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CARSON: Restoring plain and civil speech to politics

Breaking speech taboos reinforces the power of persuasion

- - Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I retired this month after 40 years of medical endeavors. There is little that can compare to the joy of being able to intervene in the lives of fellow human beings and in the vast majority of cases, save or improve those lives.

For a long time, I thought that retirement would mean learning to play golf well, learning to play the organ and learning a variety of new languages. Maybe my second retirement will include those things, but as a physician, I could not walk away and forget about patients who were suffering, and by the same token, I cannot now embark upon a life of leisure and watch my beloved nation and fellow citizens suffer from many self-inflicted wounds.

I revel in the opportunity to discuss many of the important issues of today even though many detractors will continue to try to put me in a box and say that I can only comment on things relevant to the field of neurosurgery. They are fond of saying "the good doctor is a terrific medical practitioner, but he can't possibly know anything about issues outside of medicine."

Five doctors signed the Declaration of Independence. Doctors were involved in framing the Constitution and in a host of our early legislative endeavors. It is totally untrue that only lawyers and politicians know how to conduct the affairs of the nation and, in fact, one could legitimately argue that this class of individuals is responsible for much of the turmoil that characterizes our current national psyche.

As a neurosurgeon, I do know a little bit about the brain and its capacity. Our gigantic frontal lobes allow us as human beings to engage in rational thought processing. Other parts of the brain, including the limbic system, control our emotional side. The parts of our brain associated with rational thought processing are significantly more vast than the parts dealing with our emotional side. This, of course, means we are capable of swift and critical analysis of information and, like a computer, can compare that new information with our database and make rational decisions. It is this critical ability that can safeguard us against one of the most malignant and destructive tendencies our nation has ever faced: political correctness.

Proponents of political correctness say it is a way that we can be kind and courteous to everyone, but they need to recognize that it is quite possible to be respectful without imposing an unspoken law that is antithetical to one of the founding principles of our nation — namely, freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Political correctness, which is vigorously enforced by much of the news media and many of our educational institutions, imposes a code of silence that prevents discussion of game-changing alterations of our fundamental social pillars. I was amused and saddened recently by the way the PC police intentionally took something I said out of context and distorted it in order to deviate the conversation away from what I was talking about and try to turn it into a conversation about me and whether or not I was a homophobe. This is a classical example of how this group works. I was asked whether I favor same-sex marriage. I said that I did not think that any group had the right to change the definition of a fundamental pillar of society.

The point of my answer was that once we begin changing essential definitions, it will be difficult to draw a line in the sand that indicates we won't continue to change it beyond that point. My answer was not so much about homosexuals or any of the other groups that were mentioned, but rather about our need to maintain certain behavioral definitions and standards in order to preserve our identity. If we keep redefining our fundamental institutions, how will we or our progeny have a social anchor on which to base our behavior?

The PC police tried to persuade people that I was comparing same-sex behavior with unacceptable forms of sexual variation. I was not making that comparison, but the speech minders insisted that it was my intention, as though they knew more about my intentions than I did. Their desire was to change the focus of the argument and to shut me up.

It is eminently possible to extend to any two consenting adults the right to legally bind themselves together in a civil ceremony that extends property and visitation rights without altering the traditional definition of marriage. Just for the record, I completely support equal rights for everyone, including gays, but I don't think any group has the right to change fundamental pillars of society for everyone else in order to satisfy their own desires.

We should stop submitting to political correctness and instead start engaging civil discussion. By doing so, we can arrive at logical solutions that work for everyone instead of retreating to our respective corners and throwing hand grenades at each other. We must not succumb to the forces that wish to divide and conquer us. There is a reason that we are called the United States of America.

Dr. Benjamin S. Carson Sr. is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.