Jun 11, 2010

Politically Incorrectness

Ah, political correctness:. saying what shouldn't be said, calling things what they are, expecting common sense in a world that has made sense about as common as unicorns. A friend recently sent me a definition of "political correctness" that included the phrase "a doctrine . . . that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end." (Credited on the WWW to a student from Texas A&M, the University of Melbourne, and several other institutions, including the US Army.) The rest of this definition included the delusion that political correctness is a property of liberals and that a minority is vested in this delusion, so I'm less than impressed with the whole. The part I quoted, however, seems pretty true.

My wife and I are deemed politically incorrect by our daughters and their husbands. One family is largely liberal and the other is very conservative. We're as incorrect to one as the other. Hence comes a portion of my belief that political correctness is one of those perspectives that depends on the viewer. Rush Limbaugh and his cronies have just as many untouchable subjects as do the most radical of the left, those topics are just found in different areas. In other words, both groups display typical "common sense" in their touchiness.

In a discussion about gayness, one of my daughters suggested that "no one" would "choose to be outcast" by a substantial portion of society. I'm not disputing the biological aspects of gayness, but I suspect (and always have) there there is a portion of nurture involved in most human qualities and decisions. Nature, while powerful, doesn't have much more power than does nurture. I know that's politically incorrect, but I'm too old to care.

In my eyes, this politically correct position was particularly funny coming from a woman who shaved her head (when not dying it a variety of florescent colors), spiked her nose, ears, and other body parts with all sorts of odd sharp objects, tattooed herself with a ball point pen, and did everything she could to make herself as strange looking as possible from age 15 until her early 20's. Knowing my own history as a 60's long-haired hippy freak, you'd have thought some aspect of discontinuity might have struck her during this proclamation.

In our speck of American culture, motorcyclists are packed with these sorts of intentional social rejects. The most obvious is the Harley gangbanger crowd. The majority of society looks at these folks as outcasts, even other motorcyclists. Why anyone would want to dress-up like characters out of a 1950's B-movie escapes me, but a substantial portion of the wanna-be crowd is really into looking like society's unwashed and unwanted and unemployed. There must be a strong call to those who can't find acceptance in polite company to make a sincere effort to find a home wherever they can. If that's true for punks and bikers, I can't help suspect it might be true for other outcast micro-cultures.

Once a group finds enough members to create critical mass, that group begins campaigning everyone else to grant their different-ness with proper respect. If respect isn't possible, fear seems to suffice. A group can leverage fear in a variety of ways: threatening legal action, threatening popular condemnation, or with violence. Fear rarely turns into respect, regardless of the tactic, and many of these groups continue to alienate the majority without a thought for the fact that fear is closely related to hate. Generating hate usually backfires.

The gangbanger motorcyclist attitude is creating that sort of back-pressure for motorcycling in general. In promoting their threatening, law-disobeying lifestyle, air and noise polluting "rights," and a lousy safety record on public roads, Harley's corporate image and the company's fans are spilling over into motorcycling in general. We're becoming as easy a bad guy stereotype as the Mob, IRS, FBI, CIA, and Arab terrorists. When an author or screenwriter wants to whip out an easy character to hate, a biker is as likely to come to mind as is any other culturally negative stereotype. I just finished John Stanford's Storm Prey and, for the 4th time in this 20-book series, bikers are among the bad guys. Stanford doesn't even have to work to create believable, crazy-vicious, stupid motorcycle characters. They just flow from the page without a hint of lost credibility. If you know these guys in real life, you know they are just as sociopathic and worthless as Stanford draws them.

In the not-so-long-run, this connection to the majority or motorcyclists is going to cost motorcycling a lot of rights and privileges. Our lame "representative," the AMA, is trying to handle this turd by what it hopes is the clean end. But as long as motorcyclists allow bikers to cling to some corner of "respectable motorcyclists" we're all getting tarred with a black leather brush. I'm starting to think that motorcycle commuters and touring riders need their own organization, one that seperates itself from the cruiser crowd and returns to Honda's successful "you meet the nicest people" sort of image-making. The boys in bandannas and leather can whine about how they are politically incorrectly seen as gangsters and bums, but the rest of us should serious consider what linking our means of transportation to their gangbanger activity does to/for motorcycling.

Think about it.


  1. If lonely nuns really did use candles as "consolateurs", does that detract from the pleasant light they throw? To me the motorcycle is a way to ski uphill as well as down - to get a simple kinaesthetic pleasure of motion that doesn't require a jump plane, a ski lift, or a "sag-wagon". If others use motorbikes to get to various crimes, that simple pleasure remains for me, and it's the "1950s B-movie" crowd who are holding down the far end of the Gaussian distribution on this one.

    Innocence despite association.


  2. It’s hard to fight the power of stereotypes, don’t you think? If the most apparent (visible) members of a group are criminals and hooligans, the general impression is going to be pretty negative.

    Obviously, I don’t care what nuns did with candles or carrots or cucumbers. I’m a bit concerned that our innocent association with the gangster crowd is rubbing off on commuters. Friends in CA tell me that the incidence of motorists aggressively closing off lane-splitting is increasing. This is from folks who’ve been riding CA highways for 50 years. In St. Paul, downtown residents are (again) talking about banning bikes from the downtown area because of noise violations. As you’ve pointed out, long range highway planning seems to be excluding motorcycles.

    I’m not much of a believer in self-policing. Great idea, unlikely to happen. If we don’t do it, the general public will do it for us.

  3. It's not just the pirate wannabees in the HD crowd. Sportbikers acting badly are causing just as many problems around here. They are just as loud, or louder, race around doing all sorts of illegal tricks, and then manage to kill or maim themselves quite publicly. And, then we've got the offroad bikers tearing up public trails and private property. I hate to say it, but maybe the stereotypes are real! By the way, I ride a sportbike.

  4. You're right, of course. Stereotypes work because they are often largely true. Off road guys are doing a lot less harm these days because there are hardly any legal places to ride. We "earned" that restriction in the early years of off-road.

  5. At a rally a few years ago, my wife and I returned to our tent to find a group of can sprayed, matt black rat bikes and their equally ratty looking owners setting up next to our plot. As we approached I was thinking, “Oh God, here we go”, as one of them slouches over in our direction, only to offer his hand and cheerily introduce his chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Club!

    I agree though, while there are exceptions to stereotypes, I and the public at large will run a mile rather than look through them. Even when commuting many riders do our image harm by not being courteous to the cages that we rely on for our own safety. Listen at any gathering where the foolhardy are trying to earn an image as the ultimate biker, and stories of idiots sticking their boot into the side of inconsiderate cars abound. This, and all the antisocial bullshit that comes with two wheels is not going to make the general populace care whether they cut us up on the road, or even ban us entirely.


Disagree? Bring it on. Have more to add? Feel free to set me straight. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't do a great job of figuring out which Anonymous commenters are actually real people, not Russians or Chinese bots. I'm pretty ruthless about spam-labeling anonymous posts. If you have something worth saying, you shouldn't be afraid of using your ID.