Let's get something straight: I'm not one of those grumbling chauvinists who write to The Telegraph or The Daily Mail complaining that political correctness has gone mad. I didn't vote UKIP, I'm not a taxi driver; I'm a lifelong liberal lefty. In the 1980s I hated Thatcher and even once went on a demonstration. In the early 90s I boycotted Nestlé products for a week. I don't have a racist bone in my body, I'm entirely comfortable around homosexuals and any sexist attitudes I may sometimes display are displayed with a wink and a knowing chuckle. I am an enlightened, twenty-first century egalitarian deeply committed to the liberty and advancement of all peoples, and would be appalled if anyone ever mistook me for an ignoramus, or worse - a bigot.
But here's the rub: political correctness has gone mad. You truly cannot say anything any more. Or rather - to be technically correct - you can say whatever you like, but there will be consequences. And this is an extremely troubling development.
As a middle class white man I'm accustomed to being able to express my opinions freely. That has been my right (I refuse to use the word privilege, which has been taken from us in much the same way "gay" was) for as long as I have been alive, and it's a right I hold dear to my heart. Many of my opinions are the result of literally hours of concentrated thought experiments carried out in the laboratory that is my mind. Some opinions I have adopted - they are the offspring of other thinkful men like me, and I've seen something in them I like, and so have taken them to my bosom to raise as my own. It matters not the origin of my opinions, what matters is that I hold them - but what matters more is that I feel free to share them.
It is useless to have an opinion unless one can express it. How is society to improve, how is the world to develop, how are people to achieve their maximum potential if they are denied the opinions of people like me? It doesn't bear thinking about. And yet shockingly, more and more these days, I am choosing to sometimes not say or type out the things that come into my head.
What provokes this stapling shut of my lips, this figurative breaking of my fingers, this self-censorship? 'Tis fear. I am keenly aware that at this point in our history, the public expression of my honest opinions may result in terrifying repercussions. To wit: somebody who is neither white nor male might say something back.
I must reiterate at this point that I am emphatically not a racist. To me there is only one race - the human race. I don't even see colour. I have an enormous number of non-white friends on social media. I believe racial discrimination - in any direction - is disgusting and nobody is happier than I am that the days of true racism are behind us. When I watched The Wire I didn't even turn on the subtitles.
And so the thought of a person of ethnic minority challenging me on Twitter fills me with dread. A cold sweat creeps up my back at the mere idea of opening my Notifications and seeing that damning word: "problematic". My hands tremble e'en as I type this piece now, lest I have inadvertently committed some grevious linguistic error that will see me dragged to a literal pillory and literally burned alive. I do not exaggerate.
And I am not alone. The list of self-described liberal columnists now too terrified to express themselves without slight hesitation is nearly endless. In The Guardian and New York Magazine and The New Statesman and Vox and a host of other international publications, left-leaning progressive thinksters are finding themselves forced into writing overlong articles about how their fear of verbal censure has left them voiceless. And you may think that statement inherently contradictory, but it's not.
I will end with a plea, directed to the Orwellian New Liberal Thought Police - those who believe that a white man's opinions have no innate value and may not be as objective and free from bias as any sensible person knows them to be - and 'tis simply this: can we not return to a simpler and more innocent time? A time when discourse was conducted between social equals, when men could delight themselves and their audience with discussions of abstract concepts, unconcerned with the dismal realities of those who might be affected by that which amused them so? Is that too much to ask?
Because I fear that if we cannot return to those times - if you will insist that every thought that pops into my head must be examined and considered before being spoken aloud or shared with the world in text - I may have to stop being a liberal at all and go over to the reactionary side, where they care not a whit for such niceties. And that would be a loss to us all.
You have twenty four hours to decide.