Arthur Chu’s typically Millennial quest, in his Salon comment, to redefine political correctness as the ahistorical property of ignorant nerds really annoyed me. Yet another attempt at erasing the past to come to convenient conclusions about a solipsistic world that didn’t exist before this guy’s birth, and whose people matter only insofar as they intersect his personal interests.
Calmer reflection a little later over a cup of tea and a cigarette – the absolutely most shocking of politically incorrect crimes in some circles – had me re-examining my own assumptions, and my own path in investigating the nebulous concept we all talk about as if we were talking about the same thing.
Chu, whose main claim to fame is being a successful game show contestant, articulate enough to leverage his fleeting Warhol fame for a spot as a Salon ‘voice of the Millennials’ columnist, takes a predictably frat boy approach, spending a lot of time rehashing college experiences as insights, and parlays his envy of corporate speaking gigs into the rickety platform for re-inventing the postmodern condemnation of ‘dominant’ or ‘hegemonic’ ideology. It’s almost like watching a motivational speaker sell you an abridged version of Plato’s proto-fascism as an original, insightful guide for being more content with your own mediocrity. At bottom, Chu’s in it for the Salon cheque. His condemnation of corporate speakers rings hollow. He is doing exactly the same thing, albeit for less money, and for an audience with ideological blindfolds scented slightly differently to the corporate ones. I think Chu would change his tune instantly if he were offered entrée to the corporate speaking circuit. Nothing much else going on there.
Nevertheless, the topic remains unresolved, and keeps polluting what should be important and decisive cultural, economic, political, and social debates.
If, like me, you have been driven to distraction by fatuous demands for self-censorship and self-‘correction’ in response to apparent offenses against an unwritten but iron doctrine, unable by its defenders to be defined as anything but the nebulous territory of political correctness, you may have undertaken a little research to find out just what this beast really is. Like me, you may have also run into the brick wall that is the ahistorical approach to even academic explorations of what is today understood as political correctness.
My journey to find some understanding began back in the 1980s, when I first heard of the Australian academic Geoffrey Blainey, then being pilloried for suggesting, against an alleged academic consensus, that Australia’s history was not one of unrelenting genocidal atrocities and other crimes by British colonialists, principally against the continent’s ur-inhabitants, the Aborigines. It struck me as a brave stance at a time in which the subject was misappropriated by ideologically committed lefties, with a hard core of erudite and combative Trotskyites shaping the rhetoric of an opposition to capitalist imperialism, and incorporating into it the root causes of racist, sexist impolitics. To state anything like Blainey’s position was an invitation to be mobbed by hysterical lefties.
As an aside, to distinguish the Troskyists from the hardcore Stalinist denialists, Trotsky was an original Russian revolutionary, and the head of the Red Army, but fell out with Stalin about the latter’s increasingly internally focused power politics, arguing that communist revolution needed to remain an international project, and to become permanent rather than as a stepping stone to some utopian end destination. He was brutally murdered in 1940, while in exile in Mexico, by a Spanish NKVD agent using an ice pick or axe, as in a mountaineering implement, as a weapon. This was a very personal, passionate killing, whose temperament seemed to infuse Trotskyists with a high degree of paranoid emotionalism ever since.
The Australian Trotskyists I met during the 1980s were quite combative, and ideologically severe, launching unnecessary but trenchantly censorious tirades at anyone who disagreed with their conception of the world. Blainey was certainly at the top of their codex of demonology. However, I was fortunate to have had a broad-minded Trotskyist politics lecturer in my undergraduate degree, who cut me a lot of slack for what she regarded as my ‘crypto-fascist’ political conceptions, and who worked hard to help me develop my political insights on the basis that I was at least engaged and passionate about the subject. Like many others of my generation, I learnt to use Marxist analysis as an invaluable tool to analyse the kind of establishment white-wash of late imperialist and capitalist excesses that self-professed conservatives usually insist on as a ‘correct’ view of history.
Nevertheless, I was quite bemused by all the fuss Blainey caused in expressing what seemed to me to be quite conventional views on historiography, and then on immigration to Australia of non-Caucasians, and finally on the confected controversy of the ‘culture wars’ altogether. Blainey didn’t stand for the views of anyone I mixed with, and I was not at all threatened by someone I regarded as representing a rearguard of the White Australia that was bound to disappear as a matter of inevitable changing political consensus.
In the 1990s, as not quite a Yuppie, but also not quite a starving proletarian, I ignored much of the ideological fundament of these arguments, regarding the entire debate as irrelevant to either social engagements during ordinary life, or political policy as it affected me and the people I knew.
It was the beginning of what might have turned into a classically Australian political apathy, possibly defended as agnosticism about the important questions of class, gender, and race. That was not to be. My personal disappointment with the Anglo-American conservative revival, increasingly revealed to me as a morass of self-destructive corruption and lies, changed my perspective. I began to investigate some of the canards on both sides of politics, and found much to be wanting. It is an ongoing investigation that will never cease, because the first real insight I had in the early 1990s was that both sides lied with staggeringly brazen assumptions about the credulity and ignorance of their publics.
Writing in 1994 the American self-described neo-conservative academic Glenn Loury directly referenced this atmosphere of disingenuity by presenting a short guide on reading between the lines to uncover intent and decode secret language.
… strategic listeners cannot simply accept the literal content of an expression as its meaning-in-effect. To take the speaker literally is to behave naively, and thus to risk being deceived. Sophisticated listeners must look behind what is spoken or written, in an effort to discern all that is implied by the act of speaking or writing in a given way.
Loury also referenced the old tactic of ad hominem, but not in the conventionally censorious way, instead proposing what ought to be obvious, but quite often seems not to be: most people are less willing to rebut ideas coming from someone believed to be a fellow traveller sharing their own general aims than they are to rebut even valid idea from someone seen as opposed to their orientation.
The defensive cry of ‘ad hominem’ strikes me as often indefensibly silly. Some people advance certain opinions that invite an assessment of their character as deficient. Stupid is as stupid does.
Much to Australia’s detriment, the erudite Left has disappeared, and any political influence it might have had outside institutional infiltration in sections of the public service has evaporated. It was not a matter of being vanquished so much as a self-immolation. The far Left just became too silly for words, defending the indefensible. Like Stalin, Mao, and even Pol Pot until his vast crimes were incontrovertibly exposed. The Australian polity is lessened by the absence of a vigorous and principled Left, which does not appear to exist even in the looney-tune factions of minor parties, let alone its traditional home, the now mainstream conservative Australian Labor Party.
Later on in the Australian culture wars, there was a series of media beat-ups, known as the Windschuttle affair, that epitomised the political bankruptcy of the remnant Australian intellectual Left. Keith Windschuttle, a pretty ordinary sort of academic, who has been able to build a career on the back of the hysterical witch-hunt launched against him, dared to de-bunk postmodernist gibberish (of which there is a great deal), and then to question the basis of an emerging ‘Aboriginal history’ of systematic colonial mass murder, or even genocide.
I’m no ingénue here. I read and still use a lot a postmodern critical theory to extend my appreciation of art, culture, and politics, but I cannot see it as an invalid proposition to find a lot of flaws in some of the language, especially that used by the French writers of that movement, which can be so dense and complex it approaches unintelligibility. It is equally true, however, that a literalist approach, demanding that a Marxist critique is inherently a demand for communist revolution, is just inane. As are the artificial attempts to see in individual writings an entire and consistent theory of everything. My approach has always been to pick out the passages that strike me as contextually relevant. It has alwso been my experience that longitudinal reflection on initially incomprehensible writings can reveal meanings not apprehensible until other knowledge is inculcated.
As for history, including the contested kind relating to imperial and capitalist colonisation, I do have to rely on reading widely to get a sense of what’s missing, what remains unsaid, and what seems excessively assertive without the empirical evidence to support it. In fact, most things that have quite voluble support become suspicious for that support: if true, why is it necessary to demand that it is true?
In the Windschuttle case, as late as 2011 I commented:
The most notable public instance of political correctness dominating rationality in Australia has been a long-running dispute between academics Robert Manne and Keith Windschuttle, in which Manne has attempted to vilify Windschuttle for questioning a particular view of Aboriginal history with documented facts, and Windschuttle has been seeking to discredit the absence of sufficient evidence for those arguing the case against him. In the public debate generated by this dispute, I was astonished to read comment from other academics seeking to discount factual evidence as a better basis for argument than ideological cant suggested by them to more accurately reflect how we ‘should’ feel about the subject, regardless of what the evidence told us. It is the every antithesis of academic rigour and the scientific method. But such comment was never challenged or ridiculed by journalists, other commentators, or politicians for the dangerously doctrinaire claptrap it was and remains.
In that way, political correctness in Australia overtly promotes a doctrine of historic and political revisionism, seeking to deaden debate, vitality, originality, dissent and therefore also renewal in politics and the extension of knowledge. It opposes the abandonment of stale and unproductive paradigms, and it shies away from the risks inherent in seeking to gain new understandings and perspectives on issues that should concentrate our minds. At the same time, it can be seen that the chief protagonists of political correctness actually promote themselves as the elite of ‘experts’ who are solely fit to pass judgement on what is acceptable and fit to be publicly debated, what should be censured and censored, and who should be publicly condemned for opposing this conspiracy against free speech.
Four years later I see no reason to recant that position. It is quite possible to argue that Windschuttle’s political views might be abhorrent to some, or many. But to vilify the man, without ever refuting his scholarship, is a staggering admission of corruption and subversion of academic integrity to advance ignominious careerist causes under the guise of nominally noble political motivations. Windschuttle’s research was publicly available for scrutiny, but was never rebutted in the fire storm of denunciation that came from academics caught out as either having entirely fabricated ‘historical accounts’, or uncritically cited those fabrications in their own works.
I remember, at the time, which lasted quite a few years, that I was reminded of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a figurative commentary on the Stalinist purges prior to the second world war, but, counterintuitively, especially of the much more widely publicised, febrile denunciations of a huge cross section of American citizens as ‘communists’ during the McCarthy era. Politically correct witch-hunting is hardly a Left preserve. The malicious instinct behind it is not partisan, except as a servant of tyranny painted in whatever designer colour of vengeful terror.
I dug into the McCarthyist era as a matter of personal interest, fuelled more by my private æsthetic pursuit of film noir than by my readings in political philosophy. Many fine writers and other artists became victims of McCarthyisim. What was it, I wondered, that made ordinary Americans think it was OK to rat out their friends and neighbours? After all, the Americans of the time were not under the kind of duress felt by Germans and Russians in the 1930s and ‘40s. What was it that made the overt champion of democracy and free speech undermine both quite so obviously? I could not see the overwhelming threat in a few communists talking shit and smoking filterless cigarettes as a pose, probably to get laid. Surely the hardcore spies, who undoubtedly existed, weren’t ever going to be quite dumb enough to get caught by someone as ploddingly inept as McCarthy and Hoover’s FBI?
I suppose you could argue that witch-hunting is an authentic part of the American character, with its roots in the baleful theology of catastrophic sinfulness imported by the Pilgrims. What a bunch of uptight, onanist bastards they must have been to burn their women rather than to love them. And then there’s the psychology of hysteria altogether, which is just a recipe for inducing angst and paranoia where none existed before reading Freud, Jung — and all their acolytes. But I don’t really see these as lasting ideological commitments to political correctness so much as more pedestrian forms of mob rule, or luddite anarchism, like some forms of libertarianism, or plutocratic lawlessness (if these aren’t actually the same things).
It took me quite some time, but I did eventually realise I was looking at the wrong side of the issue. The McCarthyist witch-hunts weren’t really an American phenomenon. They were a reflection of a cultural cannibalism that had absorbed the teachings of its own enemies. The real historical roots of contemporary political correctness are actually Leninist-Stalinist justifications for tyranny, buried in the rubble of the now defunct Soviet empire, and in its turgid, soporific internal propaganda.
When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms …
— George Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’, Horizon: A Review of Literature and Art, April 1946.
Writing twenty years ago, American management academic Peter Drucker wrote a passage in an otherwise dry paper that caught my eye again during my MBA studies:
It was from the Stalinists, and especially from the Stalinists in academia, that [Senator Joseph] McCarthy learned his tactics of character assassination, of unproven, undocumented allegations, of persecution by lies, innuendos, and intimidation. And it was largely because academia had so ignominiously submitted to the Stalinists ten or fifteen years earlier that McCarthy knew that he could attack it without running much risk of encountering resistance. Above all, American academia was so deeply imbued with guilt feelings for having acquiesced in, and submitted to, Stalinist political correctness–and, in many cases, for aiding and abetting the denunciation, slander, and persecution of non-Stalinist colleagues–that it was cowed by McCarthy’s scurrilous attacks even though, as events proved soon enough, the senator was all bluff and little more than a big stink.
In 1927 the French writer Julien Benda (1867-1956) published a work, La Trahison des Clercs (The Treason of the Intellectuals), which castigated the scholars and writers who, out of cowardice, lust for power, or simply “to be with it,” abdicated their duty, betrayed their values, and joined the new barbarians of the left or the right. This, Benda warned, could only destroy the intellectuals themselves and any respect for them. The book was a bestseller when translated into English, especially in American academia. But not many heeded its warnings when political correctness came to the American campus ten years later.
Drucker’s perspective might well have given voice to a particular American conception of political correctness, but his insistence, like so many Americans, to see things solely in American terms, may have blinded him to the historical origins of political correctness.
Stalin himself didn’t invent these tactics. They came from Lenin, who was an enthusiastic politiciser of engineering and science methods, paradoxically along the lines of the American doctrine of industrial efficiency, Taylorism. Lenin sought to fuse this technical rationality with politics to inject into his party’s ideology the same kind of deterministic ‘accuracy’ or ‘correctness’ he saw as underpinning engineering and scientific principles. Anyone who does not immediately recognise this enterprise as absurd and surreal in its subversion of human logics may in fact be a Marxist-Leninist! I suspect this is increasingly true for a great number of Americans who do not recognise themselves as such at all, and many others in Europe who would prefer not to give voice to that recognition.
To accomplish this fusion Lenin began to talk and write about ‘partiinost’, meaning party spirit, and then ‘politicheskaya pravil’nost’, meaning political correctness. This in conjunction with increasing rhetoric about correct and incorrect positions: trends that ‘threaten to divert the movement from the correct path’ with correctly defined tasks and arguments comprising ‘the correctness of our position’ (from What Is To Be Done, 1902); opposition to ‘individual elements and trends not fully consistent, not completely Marxist and not altogether correct’ that require ‘periodical “cleansings” of its ranks’ (from ‘Party Organisation and Party Literature’, 1905); defense of Lenin’s uncompromising attitude as ‘the correctness of our resolution’, that imply accusations from him of ‘“Treachery” is not “an abusive term”; it is the only scientifically and politically correct term with which to express the actual facts about, and the actual aspirations of, the bourgeoisie’ (from ‘How Comrade Plekhanov Argues About Social-Democratic Tactics’, 1906); and persistent mentions of ‘correct historical evaluation of economic development’ (in ‘A Revision of the Party Programme’, 1917, and subsequent works).
It was the assertion that only the party represented the correct interpretation of Marx, and the correct manifesto of action and thought. Implicit in this formula, too, was the idea that no non-Marxist basis for politics needed to be addressed at all! This might be seen historically as the beginning of the secular theocratic turn by which communism assumed the supreme, tyrannical authority dealing in unquestioning faith, and pursuing the persecution of dissent as heresy. Lenin was quite open about justifying the terror of mass murder as a necessary adjunct of the revolution, and as a ‘correct’ implementation of Marxism. Stalin adopted this approach virtually without change, calling it Marxism-Leninism, and setting himself up as the sole international authority on the ‘correct’ interpretation, implementation, and methods of communism. Methods Drucker says American academics had absorbed in the 1940s, and that were thrown back at them by McCarthy in the 1950s. Methods whose modern incarnations I call neo-Stalinist barbarism.
Perhaps the last great flowering of this ideology was Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a euphemism for massive and brutal purges to enforce the ‘correct’ thinking of which he was presented as the sole manufacturer and dealer after the Sino-Soviet split during the Soviet Khrushchev era thaw. That kind of delusional lunacy persists today only in North Korea, and to a faded degree in Iran, the Teabagger parts of America, and some isolated pockets of collective insanity elsewhere in the world.
The real impetus for, and underlying principle of political correctness, then, is tyranny and oppression, no matter what the euphemistic justifications might be. And it is definitely not the preserve of any particular political faction. Tyranny has no Left or Right. It is just state enforced terror. It is for reasons of history and method that I refer to political correctness as neo-Stalinism, which may have other features as well, but which stands here as the denominator for all kinds of secular theocracies.
In our contemporary Western world, matters become more complicated because of the misappropriation of technical rationality by political correctness, which sometimes gets played out in a reductionist logic that sees entirely irrational conclusions being drawn from sound premises: ‘But equality says that all people should be equal, so there shouldn’t be any special emphasis on gender or race.’ Or: ‘More than half the population is female so there should be more women CEOs and politicians.’ If there are sound arguments for either position, these are not among them. Worst of all, technocrats may decide that politics has nothing at all to do with them, and any politics, no matter how odious, that promises them money and toys must be OK. This kind of thinking is currently pretty evident in the IT-driven industries of the West, populated by many people I would imagine not baulking at all to carry out instructions with consequences like the Bhopal disaster, the Chernobyl catastrophe, or the Bezos human resources cultism. Not because they are inherently politically motivated by malice. Quite the opposite. Because they are entirely ignorant, and devoid of adult political or ethical sensibilities. They will go along with anyone who sounds like they are in charge.
For the rest of us, though, the politically correct conundrum remains unresolved. It is always recognisable as an absolute demand not to think and to surrender to unreasonable ideological demands. As the terminology actually says, its proponents tell you they, and only they, know the ‘correct’ interpretation of whatever matter was under discussion until they arrived, after which no further discussion will be countenanced at risk of open vilification, usually with the backing of rent-a-thugs.
Yet their arguments are rarely much more forceful than a cholic rant by an ill-mannered child. The give-away is always the sheer irrationality of the proffered rhetoric. Usually there is nothing that remains of either politics or correctness when these two are smashed together as if in a nuclear chain reaction. This is where Orwell’s long words and exhausted idioms come into play. In that vein, the neoclassical economist Friedrich August von Hayek proposed in 1983 a category of ‘weasel words’ in the British ‘Quarterly Journal of the Conservative Anglosphere’, the Salisbury Review.
Hayek meant to disparage socialism by proposing that any word prefixed with ‘social’, as in social justice, or social security, or social conscience, had its meaning sucked out of it by the prefix in the same manner as a weasel sucks out the contents of an egg through a small hole, leaving behind an apparently intact egg that is nevertheless just a hollow shell. His meaning is a scathing indictment of euphemisms standing in for less palatable realities. Far from applying solely to socialism, however, Hayek’s weasel word device works famously for all sorts of other attempts at distorting or obliterating meaning by resort to euphemism. Consider ‘collateral damage’ for murder, ‘police action’ for invasion, or ‘ethnic cleansing’ for genocide. This has particular application to the whole debate about political correctness. Prefixing correctness with any word almost inevitably alters any conventional meaning of correctness. It becomes less about accuracy, precision, or truth, and more about doctrine. Using the prefix ‘political’ makes that euphemised meaning overtly sinister because it directly denies the possibility of choice, and therefore democratic pluralist legitimacy, by suggesting a correct, and only one correct, politics is already predetermined and not subject to discussion or debate. This is theology: you must believe on faith alone, without critical thought or analysis.
Proponents of political correctness rarely declare themselves as such, but are instantly recognisable by focusing on the language of their victims rather than the possible meanings. For neo-Stalinist barbarians, form always matters much more than content, in the way that Keith Windschuttle’s antagonists were always more concerned about his challenge to a partisan consensus rather than the substance of his research.
Herein lies a difficulty for both those being invigilated by the barbarians, and the barbarians themselves. Using the metaphor of humour, to what degree does context make a tasteless joke – say about women, or Jews, or blacks – acceptably irreverent, or unacceptably bigoted. The difficulty is one of judgement. And judgement is difficult for people who have not the education or experience to exercise it independently from ideological dictate or fixed models. Such models are the predominant guides fallen back on by technically trained or entirely uneducated people. I suspect that the vast majority of people who today consider themselves educated are in fact merely trained in applying models and techniques rather than to think independently on the basis of a wide liberal education.
One very striking illustration of this is the incidence in online forums of people jumping into discussions solely to cite some imagined ‘law’, so-called because some nerdling wrote up a Wikipedia entry to summon it into existence. Note immediately the similarity to Lenin’s conception of grafting technical ‘correctness’ onto politics. And so we have pseudo Leninist nerds today promulgating and misapplying non-existent ‘laws’ of rhetorics they cannot understand any other way. Let me cite an example.
Not long ago I wrote a comment on the rather well-executed 2012 film Hannah Arendt, which concerned itself principally with the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, and her ostracism for re-interpreting Nazi evil as banal, bourgeois ordinariness. In an online discussion of my comment, an anonymous interlocutor posted: ‘I call Godwin’s Law’. Nothing more. When challenged by me to ‘explain yourself’, that person dropped in a link to a Wikipedia entry. Nothing else, as if this was self-explanatory. Look it up yourself, but the entry is a ridiculously fatuous observation, as relevant as remarking that the topic might turn to sex, food, the weather, pets, sport, religion, etc. How does one discuss Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial without mentioning the Nazis directly? Why should anyone refrain from it in any case? Would it not be more appropriate to promulgate a law about the preposterous interjection of confected rhetorical laws? I suspect the Wikipedia link dropped into the comment thread was self-explanatory after all: it’s author was thus identified as a moron.
The so-called Godwin’s law is not the only one given an artificial reality by Wikipedia, and dopily cited by non-thinkers, as a kind of pretense at having something to say when they really do not. More concerning, the creation and citation of such laws is evidence of a significant number of people who avoid thinking, or are incapable of it outside set parameters, and who are so allied to the ill-conceived amalgamation of technical rationality with political correctness that they make of themselves natural fellow travellers of the neo-Stalinist barbarians proper. Even if they are not yet fully given over to committed cultural and political barbarianism.
Another demographic consists of people probably more accurately described as cowards rather than ignorant or stupid. People who do not have the intellectual courage to engage with unpopular thoughts (say, ‘Steve Jobs was a jerk, not a saint, and that assessment is made on the basis of his treatment of people around him’), or to challenge a nonsense when they encounter it in circumstances where it appears to have significant support (say, ‘Sir Tim Hunt is not a sexist pig, and deserves none of the odium he suffered because his comments do not support your interpretation of them’). The kind of courage to speak against an apparent consensus is not easy, but it is authentically human and essential in the maintenance of democratic polities. In the words of Loury:
… self-censorship is the hidden face of political correctness. For every act of aberrant speech seen to be punished by “thought police,” there are countless other critical arguments, dissents from received truth, unpleasant factual reports, or nonconformist deviations of thought that go unexpressed, or whose expression is distorted, because potential speakers rightly fear the consequences of a candid exposition of their views. As a result, the public discussion of vital issues can become dangerously impoverished …
Cowardice can extend to supplication. I have observed many people surrendering to political correctness solely on the basis of seeking favour in a particular group, or even just the approval of one or two people. Unfortunately they become indistinguishable from the follies to which they thus lend their names.
Conversely, I have heard some pretty convincing arguments in support of speaking up about the thoughtless perpetuation of stereotypes that cast (particularly ) women and minorities in a negative light, including jokes that are ostensibly not intended to demean or insult. I have been accused of falling into this category myself – on both sides, by making apparently unacceptable jokes or off the cuff remarks, and by reacting quite sharply against what I thought were unacceptably homophobic, racist, and sexist jokes or remarks. However, there has never yet been an occasion on which I was unable to dismiss my invigilators as ridiculous screeching idiot children with no clue about the subject matter or context.
For me this is the crux of the matter. Can a popular or unpopular opinion be cogently explained and defended on grounds of rationality, relevance, and the simple insistence on a right to differ? Most attacks by neo-Stalinist barbarians simply don’t survive such a test of satnding uo to critical scrutiny of meaning and intent. Sadly, though, many quite crude and unnecessarily hateful comments don’t either, especially in the anarchic space of social media.
There are also less clear matters concerning long-shot inference, such as the buffoonery of US Republican Donald Trump, whose coarse boorishness attracts what I consider rightful censure, but who is now routinely interpreted to be saying things he has not. In Trump’s case that is probably not a big loss to already bleeding ears and eyes. But I see very clearly that a great number of others with unpopular views, Left and Right, probably fail to be reported and considered as seriously as they ought to be.
All this to say that judgement is not easy. It is not a matter for formulaic application of a set technique to arrive at a valid assessment. It requires considerable attention to detail to illuminate the context and weigh up factors that may not, on the face of things, be related at all. And it requires the actual labour of critical analysis, which is harder than imagined by those who habitually avoid it.
For example, in Trump’s case, it would be shallow to suppose he actually means all the boorish things he says, which he says quite deliberately to gain the attention he undoubtedly attracts. Trump is not serious in his stated presidential aspirations. Chris Cilliza, writing for the Washington Post on 17 June, clearly exposed how impossible it is for Trump to get the Republican nomination, which is knowledge Trump undoubtedly has to hand in various iterations. Mario Almonte, writing for the Huffington Post on 13 August, offered the most obvious disqualification, which is that Trump will never surrender control of his business interests, as he would have to, to become a relatively poorly paid president. But he does understand the value of the publicity attached to running as a nominee, and he seems to thrive on the media attention that comes with the territory. And we give it to him, like a reach-around admission of our own perversity. In the semi-literate argot of social media patrons, Trump is a troll. A king troll among serf trolls, but still a troll. In that light Trump’s statements may be no less offensive and odious, but they should not distract, as they do, from the far more sinister things being said about the ambition to curtail civil and human rights by the more likely Republican contenders, like Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.
In this context it is possible to see in political correctness a deadening influence on debate and analysis: attention is diverted from far more significant issues than not infringing on the brittle egos of delicate souls who make a sport of being offended by just about everything.
It is on the basis of preventing that calamity alone that any thinking person reflexively opposes political correctness, and all who resort to it should be called out as the neo-Stalinist barbarians they really are.
As a kind of epilogue, I cannot resist but to observe that Arthur Chu is not really a neo-Stalinist at all. He is much too mercenary for that, having consulted PR experts on how to capitalise on his game show fame, and then deliberately chosen a course as media commentator. He recognised he could apply the same formula he used during the game show to ‘win’ more money: just ‘game’ the audience by regurgitating opinions he knew it would lap up. It’s a smart play in the inimitably American monomania about moneyed celebrity. But it has nothing to do with politics, correctness, or any kind of conviction.
Chu, A. (2015, August 18). ‘So, college “p.c. culture” stifles comedy? Ever hear a comedian sh*t on the American Dream at a Wal-Mart shareholders meeting?’. Salon, retrieved on 18 August 2015 from www.salon.com
Loury, G. C. (1994). ‘Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of “Political Correctness” and Related Phenomena’. Rationality and Society, (6), 428-461. doi: 10.1177/1043463194006004002
Orwell, S., & Angus I. (eds.) (1968). The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume IV: In Front of Your Nose 1945-1950. London: Secker & Warburg.
Drucker, P. (1994). Political Correctness and American Academe. Society, 32(1), 58-63. doi: 10.1007/BF02693354
Lenin, V. I. (n.d.). Lenin Collected Works. Retrieved on 18 August 2015 from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/cw/
Scruton, R. (2006). ‘Hayek and conservatism,’ in E. Feser (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hayek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 208-231.