by Hannes Wessels
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. This old adage is something I remember from my earliest childhood and in the world that I grew up in it was a way of life. Being half-Afrikaner, did not stop me laughing at my lot; I was brought up on a steady slew of ‘Van der Merwe’ jokes and frequently called a ‘Rock-spider’ so I know all about not taking myself, my history or my ethnicity too seriously.
Looking back, I suppose that mindset had a lot to do with the culture of the country in which I was born and raised. The Rhodesian way was essentially libertarian in the classical sense in that the emphasis was on the ability of the individual to shape the future rather than the State. The ‘nanny-state’ was unknown. Within this regimen, we were encouraged, at home and within a disciplined and demanding school system, to find the mettle to fight as many of our own battles as possible before reaching out to a higher authority. This was seen as part of the development of the necessary mental and physical toughness needed to deal with the challenges that life would present. Sports such as rugby and cricket were important components teaching us the value of the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team; how to take a knock, dry your eyes and get back on your feet; how to win, and how to accept defeat with grace and in the spirit of good sportsmanship. Throughout this ‘toughening’ process there was also little prohibition on what one said to one another. This burgeoning ribaldry nurtured what I would call, a ‘brotherly irreverence’ where good friends signalled their special bonds by feeling at liberty to speak their minds and laugh at oneself and at one’s real or imagined failings, no matter how dire the situation. A humbling ethos but a binding one, which served as a strong support throughout the troubled times visited upon the country and its people. The unusual ability to laugh in the face of adversity using a tough-love type of humour helped us all through the toughest of challenges.
Interestingly, because we all grew up interacting on a daily basis with our African countrymen and women, this friendly frankness transcended race and laid the foundation for a successful multi-racial society. All of us grew up experiencing the warmth and comfort that comes with breaking down racial and cultural divides through forming close and rewarding friendships which have endured and strengthened over the years. These relationships were forged through honest social intercourse where we were all comfortable being what we were, mutually aware of all our differences and the fundamental inequalities but also mindful that through open discussion we had a chance to overcome them. And throughout this process we knew how to laugh at, and with one another. When they say. ‘laughter is the best medicine’, I believe they are right.
In today’s world, dominated by identitarianism, where everyone who is not white, is a potential victim of anything uttered by a white person, that sort of relaxed, robust and often humorous exchange of views and ideas has been outlawed. Replaced by a culture of feigned righteousness where one has to carefully choose words as one navigates through a terminological and verbal minefield leading to serious repercussions following any poorly chosen utterance. ‘Thought Police’ now enforce new rules of social orthodoxy as determined by the intolerant liberal establishment, backed by expanding legislation and naked censorship. The consequence is that everyone now signals virtue by ‘acceptable’ words and deeds, infractions are ruthlessly dealt with, and sometimes referred to a higher authority. We now live in a world of ‘hate crime’ where virtually anything one says, no matter how well meant, might be considered offensive and hurtful and thereby criminal. This has impacted our lives at every level of social interaction. The simple art of conversation has been mutilated into a grotesque fandango across the tight-rope of political correctness, wobbling precariously above the abyss of social, even criminal retribution. Social discourse, public debate and comedy all become especially fraught when venturing anywhere near the matter of race and the slightest mistake might lead to the dreaded accusation of being ‘racist’; this is akin to being fingered in the Salem witch hunt and few, no matter the defence, escape punishment.
The sad irony, against this lamentable backdrop, is that as a white man who has spent his life interacting with black people, as a boy, as a soldier, as a hunter and in the workplace, I look back whimsically at special times of yore; often a lone white man, sitting in the sand around a fire with black men, having some of the happiest, funniest and most enlightening times of my life.
In the world I now find myself, outnumbered by sensitive, parochial, prickly, liberally inclined white people, where conversation is constricted by the rules of political correctness, where laughter is seldom heard because someone might be offended, I miss my black friends more than ever.
As for comedy, the good laughs are gone; like we had watching people like John Cleese. Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Life of Brian and other performances routinely brought me to tears, lifted my life and made millions around the world laugh. Sadly, Cleese will not humour us again; the liberals have silenced him.
Cleese says he has been advised not to perform on university campuses because his jokes “might be deemed cruel and offensive”. He goes further: “If you start to think, ‘ooh, we mustn’t criticise or offend them’, humour is gone, with humour goes a sense of proportion, and then as far as I’m concerned we’re living in (Orwell’s dystopian) ‘1984.’”