I’ve always found it a dubious occupation—being an old soul in a Y2K existence (the fact I call it a ‘Y2K existence’ probably proves my point). But the one thing that truly and profoundly frightens me is the delicacy with which we need to co-exist with people in this new-age world of social tip-toeing.
I’ll explain. A friend of mine once said something that started this train of thought, and this train’s been running parallel to all my sentient activity for the last three years since he said it. A simple enough declaration—“I don’t like him (another friend in question). But I’m afraid if I don’t pretend to, people will think I’m homophobic”.
This unearthed a great, big tumble of scary realities to me. The friend in question was gay—and wildly popular with the exception of with this other friend—and it seemed to him that displaying his natural aversion to this person would make him seem like he had an issue with his being gay. It’s this kind of hazardous proposition—expressing a dislike for someone and the assumption that it’s tantamount to that one ‘glaring’ aspect of their personality—that calls for political correctness.
With the looming possibility of nasty Tweets and Re-tweets, and flagrant social-media shaming, is it possible to express any opinions without a fear of social judgment?
I started to examine this friends social resume under the magnifying glass—and I realised how faux some of his friendships seemed. Not from his side, though—he seemed to have a connect with the people I’m talking about. The people, however, seemed to gush over him just a little bit extra, love his outfits a little too much, think everything he said was just a little too golden. And it all seemed a little too much like…overcompensation.
The fact that we live in a world with so much access and liberty has tabled the idea of ‘free speech’. I mean, sure, you can freely love something that’s socially acceptable. But to not love it is to reek of intolerance—even if it actually hasn’t come into the equation at all!
Look at the two friends I was referring to—X doesn’t like Y. Y happens to be gay. But X dislikes Y regardless of him being gay. He could be straight, or hate Thai food or he could be Thor in sheep’s clothing—X still wouldn’t like Y because Y just…isn’t his sort of guy. But, in the tip-toeing terseness in which we all currently exist, to declare that X didn’t like Y would instantly be interpreted as an attack on Y’s sexuality. “Dant-dant-dant-SILENCE! No explanation NEEDED!”
This led me to wonder exactly how often we filter our opinions through the sieve of social correctness before we let the world access them. The myriad thoughts that might enter our head before we make our opinions known on any subject under the sun—If I say I like the fact that boyfriend came to the airport to pick me up, does that make me un-feminist? If I say that I thought the shoot-outs in Die Hard were cool, does that make a look like I’m a pro-violence, gun-toting fascist? If I say that I’d really like a new phone for my birthday, does that make me a vapid, hollow materialist?
Every statement, every comment is simply a plethora of naked text to be read into. There is no such thing as an ‘innocent’ remark. It is always deemed laced with meaningful nuance and socio-political undertones that speak to whether our character is ‘acceptable’ or not. You could be branded a ‘sexist’ while trying to order Chinese food, a ‘racist’ while trying to find a bus ticket in your bag or ‘frivolous’ while watching a film with headphones on in an airplane. There is no dearth of unsavoury labels waiting to flag you as you go through the game of tag that life has recently become.
And so, in this era, I feel a certain degree of envy for obliviousness. When a man blatantly makes an ‘anti-Dalit’ or a sexist remark, I loathe him entirely for his thoughts, but envy him deeply for the freedom he gave himself to express them. I’d never have the balls to say that, I think, and then I wonder how anti-feminist it is again to associate bravery with ‘having balls’.
In an age where we so carefully and cautiously live in an effort to ‘check ourselves before we wreck ourselves’, I wonder if freedom of speech even exists—and counts–if you end up being your own Censor Board. A system clamping down on what you ought or ought not to say is simply cause for the romance of rebellion—but when it’s self-inflicted, what fight is there to fight?
I will now to proceed to leave you, and constantly second-guess putting this blog post up for all the damage it might do because hey, I made a comment about envying the self-confidence of sexists.