I’m bothered by the fact
You cannot take it back
It goes on record and multiplies at that
Subtlety under political correctness is out. So, too, complexity of character. To be politically correct one must also firmly believe that people do not change: If they were the least racist, sexist, homophobic forty years ago, they must still be so now.
Eh, I don’t think that’s true. The same double-standards of tribal solidarity apply here, as always. The rhetorical jazz hands of justification aside, Sarah Jeong and Joy Reid’s social media histories, for example, didn’t ruin them because they’re both members of the right tribe. They were allowed to “learn” and “grow” when someone less well-connected or less useful to other people’s ambitions (Razib Khan, Kevin Williamson) would have been abandoned. “Belief” can be as flexible as a yogi in service to political maneuvering. What’s more interesting, in my view, is to wonder why so many people go along with this charade. We all know better. We’ve all made off-color jokes and entertained scandalous thoughts. Not one of us would survive the Intersectional Inquisition with our reputations intact, even, or especially, those who are most loudly and fervently denouncing others. So why do we pretend that a decades-old photo or a disowned remark say anything significant about a person’s character? Laziness? Cowardice? Both?
Like quite a few people in this area, my next-door neighbor has a Confederate flag flying underneath his American one. That alone would be enough to make him persona non grata in the eyes of most bien-pensants, should he ever rise to their attention. But he and his family are good people. He’s given us much free advice and free labor when we’ve needed it. After every major snowstorm here, he gets on his small tractor first thing in the morning and goes up and down the road, clearing people’s driveways for them. When we had the severe ice storm in November, he and his son were awake for more than 24 hours straight, helping to chainsaw and remove all the downed trees in the area. Years ago, when a corner of the embankment by our bridge washed out, he had one of his crew come over with a backhoe and spend several hours digging out the creekbed and filling in the collapsed area (refusing to even allow us to reimburse him for the gas). When we offered to pay, or even feed, the guy doing the work, he told us no. Our neighbor, he said, had been the man willing to give him a job when he was fresh out of jail for drug possession, so as far as he was concerned, he was just paying that kindness forward.
I don’t know why he flies the Confederate flag. I don’t know if it’s just a generic expression of affection for rural Virginia or something more sinister. If I wanted to know, I’d have to ask him, but of course, I really don’t care. I know enough about him to have a sense of his character without having to rely on superficial clues. Again, we all know people like this, and we all know better than to entertain snap judgments and assume the worst. The most corrosive thing about this trend of replacing the personal with the political is that it destroys precisely that sort of nuance which allows people to forgive and trust each other without expecting perfection. In our laziness and cowardice, we willfully forget that most people are too complex to be reduced to a snapshot or a soundbite, even though our complicity won’t protect us when it’s our turn.
“Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared. And even if we chose to let you live out the natural term of your life, still you would never escape from us. What happens to you here is forever. Understand that in advance. We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which you could not recover, if you lived a thousand years. Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
“They can’t get inside you,” she had said. But they could get inside you. “What happens to you here is forever,” O’Brien had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could never recover.