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What’s Wrong With a Little Political Correctness?

What’s Wrong With A Little Political Correctness?

Political correctness is an instrument of oppression and scapegoating most prominently used by academic and political elites and enforced by mainstream news outlets. It is authoritarian, conformist and puritanical. Most egregiously, it is anti-thought. In On Liberty John Stuart Mill writes “Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think . . . ”

An analogy can be made with other forms of despotism. Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia, once he had executed 250,000 people at the beginning of his tyranny, proceeded to be a fairly benevolent dictator. This is no argument in favor of this form of government however because the fact of his benevolence was merely happenstance. There was no mechanism by which he might be removed should his actions become intolerable.

Likewise, counterfactually supposing political correctness had some beneficial effects, there is no mechanism of correction. Political correctness countenances lies and censorship if they be in what is considered a good cause. As many have noted, when it comes to political correctness, the truth is no defense. This means errors cannot be challenged, even in principle, by appeals to facts. Instead, insisting on pointing out inconvenient truths is an excellent way of being morally condemned.

And yet, the “conspiracy” of a postmodern intellectual class becomes a reality when the mere mention of basic scientific facts is condemned as reactionary and immoral. There is a sickly resistance to science among the left-leaning media class, where solid psychometric findings are treated as a matter of moralizing opinion. No doubt, to Peterson’s critics, such findings as average sex differences in occupational interest, or in personality traits such as agreeableness, classify as “pseudoscience.”[1]

The progressive  reaction to the Google memo concerning diversity made extensive use of the phrase “harmful stereotypes.” If instead the memo’s critics had focused on issues of truth they would have little to say. A stereotype is a generalization; as is knowledge. There are true generalizations and false generalizations. The mere fact of something being a stereotype in no way means it is false. In fact, social science, as flawed as much of it is, mostly supports the ideas presented in the Google memo.

Karl Marx claimed that his contemporary society was neatly divided into two; the proletariat and the capitalists; the oppressed and the oppressors. Murder the capitalists, and heaven on earth awaits. For Marx as he is popularly understood, ideas are held more as a matter of a person’s position within class relations than on the basis of truth; power and its lack becomes central to epistemology. The rich tend to be conservative; wanting to preserve what they have. The poor tend to be friendly to revolution because at least a half revolution of 180 degrees would put them at the top, so they have the most to gain by social turmoil, they imagine. The middle class tend to be centrist since they aspire to be rich and worry about being poor and are thus torn in both directions.

Many social justice warriors, it has been pointed out, similarly think it right and proper to silence speakers with whom they disagree because SJWs too are not so interested in truth but power; who has it and who does not. They tend to embrace postmodern skepticism regarding truth, especially anything concerning morality.  Fascination with power takes the central place the pursuit of truth should have. The powerless must be defended and the powerful suppressed. The ability to suppress opposing viewpoints that SJWs have demonstrated, including using violence to do so, is of course an exercise in power. The fact that SJWs should now oppose themselves is not a notion likely to bother them. It is similar to Nietzsche’s claim that the strong must be defended by attacks from the weak without noticing that the group that must be defended from attacks must actually, tautologically, constitute the weak.

Political correctness tends to make more and more areas of human interest political. When I expressed my wish years ago that my son’s high school teachers of English stick to literature, stay out of politics and philosophy, areas for which they are not trained, and avoid inserting “gender, class and race” into every literary analysis, an English teacher erstwhile friend of mine commented “but that’s all there is.” This tendency means that every class in English ends up effectively being the same class, making the same points over and over again.

Even as a liberal eighteen year old studying English and philosophy in New Zealand in the 1980s, I recognized that analyzing novels using stock, ideological political perspectives like “Marxist” or “feminist” was intellectually stifling and likely to be hugely inappropriate and irrelevant. Instead of real thinking, even my juvenile self recognized that taking preformulated views and ideas and relatively mindlessly inserting them where they do not belong substituted prepackaged nonsense for thinking. It could be compared to majoring in fine art only to discover that the courses centered around paint by numbers.

Some might suppose that “a little” political correctness is all right, as though moderate political correctness were an option. However, it is not possible to pick and choose between politically correct dictums. That implies thinking for oneself and that is strictly prohibited. No one person gets to decide what is correct and what is not. The whole point of political correctness is to suppress deviations from the conformist group-think. One accepts political correctness in toto or one is anathematized, ostracized and condemned.  Mill comments: “Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.”

Republican politicians have shown themselves to be often as willing as Democrats to follow PC rules, which force them into lies and falsehoods. For instance, “the wage gap” has been described as a problem by Republican politicians, presumably partly to garner the votes of women. The term “cuckservative” has been invented to describe such liars and frauds.

It is currently not possible to be regarded as civil and presidential without kowtowing to PC ideas. Of course, what counts as PC changes; sometimes, from month to month. This implies that last month’s verities are now to be considered false. Since this month’s notions are likely to be superseded by next month’s, political correctness condemns its adherents to being perpetually wrong. Even such a hero of political correctness, Barack Obama, ran against gay marriage in 2008 and 2012 only to find himself on the wrong side of history a few years later.

Opponents of political correctness, if they have the stamina, attempt to point out its inconsistencies. At one moment homosexuals are to be accepted unconditionally because they have no choice in their sexual orientation. They are simply born that way. On the other hand, the transgendered are to be embraced for exactly the opposite reason. They are born male or female, but their wish to counterfactually be considered to be the opposite sex from reality is supposed to be the final word on the matter. Various places, such as New York City, have instituted laws to prosecute people who fail to use the pronoun by which someone decides he wants to be known which can, in principle, change from moment to moment.

The politically correct see themselves as opponents of scapegoating and in fact tend to see scapegoating everywhere, which is the logical consequence of considering all to be either oppressors or victims. Individual success or failure is then to be explained by which class of people a person belongs. Educational and economic success is to be explained by group membership. This is extremely dispiriting and demotivating for all. Those who are supposed to benefit from “white privilege” might imagine that just being white will be sufficient to succeed. Those without it are encouraged to imagine that their fate is not in their hands but in the minds of the oppressors.

In a podcast, a black woman from Africa recounted how when young she came home from her American school to tell her father the news that blacks had no chance of success in America because of white racism. Her father’s response was something like “screw that” and he promptly took himself off to medical school and became a doctor.

What goes unrecognized by its adherents is that political correctness is itself an exercise in scapegoating. It scapegoats those thought to be insufficiently sympathetic to supposed scapegoat victims. It often involves an inundation of inappropriately applied goopy compassion that is most despotically and tyrannically applied with no compassion for its targets.

Jordan Peterson compares the SJW with a mother bear. A mother bear feels laudable empathy and protectiveness for her cub – empathy sundering the borders between individuals – but her expression of that empathy will be unmitigatedly ferocious, involving disembowelment, decapitation and the like. No compassion of any kind will be extended to the threat. SJWs tend to behave in a similar manner, usually minus actual dismemberment.

Thomas Sowell’s nomenclature for the PC division between oppressor and victim is “target” and “mascot.” The flimflammery of this division should be apparent to all, since membership in the “mascot” category is so arbitrary. Some races and ethnicities are mascots deemed to contribute to diversity and some are not. Eastern European whites do not contribute to diversity, even with their disparate languages, cultures and histories, e.g., Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, nor do those from Down Under. Even Finns and Hungarians do not, while Basque probably are so regarded, though all their languages are non-Indo-European.[2]

Asians and Jews are minorities in the US, but they tend to be so successful as groups, that they are “over” represented at prestigious universities and in high-paying jobs. They, it has been deemed, do not contribute to diversity and in fact have often been discriminated against at places like Harvard. Since they outperform white Americans as groups, one wonders when the phrase “white privilege” might be modified to something else. The racism would be just too evident if people started referring to “Semitic privilege” or “Asian privilege.” While not being mascots, there is still some hesitancy among the politically correct to regard them as targets. It remains to be seen what their eventual status will be.

Political correctness institutes a hierarchy of whom it is acceptable to scapegoat. Pakistani rape gangs in Rotherham, England, systematically raped, kidnapped, tied up, forced alcohol down the throats of white working class girls usually around thirteen or fourteen years of age, but certainly as young as eleven. The police were reluctant to investigate and make public these horrors for fear of being regarded as racist due to the ethnic identity of the rape gangs. One city councilor in particular did his level best to suppress news of this or to prosecute. In the perverse world of political correctness, adult Pakistani criminal men and rapists are not to be prosecuted in case anyone has second thoughts about Pakistani immigration and a backlash occurs. Hypothetical scapegoating of immigrants is more to be avoided than the rape of children.

White feminists have been completely willing to accept this kind of hierarchy. By embracing any treatment of women so long as it is done by Muslims, they abandon their role as the supposed protectors of women. Accordingly, Swedish feminists are reluctant to condemn rapes and sexual assaults of women in Sweden because they prioritize avoiding negative coverage of Muslim immigrants. The largest Swedish annual music festival has been canceled because of the number of rapes and sexual assaults that have occurred – it is thought, by Muslim immigrants. Roving gangs of Muslim immigrants have turned Swedish swimming pools into places no woman should wish to go.

Lying by omission thus becomes a major facet of political correctness.

Upholders of political correctness are very aware of scapegoating, but only of the “lower” variety of victim, what in the past would have been prisoners of war, women, foreigners, slaves and the like. Unknown to them are the “higher” class of victim – the powerful; kings and chieftains. If things go wrong, it can seem commonsensical to blame the one in charge. Kings are already visible, alone and easy to single out. Historically and anthropologically these two classes of victims have always existed and unfortunately, will continue to exist. Justice demands that scapegoating be abhorred in all its varieties. Current political correctness posits that blacks cannot be racist because racism involves power over the powerless. This suggests that practitioners of modern political correctness have tried to immunize themselves from awareness of their own scapegoating practices. It is unPC to point out the flaws in their point of view. In fact, many consider it unPC to use the phrase “political correctness.”

It is sympathy for putative victims that is important; not truth. The right feelings and intentions are what matter.

Mill writes “No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead.” Having a person’s conclusions dictated in advance, by committee, in fact, the mob, means thinking has ceased. At the very least, it has been corrupted.

Currently, it is considered politically correct to be in favor of sanctuary cities and unlimited and unrestrained illegal immigration.

We uphold the right to determine who comes into our home and who does not. It is invitation only. If a guest starts to break things or behaves in an annoying manner, it should be possible to tell him to leave. Immigration policies should be considered analogous. But instead, in Sweden, there have been cases of Muslim immigrants raping women, being given miniscule prison sentences of mere months and not being sent back to their country of origin. One Somali Muslim man was found raping a corpse. When accused of murder and rape, he argued in court that she had been dead when he found her. He was not deported to Somalia. Sweden now makes a point of not recording the ethnic origin or identity of criminals in case anyone in Sweden has any second-thoughts about Muslim immigration.

Immigrants come to the US because the US is different from their home country. If too many immigrants come and do not assimilate, then the host country starts to resemble their home country – the very thing they were trying to escape. The advantages of the host country frequently are coupled with ways of life that an immigrant does not prefer. If these ways of life are intolerable, the immigrant can either return to his home country or learn to live with them.

Imagine that a child is playing on the water’s edge. It is all very well for those watching to have a general feeling of beneficence towards all children. But it is much better and safer if one or two people are tasked with taking a particular interest in the welfare of each individual child. Such guardians exist. They are called parents. No other adults can be expected to take such a keen interest in a particular child. Partisan interest in the continuation and thriving of something in particular is completely consistent with the general good. If I take care of my children and you take care of your children, all children will be better off. To love my child is not to say that your child is unlovable or any the less valuable.

The same goes for countries. Those born into a country; those who love her landscape and her culture can be expected to have a particular interest in preserving that culture. We are both the guardians and the children of our country and culture. The emotional attachment to that particular way of life provides a special incentive to take care of it absent from more universalist sentiments. Universalism, by its very logic, obliterates differences. And if individual small cultures are obliterated, who will notice and mourn their loss if not for those born there?

However, to express attachment to any Western culture and wish for its preservation, unchanged, is currently unPC, as it is to laud the achievements of Western civilization. When the president said in his speech in Poland that Western civilization must be defended from its enemies both within and without many liberals regarded this as abhorrent. Only criticism of the West is regarded as proper and this, it has been argued, is why liberals embrace Muslims; they can make common cause against a shared enemy. Together with the potential for Muslims to be scapegoated in the West, this explains why liberals tolerate Middle Eastern Muslim views that are often far worse than the indigenous non-PC white population.

Similarly, I have heard a liberal white man at a party agree unreservedly that white men are the problem. Instead of immediately committing suicide, he continued making his point in all obliviousness.

According to Mill, the person who expresses unpopular views should be thanked for his views. “Every man who says frankly and fully what he thinks is so far doing a public service. We should be grateful to him for attacking most unsparingly our most cherished opinions.”

Likewise “on April 25, 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.”

The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared that it had “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates” in order “to surface more authoritative content.”

Google continued, “Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.” These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.”

This is not true. Adding the phrase “alternative viewpoint” changes the search results not at all. An actual alternative seems to be Dogpile or even better, DuckDuckGo. Mill was quite adamant: “the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”

Mill goes so far as to say: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Mill argues that silencing an opinion harms those who disagree with it. If the opinion is right, what is wrong cannot be corrected. If the opinion is wrong, the truth of one’s own view would otherwise be made more palpable.

Someone does not really know something if he cannot refute reasons offered against his view. If he does not even know what those reasons are, then he has no ground for preferring his own opinion. Mill goes so far as to argue that we must be able to hear the opposing arguments from those who truly believe them so that they may be presented in “their most plausible and persuasive form.” Merely having a teacher who rehearses an argument with no conviction is insufficient. This is very far from the state of affairs at most colleges and universities.

It is strange to find myself in such agreement with Mill. Utilitarianism is a horrible moral theory that encourages people to treat other people as numbers in a calculation. It actually supports a scapegoating mentality. “The greatest happiness for the greatest number” is practically a description of scapegoating in the Girardian sense. And, it has no room for concerns about justice.

Nonetheless, on the topic of intellectual freedom he is categorically in support of it. I have the sneaking suspicion that were he alive today, with his sensibility, he might embrace quite different views. However, this is an unprovable counterfactual and quite possibly a slur on his memory. Let us hope so.

Shatov in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed:

“Marie, Marie,” said Shatov, turning to her, much moved, “oh, Marie! If you only knew how much has happened in those three years! I heard afterwards that you despised me for changing my convictions. But what are the men I’ve broken with? The enemies of all true life, out-of-date Liberals who are afraid of their own independence, the flunkeys of thought, the enemies of individuality and freedom, the decrepit advocates of deadness and rottenness! All they have to offer is senility, a glorious mediocrity of the most bourgeois kind, contemptible shallowness, a jealous equality, equality without individual dignity, equality as it’s understood by flunkeys or by the French in ’93. And the worst of it is there are swarms of scoundrels among them, swarms of scoundrels!”

 

Notes

[1]Alexander Blum  http://quillette.com/2018/03/22/jordan-b-peterson-appeals-left/

[2] The Basques are a minority in Spain and have engaged in terrorism to try to gain independence. Ironically, since they also speak Spanish and many unwillingly live in Spain, they will be regarded as Hispanic and thus “diverse.”

Richard Cocks

Richard Cocks has been a faculty member of the Philosophy Department at SUNY Oswego since 2001. Dr. Cocks is an editor and regular contributor at the Orthosphere and has been published at The Brussels Journal, The Sydney Traditionalist Forum, People of Shambhala, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and the University Bookman.

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