Wednesday 17 November 2010

'Pure abstract altruism': the underlying ideal principle of political correctness


[Message for those of you who have been following my recent ruminations on political correctness:  

this posting represents the first time where I feel I may have reached to the bottom of the mystery of PC 

(perhaps an exclamation mark is warranted here!):

this is the first time I feel that I understand the deep unity which lies behind the surface insanity that is political correctness.

I will try and explicate this (apparent) insight further over the next few days. ] 


The argument in brief:

Political correctness is a logical extension of a this-worldly (secular) and materialist (not spiritual) perspective of pure abstract altruism - untainted by personal feelings.

In other words, PC aims at the attainment of altruism in this world.

And the altruism aimed at is abstract - not the altruism of individuals. 

PC aims at the submission of the (inevitably selfish) individual to abstract systems of pure altruism.

Submission, ideally, even unto the destruction and death of everything that is valued. The test of ultimate sincerity. 


Altruism is to be attained via abstract systems (usually bureaucratic systems) which are concerned with the allocation of resources or 'goods': things like money, wealth, land, jobs, educational positions, any perceived status symbols.

Altruism is therefore concerned with allocation of goods. It is therefore a matter of altruistic outcomes, and the virtuous result depends on the attainment of altruistic outcomes.

Altruism is intrinsically outcome-orientated. 


Since PC is primarily focused on altruistic outcomes, it is therefore relatively unconcerned by how these outcomes are attained: systematic lying, force, bribery, subsidy, intimidation all are (in principle) acceptable means to this ultimate end.

(This accounts for the sustained and intrinsic dishonesty of PC.)


Because for PC the 'original sin' is selfishness, and all individual acts of altruism are vulnerable to corruption by selfishness - ideally the individual should be altruistically indifferent to his own condition, including his own feelings.

Selfishness is original sin, and all individuals are selfish - the explanation given for inevitable human selfishness is various, but one candidate cause is natural selection. 

Therefore, in order to avoid selfishness, policy must not originate from individuals nor must it depend on the decision of individuals - instead altruism should be person-proof: should be a product of objective and abstract procedures.


Other features of PC are related to the necessity to generate operational definitions of altruism and the constraints of power politics.

To make an altruism-generating abstract system entails that a 'good' be operationally-defined (eg in terms of income, or wealth, or desirable jobs or other positions).

These goods must be this-worldly and material so that they may be measured, monitored and manipulated.


And further, the operational realities of power politics entail that these abstract procedures be applied to groups not individuals - the individual being defined in terms of their group membership.

Group orientation is necessary in practice, albeit not in theory, because power results from group alliances: from 'interest groups' such as classes, sexes, ethnicities, job categories (unions) etc. 


To clarify further: 

Political correctness is a secular ideology based on moral principle. 

From a secular perspective, the highest virtue, and perhaps the only virtue, is altruism: helping others at costs to oneself.

Other forms of human cooperation are disvalued -  altruistic cooperation is regarded as the primary virtue.

This is contrasted with the opposite vice of selfishness.

But, ideally, altruism must be pure - which means untainted by selfishness, which means untainted by any degree of personal advantage (untainted even by pleasure).  

Morality is seen as altruism; the highest morality as disinterested altruism.


From an other-worldly religious perspective altruism is a subordinate virtue - there are other more important things than helping others in a material sense - but from a secular perspective altruism frames almost the whole of moral discourse.


Most or all forms of naturally-occurring examples of altruism are, in fact, merely indirect forms of self-interest. For example: altruism towards genetic relatives; towards allies; or altruism as an accidental side effect of other forms of selfishness - such as when pets substitute for children.

Some instances of altruism are merely long-termism, while others are genetic self interest coming into conflict with the interests of a specific organism (when an individual risks their life to make more likely the survival of their extended family.).

Even the altruism of Christianity is conceptualized as being corrupted by the desire for other-worldly happiness: so (from a PC perspective) Christians are 'merely' sacrificing themselves to others in order to gain more happiness in the long-term.


This marks an important cleavage point between leftist PC and right wing conservatism and reaction. For the secular right, the reality that altruism is tainted with selfishness is accepted - indeed it is embraced as a means to the end of greater functional effectiveness.

For the secular right, selfishness in not exactly good, but (as noted by Adam Smith) is regarded as potentially leading to good under a competitive system of natural selection such as market economics.

This strikes the PC as unacceptably cynical. 


On the whole, the secular right has no conception of 'original sin' and accepts that human beings are intrinsically selfish, and evolved from selfish ancestors.

The secular right accepts that kin selection means that humans tend to favour their families; that people with common interests will make alliances for their own benefit; that individuals will be prone to corruption by selfishness and short-termism - and it simply tolerates these problems so long as things, on the whole, are working well - or if eradicating the problems cause more problems than they solve.

And this unprincipled, and perhaps self-serving, pragmatism on the political right - the tendency to accept and work with human sin - is why absolutist liberals feel morally-superior to conservatives. 


This is why the idealistically politically correct feel so virtuous, feels indeed superior to all previous forms of human morality: because the ideal is to be aiming at the good of others without any personal reward whatsoever.   


Naturally the PC fail to attain this ideal, naturally individuals always

But this merely emphasises that individual selfishness is original sin for the PC - and the implication is that as an ideal individuals ought to be, and need to be, subordinated to impersonal mechanisms for implementing altruism at the social level - regardless of the consequences.


In fact, PC is a logical response to the ultimate problem of altruism; the psychological paradox: that if being altruistic makes you happy, then you are being rewarded, therefore you are not really being altruistic but merely self-indulgent.

(In PC) If you enjoy helping others then your altruism is not pure. The others ought to be treated altruistically whatever your feelings on the matter may be.

To be 'pure', altruism therefore should not make you happy, should leave you unmoved at least, and preferably make you miserable.

Only if altruism makes you suffer can you be sure that you are not merely doing it for your selfish motives. 


But even then, perhaps you might 'enjoy suffering in a good cause' and this enjoyment would in turn contaminate your altruism.

The answer is that - as an individual - you should be made to be altruistic, and made miserable by your altruism, and that this is abstractly good because your own motivations have nothing to do with your behaviour.

Your job, in PC, is therefore to resign yourself to your suffering - not to enjoy it, but not to complain about it, simply to submit to it.

Submission is the key concept.

For the PC individual the ultimate ethical act is to submit to being forced to be altruistic - not because you enjoy it, but because you believe that submission to altruism is the highest value in an ultimate and abstract sense.


(The best possible job for a PC individual is therefore to work for a bureaucracy that does altruistic good - and to hate your job - and to do it anyway.)


Pure altruism, as such, is a logical consequence of the moral primacy of pure altruism: it is insane, and lacks any test in reality, because it is an abstraction: a human-created abstraction

What is more, PC is the creation of that minority of humans capable of abstract thought, and imposed on the other humans; what is more PC is possible only in a fundamentally secular and materialist society. 

Therefore PC stands or falls by the fact of an intellectual ruling elite, and can be imposed widely by this elite only by the technologies of modern mass media communication.

And PC is only possible in a fully materialist and secular society: where this worldly 'goods' and their just (i.e. altruistic) allocation can assume ultimate importance, ideally over-riding all other considerations. 


Hence it is this idealistic quest for pure abstract altruism, in a secular context, which has caused the suicidal insanity of PC.


[Note: I think my idea of pure abstract altruism is probably a more specific version of Thomas Sowell's concept of Cosmic Justice - which I read about several years ago.]


Anonymous said...

You've got it! And of course pc is opposed not only to individualism, but to the whole concept of individual identity, since the latter is the source of all selfishness. The self is the problem to be solved and elimination of the self the solutuon.
The parallel to bienpensant denunciations of nation-states and sovereignty is clear, and equally well explained.

Bruce Charlton said...

I'm glad you agree... Could you please sign future comments with a pseudonym - since there are innumerable indistinguishable 'anonymous's.

xlbrl said...

You have updated my old Frenchman.

The problem--
"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."

The solution--
"The only way opinions and ideas can be renewed, hearts enlarged, and human minds developed is trough the reciprocal influence of men upon each other."

CorkyAgain said...

Your analysis explains something that has always puzzled me: why PC advocates are always so unmoved by arguments that their policies are ruining our society. It isn't simply that they don't care, it's that this is the whole point. The most virtuous society, for them, is the one that destroys itself for the sake of what you call pure, abstract altruism.

So white nationalists have it all wrong when they accuse multiculturalist PC of hating the West. Hate's got nothing to do with it. On the contrary, and somewhat perversely, PC is considered to be the ultimate and final expression of Western (i.e., liberal, democratic) civilization.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CorkyAgain - Yes, I think that is it, more or less.

They feel that the purity of their motivations are shown by their indifference to the outcome.

They want to 'do the right thing' and what will be will be.

(You can see this idea of morality articulated in Kant, I believe.)

But it also seems to explain their dishonesty: PC advocates deny that their policies could have bad outcomes, since this would make it less likely the policies would be enacted.

PC intellectuals regard human individuals as monsters of selfishness who need to be duped into accepting impersonal mechanisms of altruism, this decpetion is justified not because the result will be 'good-for-them' but because the objective is simply 'good'.

At the highest level, the PC intellectual sees himself as serving the highest abstract good - analogous to a devout monk serving God.

But for PC there is only this material world, and the highest good is concerned with the allocation of worldly goods.

Anonymous said...

Not so.

Political correctness has no underlying ideal principle.

The Cathedral has no pope, but is rather a coalition of conspiracies held together by government patronage jobs and funding, and the ideology has no core

It is a theologically incoherent religion, motivated by power, a coalition of conspiracies, its ideas and ideals the incoherent remnants of protestantism, with whatever was useful in past power grabs being added ad hoc, with whatever obstructed past power grabs being removed ad hoc.