ATLANTA — Atlanta. -- Aseam of ready irrationality has always jittered just below the surface of American life. Waves of religious hysteria have struck repeatedly in our history. Spiritualism, complete with ectoplasmic manifestations and knocking tables, was big in the late 1800s. In the hippie '60s, no small number of us suckered for the oobeegoobees: ESP, astrology, tarot cards.
Now we are getting New Age dippiness, with its vapid elevator music, neo-druidism and holistic sneakers. And, of course, PC.
PC stands for Politically Correct. It is what speech and attitudes are supposed to be if you are of the new and righteous sensibility. PC sees victimization everywhere and even invents new victims in order to have more to bemoan. It is a device for universal unhappiness.
A perfectly decent impulse -- to evolve a comfortable civility for our multicultural society -- has been perverted at the fringes into a police-state mentality. Where there should be exuberance in our diversity, there is instead the death of all banter and social ease.
There was an especially absurd outcropping of PC Amok in Atlanta last week, as 3,000-plus delegates congealed for the first National Lesbian Conference. To be fair, there appear to have been a few entirely sane sessions, devoted to managing real-life problems and to having a political impact where that would be useful.
But, Lord, the nonsense. Delegates were barred from wearing scent or deodorant, using Chapstick or cough drops or even drinking coffee, lest the effluvia thereof assault any who might be afflicted with what is now called EI -- Environmental Illness, one of the cutting-edge hysterias.
No official function could take place until a Politically Correct group had been gathered, with assigned percentages of minorities, the aged and so on.
What should be a decent regard for the disabled was turned to nonsense. Workshop leaders had to be trained in ''anti-ableism,'' and delegates were asked to study a list of 25 ways to ''oppress'' the disabled, so as to avoid such oppression. Example: Touching a person's wheelchair ''in an intimate fashion when you're not intending intimacy.''
Delegates trooped among workshops entitled ''Vegetarian ecofeminism,'' ''Finding each other: networking for witches,'' ''Why lesbians should have sex in the a.m.; the politics of night'' and ''Amazon Cellular Memory: Rediscover and reconnect with your Amazon past through ritual, meditation and recall.'' Even topics with promising real-world connections sometimes stood on trap doors: ''Lobbying (and crystals).''
Well, this, too, shall pass. Seances are rare these days, and tie-dye is only for when the Grateful Dead come to town.
But while the foolishness plays out, it is difficult not to suspect that it is provoked in part by the deadly narrowness of American politics.
For more than a decade now, a militant conservatism has forbidden every progressive impulse, except in private charity, and has tutored an anti-tax absolutism that teaches that no solution is worth its cost.
Energies that would be going into the improvement of the nation are going instead into ever more absurd preoccupations with the self and into PC bullying. Those are poor substitutes and a waste.
Tom Teepen is editor of The Atlanta Constitution's editorial pages.