The puritan virtue of political correctness 4

It is sober, serious, strict, stern, grim, hard, austere.

The great short-story writer Joseph Epstein wrote earlier this year at Claremont Review of Books (CRB) on The Menace of Political Correctness:

Political correctness started out as a minor project of the international firm known as the Good Intentions Paving Company. … But political correctness soon came to be about much more than social decorum. As with so many projects of the Good Intentions Paving Company, things haven’t worked out quite as planned.

It is a vast Company, centuries old. It was largely responsible for the sentimental policies that weakened Rome and spread Christianity.

Epstein sees plainly what devastation it is busybodying to bring about now, with its current “be nice” project.

We quote part of his article (and recommend the reading of all of it):

[W]ith the campaign for a misguided equalizing in all American institutions, political correctness took a large leap forward in its ambitions. Criticism of any action or attempt to bring equality soon became, ipso facto, politically incorrect. Affirmative action—the rigging of admissions requirements at the country’s most prestigious universities in favor of what were deemed oppressed minority groups—was an early gambit in the campaign for equal outcomes and a boost, too, for political correctness. Criticizing affirmative action carried with it the penalty of being thought racist.

How could one admit minority students, it was felt, without catering to their special interests? So an ample buffet of courses in African-American, Chicano, and other studies were offered at universities. These courses would, naturally, be taught by matching minority-group faculty. To denigrate these courses, to argue that they were largely victimology, and as such that they lowered the standard once in place for the liberal arts in higher education, would in itself of course be politically incorrect, and most people who knew better were hesitant to step forth and say so.

What became known as the women’s movement soon claimed oppressed status, since it could not claim actual minority status. Homosexuals, male and female, were next on board. Hispanic Americans surely qualified, and so others who could construe a history—or, in the cant phrase of the day, a narrative—of inequality forced upon them.

The United States began to seem a country of victims—and victimology, the study of victimhood from the point of view of the victims, became a dominant subject in high schools and especially in the social science and humanities departments of universities.

Political correctness meanwhile became the new national etiquette, at least among the self-acclaimed cognoscenti, or as they came to think of themselves, the “woke”—a word meaning those awake and responsive to the important social and political questions and issues of the day. In universities and in public life generally one violated this etiquette at one’s peril. A violation could be as trivial as telling the wrong joke, not being sufficiently inclusive (inclusivity, like diversity, would soon become one of the P.C. shibboleths) in one’s speech or writing, or being insensitive about observing the new dispensation on proper pronoun usage. …

Political correctness contravenes the US Consitution:

Under political correctness the First Amendment calling for free speech somehow didn’t apply, for lots of speech was now clearly out of bounds and entire subjects disallowed. Nor did political correctness have anything like a statute of limitations. One could be held responsible, and thereby punished, for what were deemed violations of the political correctness code committed half a century ago and longer—well before there was such a code. Aided by the internet’s social media, the surveillance exerted by political correctness became total, the impulse of political correctness itself totalitarian. …

If political correctness had stopped at the request for civil behavior, there would have been no difficulty in acceding to it. If homosexual men wish to be called “gay,” if blacks wish to be called “African-American,” if women prefer “Ms.” over “Mrs.” and “Miss,” there would be no problem whatsoever. But the program inherent in political correctness has evolved into something much more ambitious than that. In its current phase, it is revolutionary, seeking a utopia of complete fairness in all institutions—educational, cultural, political—which in its advocates’ interpretation means utter equality for all, excluding only those who violate political correctness’s underlying assumptions and well-known restrictions. …

The least perceived differences between individuals and groups, whether inherent or acquired through upbringing, are for now to be ignored in order that they may ultimately be eradicated. Political correctness doesn’t allow leeway for differences in intelligence, talent, or strength. Not equal opportunities but equal outcomes are its monomaniacal goal, and it is not overly concerned about the punishing means required to achieve it.

Under political correctness, righteous indignation and tender sensibilities must be protected. Hence the politically correct have no compunction in removing statues of figures from the Confederacy from their long inhabited public places. Nor must the young be put to undue stress in the classroom. So trigger warnings have been installed in universities alerting students to courses that may contain material painful to them. If minority students wished to remain exclusively among themselves—thus all but killing the once grand ideal of integration in American life—this, too, could be arranged by setting up separate dormitories and dining rooms, clubs and extracurricular activities for their use. A tenet of political correctness is that students must above all feel safe.

Along with rewriting the past and protecting the young from the harsh realities of life, the political correctness program emphasizes diversity, which has become one of the great desiderata of the contemporary university, itself the hearth and home of political correctness. … Admissions offices are instructed to accept fixed percentages of incoming students on the bases of race, national origin, and gender, replacing the old quotas once in place against Jews, Catholics, and blacks. Provosts and deans are hired to ensure this diversity is enacted. Schools without such staff or without the right ethnic mix are in danger of having federal funds denied them, for by now, such has been the spread of political correctness through the culture, that the federal bureaucracy is in on the game.

But President Trump has has threatened to cut off funding from colleges that stifle free speech.

In the contest for scholarships, prizes, and honorary awards, political correctness holds the cards, and deals from an unapologetically stacked deck. A good gauge of this is the list of any recent year’s honorary degrees bestowed by universities. The roster of recipients is sure to include at least one African American and more than one woman. Not to do so is to risk being called racist, misogynist, and to have one’s school judged egregiously behind the times. White male commencement speakers, no matter how impressive their scientific, artistic, or scholarly accomplishments, are rarer than honest politicians. Under the reign of political correctness, all other things being equal, which they rarely are, African Americans, women, and other presumably oppressed minority group members are naturally chosen over drab white males for professorships, administrative posts, scholarships, and other university appointments.

As for literary prizes, from the Nobel Prize on down, juries for such awards now feel that the time has come to give their prizes to women, or African Americans, or poets from Greenland, for one rarely any longer has the sense that the truly best writers are being honored. I once remarked in print, in the Times Literary Supplement, that the Pulitzer Prize usually goes to one of two types: those who don’t need it and those who don’t deserve it. When some years ago Katharine Graham won the Pulitzer Prize for her rather weepy poor-little-rich-girl autobiography, the critic Hilton Kramer remarked that she was awarded it on both grounds. …

The university has long been the institution where utopias go to die. After World War I, socialism’s chief home was the university. (Dig round a university’s History or an English Department today and you might still discover a Marxist napping in his office.) Of course the youth rebellion of the 1960s found its home in the university. All these may now seem passing fancies, but political correctness figures to have a longer, and more significant, life than any of them, for it has affected not merely the institution of the university but the wider culture of the country.

The goal of political correctness is to level American culture, to reduce the role of elite culture, slowly eliminating merit and intellectual authority as the main standards in the country’s culture. If one were to argue that the result of applying the criteria of political correctness is a general dumbing down of learning, or choosing to value artistic productions on a political rather than an aesthetic basis, an advocate of political correctness would likely respond that this isn’t necessarily true, but even if it were, it would be worth it. A great flattening equality is the goal of political correctness. This is what makes it revolutionary.

What’s in it for the more strident advocates, or at least for those who are not themselves members of victim groups? Nothing so mercenary as profit, nor so obvious as direct power, but something perhaps grander than money or power—the assurance of their own splendid virtue.

The role of virtue in politics or any social movement ought never to be underestimated. Outside the corridors of power, the feeling of righteousness, both on the Left and on the Right, is behind much political sentiment. The word “virtucrat” describes those whose sense of themselves is motivated by the feeling of their own superior public morality. Those who subscribe wholeheartedly to political correctness, especially those who have no direct stake in the game, do so because they feel doing so is right and just—and expressing these feelings makes them feel damned fine about themselves.

What they may not realize is the deep cultural implications of political correctness. The New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books currently review an overwhelming number of novels by women and African-American writers. In recent years much of the fiction published by the New Yorker also seems to be by women or by Asian writers. By publishing him extensively in its pages the Atlantic has made a prominent figure of the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose writings—asking for reparations for slavery days, worrying about his young son’s growing up in what he assumes to be an obviously and thoroughly racist country—are heavy contributions to the victimology of our time. The market for writing of this kind, by turns angry and sad, appealing above all to the guilt of its readers, is there, one imagines, because it makes those who publish it feel they are on the side of social justice, decency, righteousness—and thereby feel good about themselves. Virtue rides high again.

Consider the movies. Roughly half the movies up for Oscars this past year were, essentially, political correctness movies. …

Political correctness comes at no direct cost to those who endorse it. The cost is ultimately to the culture, which in so many ways is sadly diminished.

Political correctness meshes nicely, too, with the phenomenon known as identity politics, which has dominated the Democratic Party in recent decades. Identity politics entails groupings of people—chiefly minorities—by their victim status, whether race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion. Behind identity politics is the demand for equal rights, always with the supposition that they do not already exist and the added presumption that no progress toward this goal has genuinely been made, so that it is assumed that vast numbers of whites stand implacably opposed to black equality and men to equality for women, while homophobes are everywhere blocking acceptance for gays, and on and on. Under identity politics, sides are chosen up as in a sandlot baseball game: Victims versus Victimizers, the Woke versus the Deplorables. No one has to be told on whose side in this game virtue lies.

As for humor, while one might have thought political correctness itself supplies an ample target, comedians have tended to shy away from it, lest they, too, be put out of business by public censure. Under the reign of political correctness, one is allowed not a single mistake. … One of the hallmarks of the politically correct, of course, is a grave and abiding humorlessness.

The role of political correctness in politics has also greatly expanded. … The hearings over the Supreme Court candidacy of Brett Kavanaugh were little more than trial by political correctness. …

One can only hope that political correctness will go so far as to make evident its absurdity … Until then there is nothing to do but to wait things out, in the hope that the deep illogic of political correctness and its widespread perniciousness, like that of Prohibition and other programs of enforced virtue that have gone before, will indubitably reveal itself for the grievous mistake it is.

Will it? And will it then be abandoned?

If so, you can bet on its immediate replacement with some other enforced oppressive virtue to sadden human hearts and in the dark to bind us.

Posted under Leftism, tyranny by Jillian Becker on Thursday, July 25, 2019

Tagged with , , , , , ,

This post has 4 comments.

Permalink