December 29, 2013
My late friend, the distinguished economist Peter Bauer, used to say that the only true unemployment in the modern world was among satirists, for the world had grown so ridiculous that what was intended as satire was either a description of what already existed or a prophecy of what would soon come to exist. And certainly it is true that I have once or twice in print made satirical suggestions, only to find them taken up and put into effect shortly afterwards. By contrast, no one has ever taken seriously any of my suggestions that were meant seriously.
One of the aspects of modernity that I have long wanted but found impossible to satirize is the bureaucratic language that seems to come naturally to so many people. The problem with this language is that it is auto-satirizing, as it were. The act of reading or hearing it is almost coterminous with that of deriding it. Indeed, for a short time I used to derive a small income from publishing (in a left-wing journal) the circulars that I received daily from my hospital administration. Very little additional commentary was required. When held up to examination, the absurdity”the nullity”of these circulars spoke for itself.
Political correctness is a kind of bureaucracy of the mind: It is likewise difficult to satirize, and for the same reason. In fact, bureaucratic language and political correctness go together like the horse and carriage and love and marriage in the Sammy Cahn song that Sinatra made famous. Incidentally, could there be better proof than this lyric that the past, even recent past (in this case 1955), is a foreign country, and that they do things differently there?
A few days ago I received by email, unsolicited, a message that was a small masterpiece of politically correct bureaucratese. I did not recognize the sender’s name and will not mention it, for I have nothing against him personally and have no desire to humiliate him. Besides, it might not emanate from him at all. Like most people, I imagine, I receive quite a lot of unsolicited and fraudulent email, my favorite genre of such being from the purported brother-in-law of the ex-dictator of an African country who happens to know where the late lamented’s fortune of $28,300,000 is deposited and which requires only my bank account details to be released”whereafter I will receive 40% of the proceeds. I suppose the scam must work now and again or else I would not receive such messages every two weeks or so, usually addressing me in the most florid fashion: Dearly beloved brother or My close friend in Christ.
I am still not sure whether the message I received was intended seriously or satirically, an uncertainty that itself is indicative of how used we have become to the kind of language in which it is couched:
Facebook put forth a special notice for me to pay attention to my social media obligations. My apologies to any offended party who may have felt (however wrongly) the sting of my insult or rejection of their core identity, orientation, social class, racial or religious membership, inclinations in celebratory habits. Just because I neglected my duties under Facebook, my heart was nonetheless with you, never mind the implication of my phobic (a misappropriated term) negativity however wrongly perceived as directed towards some dearly held or mildly favored aspect of your core Facebook identity. I apologize to all your ancestors descendants, and acolytes for the offense they may have endured from my dim-witted psychological and social assault….That does not extend to legal liabilities to offer my financial compensation to recompense harmed souls. Not to make excuses, but I have been otherwise occupied with courtship, marriage, selling previous domiciles and nesting with my lovely and captivating new wife. Such investment was somehow incompatible with my admittedly strong proclivity to post on Facebook material that was of a certain bent, mainly political and social commentary with strongly worded counter opinion declaiming the desperate state of the direction of the country. My wife helped me to see how such negativity was inconsistent with such otherwise loving times we enjoyed. I hit bottom, so I sobered up, so to speak and took the pledge to largely abstain from Facebook. Hence my apology while I attempt a solution to both manage regular stuff of life and meet my obligations to the Facebook. They have set no firm date, but I better get it done soon going by their pace of reminders and prods. Thank you in advance for your understanding, and again, no phobic intent was intended and I apologize to anyone who could be offended in any conceivable way. I wonder if sackcloth and ashes still works in this day and age.