In defence of political correctness

From the Cambridge Union to Jan Moir

Tom's post on Jan Moir comes hot on the heels of the controversial decision to allow the right-wing Dutch MEP and self-professed Islamophobe Geert Wilders to enter Britain and -- ahem -- the Cambridge Union debate last night. The topic of discussion was: "This house believes that political correctness is sane and necessary."

I mention the debate only because I joined the Times's David Aaronovitch and English PEN's Robert Sharp in proposing the rather provocative motion and facing down the trio of Ann Widdecombe, Alex Deane and Will Burroughs (son of Lynette). Our basic argument was that the opponents of political correctness are opposed to progress; they yearn for a Britain of the 1970s or 1980s where offensive words such as "Paki", "nigger", "poof" and "spastic" were part of our mainstream discourse, with peak-time television programmes featuring blacked-up actors on The Black and White Minstrel Show and the racist rantings of Alf Garnett, on Till Death Do Us Part. Is this, I asked in front of 600-odd Cambridge students, what we want to go back to?

The "politically incorrect" brigade are, we argued, simply schoolground bullies who never grew up, never noticed that British society had moved on without them, never acknowledged the positive sea change in the attitudes of British people in recent years. And I am happy to report back that the side of political correctness (which I admit is a horribly loaded phrase, with its suggestion of Stalinist orthodoxy), the side of decency and progress, of liberal and enlightened values, vanquished the conservative and reactionary opposition. (Will Burroughs blamed the problems of PC Britain on "mass immigration" and muttered something about gays having "shorter life expectancies" when Stephen Gately's name was mentioned.) We won the debate and convinced the usually Tory crowd at the Cambidge Union to back the proposition by a margin of nearly a hundred votes.

Some might say the result itself is political correctness gone mad . . .

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear