The Retreat of Reason - Political Correctness

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For centuries Britain has been a beacon of liberty of thought, belief and speech, but now the freedom of its intellectual and political life is being subjected to a subtle form of 'censorship', according to a new study of political correctness published by the independent think-tank Civitas.

Anthony Browne argues in The Retreat of Reason that political correctness, which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and allows no dissent to be expressed, is poisoning the wells of debate in modern Britain.

'Members of the public, academics, journalists and politicians are afraid of thinking certain thoughts' (p.xii). Political correctness started in academia, but it now dominates schools, hospitals, local authorities, the civil service, the media, companies, the police and the army. Since 1997 Britain has been ruled by political correctness for the first time. 'The Labour government was the first UK government not to stand up to political correctness, but to try and enact its dictates when they are not too electorally unpopular or seriously mugged by reality, and even sometimes when they are' (p.34).

Anthony Browne describes political correctness as a 'heresy of liberalism' (p.2) under which 'a reliance on reason has been replaced with a reliance on the emotional appeal of an argument' (p.6). Adopting certain positions makes the politically correct feel virtuous, even more so when they are preventing the expression of an opinion that conflicts with their own: 'political correctness is the dictatorship of virtue'.

Whether an argument is true or not is a secondary consideration to whether it fits with the PC view of the world:

'In the topsy-turvy politically correct world, truth comes in two forms: the politically correct, and the factually correct. The politically correct truth is publicly proclaimed correct by politicians, celebrities and the BBC even if it is wrong, while the factually correct truth is publicly condemned as wrong even when it is right. Factually correct truths suffer the disadvantage that they don't have to be shown to be wrong, merely stated that they are politically incorrect. To the politically correct, truth is no defence; to the politically incorrect, truth is the ultimate defence. (p.7)'

He argues that PC is much more than just a dispute about words, or the hope of avoiding hurtful expressions: it leads to an incorrect analysis of real problems, which means that the wrong solutions are attempted. People suffer as a result:

'Black communities are encouraged to blame racist teachers for the failings of their boys at school, rather than re-examine their own culture and attitudes to education that may be the prime reasons. The poor sick have ended up having worse healthcare in Britain than they would in mainland Europe because PC for long closed down debate on fundamental NHS reform. Women's employment opportunities can be harmed by giving them ever more rights that are not given to men. The unemployed are encouraged to languish on benefits blaming others for their fate. Poor Africans are condemned to live in poverty so long as they and their governments are encouraged to blame the West for all their problems, rather than confronting the real causes of poor governance, corruption and poor education'. (p.xiv) The end of political correctness?

Political correctness is the invention of Western intellectuals who feel guilty about the universal triumph of Western values and economic prosperity. However, threats to the influence of the West may bring political correctness to an end:

'Political correctness is essentially the product of a powerful but decadent civilisation which feels secure enough to forego reasoning for emoting, and to subjugate truth to goodness. However, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, and those that followed in Bali, Madrid and Beslan, have led to a sense of vulnerability that have made people far more hard-headed about the real benefits and drawbacks of Western civilisation'. (p.84)

Even the long-unrivalled economic dominance of the West will come under challenge from the newly flourishing economies of India and China. Westerners will stop feeling guilty about their position when it has to be defended against rival cultures and ideologies. Anthony Browne lists several steps that could be taken to limit the malign influence of political correctness before it does further damage:

Free speech should be protected with an equivalent of the first amendment to the US constitution
A binding referendum should be called on any proposal if supported by a certain percentage of the population. Such 'citizens' initiatives' return power to the people, encouraging ordinary citizens to re-engage with the political process

Un-PC groups should be formed and promoted to oppose PC flag-wavers like left-wing charities. A taxpayers' alliance could argue for lower taxes; a homeowners association could campaign on issues affecting homeowners, like council tax and crime
There should be more objective teaching of the history of the West. Foundations should be set up to preserve and promote the Western heritage and values (pp. 86-7).

'In the long run of history, political correctness will be seen as an aberration in Western thought. The product of the uniquely unchallenged position of the West and unrivalled affluence, the comparative decline of the West compared to the East is likely to spell its demise. Finally, Western minds may be free again to reason rather than just emote, to pursue objective truth rather than subjective virtue'.
http://www.politicos.co.uk/item.jsp?ID=5568

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Conor

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Do you invite all comers to have a go, if they think themselves hard enough?
 

Zariatnatmick

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someone whom TCD imagines is smart said:
In the topsy-turvy politically correct world, truth comes in two forms: the politically correct, and the factually correct
Can you give an example of a conflict between factual and political correctness?
 

Worldbystorm

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There's clearly a grain of truth in it. However, just how difficult do you find it to make an observation that goes against the grain?

Not very, I would suggest. And these days, neither do I.

On the other hand, I did feel the response to Pat Rabbitte's latest utterences smacked a little of PC, a sense that somehow he should not even raise the issue for fear of - well what exactly? (BTW Interesting to note Matt Coopers take on this in the Village, where he suggests that Rabbitte was singing off the same hymn sheet as ICTU and SIPTU).

As for the stuff about homeowners and so on. Well, yes, but I always had the impression that such groups lobbied through the Conservative Party and had done pretty well out if. And then logically he's suggesting an equivalence.
 
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Political correctness is the invention of Western intellectuals who feel guilty about the universal triumph of Western values and economic prosperity.
This is where the author is wrong. PC is a natural evolution of the victimology patented by the Frankfurt School - the cultural Marxists (Horkheimer, Lukacs, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm, etc). "Who will save us from Western Civilisation" wondered Lukacs in 1919. The response had arrived couple of years later when the Frankfurt School was happily humming along: it is the coalition of oppressed which will help bring down the western values and facilitate revolution according as the great guru Marx envisaged.

http://www.academia.org/lectures/lind1.html
 

smiffy

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The Conservative Dubliner said:
This is where the author is wrong. PC is a natural evolution of the victimology patented by the Frankfurt School - the cultural Marxists (Horkheimer, Lukacs, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm, etc). "Who will save us from Western Civilisation" wondered Lukacs in 1919. The response had arrived couple of years later when the Frankfurt School was happily humming along: it is the coalition of oppressed which will help bring down the western values and facilitate revolution according as the great guru Marx envisaged.
Dear oh dear. This is all wearily familiar.

Can you give us a reference for this quote of Lukacs' (who wasn't attached to the 'Frankfurt School', for your information)?
 

Worldbystorm

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TCD, there is no huge neo-Marxist conspiracy to drag poor old 'decadent' western civilisation down. Political Correctness certainly doesn't have it's roots in 1919.

In fact there has and to some degree is a degree of tension between those advocating Marxism and those advocating so-called identity politics because even the most cursory analysis will suggest that identity politics is to an extent antagonistic to class politics in much the same way as nationalism is antagonistic to class politics.

Seems like we've had two straw men today, what with post-nationalism and PC.
 

smiffy

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It's interesting that The Conservative Dubliner wasn't quite so wary of the secret agendas of the 'cultural Marxists' he's complaining about now when he used Erich Fromm in support of an argument he was making here.

I guess it's only an attempt to bring down Western values when you don't agree with it, eh The Conservative Dubliner? When you agree with it, clearly it's okay.
 

FutureTaoiseach

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Ireland is much worse in the PC stakes than Britain from what I can see. At least in Britain, immigration-control is vigorously debated in the press and media, unlike here where the "multiculturalism at all costs" crowd dominate the 'debate'. They are talking to the mirror in ideological terms, and in particular RTE should be singled out for failing in its moral duty - as a state TV channel funded by the license-payer - to take a neutral stand on these questions.
 
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smiffy said:
It's interesting that The Conservative Dubliner wasn't quite so wary of the secret agendas of the 'cultural Marxists' he's complaining about now when he used Erich Fromm in support of an argument he was making here.

I guess it's only an attempt to bring down Western values when you don't agree with it, eh The Conservative Dubliner? When you agree with it, clearly it's okay.
Fromm wasn't as much interested in Marxism as he was in psychology and sexual aspects of psych. Cultural Marxists like Marcuse on the other hand were interested in sexuality as a tool to assist the ‘coalition of oppressed’. In my view, that Fromm was associated with Frankfurt School does no damage to his works in the field of psychology. Guilt by association fallacy may be your thing but it’s not my cup of tea.
.
 

smiffy

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Good boy. That's more than some other people were able to do when I asked them the same question.

Now, don't you think it's a bit disingenuous to talk about Lukacs making this statement (in fact, if you read the passage, you'll see that your quotation is incorrect) without giving the full context? In particular, the context of the First World War:

The immediate motive for writing was supplied by the outbreak of the First World War and the effect which its acclamation by the social-democratic parties had upon the European left. My own deeply personal attitude was one of vehement, global and, especially at the beginning, scarcely articulate rejection of the war and especially of enthusiasm for the war. I recall a conversation with Frau Marianne Weber in the late autumn of 1914. She wanted to challenge my attitude by telling me of individual, concrete acts of heroism. My only reply was: ‘The better the worse!’ When I tried at this time to put my emotional attitude into conscious terms, I arrived at more or less the following formulation: the Central Powers would probably defeat Russia; this might lead to the downfall of Tsarism; I had no objection to that. There was also some probability that the West would defeat Germany; if this led to the downfall of the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs, I was once again in favour. But then the question arose: who was to save us from Western civilisation? (The prospect of final victory by the Germany of that time was to me nightmarish.)

Such was the mood in which the first draft of The Theory of the Novel was written. At first it was meant to take the form of a series of dialogues: a group of young people withdraw from the war psychosis of their environment, just as the story-tellers of the Decameron had withdrawn from the plague; they try to understand themselves and one another by means of conversations which gradually lead to the problems discussed in the book — the outlook on a Dostoevskian world. On closer consideration I dropped this plan and wrote the book as it stands today. Thus it was written in a mood of permanent despair over the state of the world. It was not until 1917 that I found an answer to the problems which, until then, had seemed to me insoluble.

Of course it would be possible to consider this study simply in itself, only from the viewpoint of its objective content, and without reference to the inner factors which conditioned it. But I believe that in looking back over the history of almost five decades it is worth while to describe the mood in which the work was Written because this will facilitate a proper understanding of it.

Clearly my rejection of the war and, together with it, of the bourgeois society of that time was purely utopian; nothing, even at the level of the most abstract intellection, helped to mediate between my subjective attitude and objective reality. Methodologically, this had the very important consequence that I did not, at first, feel any need to submit my view of the world, my scientific working method, etc., to critical reassessment. I was then in process of turning from Kant to Hegel, without, however, changing any aspect of my attitude towards the so-called ‘intellectual sciences’ school, an attitude based essentially on my youthful enthusiasm for the work of Dilthey, Simmel and Max Weber. The Theory of the Novel is in effect a typical product of the tendencies of that school. When I met Max Dvorak personally in Vienna in 1920 he told me that he regarded my book as the movement’s most important publication.

Today it is no longer difficult to see the limitations of this method. But we are also in a position to appreciate the features which, to a certain extent, justified it historically as against the petty two-dimensionality of Neo-Kantian (or any other) positivism in the treatment both of historical characters or relations and of intellectual realities (logic, aesthetics, etc.). I am thinking, for example, of the fascination exercised by Dilthey’s Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung (Leipzig 1905), a book which seemed in many respects to open up new ground. This new ground appeared to us then as an intellectual world of large-scale syntheses in both the theoretical and the historical fields. We failed to see that the new method had in fact scarcely succeeded in surmounting positivism, or that its syntheses were without objective foundation. (At that time it escaped the notice of the younger ones among us that men of talent were arriving at their genuinely sound conclusions in spite of the method rather than by means of it.) It became the fashion to form general synthetic concepts on the basis of only a few characteristics — in most cases only intuitively grasped — of a school, a period, etc., then to proceed by deduction from these generalisations to the analysis of individual phenomena, and in that way to arrive at what we claimed to be a comprehensive overall view.
It's almost as if you (or at least whoever you're getting your bizarre ideas about the influence of the Frankfurt School from) are being deliberately misleading. But that couldn't be the case, could it?

Anyway, while you're up for a little discussion about cultural theory, can you explain to us how Derrida is linked to the European Union (to such an extent that the EU must denounce him before it can counter US dominance) because you never quite explained it on this thread.
 

ibis

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Does anyone else find it tedious, the constant attempts to tar everyone left wing with the 'PC' brush?

Political Correctness is extremely silly where it's not downright damaging. Marxism is even worse. I know that, and I'm remain "left wing". Markets are the best mechanism for getting supply to meet demand - and I'm still left wing. Individual responsibility is vital in life, some people are smarter than others, gender equality needs to mean equality, positive discrimination is still discrimination, etc etc. And I'm still left wing.

If you can't think of a better argument against the left wing position than "PC gone mad", I suggest you retire from the fray.

When I say left wing: -

Economic Left/Right: -5.13
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.54
 

FutureTaoiseach

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ibis said:
Does anyone else find it tedious, the constant attempts to tar everyone left wing with the 'PC' brush?

Political Correctness is extremely silly where it's not downright damaging. Marxism is even worse. I know that, and I'm remain "left wing". Markets are the best mechanism for getting supply to meet demand - and I'm still left wing. Individual responsibility is vital in life, some people are smarter than others, gender equality needs to mean equality, positive discrimination is still discrimination, etc etc. And I'm still left wing.

If you can't think of a better argument against the left wing position than "PC gone mad", I suggest you retire from the fray.

When I say left wing: -

Economic Left/Right: -5.13
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.54
Personally, I don't take the position that PCness is the preserve of the Left. Pat Rabbitte is an example of a leftwinger who seems - at least on the surface - to have challenged the Politically-Correct idea that you cannot question open-door immigration policies without being a racist. Furthermore, Irish Ferries' behaviour and the unmasking of the PDs, FF and FG has laid bare the fact that centre-right and centre parties also practise Political-Correctness. I recognise this.
 

smiffy

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I just had a vision of FutureTaoiseach's frail, elderly mother, sitting in an armchair in the parlour of their home, an expression of concern on her wrinkled face, watching her hulking man-child son bashing away at a computer in the corner, muttering to himself 'PCness', 'new partition' and 'I reject this', a tear coming to her eye as she thinks to herself:

Who will look after him when I'm gone?
 

Trefor

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FutureTaoiseach's mother said:
Who will look after him when I'm gone?
I would have thought that the (politically correct) state takes care of this kind of thing.
 

factual

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Trefor said:
FutureTaoiseach's mother said:
Who will look after him when I'm gone?
I would have thought that the (politically correct) state takes care of this kind of thing.
Trefor - how did Gordon Brown's "Union Jack in Every Garden" speech go down in Wales?
 

Trefor

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factual said:
Trefor said:
FutureTaoiseach's mother said:
Who will look after him when I'm gone?
I would have thought that the (politically correct) state takes care of this kind of thing.
Trefor - how did Gordon Brown's "Union Jack in Every Garden" speech go down in Wales?
I don't think anybody much noticed to be honest.

It's all to do with Gordon who's Scottish wanting English people to vote for him come the next GE.

He's deluding himself - few (white) English people feel British these days, let alone Welsh people & Scots.

Britain is an arrangement, not a nation. There's no point trying to make it anything else.
 


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