I’m interrupting my series on simplism because I’ve been hearing and reading so much foolishness and downright filth on what passes today for TV news and on Facebook. None of it is new, but it’s still dangerous because it influences us. Nothing evil, by which I mean harmful and corrupting, ever goes away but keeps resurfacing in slightly new forms to trouble the world again. I’m reminded of something Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf says in a chapter of The Lord of the Rings called “The Shadow of the Past”: “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
Just this morning, I have read comments asserting that Hitler gave refuge to Jews and didn’t hate them but only opposed Zionism. Another asked why there are even Muslims in the United States to be put into detention camps. Another came from a shopkeeper who apparently thinks people mind that he salutes the flag, says “God bless America” and “Merry Christmas,” and appreciates the service rendered by police officers and firefighters. Doing any of those things he imagines to be “politically incorrect” could be in itself pleasant, affirming of the good, and harmless, but when laced with belligerence turns mean and ugly.
“God bless America” doesn’t have to be belligerent but can be our particular homeland part of, “God bless the world, all its people, and all its non-human creatures as well.” “Merry Christmas” doesn’t have to be shouted or snarled in people’s faces but can be said as a cheerful well-wish in the same spirit as Tiny Tim’s, “God bless us, everyone.” Saluting the flag can be an act of respect and personal commitment to the common welfare of the nation; it need not be bellicose and arrogant toward other nations and peoples. Appreciating the stressful, often dangerous and sometimes heroic service of police officers and firefighters does not exclude seeking to end the abuses of police power and the racism much too frequent and sometimes deeply ingrained. Indeed, caring about the quality of police work is necessary to respecting its service.
It’s easy to mock political correctness when it gets pushed to silly extremes, although I would caution against too quickly assuming that what sounds strange is therefore silly without trying to understand what the issue might be and where harm might lie. Much, however, of what gets scorned as “PC” is really respectful of people who have been denied respect in our society. People get testy when others don’t laugh at their jokes which were considered funny fifty years ago and are still commonplace as in-group humor in like-minded and like-prejudiced gatherings.
Politically, we are living in a season of self-serving attempts to make frustrated and fearful people dangerously angry, and it’s working. Economic hard times always breed resentment and suspicion of unpopular minorities, and we are still living in an economically hard time for many. Shouting at each other online isn’t helping, and now people are shouting at each other in public places, and the rage is escalating. Mocking each other isn’t helping, either.
The shadow is rising among us. We greatly need to stop looking at each other as enemies. We really are in this thing together, this thing called life. We don’t have to agree with each other, but understanding and respect would go a long way toward bringing us back into the light together.