Don’t miss Peggy Noonan’s Jan. 3 commentary in The Wall Street Journal. She gives thought-provoking reasons why political correctness should not be allowed to stifle conversations, focusing on folks who lean left and progressive, especially artists and entertainers. This argument deserves to be heard by people on all parts of the political spectrum and by news generators and news consumers alike.
“The producers and network chiefs, the comics, writers and directors—so many of them hate the air of inhibition under which they operate,” Noonan writes. “They’ve all been stopped from at least one artistic act by the forces of censorship, in the same way that there is hardly an American the past quarter-century who hasn’t been shamed for saying, doing or thinking the wrong thing.”
Based on the perspectives I wrote about in When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer?, I salute Noonan for remarks which I believe arise from a genuine respect for people, their potential for creativity, their hunger for truth, and their appreciation for beauty. This includes the kind of beauty–an epiphany or a fresh perspective that inspires a sense of wonder–which arises from probing, from listening and responding, and interacting with realities, even ugly or uncomfortable realities. As John Keats wrote in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” beauty is truth and truth is beauty.
But Noonan’s commentary sparks a few additional thoughts. It is true that beauty and truth are inseparable in some sense. In today’s culture, entertainment and news are too often deemed inseparable, as well, and what becomes popular in the entertainment world is too easily deemed acceptable or laudable or, in some sense, true. So it behooves us to be prudent and balanced when we make our latest contributions to the expanding universe of entertainment and information.
In communities on both the right and left of the political spectrum, undesirable censorship is rising partly because there is some need for what might be called self-censorship, or inhibition, or at least a desire to serve the good–the common good. Undesirable shaming is rising partly because there is some need for what might be called shame, or a personal sense of accountability to ideals of the true and the good. Calls for political correctness are rising partly because their is some need for what might be called compassion or sensitivity or a personal sense of wonder that draws us closer to the other. Unique persons are so darn interesting, important, and inseparable from our pursuit of the beautiful and true.
When we sense our conversations and contributions (related to news, entertainment, and thought) being stifled, perhaps the first step to combat that stifling is an inward review of the goals and methods underlying our creativity. People from all walks of life and all parts of the political spectrum need to fight censorship on various fronts, but one of those fronts is the personal exercise of accountability for the common good, of self-restraint according to the golden rule.
Yes, we need to be concerned when we’re stopped from an artistic act. But we also need to be concerned about the artistic act itself, or the contribution we’re about to make to that universe of entertainment and information. Whether we think such an act is too edgy or not edgy enough, we’re gifted when we learn that there is an edge–an edge implicit in our respect for the common good and for all the individuals whose good is held collectively in our creative little hands. Is our act really going to contribute to authentic conversation and productive engagement? As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Beauty without grace is like a hook without the bait.”