Thursday, 2 December 2010

Moving things 'in the right direction' - the rationale of PC policy


Political correctness is, in its purest form, an extreme type of idealism: since a life in which all human 'goods' are allocated by impersonal mechanisms and without any individual influence is either utopian (for the PC elite) or dystopian (for normal human beings).

But PC does not operate at this level of clarity and abstraction - rather it operates in a pragmatic way.

Policies are chosen on the basis of 'moving things in the right direction' and without taking account of exactly where these policies are going: what is the state being aimed-at.

And therein lies the danger.

Since the state being aimed-at is never articulated, it is never evaluated, which means that things may end-up some place nobody wanted them to go.


As a teenager I began with a very pure form of egalitarianism - economic equality.

I got this from the great writer George Bernard Shaw (who was also an early socialist and a founder of the Fabian Society). Shaw envisaged absolute equality of income - more exactly, income equality to the point that differences made no practical difference of status.

But after a while I realized that nobody else seemed to want this, indeed the most powerful British 'socialists' of that era - the Trades Unions - seemed to be obsessed by maintaining wage 'differentials' (or inequalities).

So I fairly rapidly gravitated to the idea that we needed to move in the direction of equality.

This negative doctrine seemed to encapsulate the behaviour of socialists, who did not seem to want actual equality, not even to have any clear idea of how much inequality was acceptable - but instead had essentially three ideas, with which I (at that time) agreed:

1. Inequality is important

2. There is, now, too much inequality.

3. We should move towards having less inequality.


I think that this negative way of framing politics is, in fact, dominant - especially with political correctness.

The basis for policy is indignation at a current state of affairs. Something which is happening is pointed at, and it is proclaimed to be intolerable.

The current state of affairs need not be referenced to any actual state of affairs (past or present, real or imaginary) - but the point is that the state of affairs is obviously unjust, obviously intolerable, therefore obviously something must be done to ameliorate it.


(To disagree with the above analysis is taken to be approval of the injustice.

(To advocate tolerating the intolerable is - obviously - evil.

(Of course the intolerable may prove ineradicable - in principle, or merely in practice [e.g. prejudice - pre-judging] - but it must still be pronounced intolerable.)


For example, thousands of papers have been written about 'inequalities in health', demonstrating and measuring differentials in health on the basis of social status, education, income, wealth, race, ethnicity and so on.

The measured inequalities are implicitly (or explicitly) regarded as intolerable. 

But without any author of these papers ever troubling themselves in any way about what degree of inequality would be tolerable.

Indeed, a frequent tactic of such papers is to do international comparisons which show that - say - health inequalities are smallest in Japan and Sweden, largest in the USA, and middling in the UK. Then the recommendation that the UK and the USA should move in the direction of Japan or Sweden.

But it is never ever stated that Swedish and Japanese inequalities are acceptable, just, and fair; and therefore that the Japanese/ Swedish degree of health inequality is what we in the UK/ US are aiming-for; and that therefore (assuming policies are successful) when we have reached Japanese/ Swedish levels of inequality then the inequalities-in-health pressure-group will disband themselves as now obsolete...


So, what superficially appears to be a reasonable, non-fanatical pragmatism - instead of insisting upon absolute equality, we merely ask that things be moved 'in the right direction' - actually makes the demand for 'more equality' insatiable.

As long as any degree of inequality can be found in any situation, then the demand to move things in the direction of 'more equality' can be sustained.

As long as the measurable situation is not absolutely perfect with respect to ideal hopes, then there is an absolute necessity for external intervention to change that situation.

And all this without ever having to define aims, defend demands, compare rival courses of action, or make tough compromises about the best attainable results. 


Political correctness therefore uses pragmatic methods to generate utopian demands - ensuring that it will never succeed, and that success will never threaten its own survival.


No comments: