Friday, December 23, 2016

The Origin of Political Correctness

In a long and complicated theoretical disquisition Angelo Codevilla has offered us the history of political correctness. Having originated with Communism, political correctness has now come to occupy the fever swamps of the academic and cultural left.

Codevilla explains that what began as a totalitarian impulse has been embraced by American progressives. For my part, I do not believe that progressivism should be seen as a radically leftist ideology. Its most prominent historical founder, Theodore Roosevelt was not a radical leftist. For many of today’s progressives, the term is a misnomer.

They used to like to call themselves liberals, but now the term has, on the one hand, been discredited, while on the other hand it has recovered its original sense of promoting free enterprise and free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas.

The notion that free trade in ideas could lead to a discovery of truth is anathema to the purveyors of political correctness. When Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the phrase, “free trade in ideas,” he was suggesting that two honorable people who held different opinions could to come to a conclusion that represented a middle ground, a mean between their extremes.

One must add that two people can only come to such an agreement if they accept an external reality, a set of objective facts. 

When William James proposed the founding idea of pragmatism as: “The truth is what works”, he assumed that honorable people would be able to agree on whether a policy worked or not. If there is no frame of reference, the pragmatic and the empirical basis for Anglo-American culture will be undermined.

Which is, after all, the point of the politically correct enterprise.

Codevilla argues a point that I have discussed on many occasions. Political correctness is at war with reality. It wants to replace your sense of reality, your reference to objective fact with what the Party wants you to think. If you do not have access to any objective reality you do not have the right to formulate a judgment based on it.

If your senses and perceptions are unreliable, you will have to rely on those who have a better sense of the abiding truth of a transcendent ideal. In most cases that involves a narrative. In the Marxist sense that narrative involves the oppression of some people by others and the rebellion of the others against the ruling elite.

Codevilla opens his essay with a coda:

Comrade, your statement is factually incorrect.”
“Yes, it is. But it is politically correct.”

And he continues:

The notion of political correctness came into use among Communists in the 1930s as a semi-humorous reminder that the Party’s interest is to be treated as a reality that ranks above reality itself. Because all progressives, Communists included, claim to be about creating new human realities, they are perpetually at war against nature’s laws and limits. 

Those who traffic in political correctness believe that you can change reality by changing the way you think about it, talk about it or feel about it. But, this is a mammoth task, one that requires complete mind control. You cannot do it if you allow people to formulate their own judgments. Political correctness does not brook differences of opinion and thus naturally becomes totalitarian.

Codevilla suggests that:

… progressive movements end up struggling not so much to create the promised new realities as to force people to speak and act as if these were real: as if what is correct politically—i.e., what thoughts serve the party’s interest—were correct factually.

Codevilla does not mention it, but the philosophical basis for this practice lies in Western idealism, of the Platonic, Cartesian, Hegelian and Heideggerian variety. It assumes, to use David Hume’s phrasing, that ideas precede experience, that we never know more than the appearance of really  and that we can change it by thinking about it differently. Idealism, at its root, is not a way to discover the truth. It’s a means to persuade you to accept as true ideas that make no sense.

Codevilla describes the strategy well:

But continued efforts to force people to celebrate the party’s ersatz reality, to affirm things that they know are not true and to deny others they know to be true—to live by lies—requires breaking them, reducing them to a sense of fearful isolation, destroying their self-esteem and their capacity to trust others. George Orwell’s novel 1984 dramatized this culture war’s ends and means: nothing less than the substitution of the party’s authority for the reality conveyed by human senses and reason. Big Brother’s agent, having berated the hapless Winston for preferring his own views to society’s dictates, finished breaking his spirit by holding up four fingers and demanding that Winston acknowledge seeing five.

The narrative superstructure is known most clearly to those who form the guardian class of philosopher-kings, Codevilla offers this summary:

They reason that America’s socio-political order is founded on racism, patriarchy, genocidal imperialism, as well as economic exploitation. Gramsci’s “historic bloc” can come about through the joint pursuit of racial justice, gender justice, economic justice, and anti-imperialism. The Revolution is all about the oppressed classes uniting to inflict upon the oppressors the retribution that each of the oppressed yearns for. This intersubjective community includes the several groups whose identity negates a piece of American culture—religious, racial, sexual, economic. Together, they negate it all.

Recently, the guardian class has told us that we must accept the latest dogma: that your gender identity is whatever you believe it is. If you don’t believe it, you are a bigot and are unfit for human community.

In Codevilla’s words:

Consider our ruling class’s very latest demand: Americans must agree that someone with a penis can be a woman, while someone else with a vagina can be a man. Complying with such arbitrariness is beyond human capacity. In Orwell’s 1984, as noted, Big Brother’s agent demanded that Winston acknowledge seeing five fingers while he was holding up four. But that is small stuff next to what the U.S. ruling class is demanding of a free people. Because courts and agencies just impose their diktats, without bothering to try to persuade, millions of precisely the kind of citizens who prize stability have become willing to take a wrecking ball to what little remains of the American republic, not caring so much what happens next.

The issue is framed in terms of discrimination and oppression. The biological male who is not allowed access to the girls’ locker room is the victim of oppression. The girls who are offended are caught up in a reactionary sexual binarism.

Those who direct the process achieve a special, almost addictive thrill when they feel morally superior to the rest of the fallen species:

The imposition of P.C. has no logical end because feeling better about one’s self by confessing other people’s sins, humiliating and hurting them, is an addictive pleasure the appetite for which grows with each satisfaction. The more fault I find in thee, the holier (or, at least, the trendier) I am than thou. The worse you are, the better I am and the more power I should have over you. America’s ruling class seems to have adopted the view that the rest of America should be treated as inmates in reeducation camps. 

The larger project is to recreate human nature. By changing the way people think and feel, these guardians want to establish a new human reality, a new human being.

Codevilla explains:

From the dawn of time, this class warfare has led to “contradictions”: between types of work, town and country, oppressors or oppressed, and so on. The proletariat’s victory in that conflict will establish a new reality by crushing all contradictions out of existence. Other branches of progressivism point to a different structural problem. For Freudians it’s sexual maladjustment, for followers of Rousseau it’s social constraint, for positivists it is the insufficient application of scientific method, for others it is oppression of one race by another. Once control of society passes exclusively into the hands of the proper set of progressives, each sect’s contradictions must disappear as the basic structural problem is straightened out.

And also:

Gramsci started from mixed philosophical premises. First, orthodox Marxism: “There is no such thing as ‘human nature,’ fixed and immutable,” he wrote. Rather, “human nature is the sum of historically determined social relationships.” The modern prince’s job is to change it. 

Those of you who have read my book, The Last Psychoanalyst, will recall that I argued a similar point about Freud. Along with Marx and Heidegger Freud’s project was to correct God’s errors, to recreate human beings.

You also know that for Freud, and for Marx and for Heidegger and even for Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt School, God’s greatest error was giving human being free will.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Along with Marx and Heidegger Freud’s project was to correct God’s errors, to recreate human beings."

Don't forget Nietzsche, who told us God was not only in error, but is dead, claiming we killed him. The solution? The will to power. So Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger are this iron square of moral relativism, and we have a political class with no compass, save their own insatiable desire for power. Who needs the humanities when you yourself are always right? Obama is the embodiment of how far we've come, and the future. How else do you come up with the idea of "permanent" executive orders, save only your own majesty and superiority? It's madness.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Codevilla: "They reason that America’s socio-political order is founded on racism, patriarchy, genocidal imperialism, as well as economic exploitation."

That's the premise. However, when one is objective about such things, what is chillingly humorous is the fact that all true Lefties want to do is commit the same crimes, convinced of their own ontological certitude. They're social justice warriors, but they never talk of the sacrifice necessary to get there. All Leftist thought criticizes others, while claiming utopia is on the other side, convinced that one can get something for nothing. That doesn't work, but it doesn't need to work. Lefties don't care what works... they merely want to create a prison of constant complaint because it feeds their power. Materialism masquerading as metaphysics.

I always love it when liberals complain about the high costs of healthcare, and the tough collections actions of doctors and hospitals. Every had to tangle with the IRS about money you owe the guv'ment? Compassion and mercy on full display!

Anonymous said...

Ignatius, I agree with your analysis. I think much of this can be viewed as a product of the loss of religious belief. But what are we to think at a time when even the Roman Catholic Church is requiring that seminarians learn about climate change (or rather the lest-wing interpretation of it)? The old faith losing confidence and slowly ceding place to the new, all-conquering material gods? I can tell you that my traditional Catholic family is disconcerted by it and deeply disappointed by this pope.

Yes, the humanities are a wreck. My children are using McGuffey's readers and will follow a "great books" course. By college they will be well-primed to swat away postmodernist, leftist tripe. I would like them to be questioning and supple, but always on a firm foundation of logic, religion, and western culture. My wife and I are determined that they will never be among the ill-educated petty totalitarians on college campuses.

On your last point, I think we can add Obama's underhanded attempts to let an anti-Israeli UN resolution sail through without a US veto. Trump had to intervene to stop it. Obama is a small, vindictive, petty man of trite leftist views. He has no honour or character.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Anonymous @December 23, 2016 at 9:49 AM:

I share your disappointment with Pope Francis. It has had an impact on my faith in the Church as institution. After John Paul II's active anti-communism and Benedict XVI's lucid explanation of what is at stake with our faith in the world, we now have a celebrity pope who attracts a TMZ audience... and feeds them with equal depth. With all the other major issues going on within the Roman Catholic Church, we've now opened the door to becoming the latest tool and legitimizer of a pantheistic cult. Climate change is a cult that is impervious to reason. I find Pope Francis' remarks oblique in content and direct in publicity. Yes, he's a Jesuit, so when you read his remarks in detail, they make sense and are not as alarming. But I'm among the less than 1% who do examine his public statements. The rest of people read the headlines and excerpts and make conclusions in line with political orthodoxy rather than Catholic orthodoxy. He is being played, and is a tool for big media. Is he the happy pope or the naive pope? I'm increasingly concerned that he's happily naive about the stage he's playing on, and the real impact it has at the parish level, where needling social justice malcontents prance around claiming sainthood and castigating the demonic possession of those of us interested in deepening our faith life, rather than legitimizing Gaea worship. We've gone from saving souls to saving the Earth. Troubling, indeed.

The Great Books will serve your children well. Even though Marx and Freud are in the Britannica set that I have, the broad survey of the humanities keeps their ideas in perspective for what they are: perspectives. The truth is the accumulation of civilization, not trendy nihilistic ideas posing as sophistication. What seems to count for "sophistication" these days is carrying an air of not giving a $%&# about much of anything. This is the indifference that Jesus cautioned us against.

Your description of our president is prescient, with additional emphasis on small. Trite, petty and vindictive emanate from the smallness. He's out of his depth, and has known it all along. Hence the thin skin. He'll break protocol in his post-presidency and do what Leftists do so very well: criticize others.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Let us keep in mind what political correctness is: thought control by powerful, unaccountable forces. The academy is the last vestige of feudalism in the Western world. It's sense of mission and self-understanding is arcane, while it is institutionally medieval. It is hopelessly trapped evangelizing 1960s hippiedom, in the same manner that the news media worships Woodward and Bernstein. There is nothing heroic about the academy. It's become a backwater for people who eschew the dynamics of the wider world. Its teaching is at least one generation behind the times. Question authority? Speak truth to power? Such things don't happen at our universities today. Campuses are ideologically monolithic. Correctness is the dogma, politics is the power. Political correctness is intellectual sclerosis that has now embedded itself as academic inertia. Codevilla captures this well, as he did with his thoughts on the Ruling Class. He is a joy to read.

Sam L. said...

IAC, they want to to be powerful and unaccountable forces. We must make fun of them and ridicule them, to de-uppity them.

Ares Olympus said...

I see President Obama offered two definitions of PC. Stuart has offered support for Obama's first definition.

Given Obama's daughters are going off to College, perhaps he'll be hearing more of the second - the new excesses of thought control within the illiberal Left? So part of the problem isn't just be "tolerant of illiberalism" but how to speak up to try to break its spell without being attacked as a heretic?

And it also reminds me that a Trump spokesperson recently said we're not to take Trump literally or seriously, but "symbolically", which apparently means the truth is what you feel at the moment, and that which you can get other people to feel by using manipulative words you don't really mean. Maybe Obama is right and one day it'll be called "patriotic correctness"?

Whatever these language games are, probably "tribalism" can cover it - "What do I need to believe, speak, and do to hold status within my tribe?" And the loudest high status voices within each tribe define the standards.
The president then offered two definitions of political correctness: the first is simply having good manners. It's wrong to shout racial epithets at people, or to verbally harass them. Objecting to abusive treatment isn't an example of political-correctness-run-amok—or if it is, then political correctness is a good thing. Most people probably want to live in a country where people are encouraged not to scream obscenities at each other.

The second definition of political correctness, according to Obama, is "hypersensitivity that ends up resulting in people not being able to express their opinions at all without someone suggesting they're a victim."

He continued: "My advice to progressives like myself, and advice I give my daughters who are about to head off to college is don't go around just looking for insults. You're tough. If someone says something you don't agree with, engage them on their ideas, but you don't have to feel that somehow because you're a black woman, you're being assaulted. But speak up for yourself."

The president went on to point out that when it comes to political correctness, conservatives are hypocrites. They routinely get themselves worked up, and cite offense, over silly slights, as the Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh pointed out in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post:

But conservatives have their own, nationalist version of PC, their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions. I call it "patriotic correctness." It's a full-throated, un-nuanced, uncompromising defense of American nationalism, history and cherry-picked ideals. Central to its thesis is the belief that nothing in America can't be fixed by more patriotism enforced by public shaming, boycotts and policies to cut out foreign and non-American influences.

Insufficient displays of patriotism among the patriotically correct can result in exclusion from public life and ruined careers. It also restricts honest criticism of failed public policies, diverting blame for things like the war in Iraq to those Americans who didn't support the war effort enough.

It's important to point out double standards. Nowrasteh and Obama are right: conservatives play the victim card, too. That's one big reason that I doubt Trump will follow through on his campaign promise to destroy political correctness. His supporters are just as PC about the kinds of symbolic gestures that matter to them.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. We know New York isn't the place for delicate flowers to thrive, but the Republican candidate for Governor certainly is trying his best to top-Trump for politically incorrect language.

Yes, I think Obama's "Patriotic correctness" might be a proper label. If we can avoid calling it racism. We can simply call Paladino a patriot who loves his country so much that he can't handle others who demean his vision of proper governance.

The special expertise of someone inspired by "Patriotic correctness" is being able to read hate in the heart of others, and playfully try to call them out on that with coarse humor to help them repent and change their ways, just like Jesus used to do.

And don't you dare say "Happy Holidays", it's "Merry Christmas" for real Americans!
In answering what he'd like to happen most next year, the former New York GOP gubernatorial candidate replied:

"Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to [senior White House advisor] Valerie [Jarrett], who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her."

And when asked what he would most like to see go in 2017, he responded:

"Michelle Obama. I'd like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Buffalo School Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold said Paladino is known for his controversial rhetoric.

"What was surprising though were the direct attacks on the president and the first lady in such demeaning ways, in such tone that many have described as racist and as sexist," Nevergold told reporters, "and so those are the comments I am most concerned about because of the messages they send to our children." a lengthy response sent to the media on Friday, Paladino said his comments have "nothing to do with race."

It's about 2 progressive elitist ingrates who have hated their country so badly and destroyed its fabric in so many respects in 8 years," he wrote.

He added that the president was "demeaning and weakening" the U.S. military and sniped at him for being a "yellow-bellied coward who left thousands to die in Syria and especially Aleppo."

He also said Michelle Obama "hated America before her husband won."

"And yes," he concluded, "it's about a little deprecating humor which America lost for a long time. Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don't like my answer."

Trigger Warning said...

"a Trump spokesperson recently said we're not to take Trump literally or seriously, but 'symbolically', which apparently means the truth is what you feel at the moment"

No, that's not what it means, either apparently or dubiously. Look up the two words and you'll see the difference, assuming you can read the definitions.

Trigger Warning said...

Ares, no rational person would consult you on what Jesus would do, or any other matter involving Christian theology.

In fact, the tone of Paladino's comment reminds me of the commentary from Clinton supporters, and Clinton herself, about Trump before she was crushed in the election.

Crushed, repudiated, humiliated, never to rise again. :-D

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @December 23, 2016 at 1:46 PM:

"If we can avoid calling it racism."

You certainly can't.

Who are the "we," Ares? Having a Ted Kaczynski moment?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @December 23, 2016 at 1:46 PM:

"He also said Michelle Obama 'hated America before her husband won.'"

Well, she certainly wasn't proud of her country until her husband won. And now she says America has no hope without her husband in office.

Perhaps she doesn't hate us, but it sounds like she looks down on us and pities us.

Which is worse? I think I'd rather be hated. I don't need her conceit or condescension.

Keep up the cut-and-paste effort, Ares. It really helps us understand these vexing political issues. And Santa will really appreciate the cookies you leave out for him. I hope they're free-range, vegan and gluten-free. And wow, with all that racism out there, we should keep in mind that one more K for Kris Kringle and he'll be a Klansman, huh?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @December 23, 2016 at 1:36 PM:

"It's important to point out double standards."

Indeed it is. Especially when someone like you is doing the pointing.

There's no "victim card." Victimology is at the center of the occult of the Democrat Party, along with Climate Change.

Maybe some patriots with Trump hats will come try to take your hijab off and call you names. That is, until you find out the incident never happened.

Keep digging, Ares. There's adequacy somewhere down there.

Trigger Warning said...

Needs a bigger shovel.

Trigger Warning said...

@IAC: "I share your disappointment with Pope Francis."

Well, as do I. But in the larger scheme of things, I find comfort in

"I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it."

Where are the Medicis when you need them? ;-)

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: Keep up the cut-and-paste effort, Ares. It really helps us understand these vexing political issues.

Thanks for the encouragement. I'll do my best.

This all seems very important to me, to see how our individual and collective blind-spots work.

Without seeing clearly, the final destination of such focused outward contempt of partisan politics we now learn is to have a fraudster like Donald Trump take over fake Patriotic Correctness and make it his own.

I'm interest in a label for Trump's confessional language, always ready to dismiss what he said yesterday, something he never meant, but used it because it got a reaction out of people, a certain emotion of tribal unity against a collective enemy who can finally be stopped.

LIKE at one of his recent victory tours:
Trump on his slogan to "drain the swamp": "Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it? I tell everyone: I hated it! Somebody said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so hokey. That is so terrible.’ I said, ‘All right. I’ll try it.’ So like a month ago, I said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ The place went crazy. I said, ‘Whoa. Watch this.’ Then I said it again. Then I started saying it like I meant it, right? And then I said it, I started loving it."

So this is "Speaking symbolically"? Of course the swamp is a symbol of a muddy place (although DC was originally built upon a literal swamp), but what good is a symbol if it can be co-opted by a con artist and used against you? So it looks like very literal mob manipulation.

I recall in High School we had an all night party with a hypnotist and he worked the same way, explaining first that no one can be made to do anything they don't want to do, and then he'd proceed to make people do very silly things. I didn't know what introversion/extroversion then was, but I had a guess that people like me, introverts, are less susceptible to suggestions that don't make sense.

Maybe Trump's success makes sense because his "Gut instinct" allows him to hypnotize mobs of people into a collective trance? If so we can imagine he's going to be one of the most public presidents ever, always needing to go "back to his people" to stay connected and energized and find out what they need from him next.

My autonomy easily feels threatened by the power of a hypnotist (or a hypnotic speaker), but given perhaps we all fall into certain "spells" of irrationality, perhaps this is a good way to learn about our blind-spots, and if we see how easily we get pulled into suggestion by an expert, we can better identify when we're doing this to ourselves, or when we're allowing ourselves to fall into a spell by a huckster who is saying what we want to hear.

A men's group I was in a long while ago used role-playing to help explore relationships and assertiveness and such, and they always ended by saying things like "I am not your brother" as a way to separate these fantasy spaces from reality.

The main ting I learned is I create "boxes" for things I don't believe, but that other people seem to believe, and I try to imagine what's in those boxes, and sometimes I try to challenge them, to show those beliefs may not be strictly true, but most people resist, so I don't usually push too hard. But because others believe them, a small part of me also believes things I don't believe. I've not clearly found a way to deny something 100% even if just one person sees it as real.

I still work through these boxes with my now deceased dad, who seemed to follow the White Queen's desire to believe six impossible things before breakfast. It would have been much simpler if he had just denied he really believed those things before he died, while now I have to puzzle them for the rest of my life. Can I really dismiss my dad's life-long seemingly irrational thinking without diminishing him as a person? So the boxes must remain, just in case.

Trigger Warning said...

Ares: "I recall in High School we had an all night party with a hypnotist..."

That confession explains a lot. :-D

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @December 24, 2016 at 7:28 AM:

"This all seems very important to me, to see how our individual and collective blind-spots work."

Why do you always use the word "seems," when "is" will do?

"I had a guess that people like me, introverts, are less susceptible to suggestions that don't make sense."

I remember my own high school all night party. We, too, had a hypnotist. And one of the things I remember most about the presentation was the liberal snobs in our class who sat in the back of the auditorium, heckling and jeering at the hypnotist and those being hypnotized, saying it was all a ruse, and it impacted stupid, susceptible people. I found it interesting they chose to ridicule the people who offered to participate, while they refused, never challenging their assumptions or putting themselves to the test. Nay, nay... they're better than everyone else. OF COURSE liberals are not stupid, susceptible people, nor do they have blind spots. They're smarter than everyone else. They also don't challenge themselves and put themselves in the arena. They hang back with their friends and criticize everyone else. Pests.

So I get what sort of person you were and are, and it has nothing to do with introversion. It's the smug assertion of your imagined superiority. Congrats. You probably know Santa Claus isn't real, too. Good for you.

Sounds like you could benefit from getting out more.

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: I remember my own high school all night party. We, too, had a hypnotist. And one of the things I remember most about the presentation was the liberal snobs in our class who sat in the back of the auditorium, heckling and jeering at the hypnotist and those being hypnotized, saying it was all a ruse, and it impacted stupid, susceptible people.

You could try saying "I don't like this person, they're probably a liberal" and see how well that works for you. That makes it easier to know why you dislike people. You get two chances to rationalize.

When I imagine loud bullies and trouble-makers I assume they're just stupid people, like when Jesus said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do", without any guesses on their political leanings.

I don't even know when I realized people might be labeled with terms like Conservative and Liberal, certainly not high school. And now that I know Liberals are more open to new experiences, and that would explain why I'd consider myself a conservative.

Or is that just a personal preference, and politics can be different? I admit don't get the will to try to control other people for having different values and preferences. I figure its better they test bad ideas and I'll learn from them. I'll still worry about them, but it's their life. I can always follow later if I find a reason.

Myself I've never believed in ridicule for most people risking social embarrassment. I recall many people laughed at my largely hypnotized classmate, and probably that's why I didn't participate. I was 100% sure I didn't want to be laughed at.

A part of me wishes I could have tried it, and I'd be happy to be video-taped if it worked on me, to see later, but I'd have no wish for an audience. Probably my disinterest in alcohol was/is similar. I was only asked once why I didn't drink up at a friends cabin in college, and I said my parents didn't drink, and that worked okay to explain it. See, that's being conservative, or so I figure.