Saturday, November 04, 2006

Political Correctness

On my post Watching the Defectives - I still don't think I've got quite enough praise for that brilliant headline - Susan, a highly valued regular, comments, 'Can't say you guys are oppressed by political correctness!' I have been thinking about this and I realise I am not quite sure what political correctness is. At one level it seems to be based on the very postmodern delusion that, changing words changes reality - as when US blacks become African-Americans. At another level, it seems to be close to Marilynne Robinson's definition of priggishness - 'it is highly predictable because it is nothing else than a consuming loyalty to ideals and beliefs which are in general so widely shared that the spectacle of zealous adherence to them is reassuring.' Being PC, in this sense, means simply adopting unconsidered contemporary orthodoxies and, in the case of PC prigs, using these to assert moral superiority. Or, sometimes, PC just seems to be a kind of foggy niceness. None of these seem very attractive or challenging, though all seem, as Susan implied, oppressive. So, yes, Susan, we are not oppressed.

22 comments:

  1. Well, you could have given this piece the same headline: Watching the Defectives (Part 2).

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  2. As a social worker I should be politically correct, but I assure you we mostly just pay it lip service. The original motivation for PC is, quite frankly, Marxist bollocks. Language is used by White Males to oppress anyone who isn't a White Male. By unlearning certain words or phrases our consciousness is raised, and we can avoid oppressing those we are trying to help. The worst example is that, officially, those I work with are not "clients" (this implies that like Lawyers I have superior knowledge, and therefore greater power) but "service users".

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  3. Language a very easy tool to manipulate all right. The reduction of the human being to "the consumer" my most hated example. I consume, therefore I am. Blessed are the consumers for they shall consume things. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is to consume till the day we die. I'm on a roll. I vaguely remember reading an interesting if confusing piece by Burroughs on the word as virus.

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  4. PC is a kind of language politics and at its worst in academic settings (no doubt why I am no longer in one). The original idea for it is a good one -- let us not call people things that demean them -- but then it just got out of control. I can remember, years ago, complimenting a PC person on their "Oriental" rug. Said person went ballistic on me and said "Asian" is the proper word. I said, "Why? 'Oriental' means 'East' and is the opposite of 'Occidental' which means 'West'. How is that offensive?" The person could not answer that -- she was just certain it was a slur on people from Eastern realms. Really, sometimes PC-ness makes people just stop *thinking*.

    By the way, one reason I adore Camille Paglia is because she is so anti-PC. She drives feminists crazy, but she can get away with it because she is both a woman and a lesbian (impeccable credentials). She's had a few showdowns with traditional first-wave feminists -- such as Elaine Showalter of Princeton -- in which she blew 'em out of the water with her quick wit and erudition. Break, blow, burn. Yeah, I'm glad Philly gets to claim her as a local presence. She doesn't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks. Rather like you, Bry, now that I think of it!

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  5. Philip Roth's novel, THE HUMAN STAIN, conveys quite well the spirit of political correctness in this country.

    How they managed to make a movie based on the book without going near the subject fills me with awe and dread.

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  6. PC is founded on and owes its existence to moral relativism. A sort of Alice in Wonderland belief that language means anything that the people who decide these things want it to mean. And generally they get away with it by exploiting human weaknesses - the desire to be 'nice' to people, for example, or not to cause them upset.
    But the motives of the people who come up with all this rubbish are not so much concerned with avoiding giving offence or promoting 'equality', as getting power over others.

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  7. I'm not really certain where pipe-smoking Victorian lesbians stand on the political correctness spectrum, but I have just been blogging about that very persuasion. The only PC in my day of course was Constable Gumfer and his colleagues at the Sootfield rozzer-shop.

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  8. PC-ness is the linguistic form of cultural marxism.

    It seeks to deny all context with past meanings by actively changing the language that people use. By doing this PC then claim they created progress and understanding. The society as a whole must move on, so their is an element of group think involved; as well as the need to create laws to activley change the behaviours of those who resist.

    What has led to such success is that originally there were some issues, racism particularly, that were helped by the PC cause. With success though, PCness became mainstream and woven into our laws and culture.

    The issue that worries me most, and what defines PA as cultural marxism, is that it dictate that people can have bad thoughts and it defines, in its own terms, what those thoughts are. At its core it is anti-free speech and anti-democratic.

    If you want a recent good example, Peter Hitchens was booed and hissed by the crowd at Question Time on Thursday for daring to question Climate Change orthodoxy. No need for facts or discussion; just deny his statements and decry his behaviour.

    PC has a sad and malign influence on our society today.

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  9. I'm sure you all saw the report this week that Kirklees council attempted to ban the use of the phrase 'political correctness':

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2437543,00.html

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=413775&in_page_id=1770

    This, then, was the first occurrence of second-order political correctness: a sanctimonious attempt to change the words used to describe the sanctimonious attempt to change the use of words.

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  10. The original story of the origin of political correctness that I heard, back in the 70s, when I still lived in Ann Arbor, home of the Univ. of Michigan, had nothing to do with overt Marxism or the Academy. I think that all came later. (Trust academics to not look outside papers published in the academic journals for origin stories. The years in grad school that I majored in ethnomusicology, anthropology, and folklore were revelatory, as to which disciplines actually went to the folk for their questions, rather than to other academics.)

    I think the version I heard has some strong credentials, since I heard it from lesbian friends who were just back from the Michigan Women's Music Festival up in northern Michigan. The story I heard was that PC was originally used as a term of derogation by some lesbians at the Women's Music Fest to mock other lesbians at the Festival who had become self-proclaimed dictators of moral and lesbian purity. These were the folks that said that baby boys shouldn't be brought to the festival by their lesbian mothers, because this was supposed to be a "wymyn's only safe space." These were also the folks who proclaimed that Birkenstocks were more correct to wear around camp than leather sandals made by oppressed sweat-shop workers in Asia. That sort of thing. So, the first usage of the term PC I ever enecountered was by middle-of-the-road lesbians to mock their more politically strident militant separatist peers. Ironically, when folks on the far right like Rush Limbaugh mock PC, they're doing it for the oriignal reason, but coming from a completely different agenda, and with no doubt in my mind that they have no real idea as the origin of the term.

    I thoroughly enojyed reading, a couple of years ago, the collected musings of jan Clausen, a lesbian feminist writer back in the late 70s, who had no use for PC even back then, but questioned it deeply and thoroughly. As much as I might appreciate what Camille Paglia does to promote cultural discussion, I inevitably find her rather shallow, compared to some of her precedessors such as Clausen, or next to Kate Bornstein, for that matter. Just my take, of course.

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  11. Bryan, that headline was MAGNIFICENT!! Truly thought-provoking and a masterclass use of wit!

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  12. Camille Paglia is a terrific interview and probably gives a delightful speech. She has trouble putting together a coherent paragraph, though. On the other hand, the city that has given the world the Rocky statue and Frank Rizzo should be proud of what acclaim it can get.

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  13. Oh, yeah: Nice headline, Bryan.

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  14. Anonymous, boy are you wrong. Too bad I don't have one of CP's books on hand or I'd quote a few 'graphs for you. Find me another academic art historian who puts together more sensible paragraphs -- ones that don't make you fall asleep before they're over.

    Also, I wonder when the last time you were in Philly was? The city has come up quite a bit in my 15 years here: The restaurant and cultural scene is more than decent. It's no longer an embarrassment to be between D.C. and NYC (and I have lived in both cities).

    As an aside, I think people who call themselves "Anonymous" before they say insulting things are cowardly weenies....A breed abetted by the Internet, sadly.

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  15. Ha! Your stinging criticism has brought me out of my shell. I am the anonymous weenie, and I have lived in Philadelphia longer than you have. You say culture, I say a subway system where it is impossible to buy tokens or passes in many stations. You say restaurants, I say flagrant disregard for sidewalk right-of-way laws and indifferent public services. I have a lifelong Philadelphian friend who is embarrassed not that Philadelphia politicians take bribes, but that they can be bought so cheaply.

    Philadelphia is not at all a bad place to live, but the preening insecurity of its we're-the-next-great-city tub-thumping is a little hard to take sometimes.

    From my long-ago and occasional reading of Camille Paglia, I found her a brave, stimulating and original thinker. I once even looked into taking her Shakespeare course at the University of the Arts. But the best Paglia I read was a Q&A interview with her, possibly because that put the interviewer in control. Like you, I wish I had my examples at hand so I could show you that boy, am I right. My comments were aimed solely at her prose style.

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  16. Oh, yeah. Nice headline, Bryan.

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  17. After Susan's stinging attack on my anonymous comment, do you know what I did? I walked across the newsroom and told her I was the cowardly weenie in question. We are colleagues, you see. Quite a communication tool, this Internet thing, enabling people to reach out across oceans or across the room.

    In fact, our discussion brought up issues germane to any city undergoing what its boosters call a renaissance, whether that city be John Rebus' Edinburgh or my Philadelphia. Susan, who lives in one of the city's inner suburbs, rightly noted the city's many attractions. I, who live in the city, rightly noted an example of the shoddy service the city provides that even Susan admitted was outrageous.

    It reminds me of one comment at the height of this renaissance that Philadelphia was becoming less a city than a theme park. When you write a comment about urban "renaissances," I'll be happy to offer more examples. For now, I'll just note that a city is more than just arts festivals, martini bars, and Asian fusion restaurants.

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  18. Good grief! I have become a ringmaster for confrontations among colleagues 3,500 miles away. I am honoured. ome back to this - but, Peter, I hope you agree that city should be AT LEAST martini bars.

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  19. I'm a martini virgin, but I figure martinis must be good for grinding out those obnoxious cigars in.

    I guess I'm just gritty and old-school. Give me a good, old wine bar any day.

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  20. Yes, I think I agree with that Peter. Martinis can be very destructive and anti-social. Also: you will be much older school if you don't get to bed or are you on a night shift?

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  21. I have forgiven Peter, after he so bravely confronted me last night. (Peter and I have disagreed happily on many things over the years -- remember Barnes Collection discussions, P.?)

    Forget wine bars -- the best drinking establishment in Phila. is the embarrassingly named Swanky Bubbles: It specializes in champagne drinks to go with excellent Asian fusion cuisine. The fizzy vampire will knock your socks off.

    Yes, Philly has grown on me, though I will admit that I actually cried the first day we visited here -- I thought it was a dump -- abandoned buildings, derelict avenues, horrible accents -- and we were leaving my beloved Wash., D.C., to move to it b/c my husband had been offered a great job here. The place has come *way* up since then ('92).

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  22. Bryan, yes, I work a night shift, even later than Susan's.

    Susan, I thought we agreed on the Barnes Collection. Or at least I don't remember disagreeing. I do remember reading that Barnes had bad taste in African art and that he was paternal and dictatorial about improving his workers' lives through art. If our disagreement was sharp, perhaps we can even pester Bryan with it some more.

    Years ago when I first heard the Philly accent, I thought the speakers were gargling bottle glass. Little did I dream I would one day live in the midst of this daily vocal music.

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