Political correctness is like dry rot – or is it rising damp? It gets everywhere, for example into the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I happened to look up an article in it the other day (on suicide), and was soon alerted to the presence of political correctness by the use of she as the impersonal pronoun.
Baron d’Holbach, according to the Encyclopedia, ‘pointed out [the] the contract between an individual and her society is a conditional one.’ While société is a feminine noun in French, I think it vanishingly unlikely that the person of whom d’Holbach was thinking (though I admit I have read hardly a word of his) was a female rather than a male, elle rather than il. D’Holbach was a philosophic radical, of course, but that is no excuse for projecting on to him two and a half centuries later our present obsessions and preoccupations – certainly not in a work with pretensions to scholarship.
Worse still, however, is the discussion of the supposed duty (supposed duty, that is, by some utilitarian philosophers) of people to commit suicide once they are a burden to others, that is to say once they can no longer make a useful contribution to society. Here we read:
Questions about social justice and equality (whether, for example,
especially vulnerable populations such as women or the poor might
be more likely to act on such a duty) are also raised.
One might have thought that a moral duty is a moral duty, irrespective of who acts on it or fails to do so; if some people drop litter, that does not excuse me doing so, whatever my socio-economic category.
If however women and the poor are especially vulnerable, this must mean that more than half the population is especially vulnerable, for some of the poor must surely be men. But more than half the population cannot be especially anything.
In fact, suicide is a particularly bad example of the special vulnerability of women, since men in our society commit suicide three times more than women. The reason for the difference in the rate of suicide is not merely biological, because there are societies in which women commit suicide more commonly than men: therefore the high suicide rate of men must be because men in our society are underprivileged – I am tempted to say particularly underprivileged – by comparison with women.
One possible cause of suicide, of course, is the impotent observation of the creep of political correctness through the groves of academe. 5th April 2015