BREAKOUT –THE END OF “PC” IS FINALLY AT HAND!
Memorial Day Weekend
Introduction to the 2007 Edition
What would it be like to live in a peaceful, tolerant community where the sharp edges of Political Correctness are completely absent from ordinary human relations? As I write this, I’m thinking of three short examples. A parent chases a small child through the grass. The little one falls. Instead of gushing with concern, the parent makes a growling noise, and tickles the little putative victim. The child gleefully gets up and runs again.
Have you ever noticed the moment when a child falls, then looks around, waiting for that cue for an adult? You can see the heels turning: Am I supposed to cry now? The dividing line between an exaggerated sense of victimhood and a more robust sense of rough and tumble playfulness starts here.
When I reviewed my account of the Don Imus dust up over the Rutgers athletes (an April, 2007 media event – the full account is under “A CASE STUDY OF PC INCOHERENCE” in the Conclusion), I couldn’t help but notice a similar, multi-day delay in the outrage cascade reaction. It was a training exercise.
In a grocery store yesterday, the following exchange took place. Dad is checking out with his adopted three year old, a charming back lad. Dad is white. A black lady is in line behind with a friend. She smiles and asks, “Where did you get him?” “South Africa,” the dad says. “Oh,” she says, grinning, “he’s an original.” This was a normal, jovial conversation.
Another training exercise.
Political Correctness is a mindset and a set of implicit cultural rules that began in innocence and mutated into a form of petit authoritarianism. I grant that there are more important issues in the world, but few as irritating on the personal level. PC will eventually disappear from the mainstream culture because, on balance, it has done far more harm than good: political correctness, in its worst forms, ultimately threatens productivity at the workplace and creative innovation in the social sciences.
“PC”, in all of its various forms and manifestations, has tended to chill frank discussions about a whole range of important academic and public policy issues and topics; it has curtailed ordinary good hearted humor; it has inhibited easygoing social exchange. In a PC environment, human kindness is replaced by a calculation: Who might I appear to offend?
Here is a working definition:
PC is that set of social rules and expectations driven by an exaggerated notion of victimhood and oppression such that the thinnest skinned among us are encouraged to feign offense as a power play. In its most extreme forms, PC can turn an academic setting or workplace environment into a dreary, threatening environment ruled by social censors whose legacy shares elements of American puritanical repression and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Since I wrote the original draft of this little book in 2003, a number of encouraging signs have surfaced. We are beginning to rebel, and the signs of our recovery have first appeared among the new generation humorists. Among them, I note the emergence of South Park, the hugely popular animated creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In their irreverent spinoff puppet movie, Team America: World Police (2004), a red white and blue anti-terrorist team, led by a Kurt Russell puppet, flies over Paris, accidentally destroying the Louvre while a puppet Bin Laden dances about just ahead of the bombs; later, a marionette Kim Jong Il sings from the Korean tyrant’s palace in a “Busby Berkeley” style musical number (“I so ‘ronery’”); he plans a nuclear attack on the US while Alec Baldwin of the Screen Actors’ Guild negotiates peace; and in another scene, Michael Moore blows himself up at the US anti-terrorist headquarters. Did I forget the puppet sex scene? You can’t even openly talk about this sort of parody in many academic circles.
The End of Political Correctness;
Jay B. Gaskill
What we now call “PC” took root in the wake of the Vietnam War. It was a promising beginning. New social and political norms, aimed at reversing patterns of racism and sexism, captured university and workplace cultures beginning in the late 60’s. But, as momentum gathered, even sexual banter was forbidden as possible “harassment”. This sorry development caused distress among males who had enjoyed the benefits of “sexual liberation” during and immediately following the anti-war movement. The introduction of this neo-Puritanical element was the real beginning of “political correctness”.
Obviously, the PC movement had no sense of humor.
In the very beginning, there were major legislative gains for the civil rights movement; race-based discrimination was banned in public accomodations and schools. It was an admirable accomplishment (though late), and was a great watershed in American history. These early successes generated pressures to expand the movement by including more oppressed groups. The search for new “victim classes” had begun. The movement reached a legislative zenith in the early 90’s.
When “insensitive” jokes were banned as potentially offensive to each new protected victim group, the first signs of incoherence began to develop within this loosely defined movement. At least at first, black Americans could still tell sexist jokes and disparage “cripples”, but that was soon to change. All criticism of the new order was to be shut down, and any defense of its primary targets, (Southern politicians, the police, the military, and – eventually –all white males with crew cuts), would be ridiculed as politically “retrograde”.
The parallels from the communist era became too obvious to ignore. Parody was irresistible. Our assigned PC nannies began to look like stand-ins for the Chinese party officers and Soviet secret police who spied on everyone under Mao and Stalin. Then some unsung comedian invented the term “political correctness” and it stuck to the movement like a limpet to the bottom of a ship. Of course, under those communist regimes, people who deviated from political correctness tended to disappear. Except for the secret graves, PC reality often does resemble parody. Just how did we get in this miserable place without a fight?
Our story begins in the 19th century, when the mavens of the new secular, scientific age released a huge tide of doubts and misgivings. Early in our parent’s lives, that tide was rolling over the dam of religious faith. The dam began to fail and doubt engulfed the whole educated world. Some found refuge in hip ideologies – you probably knew them, “JJ” the Marxist misogynist, “Mort” the gentle, hippie, neo-Nazi from down the street. But most of us escaped into a drug-assisted hedonism, followed by a furtive entry into the respectable, comfortable life. There, we tried to ignore our uncanny resemblance to our parents, and to escape history (of course no one escapes that). We had to believe in something important, so we were drawn to that diffuse mix of causes that we now know as PC. Political correctness became our “Ideology Lite”.
Think how we will look to some future generation. We are butterflies who have stepped into syrup, fluttering in place, pretending we are flying. We are stuck, trapped in our comforts, trying to enjoy our illusory security. We think we’re shielded from the real world’s hard moral choices by a soft ideology that allows us the luxury of gesture without accountability. In this state, our PC minds aren’t exactly consumed by the need for consistency. The essential ambivalence of our core beliefs doesn’t allow that.
We tend to say that it’s not for us to judge others, while hoping to escape judgment ourselves. Yet we feel guilty because we know we might be wrong. When some shrill members of our assigned peer group demand our support for their cause, we agree. “Yes you are victims. Of course we support you.” Sometimes we sign petitions. We even write checks. But we rarely pay attention to the real world consequences of our beliefs.
Our PC enthusiasms are symptoms of an underlying essential ambivalence. Of course, I hear the objections: “What do you mean ambivalence? Why are the people you call ‘PC’ so willing to demonstrate, commit trespass, and more, to call attention to important causes? Surely you can see how passionate we are for the support of animal rights, peace, the opposition to over-consumption and globalism. Why do these and so many other issues and enthusiasms continue to stir emotions, generate contributions, media coverage and arrests? How can this be evidence of our ambivalence?”
PC’s essential ambivalence reveals itself in the incoherence of its positions and objectives, the failure to confront obvious instances of authentic evil, and the general fear of moral judgment based on anything other than the interests of the coalition of favored victims.
By “us” and “we’, of course, I’m not talking about the strident followers of Marx, Lenin and the other ideologies of grievance, discredited for the most part, but alive and well among the intelligentsia. And I’m leaving out those ardent worshipers of Allah, God, Christ, or the Buddha who are busy trying to get over their sectarian differences even as their numbers shrink among the post graduates who hope to run things when they grow up. And I’m not referring to those blessed with authentic moral convictions, an interesting group to be found an anthropology museum in Kansas. All these people were inoculated against the essential ambivalence I referred to. No, “we” are a special group.
We are the educated and sophisticated “elites”, the first beneficiaries of first world economies and culture. We include that vast pampered army of boomers, yuppies, and “Bobos” featured in a media run mostly by us. We live in urban areas in Europe and North America, but this is the information age, so actually we live all over the place; we are a widely-dispersed global elite. For the most part, we are the comfortable cohort who find peer support in our shared essential ambivalence. We include teachers, professionals, leaders, journalists, and consumers. We are the “new minds,” the children of “science”. We are the new generations weaned in the post-religious culture.
We have achieved the supreme act of mental compartmentalization: We claim to believe in human rights while at the same time we’ve become the grownups for whom “right” and “wrong” are just the inventions of Culture, Tribe, and Individual Preference. We are “free” only in the sense that we can adopt the transient enthusiasms of gesture politics and moralist stances with the same abandon as a child trying on Halloween costumes. We are not free because, when challenged, the very rights we claim to support are founded on the fragile foundations of cultural relativism.
We are not constrained by principle or consistency because these are artifacts of a discredited age. But we are afraid to openly challenge the moralist enthusiasms of our peers, especially their claims as victims, because we might be excluded from the tribe. We’re certainly not ready to challenge the notion that, beneath all the gestures and enthusiasms, there is a hollow core. We are the prisoners of a facile and hollow political correctness. The hollow, pseudo-ethical mess at the center of our PC ethos is more evident than we think. Our children can smell our ambivalence as easily as a guard dog can smell fear.
We are fools….
In this book, I am inviting you to resign from your assigned victim or oppressor tribe, to fire your PC “minders”. You’re invited to recognize and honor only the individual, the separate, living breathing thinking, feeling person in the context of a civilization held together by rules and principles that are embedded in the human experience.
Make no mistake, this is a call to revolution. Shocking, isn’t it that a revolution could be built on the obligation of honesty; the rule of accountability, and a commitment to reason and a courageous humanity defined by individual kindness, humor, and mutual respect. All this because of a commitment to civilization? And laughter?
Well the time to wake up is at hand. You’ll only have your minders to lose.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One Page 7
A Survey of Our PC Neurosis
Chapter Two Page 20
About Evil and Good
Chapter Three Page 32
The New Fundamentalism
Chapter Four Page 43
Overcoming Our Pathologies
Chapter Five Page 55
The Idea Whose Time Has Come
Chapter Six Page 68
Common Sense, Common Truths, and Common Rules
Chapter Seven Page 82
Sex, Drugs, Rainbows, and Rock ‘N Roll
Chapter Eight Page 94
The Protection of Life
Chapter Nine Page 105
The Pacifist Dilemma
Chapter Ten Page 116
Issues of Today & The Day After Tomorrow
Chapter Eleven Page 128
Predator Honor, Religious Failure, Spiritual Renewal
Chapter Twelve Page 140
Reasonable Optimism and Unreasonable Courage
Conclusion Page 152
THE FULL BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT THE FOLLOWING LINK IN PDF FORMAT: www.jaygaskill.com/breakout.pdf