Wednesday 22 December 2010

What's in a name: Liberalism or Political Correctness?


Why do I use the term Political Correctness, instead of Liberalism?

The reasons include:

1. The confusion over what 'liberalism' means - to some a free marketeer, to others a socialist.

2. Differences in usage between the UK and US: in the UK the Liberals are a strange mixture of business- and farming-friendly centrists with pacifist leftists of an upper middle class type; in the US Liberals are the furthest left of mainstream political ideologies.

3. That although PC clearly evolved from (what is in the US) called liberalism, PC is the outcome of a distinctive 'turn' in leftist politics, which became apparent in the mid-1960s. In its apparent, surface features PC is something new under the sun, never before seen in history.

4. The dawning realization that the phenomena collected together under the jokey term 'political correctness' was a vastly more robust and malignant thing than I had ever imagined.


So that what seemed either silly or trivial or both, will end by destroying that modernity which made PC possible in the first place.

Yet we can perceive now, in advance of all this, that even when PC is utterly swept-away it will be blind to what has happened, and to what it had done. PC will always see itself as being on the side of the angels, whatever its outcome may be. Its capacity for shifting blame is unconstrained.


It is a truly amazing thing, this political correctness; something so paltry, so puny, so soft - yet wreaking such devastation.

It seemed, therefore, worth discussing under its new name, as a phenomenon not truly new at its deepest level - but new in its combination of idealistic, delusional subjectivism with deadly, plodding bureaucracy.



Anonymous said...

Bruce, I think that before PC took its final form, it took a further turn away from the New Left turn in the 60s (which you do not label as New Left, but I think it is). This thought was prompted by one sentence of yours only - "The baseline reality - explicitly in transhumanism but implicitly for PC - is human gratification."
Let me outline it as I lived through it in the States [as a member of the New Left generation (born in the 1942-1953 decade], more precisely as a member of the age cohort which formed the pivot [born in 1949-50] and could see the social world before 1968 and after, and in a humble and ironic way a participant in NL organizations from aet 16-23.) And it emerged in full force in the 1980s around the issue of AIDS, of all things, and of all ironies. But let me go back a bit.
In grand terms, the NL began in the early 60s as a rediscovery of Marxist ideals without party lines; its focus was distracted from true left politics and its membership artificially inflated (to a huge degree) by young men suddenly affected by LBJ's decision to send a big army to Vietnam in 1965; and then it was hit hard by two factors circa 1970-71 - Nixon's decision to stop exposing vast numbers of American males to the draft; and feminism. To me at the time, it seemed like a revolutionary situation one day; and then six months later, the masses were no longer with us (deserted by black and non-college-class white males on the one hand; and college-class women on the other, who suddenly became more interested in how they were oppressed than in how their fathers were oppressors).
The result was Freudian repression, which of course (besides being a fiction) never works on its own terms. And PC was "the return of the repressed" - the very irony of the term's use shows that it was deployed by people schooled - in an academic sense - in the history of the CPUSA and the Comintern, as we all were. (The first time I saw the term used in its present sense was in 1984, in an article by then-talented-journalist (now still-talented-Jew-hating-nut) Phil Weiss, narrating the drama of the election of the new Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Crimson - one of the comparatively few offices in American undergraduate life that means anything (rather like being President of the Oxford Union means or used to mean). To support one of the candidates, Weiss wrote, was tempting to the electors because it would be "PC" - I believe the candidate was Jesse Jackson's son.
See Part 2:

Anonymous said...

Part II: AIDS, etc.
But to AIDS: this is the first time that a truly PC policy emerged spontaneously from the cultural elite (at that time not yet coterminous with the political elite) in response to a crisis. I could see it at the time as a reader of the New York Times: it was obvious from the beginning. Though no one really knew what to do, or whom to blame (shared between President Reagan and the Haitians), the first impulse of the bien pensants was to protect sexual gratification first; to protect individual homosexual men who were at risk from social stigmatism second; to deploy as many economic resources upon this disease as possible third; to help medicine find a preventative or a cure third; and to take sensible, proven medical measures to slow down the spread of an infectious disease in order to protect the health of the uninfected - well, fourth would be next in order, but it's too high a number to give to this priority.
So it was not the privileges accorded to class, or political tyrants, or racial elites, or even the dominant sex that PC first concerned itself with - but with the rather recherche concerns of a tiny, hard-to-discern minority who had never been a concern of the old left, the new left - nor had it been a special object of oppression (gays were oppressed, of course, but in an offhand way) by the established order. But suddenly the lst became first (even though gay men themselves died because of the refusal of the gay community to allow partner-tracing until the very day it was determined that HIV infection was medically treatable), and what was protected was not their most basic freedom - to live - but the freedom of those who survived sexually to gratify themselves.
It's most curious. Because if anything, gay men have been discriminated against (or treated specially) because of irrational, uncanny, primal human fear. And the other special objects of PC attention since then - Muslims (who receive positive attention) and Jews (who are now in the process of receiving more and more negative attention) - are also groups who have the ability (unwilling in the case of Jews, carefully cultivated on the part of Jihadist Muslims) to cause uncanny discomfort to the secularized Christian community.

Unknown said...

Given the counter-Victorians' (such as GB Shaw, Sartre and even Marx himself) condemnation of the "Middle Class", do you see a direct relationship from their misguided narcissistic, anarchical, psychoticism to the current recognition (without any solutions) that pc has been a major part of the forces that make us now fear that the middle class (at least here in the USA) may perish and, with it, any kind of peace and order in our social structures? If so, I'd like to point out to you, if you haven't already thought about it, that, in terms of personality traits, pc is Narcissistic in conception. Their power comes from their quiet charm such as we see with con men and the guile of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. They are not Aggressive.

Although I am a member of an "underdog" group, I still think that the only way back to the right road is to reward ability and work that achieves real things, such as high quality food production or high quality manufactured goods, or skillful performance of any truly useful work etc. instead of seeking out and rewarding persons just because they are members of "underdog" groups or because they are pleasant and have a nice smile.