The Silence of the Falling Tree

By Troy Southgate

I am not in favour of political correctness, but changing the way we use certain terminology will occasionally have a more positive effect. Take the term ‘invalid,’ for example. Whilst the word has long been used to describe people who require some form of physical care, it appears elsewhere – despite the slightly different pronunciation and extra syllable – as a synonym for ‘illegitimate’ or ‘no longer valid’. Worse still, it can be related to the word ‘null’ and of course this is tantamount to a person being reduced to ‘zero’. In short, ‘invalid’ seems like a very unpleasant way to describe someone and expressions such as ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped’ are undoubtedly far kinder.

Unlike many forms of political correctness, however, these alternatives do not distort the overall picture and only the very worst among us would ever wish to dismiss somebody in a wheelchair as ‘worthless’. At the same time, the real problem with political correctness is that it has become a coercive process and we have little say in the matter. It has not become illegal to describe somebody as an ‘invalid,’ at least not yet, but there are plenty of other epithets that can get people into very hot water indeed. Even without the threat of a hefty fine, or jail sentence, the prevailing air of bourgeois morality has made it virtually impossible to speak one’s mind without inviting public outrage and indignation. This is why I believe that obnoxious politicians such as the Brazilian election candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, to use a contemporary example, should be able to say exactly what they want. At the same time, when a man such as he openly suggests that homosexual children should be whipped and that members of a rival party should be shot, we shouldn’t be too surprised when somebody steps out of a crowd to plant a knife in his stomach.

I am not condoning the violent behaviour that took place several days ago, simply pointing out that true opposition to political correctness means allowing Bolsonaro to say exactly what he wants. It is, on the other hand, considerably more difficult to gauge the precise reaction among those who take offence to such remarks. I suspect that what happened to Bolsonaro himself is a stark fulfilment of the old maxim ‘what goes around comes around,’ but surely events of this nature epitomise why democratic ‘pluralism’ is such a failure? There are many nations that are not – and have never been – real nations at all, and the sooner these single-flag entities disintegrate the better. Only then will there be space for the rude and discourteous to insult their adversaries to their heart’s content, and for the adversaries themselves to be absent to the point of not being within range of the insults themselves. To borrow a well-used philosophical expression, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

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