The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sensitive people are not always fun to live with. A proneness to taking offence could end up blackmailing the world into becoming a rather paranoid and humourless place. Christmas could well turn out to be a dour affair in Canada and Australia if certain ideas of how not to offend religious sensitivities are allowed to determine the festivities. Thankfully, the huge Christmas tree set up outside the City Hall in Toronto has narrowly escaped being called a “holiday tree”. This escape is entirely due to the residents’ good sense prevailing over the city council’s need to be culturally “inclusive”. But children in the kindergartens of Melbourne, Australia, will have to make do without Santa Claus. This harmless old man has been banned because he could be offensive to the minority communities. If at all he is allowed to entertain the children, he will have to be carefully “selective” about which ones to beam at.

In both these instances, the term “political correctness” has been used. But perhaps something rather more serious is happening here. After all, it has become quite acceptable to laugh at PC excesses — particularly when they spring from the earnest New World, or the righteous academic one. But in these particular cases, what provokes such acts of “inclusion” looks more like apprehension, or even fear. The urge to avoid offence is prompted less by natural goodheartedness than by an uncomfortable sense of otherness and unpredictability. These measures try to pre-empt the outbreak of alien passions that could get out of hand and become seriously disruptive. Such acts of thoughtfulness could be born out of suspicion and could build up, in turn, hidden reserves of resentment. The society they create uses the language of plurality and “respect”, but actually fosters their opposite: a hyper-sensitive culture of uneasy mindfulness.

The blinkered disproportion that lies at the heart of such sensitivities could be ridiculous as well as dangerous. Ridiculous, when it comes up with such things as “holiday trees”; but deeply unfunny, when it results in killing, looting and burning on a massive scale, set off by unconsidered frivolities on the beauty of women. The importance of a sense of humour in maintaining global peace tends to be overlooked in favour of more solemn considerations. Yet, frivolity could actually turn out to be a rather wonderful antidote to all sorts of fundamentalisms. Most of the Third Reich’s problems would have been solved if the Führer had been made to enjoy jazz and The Great Dictator. And the Omnipotent, together with His many prophets, may well be open to receiving human worship tainted with some mirth and irreverence. But it would be unfair to single out only one kind of fundamentalism when talking about the eclipse of humour, and its dire consequences. Miss World is anathema to both fanatics and feminists alike.

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