Why being politically correct is using free speech well
Martin Amis explains why the biggest challenge of free speech is learning to use it responsibly.
Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949, the son of the writer Kingsley Amis.
He was educated in schools in Britain, Spain and the USA, and graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with First Class Honours in English. He wrote and published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), while working as an editorial assistant at the Times Literary Supplement. The novel won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1974 and was followed by Dead Babies in 1975. He was Literary Editor of the New Statesman between 1977 and 1979, publishing his third novel, Success, in 1978. Regarded by many critics as one of the most influential and innovative voices in contemporary British fiction, Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. His work has been heavily influenced by American fiction, especially the work of Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow. A loose trilogy of novels set in London begins with Money: A Suicide Note (1984), a satire of Thatcherite amorality and greed, continues with London Fields27 March, 2018
Martin Amis: I think it’s indivisible, freedom of speech: I mean, either you’ve got it or you haven’t. And every diminution of freedom of speech diminishes everyone and lessens the currency of freedom of speech. But I feel nothing but unease when it’s done lightly. It has to be earned. The controversial statement has to be earned. It can’t just be tossed off. You have to be able to back it up. So I would urge civilized standards of moderation on both sides.
It has to be understood that freedom of speech isn’t just a sort of decadent frippery that we gather around us like all our other comforts and privileges. Democracy can’t work without freedom of speech. It’s an absolute cornerstone of democracy. So we have to be very responsible about this freedom but there’s no giving it up or modifying it, even.
I would say it’s an offshoot of what’s solidified under political correctness, and I’m a fan of political correctness. No one ever says, 'Oh, I’m very politically correct,' but, in fact, it’s good that we are—not the outer fringe PC, but raising of the standards about what can be said, and exclusion of things you could have said and got away with it 10 or 20 years ago and now seems discordant.
And who wants to go back to being opposed to gay marriage? The ease with which that became the orthodoxy was, I thought, tremendously encouraging, and the idea that Donald Trump has cast off these “shackles” and we can go back to being brutes again is a terrible prospect.
PC has been an agent for certain sort of evolutionary acceleration towards progressive ideas, and I think that’s been very good. I mean, when I look back at my very early fiction of 40-odd years ago I’m shocked and made uneasy by some of the liberties I took that I certainly wouldn’t take now. It doesn’t interfere with the freedom of writers, political correctness—it gives you challenges every now and then, you have to sort of work around it a bit. But I never resent that, and I think it’s self-improvement on a general scale that we’ve all responded to.
Freedom of speech is absolute, says novelist Martin Amis, and as such it must be defended absolutely—even when you don't agree with it. Free speech is what keeps democracies from descending into totalitarian states, but how you exercise your right is as important as having it. "I feel nothing but unease when it’s done lightly... You have to be able to back it up. So I would urge civilized standards of moderation on both sides," says Amis, who admits he's a fan of political correctness—although he's clear to discount the extreme policing of outer-fringe PC culture. Free speech and political correctness are not mutually exclusive, as many presume, and Amis argues that being PC is actually a responsible use of that freedom. Do we really want to just "get away" with saying things, or do we want to raise the standard of discourse? Saying something repugnant without much thought or consideration may not have legal consequences, but there are social ones. Martin Amis' latest book is a collection of essays entitled The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017.
The stories we tell define history. So who gets the mic in America?
- History is written by lions. But it's also recorded by lambs.
- In order to understand American history, we need to look at the events of the past as more prismatic than the narrative given to us in high school textbooks.
- Including different voices can paint a more full and vibrant portrait of America. Which is why more walks of American life can and should be storytellers.
A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.
Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you.
Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club
- Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
- It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
- This ability may come from a common ancestor
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