Thursday 28 October 2010

Is political correctness an un-understandable primary delusion?



Or, at least, political correctness shares at the group level many properties of the un-understandable primary delusion in an individual with psychotic illness.


A primary delusion is something which arises without external cause, and is contrasted with a secondary delusion that explains something such as why a patient is hearing voices or having other strange experiences. (e.g. the secondary delusion that the patient is hearing voices inaudible to others because aliens are projecting them with x-rays, or the strange sensation under the skin is caused by an infestation of insects.)

The classic primary delusion is something like; "I saw the traffic lights turn green, and knew I was the son of God".

Comes from nowhere, without rational connection, and cannot be understood by the outsider. 

But for the patient, the primary delusion then goes on to be elaborated as a 'master key' for understanding the world.


But although un-understandable, the primary delusion does not come out of nowhere - it is usually the resolution of a period of time of delusional 'mood' or 'atmosphere' , of perplexity and suspicion - that "something is going on".

In this state everything is experienced (to quote Andrew Sims in Symptoms in the Mind page 125) "as sinister, portentous, uncanny, peculiar in an indefinable way. He knows that he is personally involved, but cannot tell how. He has a feeling of anticipation, sometimes even of excitement, that soon all the separate parts of his experience will fit together to reveal something immensely significant."

The primary delusion provides exactly that: "When the delusion becomes fully formed, he often appears to accept it with a feeling of relief from the previous unendurable tension of the atmosphere. "


My understanding is that this delusional mood is itself a consequence of thought-disorder, of fragmentation of the train of thought such that reasoning is disrupted, ideas cannot be followed through: short periods of consecutive logic continually being derailed.

And my understanding of thought disorder is that it is a delirious, dreamlike state which comes and goes - so the patient experiences fragments of dream illogic interspersed with fragments of waking reason; fragmentary meanings which never get to add up.


The analogy with political correctness is that PC is a primary delusion which derives from the perplexed atmosphere resulting from a fragmented and discontinuous mode of thinking - except that this is primarily at the social level rather than the individual level.

I regard PC as a combination of Marxist atheist materialist rationalism - the desire for social efficiency, for the sake of efficiency; but continually disrupted by the dreamlike illogic of primary process thinking, of id, of spontaneous instinctuality.

In other words, a mode of thinking in which Old Left Marxian or Fabian ultra-logical planning is continually disrupted by New Left, counter-cultural, utopian idealism; when hard-nosed bureaucracy experiences irruptions of un-bounded hippie fantasy; where cold rationalism alternates with warm-hearted wishful-thinking.

This is the perplexed delusional atmosphere characteristic of the ruling intellectual elite in the 1960s, the feeling of anticipation and excitement, that unendurable tension, from which the primary delusion of political correctness arose  to fit together the separate parts of experience, revealing something immensely significant.


So political correctness makes no more real world sense than a primary delusion in schizophrenia - and it is equally immune to reality-testing; but PC provides the same sense of relief, of resolution to the unendurable tensions of leftist politics.

PC makes psychological sense, not political sense. It can only partly be understood by logic, and only partly understood in terms of wishful fantasy - but is able in practice to fuse these two irreconcilable modes.

But so profound and totalizing a delusion is only possible due to the profound thought-disorder operative in modernity; a situation in which the ruling intellectual elite can neither abandon logic nor live wholly by it; neither abandon animistic fantasy nor live wholly by it - and are doomed to alternate wildly, unpredictably, uncontrollably between the two.



Bill said...

This effort to pathologize PC speech is not useful and is becoming increasingly common on the right.

Large, well-attended May Day parades in the Eastern Block were not properly explained by some weird mental illness afflicting Slavs. The behavior of people loudly singing the praises of Brezhnev and his Party was not properly explained by mental illness.

It was obvious what was going on then, and it is obvious what is going on now. In later Communism, if you failed to turn up for official demonstrations or made politically unacceptable utterances in public, you lost your job (maybe after a chance to repent was not taken). If you organized against the regime, you were imprisoned or treated for mental illness. These mechanisms worked spectacularly well in generating "support" for Communism.

These two mechanisms should ring a bell, since they are the exact mechanisms now used to generate "support" for PC. Larry Summers is a real person who really got fired for heresy against PC. James Watson is a real person who really got fired for heresy against PC. David Howard was fired from the DC government for correctly using the word "niggardly" in a sentence. These events were kind of noticeable. Less noticeable outside the relevant peer group is the constant legal harassment of "racist" organizations.

When a whole bunch of people are simultaneously saying the same seemingly crazy thing, "they all have the exact same mental illness" isn't the first explanation which should spring to mind.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bill - you are making a mistake in this argument.

I am talking about the fact that PC is a delusion, and trying to understand the mechanisms of this - you are talking about the enforcement of this delusion once it has arisen and become established.

I am one of those few people who defended James Watson in print, in a Medical Hypotheses editorial, and I also published other editorials from Jason Malloy and from Rushton and Jensen defending Watson.

I have had PC enforced upon me twice in a big way: once by international media misrepresentation and vilification plus official UK government condemnation (over a journalistic article I wrote on the effects on university admission of IQ differences between social classes);

and earlier this year I was sacked from my job editing Medical Hypotheses for publishing a non-PC article on 'AIDS denialism' which offended AIDS activists - and the Watson editorials were in the mix behind this sacking, because the publishers wanted to insist that I would - in future - be contractually prevented from publishing articles of that type. (The editor who replaced me agreed to this restriction.)

So it is redundant to explain to me, of all people! that PC is currently being enforced coercively.


What fascinates me is that PC makes no sense, is wildly utopian in its hopes, is not in contact with reality.

Yet at the same time PC is implemented by state bureaucracies, and indeed bureaucracies of many types.

How can PC be so dully routine and yet so viscerally aspirational?


Karl Jaspers on the concept of delusion (from General Psychopathology, 1923):

"The term delusion is vaguely applied to all false judgements that share the following external characteristics to a marked, though undefined, degree:

1. they are held with extraordinary conviction, with an incomparable subjective certainty.

2. there is an imperviousness to other experiences and to compelling counter-arguments.

3. their content is impossible."


At least at a first approximation, PC fits the 'vague' definition of delusion.

I don't find rational explanations of PC convincing - at *best* (e.g. Jim Kalb's superb analyses) they are partial.

Therefore I regard it as a primary delusion - and the question then shifts to the origin of its various ingredients, and the thought processes which enable the delusion to be sustained.

That's what I am writing about here.

Bill said...

I understand. I am disagreeing. There is no need to appeal to false belief (of which delusion is an extreme version) to explain expression of agreement with false belief. I deny that there are a significant number of people who believe PC. They are all lying. Or, more carefully, they believe in the shallow, nervous, but hysterically self-righteous way that people believe what they are forced to believe, what they know to be false.

Some unfortunate who claims to be Jesus or claims that his dentist is implanting radios in his teeth does not get benefits or avoid punishments for his utterances. He is not being told by everyone around him to express these beliefs. Plus, delusionals often do self-destructive things in consequence of their beliefs. So, for them, it makes sense to infer that they are crazy. Not so with PC "believers." They get benefits and avoid punishments from their bizarre utterances.

Before 1918, you did not have to be a lunatic to believe that central planning socialism would be a good thing. After, say, 1930, you did. Before 1965, you did not have to be a lunatic to believe in the equality of races. Today, you do. In both cases, you can argue that there was reason enough to disbelieve early on, but I don't see how you can argue that such belief was delusional.

I'm comparing the current regime to late Communism, to the regime which perpetuated a false doctrine (believed by nobody) via force. But a false doctrine which was once tenable. Like, say, a priest who has lost the faith but continues on because he knows no other way to make a living.

It's an important question which thing is going on, though. The Soviet Union had a Gorbachev: a leader who calculated that it was now in his interest to puncture the lies or to let others do so. A somewhat different but related process is happening in China. Will the same happen in the US and Europe? Could a leader, with impeccable PC credentials, just decide one day that it is no longer in his interest to keep the regime of lies in place?

It would help if you could establish that the people who allegedly hold this delusion actually do hold it, say by showing how their beliefs lead to personally self-destructive behavior. I know a very few people like Amy Biehl's parents who actually do seem insane. Overwhelmingly, however, PC liberals exhibit plenty of behavior establishing that they know the score.

Jaz said...

James Burnham's explanation (in Suicide of the West) is that Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide. It is embraced by liberals / optimists who, faced with the obvious decline of the West, reconcile themselves to it with Liberalism. Liberalism turns every defeat for the West into a triumph of some kind, at least in liberal minds. Thus it is not just resistant to reality, it is an anti-reality.

Burnham does not try to explain why we are in decline, he accepts that as a given. His book is about the way liberals reconcile themselves to it. I think it is close to your idea about the delusion. I also think it is not a pathologization, which I, too, have noticed is happening.

a Finn said...

Both Bruce and Bill are right about PC, but they are dealing with different aspects of political correctness. I continue from these comments:

Having talked with, debated with, met, known and observed countless of political correct people, my rough estimation is that overwhelmingly politically correct people are normal people as persons, if somebody meets with them in dinner, in a shop, in conference etc. normal situations. In the most PC parties like Greens, there are considerable "nutty" wings, larger than in other parties; perhaps 5% of leaders and followers. Because the 5% is loud and it's views vivid, it is considerably more visible than it's percentage would imply. But what makes this 5% problematic is not so much it's size and voices, but it's symbiosis with the 95%.

Politically the primary psychological qualities of the 95% is that they are optimistic, they are universally and naively trustful, and they don't care much about differences between peoples and cultures. Only in situations when something bad and concrete concerns them or happens to them, or to people near them, their security measures commence. Even in these cases they are not necessarily fully aware why they e.g. chose lily white living area and lily white school for they children. Part of the psychological processes are subconscious, and when they are not, they invent soothing rationalizations. Also, in the 95% and more in the 5% there are considerable minorities who don't have proper protective instinct for themselves or for people close to them to oppose their naive trust and lack of discernment, but I don't have enough information to estimate their percentages. This could be called Amy Biehl -syndrome according to a famous case. In Finland one example of this is a case where open borders group activist girls helped known criminal gypsies from Romania, accepted their invitation to have a few small drinks, and were consequently raped.

The ideas of the 95% would be bad in themselves, but because of their psychological qualities, they can't evaluate and filter the ideas of the 5%. It is enough for the 95% that the 5% wing has the same ideology, and thus the 95% takes the ideas of the 5% seriously, and is prone to appreciate and accept them in some form. This forms a symbiosis, were crazy radical 5% is constantly pushing the "normal" radical 95% to more extreme positions and helping to uphold the policies that have generally been noticed to be unmaintainable and harmful.

Continued ...

a Finn said...

Part 2.

So, Charlton's analysis corresponds more to the 5% and Bill's more to 95%, both are valid explaining part of the phenomenon. These rough percentages are not representing weight of these explanations, the 5% is considerably more influential in e.g. Green radicalism than it's percentage suggest.

This is exacerbated by our official scientific way of thinking. Science at the same time increases our discriminatory ability and the available choices, but at the same time it relentlessly strives towards universal explanations, which lump together maximum number of fundamentally unrelated cases, which happen to have some common features. The resulting schizophrenia allows scientist and others to give categorical judgements confidently, while the underlying flimsy and messy mass of individual, particular and local cases doesn't correspond to judgements. True to it's schizophrenia, scientists know about this, but they are unable to do anything about it. E.g. the experiment where normal people were send to different psychiaric hospitals. They were told to act and speak otherwise normally according to what they really are, but they must say they have heard three meaningless and unrelated words, voices. They were diagnosed as schizophrenic. It took between about 15-57 days before psychiatrists noticed them to be normal or said they were "cured" people. The crazy fellow patients noticed the test subjects to be normal/ fake patients much faster than psychiatrists, sometimes almost immediately! When these results were publicized, they caused great commotion. Later the researchers said they will make a similar research with new test subjects. Soon many psychiatric hospitals announced they have turned away or released many fake test subjects. But in reality the reseachers did not send this time any test subjects to psychiatric hospitals.

Thus we are in a situation where many of those people who are "known" to be, officially, pronounced to be, judged to be, claimed to be, etc. crazy, incorrect, wrong, under delusions, outside civilized discussion and circles, delirious, evil, suspicious, superstitious, ignorant, etc., are in reality the only people who see clearly, who are sane, who are right, who are rational, who have a durable long term view, and who will in the end prevail.

Justin said...

I have stated it thusly:

Liberalism is the substitution of wishful thinking for reality.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this kind of comment will be welcome, but I've seen a lot of religious conversions (mostly during my time as a Mormon missionary, but also among my friends and family), and the psychological processes you describe -- the portentous mood, the interspersion of dream-thinking and reason, the sudden realization of the meaning of it all -- sound awfully familiar.

This is especially applicable: "It can only partly be understood by logic, and only partly understood in terms of wishful fantasy - but is able in practice to fuse these two irreconcilable modes."

Unfortunately, analogies of this kind -- PC is a delusion, PC is a religion, religion is a delusion, etc. -- are almost always perceived by the analogized as ad hominem attacks, and they can often become thought-terminating cliches. They may provide a great deal of insight in some cases, byt they must be used very very carefully.

xlbrl said...

De Tocqueville believed that the rage for equality was the Achilles heel of democracy. We might conclude political correctness is a direct result of the democratic equality.

“Democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom, but for equality their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, and invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.” Under other forms of government men were free to think if not always to speak, but in a democratic equality men are themselves the sovereign, and are not willing to think themselves at fault.

Not wishing to submit to the evils as well as the advantages freedom produces, we would "seek the means of combining hostile opinions and opposing principles at the same time."
“One of the commonest weaknesses of human intelligence is the wish to reconcile opposing principles and to purchase harmony at the expense of logic. Men are much alike, and they are annoyed, as it were, by any deviation from that likeness; far from seeking to preserve their own distinguishing singularities, they endeavor to shake them off in order to identify themselves with the general mass of the people, which is the sole representative of right and of might in their eyes. Philosophic systems that destroy human individuality will have secret attractions for men who live in a democracy.”

xlbrl said...

“I perceive that we have destroyed those individual powers which were able, single-handed, to cope with tyranny; but it is the government alone that has inherited all the privileges of which families, guilds, and individuals have been deprived; to the power of a small number of persons, which if it was sometimes oppressive was often conservative, has succeeded the weakness of the whole community.
What ever the political laws governing men in times of equality, we can predict that the trust in commonly held opinions will devolve into a sort of religion with the majority acting as prophet. The intellectual authority will be different but no less in extent. Princes had turned violence into a physical thing but our democratic republics have made it into something as intellectual as the human will it intends to restrict.”

“What concerns me in our democratic republics is not that mediocrity will become commonplace, but that it may be enforced. The consequences of this state of affairs are dire and dangerous for the future.”

Since no society can exist in a state of equality, those that are more equal than others will understand how to rule men who will "derive consolation from being supervised by thinking that they have chosen their supervisors."