Ian O’Doherty: ‘While the loudest voices get heard, the exhausted majority are getting tired of being told what to say’

For many long-time, foreign observers of this country, the speed with which we became a modern, pluralist society is something which fascinates them.

Within the space of a generation, we went from a country that prohibited divorce and abortion and considered homosexuality a crime, to a society where nowadays the only discussion about divorce is whether the waiting time is too long. We have comprehensively voted for abortion rights. Not only is homosexuality no longer a crime, but the country also voted overwhelmingly for gay marriage.

We should never forget, either, that until 1990, it wasn’t even a crime for a man to rape his wife. So, it’s fair to say that in the space of 30 years, we have a come a long, long way.

According to a new survey, however, many people are uncomfortable with both the speed of the changes and the direction they are taking us.

That’s the general gist of the 2019 Sign Of The Times survey, conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes, which has thrown up some results which some people may find shocking, but none of us should find surprising.

One of the stand-out statistics from the survey is that while 54pc of those polled said they “feel pride” at the result of the gay marriage referendum, 46pc felt “neutral” or “had no pride” at the result.

This has been seized by some as proof of the latent homophobia which they feel still exists in the country. But it’s important to remember that many of the 62pc who voted in favour of the marriage referendum nearly four years ago did so simply because they thought it was the right thing to do, not as an exercise in pride.

Surveys, like political polls, are merely a broad barometer of how certain people feel at a certain time. But there are some other numbers which jump out.

Apparently, 61pc feel that change is happening too rapidly while, rather more worryingly, 47pc feel that we are losing our sense of national identity “in the face of a foreign national influx”.

The phrase “foreign influx” is a loaded one and, of course, such questions are often designed to be deliberately ambiguous.

But perhaps the least ambiguous result of them all was the assertion that 69pc of the Irish population feel we have become “too politically correct”.

Does that mean that more than two- thirds of the population – or the people surveyed, at least – want a return to the days of the ‘Black and White Minstrels’ on the TV and when the word “progressive” was only ever applied to a disease?

Unlikely. But it is an undeniably pointed indication that many people in this country think that the forces of political correctness have become malign rather than benevolent, and they worry that we are rapidly becoming a society where the tail wags the dog.

Rather like beauty, or humour, political correctness is in the eye of the beholder. It is also a phrase which has probably passed its sell-by date, because even the old canard of “PC gone mad” has now been with us for 20 years.

Those who still cling to the phrase remain strident in their defence of political correctness and argue that, simply put, PC is just another name for good manners and not deliberately insulting someone just for the sake of it.

But as our friends in the UK have seen, political correctness can have a direct and devastating impact on individuals and communities. The appalling scandal of young white girls being raped by predominantly Pakistani gangs in places like Rotherham and Oxford was only allowed to continue, as we now know, because the authorities were “afraid of disrupting community cohesion”.

That is an extreme example, of course, and it is doubtful that the 69pc who complained about PC in the survey had Rotherham on their mind when they gave their answers.

It is far more likely that they were simply sick of being told that they are wrong about everything and tired of someone wagging their finger at them just because they have an opinion which doesn’t fit the fashionable causes of the day.

Therein, perhaps, lies the crux of the matter – the unalterable sense that political correctness, or liberal intolerance, or right-on bullying, means that people are now reluctant to express their sincerely held opinions for fear of being barracked or demonised.

It’s not a baseless fear, either. When Peter Casey seemed to accidentally stumble upon a vote-grabber during the presidential elections, the usual commentariat were quick to denounce both him and his voters as a bunch of anti-Traveller racists without ever stopping to listen to the concerns that had been raised.

The fact that this most unlikely candidate then came second, and polled highest in the areas with the largest density of Travellers, should surely have been an opportunity for reflection. Instead, the PC brigade just doubled down and insisted that we had even more bigots in the country than previously suspected.

Similarly, 45pc of men and – perhaps surprisingly – 38pc of women feel that the Me Too movement has gone too far.

Does that mean these people are happy with young women being brutalised and preyed upon by powerful older men? Or is it a sign that they are uncomfortable at how due process has been thrown overboard in the hunt for decades-old and unprovable allegations?

Of course, social media and political correctness are a match made in heaven, and the likes of Twitter and Facebook have now become echo-chambers of confirmation bias, where performative “wokeness” is the order of the day. In such a febrile environment, the loudest voices get the most attention and this has resulted in a sort of arms race of PC posturing.

In those conditions, simply expressing the once-acceptable belief that having male genitalia indicates that you’re a man is enough to have you denounced as a “transphobe” – an accusation which, in the UK, can lead to your arrest, or in Canada and the States to a massive fine.

This growing resentment towards the daily changing rules of what was once acceptable and what is now forbidden is not just an Irish phenomenon.

A similar NPR/PBS survey in the US last year found that up to 80pc of those polled, including a majority of youngsters, had become sick of the ideological excesses of the few now dictating the acceptable views of the many.

In fact, that survey used the phrase “the exhausted majority” to describe people who have become weary of the constant sneering that is directed towards anyone who deviates from an orthodoxy which often bears little or no relation to life in the real world.

Is there a solution? Well, in a time of madness such as this, common sense is a radical position.

Unlike the vagaries of PC, that will never go out of fashion.

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