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Now it’s shamrocks that have caught the eye of the Sensitivity
Police, along with, of all things, milk and Martha Stewart. All three,
say the czars of politically correctness, are too controversial and
factious for public display.

In Boston of all places, where large numbers of citizens trace their
ancestry to Ireland, the city’s Housing Authority has pronounced the
little green clover cutouts to be just too “controversial” for common
view, i.e., symbols that should be avoided if residents don’t wish to be
judged as too aggressive, too anti-social, and too anti-neighborly. The
shamrock censoring is part of the Housing Authority’s “diversity
program,” a project that aims to make citizens “more sensitive to the
feelings” of their neighbors. “In particular, the Housing Authority
wants ‘project dwellers’ to understand the effect that certain publicly
flaunted symbols can have on others,” explains Pete Hamill in the
Wall Street Journal. “Among the ‘controversial decorations’ are the
Confederate and Puerto Rican flags, the swastika and the shamrock.”

It’s easy to understand the swastika ban, and even the Confederate
flag, but it’s much trickier when it comes to the Puerto Rican flags and
shamrocks. There, it’s more a case of raw numbers, a circumstance of
differences in group power, a case of the politics of victimhood, envy
and group identity saying that no group should have any more than any
other group. If a project dweller from Zaire or Iceland, for instance,
can’t pull together a big city parade, then it’s “unfair” for him to be
exposed to a virtual plethora of “flaunted” and “controversial” symbols
on Puerto Rican Day or St. Patrick’s Day.

In “America’s 30 Years War,” Hungarian-born historian and concert
pianist Balint Vazsonyi writes about his first-hand experience of living
in a nation where the Soviet Union imposed police authority over every
aspect of life. Individual freedom, self-sufficiency, privacy, property
rights and personal liberty were replaced by government-mandated group
identities, social and economic leveling, group preferences and income
redistribution. “A large red letter identified your ancestry on every
form attached to your record,” he writes. “If your father worked in a
factory, you could do no wrong. If your father owned a small store, you
could do no good.” In the socialist scheme of things, anyone with too
many shamrocks or too many stores becomes the enemy.

Taken to its logical conclusion, whether in Boston or Budapest, the
drive to eradicate all group inequalities and individual differences
that might fuel social tension produces, inevitably, an overblown
statist clique that’s large enough to prescribe, in Vazsonyi’s words, “a
set of conditions to which society must conform, if necessary through
coercion or by force.” Inch by inch, whether through higher taxes,
greater regulation, more speech codes, or greater income redistribution,
it’s a slippery slope that attacks personal sovereignty and undermines
America’s founding principles of individual rights and limited
government.

Boston’s proposed exile of shamrocks reminds me of a story told by
one of my students from East Germany. Back home, she said, her father’s
job was controlled by the local Communist Party. Each December, her
family had to be careful to keep their Christmas tree very small and
unlit, invisible from the sidewalk through any of their windows. Not
unlike the banned-in-Boston shamrocks,
her grandmother’s Christmas angels were kept out of sight, hidden in the
attic.

In another stab at uncovering group oppression, the People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals, reports columnist John Leo, “is arguing
that milk is a racist beverage because tens of millions of
African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and American Indians are
lactose-intolerant, while most Caucasians are not.” Milk, the perfect
drink for the paleface inheritors of unearned privilege? In this new
stretch of victimhood, is Jim Beam racist if Presbyterians have less
trouble with alcohol than Indians?

With Martha Stewart, it’s her cleaning tips and shopping skills that
have upset the Modern Language Association (MLA), the world’s largest
surviving gang of tenured Marxists. In its pre-convention call for
academic papers, the MLA, taking note of Martha’s quick rise up the
capitalist food chain, has asked the nation’s language professors to
produce papers on the following vital national topic: “How does Martha
Stewart’s work serve to construct notions of whiteness and middle class
heterosexual identity?” Martha Stewart’s K-Mart towels as propaganda for
straight suburban sex? And even worse, asks the MLA, isn’t Martha
sending a sly wink to old-fashioned Western pillage? “What is the
function of nostalgia in Martha Stewart?,” asks the MLA. “Is it an
imperialist nostalgia?”

In his “Culture of Complaint,” Robert Hughes contends that we’re
overdosing on victimhood. “As our 15th-century forebears were obsessed
with the creation of saints and our 19th-century ancestors with the
production of heroes,” he writes, “so are we with the recognition,
praise and, when necessary, the manufacture of victims.” Cowboys sue
clowns for inadequately distracting bulls. The San Francisco Giants are
dragged into court for giving away Father’s Day gifts to men only. “The
power to be found in victimization, like any power,” states Shelby
Steele, “is intoxicating and can lend itself to the creation of a new
class of super-victims who can feel the pea of victimization under 20
mattresses.”

It’s what Charles Sykes calls “the rise of the Annoyed Person,” the
creation of a milieu where it’s “profitable to cultivate indignation and
profess victimhood.” Wounds become advantages, milk becomes racist,
flaunted shamrocks become suffocating, and Martha Stewart becomes an
imperialist lackey. Deficiencies, in short, become entitlements.


Ralph R. Reiland, an associate
professor of economics at Robert Morris College, is co-author of “Mom &
Pop vs. the Dreambusters.”

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