Kiss goodbye to PC miserablists

1st December 2006 at 00:00
There is no need for a mistletoe ban (in fear of sexual harassment) at Christmas. We police ourselves in these politically correct times.

Did I commit an unintentional thought crime because I was insensitive enough not to call it the "festive season"? No doubt I will be subject to criticism for saying this, but that's what the season is, Christmas. I say this as an unashamed atheist and humanist. Everyone can still enjoy Christmas.

Christmas in colleges past was often fun-filled, before PC miserablists took control. Now, ever anxious that self-PC policing is too liberal, many managers dare not leave things to individuals.

One invitation I saw to a "seasonal party" contained the following instructions. DO NOT drink to excess. DO NOT take illegal substances. DO NOT engage in banter; make jokes, or any inappropriate remarks about age, race, gender, religion or physical appearance. DO NOT make unwelcome advances of a sexual nature to persons of the opposite or the same sex.

(How you would know that the advance would be unwelcome was not explained.) Without a hint of irony, the invitation ended with a hope that staff would come and have fun. Would anyone go?

When sticking Christmas stamps on your cards it is worth remembering John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, who was born 200 years ago. Mill is out of fashion, but as an antidote to political correctness, no one should work in FE, or HE, or even study there, without reading at least his chapter "Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion".

Sometimes Mill sounds almost PC and he rightly condemns "what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely, invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like", but his reason is that intemperate discussion may stop people listening to the arguments being put forward. Wiser by far than those who promote PC speech and behaviour in the seeming interest of furthering equality, he points out that "vituperative language" is mostly condemned by those who are defending "received opinion" against those who are "professing contrary opinions".

The condemnation of intemperate expression of ideas is a weapon of the powerful, who are just as vituperative as they want to be, in order to deter people from criticising them. PC talk about "appropriateness" and the like is the modern expression of this powerful censoriousness. Tell no jokes, have no fun, be temperate, keep quiet and live in servitude is the message of PC miserabilists. Mill would have none of it.

Before this becomes the season of wintertide, with the word "Christmas"

banned and mistletoe denounced as the material manifestation of unwelcome sexual approaches, On Liberty is an unwelcome advance you should put in that special person's Christmas stocking with a sprig of mistletoe. But remember, Mill is for life, not just for Christmas.

Dennis Hayes is head of the centre for professional learning at Canterbury Christ Church University

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