech ‘getting away with it’.
Now Appearing is the blog of science writer Brian Clegg (www.brianclegg.net), author of Inflight Science, Before the Big Bang and The God Effect.