Wednesday 24 November 2010

Phenomenology of devout political correctness - the perception of sin


Political correctness is - at its deepest level - based upon a human experience.

This experience is one of having in the mind an abstract and ideal sense of how things ought to be, and a perception of how very far away from this are actually existing states of affairs.

Thomas Sowell has talked of Cosmic Justice - which is the ideal of matching actually existing states of affairs with this imagined abstract and ideal sense of how things ought to be.


Against this deep inner experience, 'pragmatic' ideologies such as libertarianism have little traction.

Anything which advises people to be 'realistic', accept humans 'as they are', or to work within 'constraints' is perceived (by the devoutly PC) to be an evil temptation.

Because the difference between the ideal abstraction and perceived reality is qualitative (not quantitative).

This is why PC has no 'sense of proportion' - this is why (under a dominant PC public discourse) a single casual overheard private comment can lead to an international crisis of perceived racism, sexism or whatever - because there is an infinite difference between the ideal abstraction and anything which falls short of it.

Any imperfection relative to ideal abstraction is therefore the tip of a vast iceberg of wickedness and corruption.


And of course this is perfectly true.

Libertarians and pragmatists who attempt to deny the pervasive sinfulness of the world, or to argue that the possibilities of good are severely constrained, or that selfishness can be made a means to attain the good (as in market economies, or in natural selection) are therefore perceived as apologists for evil.

Which indeed they are!


Therefore,  devoutly PC have as their starting point the same experience as all deeply spiritual people - the problem of sin: of humankind's innate corruption.

But since PC is wholly this-worldly and materialist, they have a priori ruled-out any possibility of a religious answer to sin.

Therefore, political correctness is engaged in a search for this-worldly 'salvation' from a sin which is perceived to be intrinsic to all humans!


The pre-PC answer was communism: which saw humans as products of the environment.

For communism, if the environment was right, then humans would be free from sin.

And when humans were made free from sin, then the system would become self-perpetuating and the state would 'wither'.

Totalitarianism was only temporary; a means to the end of an ideal anarchy of sinless humans.


Political correctness comes after communism, and is a response to the recognition that the 'ideal' society does not eliminate sin.

With PC there is no expectation or desire that the state will 'wither' - rather the implication is that the state should be all pervasive.

The implication of PC is that totalitarianism is not just a transitional state, but the desirable form of human society.

In other words, since humans are (it turns out) incorrigibly sinful, then they require permanent and all pervasive supervision and regulation by 'the state'.

And in PC 'the state' must become abstract - must not be a matter of specific human beings, but an abstract system which is (ideally) independent of the humans beings who happen to be implementing it.


So the ideal of political correctness is an eternal, all-monitoring, all-controlling, all powerful, impersonal abstract state.

Once this is in place everywhere, it will become self-sustaining.

And humans will not longer be able to be sinful.

Humans will be made to be virtuous - not by other humans (who are sinful) but by a perfected abstract system.

Problem solved...


(Irony alert.)



a Finn said...

Analysis of PC philosophy:

1. PC/liberal philosophy comprises two elements; abstract altruism (equality) and choice.

2. If these two contradict, abstract altruism wins out over choice; abstract altruism is the highest principle. The function of bureaucracy and the lives of bureaucrats depend on creating and upholding resource flows of abstract altruism. Bureaucracy is an incarnation of abstract altruism and in symbiosis with it. The practical existence of abstract altruism depends on bureaucracy.

Choice is an accessory to bureaucracy and abstract altruism. Choice surreptitiously atomizes communities of people to more easily managed masses of individuals, creates an illusion of freedom, allows the maximum number of ramifications of services and production, etc. Bureacracy and abstract altruism can exist and function without choice (bureacratically planned society), but bureaucracy with mere choice can't exist or function.

3. What is the relation of abstract altruism to reality and people's lives? It is abstract, theoretical, simplification, small part, artificial, torn away from them, rigid and unchangeable, above and unreachable, non-communicating, biased, selfish, etc. in relation to them. When it is applied to people's lives it (increasingly) prevents other considerations, i.e. normal large range of considerations and suitable balance between them; other developments; other directions; other processes; other choices; etc. Abstract altruism is a tyrannical principle. It can be less than tyrannical only to the extent that it is not used and applied.

4. Abstract altruism creates an implicit hierarchy, which has explicit significance. Bureacracy, the embodiment of abstract altruism and the centre of society is the highest in hierarchy; people who are given resources and are dependent on bureacracy are the second in hierarchy; and people from whom the resources are taken are the lowest. There are other hierarchies, separations and balances between person and groups in society, but abstract altruism has a tendency to disrupt them, subvert them and then replace them.

Because in abstract altruism philosophy the amount of resources taken from the contributors is not specified; it is freely sliding and in principle at the discretion of bureaucracy, bureaucracy can in certain societal arrangements, and if it has enough power, take all or so much resources from contributors, that contributors die. Abstract altruism is at the hands of bureaucracy a coercive power which potentially can arbitrarily decide life or death of any person or group.

Soviet Union was a abstract altruist power. It differs from liberal PC society only on a sliding quantitative scale, not on a qualitative scale. A comparison between them; liberal society = relatively less abstact altruism and relatively more choice ---> Soviet Union relatively more abstract altruism and relatively less choice. Soviet Union mass murdered using abstract altruist principles. The most of it's mass murdering was executed by taking resouces away from people (E.g. purposeful starvation of 7 million people to death in Ukraine); by preventing people to acquire the resources needed in life (E.g. starvation of millions of people in concentration camps); and/or ordering people to be murdered because they are defined to be non- abstract altruists/ not enough abstract altruists or not suitable to be abstract altruists (E.g. the systematic mass murder of Kulaks and more or less particularist ethnic minorities, like Finns, in the border areas of Soviet Union).

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks - useful analysis.

HofJude said...

On the PC belief in sin - and what distinguishes it from religious belief in sin. Recall the many instances when mass journalism reacts to the publication of the private doubts of some major religious figure - the most recent that comes to mind is the Mother Teresa document in which she confesses that she has had moments of utter despair and unbelief. Journalists treat this as a revelation that a figure previously thought to be saintly was actually an atheist at times. This error is of course partly due to the disappearance of actual education from schools - 50 years ago any university graduate would know that deeply religious figures wrestle with unbelief almost as a matter of course, etc. etc.
But it's also a signal that while PC believes in sin, they also believe at least notionally in the possibility of human perfection. Their bitter reaction to the religious, who are much more realistic, even scientific, then they are, is remarkable and fervent. So I would suggest that although you are right that PC has no actual remedy in mind to the problems they set out to solve, they do have a partial remedy, or at least a conviction in what the first step should be: render religion and the opinions and participation of the religious in society and government out of bounds, in any way they can. In fact, many PC seem to believe that if they can do this, or once they have done this, they need do no more.
And they may be right.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SS - You will see from yesterday's entry that I am trying to distinguish between the mass of low level PC careerists - who indeed believe (is a semi-explicit way) in the perfection of humans; and the contemplative and devoutly PC who know that there is no way of eradicating sin from the human heart.

The process is a bit like distinguishing normal Christians from the Saints, something which both Roman Catholics and the Orthodox do.

The difficulty, of course, is that (so far as I know) there are no self conscious, honest and deep accounts of being PC.

In other words, the PC 'saints' have not left explicit records of their spiritual struggles in a context of PC orthodoxy.

Indeed, politically correct people usually deny the existance of PC, and even deny their deepest convictions - typical tactical dishonesty, of course.

So I am going on sources like introspection - memories of when I was myself strongly PC but with devout moments; plus revelatory accounts of liberalism by people like Richard Rorty and Judith Shklar: numerous interactions over many years with PC leaders in the UK public sector (education, health services etc); plus inferences and extrapolations which provide a unifying cause for apparently contradictory behaviours and beliefs.

I think that one of several reasons why I so grossly underestimated PC was, that I was too keen to use self-seeking explanations of PC behavior, too keen on mocking; and also I did not see the PC 'beam' in my own eye.

My underestimation of PC was akin to the PC underestimation of Islam: on the one hand the phenomenon is growing exponentially; but on the other hand one does not take it seriously, can see apparent paradoxes, and simply assumes it is a pendulum swing or a bubble.

It is a mistake caused by pride, I'm afraid; one condescends, and therefore does not respect.

Yet I would now regard these as the primary socio-political forces in the world *on current trends* (which may be reversed, perhaps): i.e. PC versus Islam. I say 'versus' because, despite the current apparent alliance, in a long term conflict there can be only one winner - and it is not going to be PC.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid you are right about PC and Islam. When I used to write about gay marriage, trying to buck up those who opposed it without being religious or wanting to use religious reasons for doing so, I sometimes said to myself, wait a minute, maybe I should support gay marriage because it is a poke in the eye of Islam. But that was short-term thinking. Islam will make short work of gay marriage (which is far more important to PC than it is to gay people).
And PC is unable to confront Islam because PC is so firmly convinced that Islam is virtuous: after all, PC believes that Muslims are non-white, therefore inferior, and that the various instances of liberation from Islam in history are bits of Western imperialism. And Islam is not a religion, to be despised like Christianity and Judaism, but a lind of reflex superstition on the part of the inferior.
In short, PC folk are convinced that Islam needs the protection of people like themselves - and they will believe this to the end - their end.

CorkyAgain said...

Another angle from which to view PC's abstract altruism and totalitarian program:

When it comes to their "spiritual but not religious" leanings, many PC advocates express a liking for Buddhism.

The more philosophical among them are especially interested in the doctrine on non-dualism, with its deprecation of the "little ego."

Thanks to these recent essays from Bruce, the connection is easy to see.