Political Correctness

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Michael Rectenwald:

"The term “politically correct” is one of the most incendiary phrases of contemporary political jargon. Advocates for values deemed politically correct — anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-transphobia, and so on — suggest that being politically correct is simply that: correct. Why would anyone want to be anything else — unless, that is, they are motivated by bigotry, or something worse?

This position appears reasonable enough, and it might even be undisputable if it didn’t seek to obscure an underlying impulse — for political correction. Under regimes of political correctness, political correction is the typical response for those voicing “incorrect” opinions. Indeed, imposing “correct” ideas by the “necessary” means is precisely the crux of the problem.

A discussion of PC is well-served by tracking this political label to its earliest appearance. Official Soviet sources show that the term politicheskaya korrektnost (political correctness) was used as early as 1921 to positively describe “correct” thinking. As expected, its author was none other than the primary architect of the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s promotion and later enforcement of political correctness followed from his notion of partiĭnost, or party spirit, which also stood for “party truth,” or the correct interpretation of the world and everything in it. After the revolution, political correctness was enforced by the Soviet terror. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s Red Guard later adopted and adapted “autocritique,” a technique for the enforcement of political correctness, while adding “struggle sessions” for good measure.

I mention the Soviet and Sino-Communist sources of political correctness not to invoke a Red Scare but rather to note that the contemporary “social justice” movement is marked by the same impulses. Former Soviet and Maoist Chinese citizens recall a system under which verbal spontaneity and skepticism could be fatal. During our soft cultural revolution, those accused of ideological deviation — such as Google’s former employee, James Damore — while neither tortured or killed, are sent to the metaphorical gulags of public censure and unemployment.

In adopting social-justice-based policies and mechanisms, North American colleges and universities are unwittingly drawing on totalitarian resources of enforcement. The ranks of administrators swell, and college tuitions increase, due largely to the outsized administrations devoted to special student needs. Most college administrations now include Bias Response Teams, tribunals that adjudicate behind closed doors reports of “microaggressions” and “bias infractions” at over 230 colleges and universities nationwide. Bias hotlines, safe spaces, trigger warnings and no-platforming or shutting down of speakers yield the right to curtail free expression and open inquiry to social justice advocates and social-justice-dominated college administrators.

In academia, the mere questioning of social justice ideology and its mechanisms can land one in hot water." (https://www.michaelrectenwald.com/essays/2019/3/21/why-political-correctness-is-incorrect)


Discussion

The influence of Political Correctness on Electoral Outcomes

Chris Rose:

"Commentators argue over what Political Correctness is but academic research shows it comes in several different forms, including ‘authoritarian’ and ‘egalitarian’ (see below). As mentioned in The Values Story of the Brexit Split Part 1 it seems to me that in values terms, ‘political correctness’ occurs when one values group projects it’s own values at others who do not share them, along with exhortation or censure in a do /say this – don’t do / say that – think this/ don’t think that way.

Any such projection is designed to be, and if it’s not designed to be it will be anyway taken as, intrusive and controlling at best, and at worst, intrusive, controlling and critical of the target ‘as a person’. In grand terms you could call it an attempt at ‘values hegemony’, and likely to cause rejection and resentment which can generate a backlash escalating into a ‘culture war’.

Whether that becomes visible as a focused public debate or just smoulders as a resentment depends on the opportunity for it to become organised (as elections and referenda can do).

Who ‘wins’ depends on numbers, activation and who controls ‘levers of power’ and influence. But as a rule, I’d advise against them as a campaign strategy: NGOs would do well to find alternatives to ‘PC’ as a route to change.

In the backwash from the Trump election and the continuing agonies of ‘Brexit’, the dynamics of ‘culture clashes’ have been much discussed. Recent books include National Populism by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin (2018, about the UK), and Cultural Evolution (2018 with a global perspective and a US slant), the latest values magnum opus by Ron Inglehart of the World Values Survey (his book Cultural Backlash with Pippa Norris is out next year). Both are worth reading," (http://threeworlds.campaignstrategy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Political-Correctness-Blog-C-Rose-Dec-18.pdf)


The Class and Political Psychology Dynamics behind Political Correctness

Wesley Yang:

"Political correctness .. has become: a mode of exercising power within an intramural contest between rival elites. In this contest, the fetishistic invocation of the “marginalized” is a tool the powerful use to increase the power of a given group, often to the detriment of the very people they purport to represent. The study shows that virtually no one who does not directly benefit from the exercise of this power (in the form of sinecures, professional advancement, or the destruction of rivals within liberal institutions) supports it.

Political correctness can thus be defined as the ideology of a distinct class of petty officeholders and office seekers within the therapeutic state. Their dogmas inexorably point in the direction of, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. put it back in 1991, “a regime so heavily policed” as to be “inconsistent with democracy.”

PC also refers to the specific means that this faction has adopted of attempting to police dissent out of existence in pursuit of what it calls justice. Their ideology draws on the sometimes brilliant and penetrating, and often exasperating and pretentious, work of critics of Western concepts of truth, reason, and law who can broadly be classified as “postmodernists.” Their ideology metastasizes a complex and rebarbative set of critiques of power into an active parapolitical program seeking to transform the world along, as Gates put it, “sweepingly utopian” lines. Gates was writing before the microaggression reporting systems, the compulsory implicit bias training, and the social media agon had even been dreamed up. But he foresaw all of it.

What matters most about this faction is not that they are annoying. It is that institutional power increasingly defers to them. That deference makes them potent, despite their small numbers and unpopular opinions, and the lack of grounding for those opinions in American custom and law.

The politically correct exploit two aspects of group psychology to dominate what is in fact a far more numerous group. They exploit the power that intolerant minorities, whose energies are focused on a single issue, have over majorities whose preferences and attachments are more diffuse. They benefit from what social psychologists have termed “the false enforcement of unpopular norms,” a phrase that describes the tendency, as observed in both experimental settings and in the wider world, of widespread conformance to unpopular norms out of social pressure, and the accompanying desire to signal the genuineness of one’s conviction by out-competing all others in zealous enforcement of norms in which they do not themselves believe.

Since political correctness is above all about an intra-elite battle among elites—a form of nonelectoral political struggle for hegemony within ruling institutions—it is there that the battle will be contested. The two-thirds of those who oppose political correctness have learned both that they are in the majority, but also that their collective cowardice has allowed them to be bullied into conformity with doctrines that they hate. They have also learned that they are not a coalition of that hated remnant of white males, but rather representatives of the overwhelming majority of people of all colors and ages. The question is whether they will speak up, or be cowed into silence.

Political correctness doesn’t just threaten us with a democratic crisis and collapse by feeding a cycle of political reaction. It is not just bad for what it summons up in opposition to itself. It is bad for what it does, which is to threaten the core values of those for whom truth seeking is the lifeblood of their calling. In place of such activities, it actively empowers a cohort of bureaucratic mediocrities and opportunists who launder their personal pathology and power seeking as the height of political and social virtue. No one is as endangered by political correctness as the comedian, the artist, the scientist, and the philosopher—all those to whom we turn for correction. These are the figures who have silently permitted the opportunistic mediocrities in their midst to enforce a false consensus that no thinker or writer or performer of any integrity endorses. So long as we allow ourselves to be ruled by a toxic power-seeking minority in this undemocratic fashion, our subjugation is a choice." (https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/political-correctness-minority)


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