Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Political Correctness in Hell

In his short story The Infernal Parliament, Hector Hugh Munro (aka Saki) describes legislative efforts to ban certain politically incorrect words. This story was published posthumously in 1924. Munro died in 1916.
'Have you a Parliament in Hell?' asked Bidderdale in some surprise.

'Only quite recently. Of course we've always had chaos, but not under Parliamentary rules. Now, however, that Parliaments are becoming the fashion, in Turkey and Persia, and I suppose before long in Afghanistan and China, it seemed rather ostentatious to stand outside the movement. That young Fiend just going by is the Member for East Brimstone; he'll be delighted to show you over the institution.'

'You will just be in time to hear the opening of a debate,' said the Member, as he led Bidderdale through a spacious outer lobby, decorated with frescoes representing the fall of man, the discovery of gold, the invention of playing cards, and other traditionally appropriate subjects. 'The Member for Nether Furnace is proposing a motion "that this House do arrogantly protest to the legislatures of earthly countries against the wrongful and injurious misuse of the word 'fiendish,' in application to purely human misdemeanours, a misuse tending to create a false and detrimental impression concerning the Infernal Regions."'

A feature of the Parliament Chamber itself was its enormous size. The space allotted to Members was small and very sparsely occupied, but the public galleries stretched away tier on tier as far as the eye could reach, and were packed to their utmost capacity.

'There seems to be a very great public interest in the debate,' exclaimed Bidderdale.

'Members are excused from attending the debates if they so desire,' the Fiend proceeded to explain; 'it is one of their most highly valued privileges. On the other hand, constituents are compelled to listen throughout to all the speeches. After all, you must remember, we are in Hell.'

Bidderdale repressed a shudder and turned his attention to the debate.

'Nothing,' the Fiend-Orator was observing, 'is more deplorable among the cultured races of the present day than the tendency to identify fiendhood, in the most sweeping fashion, with all manner of disreputable excesses, excesses which can only be alleged against us on the merest legendary evidence. Vices which are exclusively or predominatingly human are unblushingly described as inhuman, and, what is even more contemptible and ungenerous, as fiendish. If one investigates such statements as "inhuman treatment of pit ponies" or "fiendish cruelties in the Congo," so frequently to be heard in our brother Parliaments on earth, one finds accumulative and indisputable evidence that it is the human treatment of pit ponies and Congo natives that is really in question, and that no authenticated case of fiendish agency in these atrocities can be substantiated. It is, perhaps, a minor matter for complaint,' continued the orator, 'that the human race frequently pays us the doubtful compliment of describing as "devilish funny" jokes which are neither funny nor devilish.'
Lest you laugh this off as mere satire, consider the following law, enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor of Minnesota a few years ago:
The commissioner of natural resources shall change each name of a geographic feature in the state that contains the word "squaw" to another name that does not contain this word. The commissioner shall select the new names in cooperation with the county boards of the counties in which the feature is located and with their approval.
Officials of Lake County, on the Canadian border, had a sensible response. They offered to rename Squaw Creek and Squaw Lake as Politically Correct Creek and Politically Correct Lake.

Besides the political correctness angle, note the other prophetic touches in this story by Saki:

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