The year 2020 was certainly a year that, to use a colloquialism, “punched our lights out.” Aside from the suspicious and ravenous assault by the coronavirus taking place all across the four corners of the Earth, and with the entire scientific and medical community desperately trying to come up with solutions, we got a taste of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I would like to turn my attention to specific lessons on civic engagement and political correctness.
Polarization and fanaticism are the greatest enemies of dialogue and allow demagogues to appear on the sociopolitical stage as ‘leaders’, monopolizing and spreading discord and distorted ideologies in the midst of a tragic moment, and thus making it rather easy to manipulate unsuspecting citizens who fall victim to a dangerous sort of proselytism.
The result of this terrible and unacceptable atmosphere gives rise to ‘political correctness.’ in other words, a state of being on constant alert for fear that someone might say something that could offend someone else’s person or ideology. Almost like an invisible ‘boogeyman’ lying in wait to strike and create a host of unpleasant outcomes. As a result, standing afar, all we can do is wave goodbye to aptitude and rights, which we only managed to gain after countless sacrifices – in other words, freedom of speech – and backtrack to darker eras.
The author of this piece, in collaboration with the publishing consultant of this newspaper (who is kind enough to offer me this forum) and former Deputy Minister of the current Greek Government, Mr. Antonis Diamataris, along with other compatriots, fought against the military junta during one of the darkest periods in the history of our Greek homeland. In our capacity as university students here in New York and without belonging to some ideological or political faction, we fought our own fight for the restoration of democracy and freedom in our homeland.
Today, when this great land of ours faced a struggle shortly after the arrival of 2021, we witnessed scenes broadcast around the world that showed an America that fell short of its ideals. In spite of all this, after a fleeting period of chaos and anarchy, the greatness of the U.S. Constitution prevailed. Of course, there were losses sustained that I hope will serve as a history lesson for this country.
Despite these challenges and a relative tranquility that has recently set in, I must note that the overwhelming result of political correctness is the suppression of the free exchange of opinions, which, even if sometimes expressing disagreement, could contribute to a constructive dialogue, offering any institution or official a chance to speak without political or social ‘harassment’. On the contrary, what now we usually come across, even among small and ’friendly’ company, is the danger of someone being characterized a fascist, or Trumpeteer, or leftist, or communist, etc. In other words, if someone expresses a different or independent opinion and does not completely agree with their interlocutor or the establishment – whatever that may be – he runs the risk of being typecast.
We must never forget that oppression – or fascism, to put it more bluntly – may and has repeatedly come from both the right and the left. There is no question about that. Not everything can be black and white. There are shades of colors in between that are also acceptable. The free exchange of ideas, so long as it does not express violence or suggest illegal behavior, should be acceptable if we want to say that we live in a free and democratic society. Besides, it is precisely this exchange of ideas that gives us the opportunity to learn something – even if we have a completely different opinion. Democritus tells us that “boldness (freedom of speech) is a trait of freedom.”
Therefore, when we arrogantly pride ourselves over the teachings of Greek culture – especially democracy – it would be good if we reminded each other that this also requires that we treat others with the same courtesy we would expect and tolerate opposing viewpoints, remembering always that when ‘point’ and ‘counterpoint’ clash, it is quite likely that a very compatible and acceptable ‘synthesis’ will come about. Freedom of expression and the exchange of viewpoints is a privilege that took so many struggles and sacrifices to be secured, and in my humble opinion, it would be a shame and unfair to stamp it out in the name of political correctness.
Dr. Panos Stavrianidis is an Entrepreneur, Doctor of Sociology, and Greek-American Activist.