A true gentleman,” Oscar Wilde tells us, “is one who is never unintentionally rude.”

I have often thought of this delicious quip while listening to my right-wing friends kvetch over “political correctness,” and I cannot help but inquire with a sigh: is it possible to be a true gentleman in American public life any longer?

As is it with most of Wilde’s witticisms, he flirts with paradox with his gentlemanly rule in order to reveal ironic harmony. One does not usually associate gentlemen with rudeness—at least not in their public personas—and, amazing enough, it is still common, even today, to hear injunctions against rude and boorish behavior in order to maintain gentleman status. Wilde seems contradicted. But as much as Oscar was a massive darling, standing “in symbolic relations to the art and culture of” his age, he was also quite skilled at revealing the societal power relations usually left unsaid (and thus sustained) by the officially “correct” language of his day.

Wilde clearly saw the use of clever language and art for propagandistic ends as the gaudy toga draped over the Victorian authorities’ will to power. Thus, he went on to fashion a fairly successful rebellion against the moral authorities of his day through satire. His success ended after his imprisonment for practicing the “love that dare not speak its name,” homosexuality. And tragically, Wilde learned from his imprisonment the answer to the question asked of Winston Smith in 1984, “How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?” Winston, of course, answers, “By making him suffer.”

As Wilde writes from prison in De Profundis:

“I have said of myself that I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age. There is not a single wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life. For the secret of life is suffering.”

Though Wilde made “art a philosophy and philosophy an art,” cultivating the soil for future romantic artists and individualists, he also seems to have intuited, only to then viscerally experience, the ominous trappings between art, language, propaganda, and state power. Language, just as any human creation, can be used by people to seek dominance over their fellows.

Unfortunately, the red lines of modern American culture are still drawn by politics on the battlefield of so-called political correctness:

“Political correctness is a term primarily used as a pejorative to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society; in pejorative usage, those who use the term are generally implying that these policies are excessive…”

In his day, Wilde’s treatment of Victorian standards was hardly “politically correct.” Never one beholden to the mob, Wilde speaks on this matter as he always speaks—atop the Olympian heights—and in this case, he transfigures social mores from their lowly status as political conventions to the level of high art. In public life, he made “formal” etiquette “quite useless,” and during his private imprisonment, he made an art of his suffering, using it to discover humility and bring balance to his life’s narrative:

“I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world … And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.”

Thus, to be a true Wildean gentleman in all aspects of life, a person with the will to find beauty through pleasure and pain, is to make one’s own life an intentional work of art while concealing the artist. One’s rudeness towards society is not an inherent vice. As Wilde’s own life shows, even if one ends up suffering for one’s social “rudeness” as a lonely martyr, such an experience can yet serve as a crucial element for bringing harmony to a gentleman’s life’s work. After all, great lives are never achieved by showing deference to the official public line—by being useful to society—no, life is to be lived for one’s own sake, not society’s.

Art for art’s sake! Life for life’s sake! These slogans may shock and surprise “society,” especially its politically minded apes, but a gentleman embraces such hopes; as Baudelaire says so flawlessly, a gentleman enjoys “the pleasure of causing surprise in others, and the proud satisfaction of never showing any oneself.”

Yet, surprise and shock seem surplus in American public life to the point of blunting their effects. We have far passed the point of diminishing returns in our collective outrage. Offense-taking has become so commonplace in American political life (especially those petty offenses spurred on from unintentional slights) that our surprise no longer surprises us; our shock no longer shocks. In such a world, how can one not be unintentionally rude?

Again, is it possible to be a true gentleman in American public life any longer?

I think it is.

America’s lavish stockpiles of rotting outrage rest upon our penchant for constantly avoiding rudeness at all costs—or at least pretending to avoid it. Our etiquette has been infused with political implications; again, it is much too useful to the political segment of society. It is now mostly, if not merely, a means of political control rather than a natural, voluntary art.

You see, I am against political correctness not because of its “correctness,” but because of its “political” ramifications. If I was simply told in a non-political way to be polite to people having a rough time that would be one thing, but when I am told my impoliteness is tantamount to oppressing certain segments of society, well, I find myself ready to spit poniards in the direction of the PC police on both the left and right.

Offense-taking, resentment, victimhood, and conformity carry too much currency in our political market place on both the right and the left. They are too useful and admired by the political class. Such a state of affairs is certainly a downright unforgivable fact.

For instance, under our current politics, when one insults a given idea or even an individual person (especially a “politically” protected person,) one is seen as attacking masses. Tell a politician that his ideas are horrid, and soon you will be accused of attacking all his supporters as horrid little toadies who by some sad evolutionary hiccup are now carrying their excrement in their skulls and their brains in their rectums. Tell a man he is stupid, and soon you will be charged with attacking his family, his friends, his political party, his religion, his race, and the male sex in general. Tell a woman she is ugly, and soon you will discover you have attacked all women as part of a larger conspiracy.

Of course, this is not a defense of calling political ideas horrid, men stupid, and women ugly in a willy-nilly way; this is not a defense of rudeness without cause. However, when a gentleman does possess a good reason, he may be as intentionally rude, churlish, impudent, offensive, and ill-mannered as he wishes. Remember, even Jesus acted rudely towards the money changers and dove salesmen.

Thus, in order to be intentionally rude, one must know exactly who one is insulting, why one is insulting them, and what exactly the insult should be as well as when and where the insult should be delivered so as to achieve the optimal effect of one’s invective.

But the problem still remains: our etiquette is still much too useful to the political segments of society. Insult one person, and you have actually insulted many. Our democratic society, it seems, is full of delicate little snowflakes quick to take vicarious offense for one another for this or that political reason. It is a perilous situation. Though I will admit a single snowflake can be unique, beautiful, delicate, and even divine in its own right, once snowflakes start becoming useful to one another and working in unison, one is then faced with a potentially lethal blizzard.

So, how does a gentleman escape this chilly trap?

Attack the blizzard, i.e. intentionally attack “the people” at large and the very ideas that make them “the people” in the first place.

To the skilled and motivated gentleman, this is an easy task. “The people” offer a target rich environment. So now, allow me to insult “the people” for good reason.

In particular, I wish to insult “the people” because they have made it so difficult to be intentionally rude in a discreet manner, and this has occurred for one main reason: the people have always been and continue to be so unforgivingly selfish.  It is their biggest flaw.

Usually, selfishness is solely defined as never thinking of others and only doing for oneself, but selfish behavior can manifest itself in a much nastier way larger than any one-off self-serving, egotistical twerp. Selfishness can, indeed, be a collective affair.

So allow me to turn one last time to our muse, Oscar Wilde, for his advice on the matter:

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognizes infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of one’s neighbor that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.”

With this view in mind, who can deny “the people” are some of the most selfish primates to ever grace God’s green earth?

I’m sure those defenders of “American democracy” will surely try to deny it, but have they not watched the American people during election season?

Have they not witnessed the inherent dishonesty of the candidates and their supporters?

Have they not seen the huddled masses and the wretched refuse from sea to shining sea yearning, not for freedom, but for more and more power over one another to “create an absolute uniformity of type” out of this steaming dung pile we call a free nation?

Have they not caught a whiff of this putrid American manure hoping to fertilize our diverse fields of wildflowers into a monotonous regimentation of red roses?

I have, and as the delicate little snowflakes of America continue in their selfish ways, I can only hope their self-serving snowstorm will freeze the ground solid and turn their gardens into icy graveyards full of red rose headstones.

Then, after a long winter, I hope spring will provide a rebirth of diverse and beautiful flowers enough to make this gentleman lose his rude mood and bask in the glory of a spontaneous world made free for freedom’s sake.