Self Evident Political Correctness
This article is in response to a family discussion on Facebook about the value and merits of Jordan Peterson (#jordanpeterson), in particular to Caitlin Flanagan’s article, “Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson.” Jordan speaks much about Political Correctness.
Political Correctness is a slippery term that defies definition. It is generally thought to exclude or diminish particular categories or groups of people. And interestingly, there is both a conservative version of Political Correctness and a mutually exclusive liberal version. In addition, there is an ideological version that focuses on ideas, and a demographic version that focuses on people groups. The primary problem with the use of Political Correctness is that different groups use the same term to refer to different things. The Left argues that the Right uses it to suppress or limit Left leaning ideas and people, and the Right argues that the Left uses it to suppress or limit Right leaning ideas and people. Both usages are correct to a point.
In addition both the Left and the Right have different people and methods of political enforcement. Each group has intellectuals who argue logically and carefully to articulate their respective views as being the best representations of truth and reality. Each argues that their view or worldview, their perspective, is objective and the other is not. But each side also has people who use intimidation, bullying, protesting, and violence to enforce their particular view of Political Correctness by creating public news events designed to frame Political Correctness in their own favor. Each side then complains about the actions of the other’s activist group, but never acknowledges the unsavory actions of their own activist group.
The Left argues that their view originates in the cradle of Western civilization—the traditions of Greek philosophers who were in pursuit of the truth and objectivity of human reality. And there is much to commend this line of argument which has amassed a great deal of great literature in support of it. Secular philosophy departments have claimed the high ground of objectivity in the effort to establish secular objectivity in contemporary universities, colleges, and the various endeavors they support.
The Right also argues that their view originates in the cradle of Western civilization—the traditions of Christianity which also pursue the truth and objectivity of human reality mitigated by the Bible (Protestants) and the traditions that claim biblical foundations (Catholics). And much earlier departments of Theology claimed the high ground of objectivity, provided by the Bible and Christian traditions, in the service of God who Himself works to establish Christian and/or biblical objectivity in all of society.
The history of political correctness is found in the idea and practices of social moral enforcement or social norms—traditional sex roles, marriage and sexual expression, manners and norms of behavior, etc. For the most part these things have been inherited through the institutions of traditional Christianity—including universities which were invented by Christians, and were conservative in nature because people generally believed the cautions against idolatry and faithlessness found in the Bible. People believed that the Bible provided accurate information about various personal and social tragedies that had historically resulted from ignoring such cautions (God’s judgments in history recorded in the Bible). Political Correctness of every stripe works to standardize morals and mores in the interest of both truth and peace.
The liberal versions of Political Correctness have long worked to undermine and/or change the existing morals and mores in the interest of a greater version or vision of truth and objectivity, a vision that promised to set people free of the shackles of ancient, outdated ideas that limited self-expression and human potential (Genesis 3). And because of sin and corruption, Christian institutions too often do harden into self-serving bastions of small-minded sinners who used Political Correctness to bolster their own power. In fact, over time every individual and institution falls into the snare of particularity, when individuals or institutions claim and/or attempt to speak for all people. Thus, this problem or reality of Political Correctness is very old. It did not originate in the 1980s. Yet the 80s did conceive a new term for it: Political Correctness.
In addition, in the 1980s some avaunt guard universities introduced a new department of study: Queer Theory, the objective of which was to “study” social norms and to free society of various limitations that held back human “progress.” The result of this effort has been the very successful queering (https://wiki2.org/en/Queering) of traditional American norms. There has been vast and broad-based support for this effort. Indeed, everyone who has a beef with traditional America, Christianity, or God find themselves in support of this effort to dislodge what has come to be called “white privilege,” the term that vilifies the value of social norms and mores by suggesting that norms and mores are, if not evil, then less than desirable. White privilege is synonymous with the traditional norms and mores of Western civilization, and particularly of the part of Western civilization that purports to be Christian.
Moira Weigel in her article, “Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy.” acknowledges the creation of the new term (Political Correctness), but frames it as an invention of the Right that intends to vilify a “phantom enemy.” Her use of this term means that she either is not aware of the history of American liberalism and its capture of the levers of society and government (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/us-policy-has-gone-liberals-way-for-70-years/2014/04/08/8dffa2b2-b906-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html) or is in active denial of it. Political Correctness is nothing more than a new term that describes the establishment, enforcement, or change of social morals and mores. She apparently has no awareness or experience of what came before, so she calls it a “phantom enemy,” which supports the presupposition of her own self-evident “objectivity.”
Amanda Taub’s article, “The truth about ‘political correctness’ is that it doesn’t actually exist,” suggesting that Political Correctness doesn’t exist could be better argued by saying that the term in meaningless for reasons I stated above. A term that means whatever you want it to mean means nothing in particular. But this fact does not stop people from using accusations of Political Correctness to divert or shut down those with whom you disagree. Both Liberals and Conservatives use it thusly!
Zack Beauchamp’s article, “Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions,” provides a case study of not seeing the forest for the trees. The examination of official cases where free speech rights were challenged fails to grasp the subtle realities of social moral and moeurs enforcement techniques. As Jerry Z. Muller argued in 1990:
“Institutions in which characteristics of restraint, altruism, and moral autonomy are cultivated are in need of public defense, not (as some conservatives imagine) primarily in the political realm, where the stakes are the use of governmental force, but in the public sphere of cultural and educational institutions. The proper role of cultural conservatism so conceived is to proclaim—or better yet, to explain—that some institutions really are better than others. Some will proclaim on the basis of faith, maintaining that conservative morals conform to divine will; others may argue on the philosophical grounds of natural law. Or, like many of the masters of social science, they may attempt to weigh the costs and benefits of historical institutions, to discover not only why some institutions may be in need of reform or replacement, but also why certain traditional institutions are irreplaceable. What we should learn from the Jeremiahs of anti-capitalist doom and gloom is not to repent of economic liberalism, but to mind our manners and morals.” (https://www.firstthings.com/article/1990/04/minding-our-manners-and-morals)
Beauchamp’s treatment of counting up the official cases where free speech was challenged falls far short of serious treatment of the cultural aspects of Political Correctness. It is simply a short-sighted effort to bolster his own self-evident “objectivity.”