Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More on Political Correctness and Resistance

Readers may feel I am getting obsessed by political correctness. The truth is that it is only now that I feel I'm waking up to just how dangerous it is, and how deeply it has embedded itself-- even within the Catholic Church.

Some years ago I read a book called Thought Prison by the rather eccentric English academic and blogger Bruce Charlton. The whole book is available online (as are his other books).

At the start of the book, he writes:

When I first came across political correctness - which was the summer of 1981, inflicted on me by a social worker - I thought it was a bad joke.

Even in 1992, when I was in a Texas university humanities department for a month, and I saw the thing close-up and in full flight, it still seemed too obviously silly to take seriously.

Now, of course, the joke is on me: PC defines reality, and we all live and work at the whim of the advocates of PC, who could destroy the lives of any one of us at any moment, for any reason or for no reason whatsoever.

Charlton's experience is rather ironically echoed in my own. I don't agree with everything he says in the book, but at the time I read it I thought he was greatly exaggerating (though the fact that I bought and read the book in the first place shows I had some sympathy with him). I no longer think he was exaggerating.

I can remember the first time I heard the term PC, too. It was either in the late eighties or the early nineties, and I was reading a questionnaire in a women's magazine. One of the questions was: "Are you PC (politically correct)?". I didn't know what it meant-- I can't remember if the magazine explained.

What I find most frustrating about the debate on PC is the constant references to silly terms like "developmentally challenged", or the preoccupation with safe spaces and trigger warnings and the loonier manifestations of PC on campus. Those are just the crest of the wave-- indeed, the sea-spray on the crest of the wave.

PC has much more profound ramifications on everyday life-- every minute of every day.

You can see it especially in the Catholic Church. The extraordinary push in the two Synods of the Family, in the last two years, to have (amongst other things) homosexuality normalised really woke me up. There was something nightmarish in witnessing princes of the Church, successors of the apostles, quite blatantly maneuvering to reverse centuries of Church teaching. I had no idea things had gone so far.

What is even more sinister is the constant push-push-push by which this is accomplished, wearing conservatives down by concession after concession after concession. At first the concessions are simply in the realms of language and tone-- but how much that accomplishes on its own!

PC thrives on the fact that most people are good-humoured and good-natured and don't want to cause avoidable offence. They will concede as much as they can, simply in order to be amiable, without letting go of their deep-seated beliefs.

But then one day they realise they have been backed into a corner, and there is no wriggle room left. (I won't resort to the boiling frog cliché.)

My experiences on Facebook also made me realise the ever-encroaching power of PC. Some of my own family (younger members who had taken in PC with their baby food) regularly heckled me if I said anything outside PC orthodoxy, to the extent that I had to block them from any controversial posts. Friends who had grown more left-wing since I knew them in 'real life' would regularly use phrases like 'cis gendered'' as if they meant something. Not only that, but they were constantly simmering in a state of Hollywood-induced indignation-- about things like transgender bathroom rights, something that never would have even occurred to them two years ago.

Worse of all, there was quite a substantial chunk of Catholics who were especially prone to PC-- as though they were compensating for having to affirm Church teaching on controversial matters.

But the point I have been trying to make in recent posts is that there is no possibility of 'dialogue' with PC. It has to be confronted, defied, outraged, ridiculed, dismissed. You cannot reason with it.

Let me give an example; a lengthy quotation from an article that one disciple of PC addressed to his fellow believers, suggesting that Donald Trump won the Presidential election because PC zealots were too blatant in their approach. Here he is asking what the term actually means (thankfully even he doesn't buy the whole "it's just good manners" line):

The segment of the electorate who flocked to Trump because he positioned himself as "an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness" think it means this: smug, entitled, elitist, privileged leftists jumping down the throats of ordinary folks who aren't up-to-date on the latest requirements of progressive society.Example: A lot of people think there are only two genders—boy and girl. Maybe they're wrong. Maybe they should change that view. Maybe it's insensitive to the trans community. Maybe it even flies in the face of modern social psychology. But people think it. Political correctness is the social force that holds them in contempt for that, or punishes them outright.

If you're a leftist reading this, you probably think that's stupid. You probably can't understand why someone would get so bent out of shape about being told their words are hurtful. ["Told their words are hurtful"...is that what's happening, really?] You probably think it's not a big deal and these people need to get over themselves. Who's the delicate snowflake now, huh? you're probably thinking. I'm telling you: your failure to acknowledge this miscalculation and adjust your approach has delivered the country to Trump.

There's a related problem: the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

This is akin to the political-correctness-run-amok problem: both are examples of the left's horrible over-reach during the Obama years. The leftist drive to enforce a progressive social vision was relentless, and it happened too fast. I don't say this because I'm opposed to that vision—like most members of the under-30 crowd, I have no problem with gender neutral pronouns—I say this because it inspired a backlash that gave us Trump.

Donald Trump
So there you go. Even when a disciple of PC is straining as hard as he possibly can to sympathise with the troglodytes who believe (for example) that there are two genders, and even making some valid points along the way, his basic outlook is so wrong-headed-- so insane-- that it's impossible to enter into a discussion with such a person
And I don't know about you, but I find this kind of condescension a thousand times worse than the attitude he is condemning. (And the same is true of many, many similar articles and pronouncements that have appeared since Brexit and Donald Trump's election. Not that I'm banging a drum for Trump.)
There is another point to be made here, one that I can best make by an analogy with my 'day-job'.
I work in a university library, as most readers will know. The majority of students and other readers that I deal with are a dream-- polite, friendly, grateful, patient, etc. etc.
However, there is (as is to be expected) a minority of readers who are rude, aggressive (more often passive-aggressive), entitled, unreasonably demanding, etc.
I have a pretty good antennae after so many years dealing with the public, and I can usually see which tribe a reader belongs to in a heartbeat.
But sometimes I can't, and in those cases I'm very careful not to enter into any kind of pleasantry or chumminess with the reader. Very often a 'difficult' reader will deliberately try to bring about such a tone, knowing that it's much harder to disoblige someone once there is a friendly and personal ambiance to the conversation.
My suggestion is that open antagonism towards PC will ultimately reduce the overall amount of unpleasantness in our discourse. Confirmed antagonists are usually more cordial towards each other than two people (or factions) who think that the other might be won over to their side. The edge of disappointment and bitterness, the element of shock and indignation and rancour, is gone. Eventually a modus vivendi evolves-- sometimes even an affectionate kind of antagonism, like that between the Duke boys and Boss Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard.

(It's comparable to the situation where a lady wants to make clear to an ardent male friend that she has no romantic interest in him-- the sooner it's done, and the plainer it's made, the less chance there is of lasting resentment.)
Please bear in mind, finally, that I'm talking about ideas and beliefs here. Not people. I'm certainly not advocating unfriendliness to people as people. 

But I AM calling for ruthlessness towards PC. Now, and forever. PC delenda est!

No comments:

Post a Comment