There is a serious side to this imbroglio, of course. If the political leader of an important country can be overthrown or not re-elected on so relatively trivial a ground, while at the same town no one cares in the least about his shallow but dangerous moral posturing and obviously weak-minded pandering to the ayatollahs of an absurd and ill-founded political morality, then a new nadir of decadence and cowardice has been reached. It is a difficult question of moral philosophy as to whether it would be worse if Mr Trudeau actually believed his own political correctness or merely made use of it as a means to power. If the former, he is a fool; if the latter a knave. I leave it to others to decide which is better in a politician, or indeed in any other human being, foolishness or a knavery.
Political correctness is dangerous because when fools or knaves get into power, they may try to implement its dictates. And since many people are much more concerned to appear good than to do good, and since they are unlikely to suffer the consequences of their own actions (except when hoist on their own petard), the implementation may continue for a long time after the negative effects of its dictates have become clear. When implemented, those dictates create a clientele dependent upon their continuation, which turns any attempt to undo the harm into a nasty social conflict.
But since I have accused both Justin Trudeau and David Cameron of characterlessness, let me in fairness refer to my own lack of courage. It became clear to me in unusual circumstances.
I had been asked to present a book I had written at a literary festival in England. I was to be the penultimate speaker of the day; the last speaker was a controversial journalist called Katie Hopkins. She was very famous, but such is my self-imposed isolation from much modern life that I knew nothing of her. The organiser of the festival asked me whether I minded appearing at the festival with her on the list of speakers, and I thought this was a very odd question as I found it difficult to imagine a literary person, left, right or centre, who was so objectionable that I would refuse to participate in an event that included him or her. I replied that, almost as a matter of principle, I would not object.
I looked her up on the internet afterwards. If political correctness can have a mirror-image, she was it. Alexander Pope, in his Essay on Criticism, said that it was not the purpose of poetry to utter new thoughts, but to say ‘what oft was thought, but ne’er so well-express’d’; Katie Hopkins, by contrast, specialised in saying what oft was thought, but no one dared express. In so doing, she sometimes (as even she admitted) went beyond the bounds of decency or good taste. One of her better characteristics was her acceptance of ferocious and even sometimes abusive criticism with apparent good humour. He who lives by strong opinions should be prepared to die by strong opinions.
In the course of my internet search, I watched her performance on a television programme about obesity. It was her view that obesity was the consequence of the obese having eaten too much and exercised too little. As my teachers would sometimes say to one of their pupils who was putting on more weight than he should, no fat person came out of Belsen. Miss Hopkins not only aired her forthright view, but had proved its well-foundedness, at least as far as food consumption was concerned, by deliberately over-eating so as to put on 60 pounds in weight, which she then promptly lost by the simple though not necessarily easy expedient of dieting.
In the studio with her were some fat young women. When I say fat, I do not mean mildly overweight, I mean grossly obese. In my childhood there were almost no such women. There was a certain magnificence to them; they had done their best to turn themselves out well, and were certainly not slovenly. They claimed not to be ashamed of their condition, or state, and were inclined to blame something other than themselves for the vastness of their proportions.
Miss Hopkins was having none of it. She stuck to her guns like one of those Japanese soldiers who refused to believe that the war was over. Her own case proved her point. She did not just speak in general terms; she applied her doctrine to the particular individuals in the studio with her.
From the purely intellectual point of view I mostly agreed with her. In essence, my teachers had been right, though perhaps a certain refinement of their views might be politic. There are genetic medical conditions—Prader-Willi Syndrome, for example—in which the appetite is enormously increased. I had a patient whose daughter suffered from Prader-Willi, a combination of very low intelligence, obesity and voracious appetite, who became violent if she were not fed as much as she desired. It was impossible in practice for my patient not to give in to her daughter’s demands for more food, with the result that she, her daughter, became ever larger, expanding over the sides of the bed in which she spent most of her life (until she died aged 28). Nevertheless, despite the fact that her voracious appetite was not under her conscious control, it remains the case that if, somehow or other, she had not been fed excessively, she would not have become so grossly obese. But we live in times when marginal cases are made to bear too great a metaphysical burden.