A recent issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction announced itself as devoted entirely to “stories that deal with touchy themes or go beyond the bounds of Political Correctness.”
Now, while PC generally entrains touchiness, the converse is not true. Not all touchy subjects are politically incorrect. Indeed, to treat traditional values in a dismissive way is in many ways the hallmark of political correctness. This is because political correctness has little to do with adherence to the orthodoxy of any particular political creed. Rather, it is the bizarre notion that something must be correct because it is politically orthodox. It surfaced among Marxist "political officers" in the grand old days of the Soviet Union, and was most egregiously instanced in Lysenkoism. It is to be contrasted with the opposite process, by which something becomes orthodox because it is correct.
Now, a mater may be politically correct and factually correct at the same time and in the same way -- though usually not for the same reasons -- but the correspondence is not necessary. It may be politically correct without being factually correct or it may be factually correct without being politically correct. Hence, PC afflicts primarily those who derive their beliefs from Theory. Since they start from a realm separate from Facts, they often reach conclusions at odds with those Facts and, if so, so much the worse for the Facts. Those who come to their beliefs from a close observation of the world and of human behavior, are less susceptible (though not entirely immune). Hence, while the mal odour can be found everywhere, it can be sussed far more often in sociology departments than in engineering schools; more often among those who think from the brain out than among those who think from the senses in.
You see, from Theory we may deduce what the world must be like; but it is generally a helpful thing to check the ought against the is.
The F&SF issue was reviewed in Tangent Online and the transgressions of most of the stories were adumbrated. The reviewer wrote:
In other words, the issue contains stories selected for their potential to offend. ... Offense potentially arises from religion (whether by re-writing it, or depicting what becomes of it in the post-apocalyptic future) to patriotism (draft-dodging?) to sexual matters (mostly non-heterosexual predilection, but also non-consensual acts).One is quickly stuck by a notion: How transgressive is it to stand up and bravely face the applause of one's peers? Here are capsules from the review referring to the several stories. (In an instance or two, TOF could not make out what the touchy subject was supposed to be or wherein lay the daring political incorrectness, and these have been omitted.)
- depicts a young undergraduate whose academic supervisor persuades him in the 1960s to undertake a drug-fueled journey into the future in order to hide, safe from arrest, until he can return without punishment for dodging his draft notice.
- presents an alternative to the Christian canon, told from the viewpoint of the carpenter who took over the shop when Yeshua retired to tell tall tales for small change. ... recasts Yeshua as a local entertainer whose beloved fiction became a bestseller in translation.
- depicts a native American deity seeking work at the 1904 World’s Fair – held in St. Louis to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. White/government characters are parasites too thick to recognize the irony in their sanctimonious condescension of natives who observe them demonstrating the very traits they preach against.
- the narrator’s animal-control work led to the deaths of little fuzzy animals, and he holds contempt for those who regard vermin as precious little fuzzy animals. But then (sniff) we learn he unnecessarily kills cats when induced by a profit motive – and he enjoys it. Then he’s indignant and angry at the trial witness who caught him on film.
- The story’s connection to the issue’s theme of risk-to-offend doesn’t derive solely about making a book version of a movie [Noah] made from a holy book. Oh, no. But it’s obviously a send-up, and it’s hard to imagine anyone taking serious offense
- misogynist bully sociopaths or the kinds of people reliably found imbibing suds at frathouse parties
- a story depicting nonconsensual sex acts and the kind of enslavement that makes national news when it’s discovered in the real world.
- a science-fiction future in which achieved technology has rendered made-up technology obsolete – and apparently science fiction with it. ... On the way, it quietly proves we ought never stop thinking. And that’s good.
Apparently, there are those who confuse "politically incorrect" with "uncomfortable to read." For example, including "nonconsensual sex." The idea that this might be shown in a positive (or even neutral) light would be horrifying. Hence, Huckleberry Finn gets banned because Twain used the n-word, even though the novel is a powerful plea for tolerance and human rights. People might object to the portrayal of a man who kills cats for [gasp!] the profit motive, but if he gets his comeupance in the end, what exactly is politically incorrect? If the author really wants to be transgressive, she might instead portray a cat-killer without rendering moral judgment, or even portraying his trial as an unjust oppression!
No one ever finds it difficult to transgress the boundaries set by others. It is only his own boundaries that causes him to shy as a dog from an invisible fence. Years ago, TOF audited a panel at Philcon that was supposed to discuss things that the Future™ would find horrifying about the present day. The panelists came up with a nice list of things of which they personally disapproved: smoking, for example. Of course the present day is busily eliminating that, but no one suggested the Future™ would be appalled at the oppressive micromanagement needed to do so. And you know that no one dared suggest the Future™ would ever regard abortion with horror. Even when challenged from the audience to name something going on today of which they personally approved but which they thought the Future™ might plausibly find repellant, they were unable to do so!
Samuel Butler once wrote:
"I attacked the foundation of morality in Erewhon and nobody cared two straws. I tore open the wounds of my Redeemer as he hung upon the Cross in The Fair Haven, and people rather liked it. But when I attacked Mr. Darwin they were up in arms in a moment." [cited in Lukacs, Remembered Past, p. 73-74.]And that is how one knows when he has crossed the border of political correctness. I look forward to the issue with stories that really challenge the dogmas of Late Modern SF readers.