It is without question that one of the most noxious political diseases of our day is Political Correctness, which is why the recent whoop-dee-doo about Tom Flanagan’s child pornography comments is so dispiriting. Political Correctness first started out as an ideological tool for controlling public discourse, put forward by left-wing theoreticians like Herbert Marcuse in the 60’s. Therefore it is not surprising that the CBC would fire Flanagan, or that the University of Calgary would retire him. It is however disappointing, at least with regard to the university - which should be a champion of free discourse. (With regard to the CBC, I have no expectations, however low. But that is another story.)
What is most depressing about this affair is the extent to which this pox has been revealed to have infected the institutions of the right: organizations which should oppose political correctness with every fibre of their being, both for practical as well as moral reasons. Exhibit A is Andrew MacDougall, the spokesman for the PM, who tweeted, “Tom Flanagan’s comments on child pornography are repugnant, ignorant, and appalling.” Exhibit B is worse, and comes from Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party. She said, “There is no language strong enough to condemn Dr. Flanagan’s comments…. To be clear, Dr. Flanagan does not speak for me or the Wildrose caucus and he will have no role — formal or informal — with our organization going forward.” Oh well, so much for gratitude! Tom Flanagan midwifed both the Federal Conservative Party and the Wildrose Alliance into existence. Both owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tom Flanagan’s preliminary work and foresight that they can never repay. Basic loyalty and common decency demanded a lot more from them than Flanagan got.
All they needed to say was this, “We disagree with Tom Flanagan’s opinions on child pornography. It is the policy of our party that child pornography is a serious crime.” Period. Full stop. No need to elaborate any further, as he didn’t say what he said as their representative.
To demonstrate the appropriateness of my suggestion, let’s conduct a gedankeneksperiment. Suppose that instead of remarking on child pornography he had remarked on murder instead, suggesting that the criminal code is too harsh on murderers. What would have been the reaction?
Doubtlessly, the political parties would have tried to disassociate themselves from the immediate comments while giving him the benefit of the doubt, basically assuming that he had misspoken or was misquoted, all the while hoping that he would clear it up with a clarification. And this would have been the correct response, in spite of the fact that the unlawful taking of human life is a far more serious crime than downloading a jpeg.
In our PC inspired, self-righteous indignation, we should recognize what Flanagan actually said, and, just as importantly what he did not say. He did not say that he favours child molesters, and he did not say that he favours child pornography. He only wondered aloud about the efficacy of jailing people whose only crime is viewing child pornography, suggesting that, perhaps, some form of ‘treatment’ would be better. As a tough-on-crime conservative, I personally favour punishment and deterrence over rehabilitation. But you know what? In a democracy, this is the kind of thing we argue over, and settle by voting – not by scapegoating our opponents and drumming them out on a rail. That is why I accept the fact that there are a significant number of people in our body politic (primarily on the left, but also including some libertarians) who favour rehabilitation over punishment for an entire range of crimes – including murder! And they aren’t drummed out of respectable circles. Nor should they be.
And neither should Tom Flanagan, for tentatively supporting a much less radical proposition.