Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Collapse of Political Correctness after Hurricane Katrina

The lawlessness, looting, loss of civility and disintegration of civil society have all been documented day by day ad nauseam in the wake of the wake that washed over the Crescent City and transformed it into a virulent Venice of the South. What has gone grievously underreported, however, is the shocking collapse of Political Correctness that threatens to shred our civilization.

The evidence is there, scattered in sound bites and asides and sidebars, but rarely confronted and focused upon as the front-page feature that it is. It's a scandal that begs for the spotlight, and the Pulitzer Prize sits poised to plop into the lap of the first incisively insightful in-depth investigative reporter that unmasks this mean-spirited miasma. Without our Political Correctness we are a people without an ethos.

In his inevitable post-Katrina Political Correctness loud-mouthery, Jesse Jackson, who never met a race card or a reporter he wouldn't play, has decreed it "racist" to call US citizens refugees. (Only Third World tsunami survivors, apparently, are "refugees.") Immediately echoing this worldview, and seizing the opportunity to exhibit the Compassionate component of his vaunted Compassionate Conservatism, Fearless Leader Bush jumped on the New Orleans Dixieland bandwagon with, "The people we're talking about are not refugees, they are Americans." (One wonders what the Good Reverend would have opined had the shingle-sitters been 99% white. One wonders that he would have opined at all.)

But this wasn't the first clarion call to protect America's Political Correctness. First came the great flood photo flap over a pair of pictures in the press. A black person wading through water clutching foodstuff was labeled a looter, while white folks doing the same were simply "finding" food.

While one hates to be a finger-pointer, this was clearly a failure of Senior Political Correctness Editors to take charge of their news services and make the hard journalistic decisions during a disaster. Carefully constructed cutlines would have read thusly: "As yet officially PC undesignated peoples frolicking in waste deep floodwaters with snack food in tow."

But above all else came the total PC disintegration during the widely ballyhooed business that can only be called The Ballad of Jabbor Gibson. The basic facts seem to be these: Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson commandeered a school bus abandoned on the streets of New Orleans, packed it with 100 of his closest strangers, and drove seven straight hours to the Houston Astrodome where authorities initially denied them access because they weren't "legally chartered" like 60 authorized buses that arrived hours later.

Web sites everywhere lionized the young Noah as a hero. Except one. In an article titled "Taking refuge in the Astrodome," KRGV NEWSCHANNEL 5 (serving Texas' southernmost tip) labeled the event as "an extreme act of looting" and branded the people on board as "renegade passengers." In the space of a mere 326 words the article managed to say "a stolen bus," "one group actually stole a bus," "the stolen bus," "I just took the bus," and "stealing the school bus."

To NEWSCHANNEL 5, the people who fled from the fluvial fiasco are neither escapees nor refugees nor citizens nor Americans (the media-baptized PC catchword seems to have evolved into a preference for "evacuees") but merely criminals, not even worthy of the ordinarily obligatory "alleged" antecedent. Why are these folks criminals and renegades instead of evacuees? Because they did not receive an official laying upon of hands by some anointed pettycrat? Because they used an abandoned school bus to save their own lives? Scores of web sites on the net had a link to a photo showing hundreds of yellow school buses lined up in long neat rows, abandoned in a New Orleans flooded lot.

Libertarians need wonder if the Official Disaster Planners, ensconced in their comfortable offices and spending millions in taxpayer money, ever made any plans for actually using those buses. Libertarians need wonder if they ever conferred with the actual people in their actual neighborhoods about using those buses. But then, does a chess master discuss strategy with his pawns?

No wonder authorities didn't want to let the wayward bus people into the Astrodome. How can authorities be "rescuers" if their damned "victims" won't sit still on their rooftops and die while awaiting their righteous rescuers?

No doubt about it. The Gibson gangsters failed the all-important PC test and became a threat to our civilized way of life. Maybe FEMA needs to dump 'em all back into the drink so they can give 'em a proper rescue. That'll teach 'em.



Do real men sit about wondering what they are for? I have found that most of my male friends have fixed contracts, stop-start patterns to their work and periods of part-time employment or inactivity. We have formed a loose collective, 'the gentlemen of leisure', and occasionally two or three of us meet for some daytime activity such as seeing a film or mountain-biking. Our women have similar job patterns but we never considered involving our wives and girlfriends because their daytime leisure was already accounted for. They probably encouraged us in the first place.

I think the nickname 'gentlemen of leisure' stuck because, as blokes with spare time already involved in sporting activities, we had to adopt a historical description to express a positive image of males not working or competing. Not all of us know each other and, unsurprisingly, we don't explicitly discuss the media's idea of masculinity in crisis. I'm a husband in my forties, with kids, and my friends of a similar age and situation are supposed to be among the most vulnerable and poorly adapted....

Actually, we gentlemen largely agree with women's liberation; we don't feel threatened by women and we don't blame women for the state of the world. We get on with the struggles of life, try to adjust to the difficulties of combining modern child-rearing with work and form new associations and social arrangements to these ends.

If anything, my younger, thirtysomething single male friends are the more concerned about the redefinition of gender - in relation to womanhood. The boys have every confidence in being able to meet Ms Right's expectations (except, perhaps, for earning more than her), but they think women are confused about what they want from a man. Some see the modern girl as being shy of commitment. A young man who wants to settle down with kids can have a tough time finding a young woman with a similar immediate ambition these days.

Our whole society has emerged from the 'battle of the sexes' with the sense that strong women must keep on winning until they can command as much absolute power as men in a Sunday supplement list. Yet we have always thought men and women did things differently. A century ago, women had a clear physical disadvantage in industry. How can we possibly identify a similar psychological disadvantage in a young man today? The inability of commentators to establish a firm role to replace that of breadwinner sets up the debate as a comparison in which men can only appear by turns unfortunate or ill-equipped for modern life. Comparison of the sexes was fine when it was applied to the changing position of women in society, but it's a poor tool to use when explaining what is different or new in relation to men. We should question the assumptions made about the need for a new masculinity before we give up on men.

The most damaging thing to both men and women is to assume that men are the problem. If a different ideal of manhood is to emerge, it ought to be shaped by the experiences of men taking on the challenges of real life, rather than a cultural panic about how useless they are in a woman's world. Real men don't complain about a petticoat dictatorship; they have more important things to worry about.

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