Between Berkeley and Dudeşti

By Andrei Pleşu

I hear that a politically-correct version of the Bible has been recently published in the United States: the text has been rewritten to mind all the imaginable susceptibilities that the modern reader might have: it does no longer read Our Father, but Our Father/Mother, to eliminate the “macho” surplus of a (strictly) male God; it does no longer read “the Father’s right [hand]”, so that the left-handed don’t get a complex; the names of the various peoples are no longer mentioned whenever the context is negative, so that national discrimination is not encouraged. I didn’t get to actually hold the book in my hand, but I suspect the way it sounds holds radical “novelty”: I expect that everything regarding sin, for example, has had to be either reworded or left out, so that no one feels pointed at, incriminated, or diminished in his dignity. It is likely that after reading it, one is no longer clear about what the point of the Law is, why the Messiah is waited for, and what Jesus’ mission is. A politically correct world is a saved one: everything is OK, no salvific intervention is needed any more. However, leaving aside the involuntary humor triggered by this effort to repackage the Bible so that it doesn’t appear necessary any longer, beyond the twisted logic of the precautions cultivated by the champions of neo-correctness lies however a dramatic background: an apocalyptic image of the other one, a dwindled, moronic face of the fellow man, which compels the (still) lucid and human ones to adopt a clinical behaviour. Indeed, if all talking is a chip on a shoulder, if the left-handed are neurasthenic because they are left-handed, if one has to permanently pretend that there are no differences between fat and skinny, white and black, tall and short lest you should trigger irreversible soul catastrophes, it means that humanity is sickly, anaemic, or on the edge of collapse.

Hence, we are to adopt the ways of a permanently smiling hypocrisy, as in a pavilion of cancer-stricken, where no one is to know that he has cancer. Man is a hypersensitive animal, we shall therefore wrap him in an aseptic environment: we shall pamper him, we shall protect him from anything that might vex him in any way, we shall bury him alive in the antibiotic of our care.

As far as I am concerned, I think that the (appropriated) rules of good manners are enough to ensure decent community life; any hyper-rule will end up in hysteria and palsy. On the other hand, as I contemplate the local Wild West “political correctness”, in our small Paris, I cannot help but scratching my head, faced with serious dilemmas. We shouldn’t be as they are – I say to myself – but no one should be as we are, either! Neither sunk in totally shock-proof down, but nor kneeling on walnut shells, under everybody’s crossfire.

The fact is that as soon as we immerse ourselves into the local manners, the world balance is restored. The amount of correctness one finds in the United States is perfectly counterbalanced by the harrassment one finds along the Dâmboviţa banks. All our public disputes aim by all means at not sparing anyone. They capitalize greatly on all real or imagined defects of combatants, on all their peculiarities, and all the running rumours about them. The elderly are told about their age, the long-nosed are told about their noses, the large-bellied, about their bellies. X is fidgety, Y has a goat-beard, Z looks like a drunkard or a homosexual. We are all shaken by the fever of caricature, by the voluptuousness of the grotesque. We have an evil eye: we cultivate the grimace, we reinvent expressionism. After decades of false rosy shades, we now have “free way” for what is genuine salaciousness. Truth just has to have a bad smell; the reform just has to come upon us on a nausea wave. In any event, the fellow man must be treated as a wreck. To the American “political correctness”, he is a perpetual cause of inhibition and is to be tiptoed about; to us, on the contrary, the fellow man is the instrument of ongoing expectoration, the raw material for ruthless warfare, waged by all means possible. Our “yugoslavization” consists in generalizing insult, slander, and indiscretion. We like rubbing open wounds, we like keeping scars tender. Thus appear, during our transition period, our predispositions, our behaviour, our ways of gentle and oppressed people that we are.

So whom should one prefer, I wonder. The Californian academic, with his Jacobin humanism, with his leftist rhetoric, with his fear of not offending your “canons”, of seeming neither condescending, nor falsely cordial, with his hesitation to flatter a woman and thus coming across as “sexist”, with his artificial way of speaking which prevents him from saying “good”, so that you don’t think he blames the “bad”, or forbids him to say “sweet” lest you should think he suggests marginalizing the “bitter”; in short, with his justice-obsessed neurosis, with his unnatural, boring, and slightly paranoid, concrete-solid, tolerance? Or our sturdy, salt-of-the earth local guy, who swamps you in insults, fumbles through your pockets, grabs you by the collar, laughs in your face, pokes fun at you, breathes within 10 inches of your face, scoffs you, tramples you over, makes you bite the dust and, by the way, kisses you as a true brother? I hesitate between these two models, between Berkeley and Dudeşti, like a navigator without a compass, between the terrible and inevitable Scylla and Charybdis*…

Dilema daily # 140

September 15-21, 1995

*Ancient Greek (or Latin) saying, basically meaning “between two bad options”. Actual geographical features that made passage perilous in the Strait of Messina, north of Sicily (with corresponding mythological equivalents).

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