Why it’s a scourge of liberty and thought that must be vigorously opposed.
Perhaps the most execrable social and cultural blight on Western civilization since the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, political correctness, is the paradoxical triumph of Stalinism in the West, and the fascist impetus of corporatists carried forward into the 21st century.
To be clear about what I mean when I use the terminology, let me identify political correctness as the intended product of a bien pensant leftist agenda of levelling all supposed indicators of inequality in language by coercive and self-perpetuating censorship of all words that anyone might regard as prejudiced about gender, class, race, culture, sexual orientation, physical abilities, age, and religious/political beliefs. The accent here is not on a reasoned case for excluding pejoratives from language, but on excluding all language that might possibly lead to someone claiming they have been offended.
Underlying this insane project is the equally insane idea that there should or could be such a thing as total equality of all people under all circumstances. Such a state of affairs in practice would mean a completely equal distribution of all resources, a diffusion of all nation-states into a single world-wide autocracy capable of such distribution of resources, an absence of any form of competition (including sports, business or academic endeavour), and the consequent absence of excellence or merit, just uniform mediocrity, the way Vonnegut described it in his Harrison Bergeron. My list of qualities that would need to be dispensed with could go on, but I think I have illustrated why the concept of total equality is absurd.
The defenders of political correctness might argue that its dictates are intended to excise pejorative language that is racist, sexist, or in any other way hurtful to some people. The reality, though, is that political correctness overreaches itself in that endeavour, seeking to neutralise language presumptively and pre-emptively on whim rather than challenging concrete instances of malicious denigration with rational argument.
Consider the controversy caused by the use of the word ‘niggardly’ by the Washington bureaucrat, David Howard, whose career was tainted in 1999 because he used it in describing aspects of city budgeting. The same word caused furores in 2000 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, when used by a professor to discuss literature, and again in 2002 at a North Carolina high school, each time when people who could be properly described as morons, ignorant of the word’s actual meaning, insisted that its similarity to the word ‘nigger’ offended them, and they had a right to be so offended regardless of the actual meaning of the word.
It was a triumph of form over content: the doctrine of political correctness prevailing over rationality and common sense. These incidents, fuelled by the low-brow sections of American news media, demonstrated that political correctness can induce a kind of mass hysteria, resulting in the abandonment of all rationality, intellect and good judgement, driving its ‘victims’ and ‘defenders’ into a frenzy of condemnation and persecution that is truly reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, the McCarthy era communist persecutions, and Stalinist destruction of free thought.
In Australia these kinds of controversies are not often publicly exposed, but the incidence of malicious resort to affirmative action and racial vilification laws to make completely unfounded charges based on reasons so bizarre that the allegations never end in public censure have been rising. The grotesque corollary of even unfounded and rejected allegations under these laws, however, is that many careers are forever tarnished, with prospects for promotion permanently damaged and some careers destroyed altogether by innuendo.
So, how does political correctness manifest itself in practice? It is the cowardly, bureaucratic attempt to codify behaviour and thought into publicly acceptable formalities, excising all thought and reasoning that rejects its doctrinal decrees about ‘neutral’ language as somehow subversive, perverse and censurable. I’m pretty sure most of you have heard the loathsome phrases ‘inclusive language’ and ‘shared conversation’ in relation to school curricula and political debates. And yet political correctness demands that there is actually a censored language and an exclusive conversation that ostracises all who don’t adhere to politically correct catechisms.
Its very name tells us what it means. Combining the words political with correctness assumes a monolithic, unchallengeable standard of politics, and an equally monolithic calculus of ethically acceptable positions within this politics. It is exactly the thought control Orwell commented on so effectively in 1984, and that so defined the soul-destroying misery of the crushing Stalinist tyranny in the former Soviet bloc.
Initially devised and defended chiefly by American bureaucrats, including those called academics, but enthusiastically embraced by intellectual cowards everywhere, and more particularly in Australia by those who despise intellectual debate for requiring rationality and persuasive reason, principally in the Australian public service, and particularly in the academy, political correctness assumes an unchallengeable and singular conception of the ‘right’ way of talking about any subject.
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.
The self-appointed elite promoting and defending political correctness inevitably stands to benefit from maintaining its dictates by occupying comfortable positions, principally funded by the public purse, in which they can afford to be mediocre in their supposed duties by relying on discrediting more capable people for not submitting to the dictates of their ideology, particularly by use of the inquisitions they can mount in order to publicly crucify ‘dissidents’. All it seems to take is a greater number of people yelling ‘political incorrectness’ than those who can reply ‘nonsense’, particularly while so many of Australia’s journalists have forgotten what critical analysis actually means, or who are too cowardly to engage in it, lest they too be tarred with the politically incorrect brush.
It might be redundant to point out that political correctness is thus ultimately a heinous hypocrisy, because its high priests rely precisely on the absence of true equality of opportunity and the success of merit in order to maintain their privileged positions. Nevertheless, it is entirely appropriate to ask how there could be such a thing as a ‘professor’, or a ‘director general’, or a ‘department head’ if everyone had the idealistic, true equality apparently at the heart of removing value-laden language? Only if everyone were entitled to the same positions and titles and perks, right? But if everyone were entitled in this way, there would be no perks, would there? And the titles would no longer confer authority, power or prestige, would they?
For these reasons, and because political correctness should be seen as exactly the kind of insidious abdication of thought and personal judgement it is, its adherents and guardians should be publicly ridiculed and privately despised as closet brown-shirts, seeking to impose dogma and using public fora, like inexplicably compliant news media, to inflict the kind of harm they are too weak or cowardly to dispense by force of muscle and truncheons, the way this kind of tyranny has always operated in the past, and may yet do so in the future — beating up those who hold opposing views.
And yet, if freedom of speech, pluralism and intellect are to have any meaning at all in our society, then surely if words and attitudes expressed publicly are deemed by anyone to be objectionable, let them say so with their reasons, and let their arguments stand on their own merits, not be hidden behind the impenetrable shield of what is certainly a more disgusting and depraved ideology than whatever is deemed to have caused offence in the first place.
I say disgusting and depraved precisely because it is hidden, immune from rationality and the democratic imperative to be openly debatable. Moreover, political correctness is based on the toweringly arrogant assumption that it represents a consensus view among those who know or matter about what should be permissible to say, or not. This is, in itself, a monstrously arrogant, dangerous aspiration and demand whose only outcome is tyranny and the inevitably deadening mediocrity it brings with it.
Worse, the gradual surrender by almost everyone who should be standing against this phenomenon is miserably disspiriting to watch. Ostensibly rational, intelligent people adopting the emasculated phraseology of saying nothing at all lest it gives offence to someone somewhere.
Many more people still, who do not practice independent thought habitually, are consuming the endless newspeak of media referring to such non-events as ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, or the ‘F-bomb’, or ‘she misspoke’. What happened to calling a spade a spade when it’s clearly not a shovel? Why does no one care about the rape of the beautiful English language by ideologues bent on making it meaningless and impotent to carry the kind of vital, confronting ideas that gave us Westminster democracy instead of crushing tyranny?
If it needs to be said at all, what’s wrong with saying that a woman exposed herself accidentally while wearing a somewhat scant garment? Why are we so hypocritical that we can use the word ‘fuck’ in all manner of contexts, but won’t tolerate to see it spelled out? And what’s wrong with arguing why the use of some words might have been properly characterised as lies, or inappropriate, or offensive? Why won’t the purveyors of euphemisms give their reasons for implying what they plainly do?
The latter examples may appear trivial, but they are part of such an avalanche of meaning diffusion that they become important in themselves as indicators of the wider malaise of political correctness forcing a surrender of intellect and an absence of meaningful words in speech and writing.
What is any individual to do in the face of this blight? It seems to me that a fairly good test of character these days is whether a person is willing to indulge politically correct forms, or whether these are rejected on principle, the way they should be. If the acolytes of political correctness can judge us, we can judge them, and we can let them know our contempt for their surrender and cowardice.