The Order of the Politically Correct

In his great book, Russia in 1839, the Marquis de Custine described
the Tsar as having been ‘eagle and insect.’ He was eagle because he soared
over society, viewing it from on high; he was insect because he burrowed, like
a termite, into every nook and cranny of it. Nothing was too small to be
beneath his notice, for the essence of tyranny is fear that it is all or none.
Political correctness is a little like that. On the one hand it has a grand
theory of society to propound, on the other it is content to leave nothing
alone, down to the last detail of everyday existence. The politically correct are
all-or-nothing men – and, of course, women, or should I say persons?
Political correctness is like a certain brand of beer that, according to a
well-known advertisement, could reach parts that other beers could not
reach. It is everywhere, in the most surprising places. For example, the other
day I was reading a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry about the in-
patients of psychiatric hospitals who went out of hospitals and committed
suicide by jumping in front a train. You could hardly get more recherché than
that, but here is a sentence from the paper:

Choosing railway suicide indicates that if a person is determined to
end her or his life; once the decision is made, there is no room for ambiguity.
Although this might seem to accord with common sense, it is not quite
true, or true absolutely: I have known people who wanted to amputate their
legs lie in front of trains.
But I was much struck by the phrase ‘to end her or his life:’ his or her
is the more usual order, an order determined more by euphony than by
anything else; the same goes for the locution ladies and gentlemen. Not even
the most macho man would insist on gentlemen and ladies on the grounds that the reverse order was humiliating to the dignity of men, which the use of
gentlemen and ladies restored.
I cannot say for sure, but since the authors of the article were German
it seems to me more likely that the unusual word order was imposed by a sub-
editor than that it was contained in the original manuscript. The sub-editor, in
her or his little way, was what Stalin said writers should be: an engineer of
souls.

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