Monday, 5 December 2016

DEFINING POLITICAL CORRECTNESS


A FB friend recently asked me to provide a definition of “political correctness.” Here’s the definition I would use...

I would define “political correctness” as the common term for the institutionalization and enculturation of progressive moral norms in such a way that their transgression generates ridicule, disproportional feelings of outrage or indignation, ostracism of the supposed offending party, an inclination towards persecution on the part of the offended, and the possible imposition of social, economic, professional, institutional, or legal sanctions against the alleged offender, perhaps accompanied by mendacity, dishonesty, hypocrisy, or double standards on the part of the offended.

This article from the Guardian tries to claim that PC is merely a “phantom” that doesn’t really exist. I can’t say I’m particularly impressed with this article. It’s basically just a regurgitation of the standard liberal-left line that criticisms of political correctness are merely a case of right-wingers protecting their vested interests by spinning tall tales in order to divide the commoners and distract them from their supposed true interests (meaning liberalism or socialism). In fact, this is the standard response that the Left has always offered to ANY criticisms of leftist authoritarianism (e..g anti-Communists were really just apologists for Western imperialism and capitalist vested interests).

Reasonable people can disagree on how pervasive PC actually is when compared to competing philosophies (like neoconservatism, Christian fundamentalism, the alt-right or whatever). But it’s clear that PC has a very commanding presence in many institutions, particularly academia, most of the mainstream media, self-style progressive corporations like Mozilla or Starbucks, mainline religion, etc. Of course, there’s also hard PC (the kind you find among lunatic SJWs on campuses) and soft PC (the kind Joe Biden or Tim Kaine probably believe in).

As a reviewer of my book on this topic recently said:
“Mr. Preston prefers the term 'totalitarian humanism' over 'political correctness,' though he explains it is not original to him. Its totalitarian nature is clear to anyone who, because of it, has had to face a threat to his job or a demand by a homeowners’ association to remove a Christmas tree, or certainly to anyone who has ever refused to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding.”
We could add to this many other examples such as the treatment of James Watson, Lawrence Summers, Kevin MacDonald, Norman Finkelstein, Brendan Eich, Tim Hunt, Ayaan Hirsa Ali, etc, etc. as well as the fact that alt right groups have to meet in public facilities under police protection. Or the banning of Chick-fil-A in Boston (an irony given the historic meaning of the phrase “Banned in Boston”). Not to mention actual violence carried out by antifa groups.

All of this is not equivalent to Stalinist or Nazi repression, but it’s an indication PC actually exists.

I agree with that in order to criticize something, it’s a good plan to at least define what it is first. I’d argue that PC is identifiable and defining, and that denying PC really exists is pretty foolish. However, a better question involves the issue of how influential the general PC paradigm actually is when compared other perspectives. I’d argue first that there are different levels of PC as I said in an above post just like there are different degrees of fanaticism found among racists or religious fundamentalists.

On one end, there are the violent antifa groups that physically assault people whose politics they disagree with. Then there’s the non-violent but simply loopy college students obsessed with safe spaces, microagressions, and playdoh therapy. Then there’s leftist professors who make their classes into an equivalent of a leftist Sunday School. Then there’s university administrations that attempt to eliminate staff and faculty with non-PC opinions. Then there are media figures who, for example, balk at mentioning the race of a criminal because they don’t want to fuel racism. There’s progressive corporations that fire executives like Brendan Eich for having privately opposed gay marriage years earlier, or universities like Brandeis that rescind an honorary degree to someone like Ayaan Hirsa Ali on the grounds of “Islamophobia.” Then there’s the centrist liberals who flaunt their commitment to diversity as a means of virtue signaling. Then there are the corporate diversity and sensitivity training programs that teach employees how to mind the manners of PC because “Shh! Quiet or we might get sued.” The far right end of PC might be something like this, i.e. a general in the Army claiming not having “diversity” in the service would be a greater tragedy than mass murder:


I’d argue what I described above defines the center-left to far-left end of the political spectrum, i.e. from the Democratic Party to the neo-Marxists, from the left-wing of capitalism at the corporate level to the anarcho-leftoids on the margins.The question is to what degree is the Left more or less influential than the Right. The center-left controls most of the media, the academic world, mainline religion. Given that Hillary won the popular vote, maybe the center-left reflects the majority of public opinion as well (although the half of eligible voters who didn’t participate, of which I am one, need to be figured into the equation somehow). The business world, religion generally, the military, the Republican Party, and other more traditionally conservative institutions seem to be more of a mixed bag.

It’s certainly true that there is large right-wing subculture as well that’s pervasive in smaller towns, rural areas, “flyover country,” and which is reflected (or at least played to) by FOX News, “conservative” talk radio, Donald Trump, Republican politicians, mega church pastors, etc. This article from Alternet describes that subculture pretty well.

However, the subculture described in that article does not reflect the values of the majority of the elite, the majority of the educated classes, a majority of the poor and working class taken in their sum total, a super majority of racial and religious minorities, a super majority of young people, most of the media, most of the educational system, most of mainline religion and other institutions that disseminate values and ideas. It also reflect a culture of older white people primarily, a culture that is shrinking demographically, declining economically, and dying out physically. For example, the fastest growing religious perspective in the US is non-religion. Meanwhile, PC is a rising force that is influential among the educated classes and professional classes, and also seems to become more extreme the more powerful and pervasive it gets.

This is an argument I get from folks on the Left all the time:
“PC authoritarianism doesn’t really exist, or if it does exist it’s justified, or if it’s not justified it’s merely localized, or if it’s actually pretty pervasive then it’s just an unfortunate backlash against past injustices perpetrated by well-meaning people who are perhaps overzealous in fighting oppression, or maybe PC is even godawful and far reaching but the right-wing is still more threatening because racism, capitalism, sexism, fascism…”
The reason I first starting criticizing PC was because of the grip it had on the wider anarchist milieu which I thought was getting in the way of other things. Then I noticed PC was increasingly working its way into the mainstream society and even the state. So I ramped up the criticism.

I would criticize other perspectives more if they had more influence. For example, I used to be a strong critic of the religious right back when that had more influence. If this were the 1950s or 1960s I’m sure I would be on the far left end of things when it comes to race, gender, gays, etc. The more influential the alt-right becomes the more critical of it I will probably be. I’ve criticized strands within organized atheism as fundamentalism for non-believers.

Also published at Attack the System

 

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