Friday 19 November 2010

Mapping the causal pathway leading to political correctness


1. Abstraction. People of high intelligence have a tendency to think abstractly rather than 'instinctively' - and perhaps this may be especially so in some human groups which have evolved extra-high intelligence over the past couple of thousand years - such as the populations in Europe and East Asia.

2. Secularization. Loss of belief in the ultimate nature of reality as transcendent and other-worldly - therefore a focus on this world.

- This probably relates to a strong abstracting tendency. For example, highly abstract people - when they are religious - tend to believe in a non-personal God, and in the ultimate reality of abstract forces or processes such as evolution.

- Abstraction is also productive of nihilism: i.e. to the belief that there is no ultimate reality. Since the power of abstraction depends on the vicissitudes of mental functioning, to the abstracting mind all is intangible, changeable, disconnected from spontaneity, from common sense, from emotional-underpinning. Life tends to be perceived as a solipsistic play of shadows, momentary distractions, meaningless sufferings and equally meaningless pleasures.   

- Abstraction is very useful in some situations in some societies - but it is like a mental pathology in other circumstances.

3. The combination of abstraction and secularization leads to an elite world view (including a morality) which is materialistic (this-worldly) and which explains things in terms of abstract forces and dispositions.

4. The purest, most idealistic morality from this perspective is therefore an abstract but non-transcendent spirituality of the material.

- A clear early example is Marxism, which is all about economics - about the production and distribution of material goods. Yet at the same time, material production and distribution is explained abstractly, and linked with a spirituality. The end result is that in Marxism the matter of the production and distribution of material goods becomes the highest level of human moral concern.

- Marxism was the first large scale morality of altruism - in which altruism was made abstract and involuntary (in replacement for the earlier personal and voluntary 'noblesse oblige', alms-giving and philanthropy).

- So, Marxism therefore removed virtue from the individual and from the realm of choice, and made morality a socially-imposed abstract process. Under pure Marxism there were no good individuals, only the good society.

5. Political correctness takes this process further than Marxism, by extending the concern with the production and distribution of material goods to include the production and allocation of psychological goods. So that PC is concerned by such matters as happiness, suffering, status, respect and self-respect.

- However, since PC is materialist, these intangible psychological factors require operational definition in terms of material proxy measures: so that happiness/ suffering may be equated with income and wealth, or with the results of surveys such as happiness ratings or crime levels, or with measures of health;  status is equated with occupancy of certain jobs, or attendance at specific educational establishments, or possession of educational certificates, and so on.

6. Therefore the abstract spirituality of materialism is underpinned by concrete measures of a material nature; such that the monitoring, prediction and manipulation of these material measures is equated with the (intangible) psychological states with which they are taken to be causally-correlated.

- Following the pattern of Marxism, in political correctness there are no good individuals, and no good individual choices or decision; only impersonal and mandatory procedures or mechanisms can be morally good.

- Immoral individuals are such for their necessarily-selfish defiance of impartial procedure, which is seen to open-up infinite possibilities of disaster, chaos, corruption.

- Such individuals are guilty not for what they actually do, nor for the actual consequences of their actions, but for their failure to submit to objective and involuntary process.

7. Meritocracy. All societies are meritocratic to a degree - although the nature of the merit varies. Throughout the twentieth century 'merit' became equated with intellectual ability and attainment - and a society developed in which the intellectual elite were the ruling class.

- Almost all the main social functions therefore became dominated by intellectually selected personnel; but especially public administration (and to a lesser extent democratic politics), education and the mass media.

- Intellectual meritocracy allowed the pathology of abstraction to operate un-checked at the highest levels of social organization, expanding and changeing without effective feedback from common sense and spontaneity.

- And also without reference to religious morality.

8. Also throughout the twentieth century, there was a massive expansion in the bureaucracy - and the linkage of all bureaucracies with public administration. So the modern society became interconnected by a bureaucratic web of laws, regulations, subsidies and coercive sanctions. And these bureaucracies became less personal - with all major decisions being taken by committee, and by vote.

9. The mass media also grew to occupy ever more of the time and attention of the population.

10. So by the late twentieth century the interconnected bureaucracy and the mass media meant that the intellectual meritocratic elite could impose their morality upon the rest of the population - and political correctness was established.

- A positive feedback loop was established, by which 'PC reality' - as defined by the interconnected administrative bureaucracies and the mass media - feeds back into the abstract secular psychology of the ruling intellectual elite to enhance the detachment of PC from instinct and spontaneity; and the intelligentsia amplified the abstracting and impersonal systematizing signal to the bureaucracy and media.

- Cut off from normal psychology and from inconvenient truths, the hermetically-sealed system of PC expanded exponentially. 

- And all unchecked exponential processes destroy themselves.



HofJude said...

On 1 and 2, you would be pleased by Ernest Gellner's 1988 book Plough Sword and Book which locates these themes carefully and originally in human history, and relates them to the power of the written word, granted to a clerisy with a strong drive towards order and and homogeneity, which takes cultures away from nature. Much much more that is great there.

Bruce Charlton said...

I know it well! It had a big influence on me at an earlier secular libertarian and pro-modernization phase -