Tuesday, 28 June 2011

An Enemy of Political Correctness


The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority.

Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

I was away from London, at school, on July 7, 2005, the day when the city was subject to a series of suicide attacks. In the way of such things, such traumatic events, I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news, the precise context forever fixed in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been so traumatised, partially because I was away from home and partially because I could not make contact with some family and friends for hours after. I spent most of the day in tears.

That day fifty-two people died, killed by those who, on the face of it, were British, killed by their own fellow citizens. It’s one of the most awful news stories of my life, impacting in the way that it did. I expected it to run and run. But it didn’t. A few days after the police shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian living in England on a temporary visa, believing him to be a bomber, a tragic act of mistaken identity, though understandable in the heightened tensions of the time.

At once the news focus changed, away from the outrage perpetrated on London by a group of Islamic terrorists, towards an accidental police killing. I remember being angry at this at the time, failing to understand this total lack of proportion. I confess that I even began to resent the unfortunate Brazilian and his family. I now know why the focus switched: the terrorist attack did not fit the politically correct agenda, whereas the killing of a vulnerable immigrant by a powerful police force did.

The latter point I picked up from my reading of The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain by Anthony Browne. Published by Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, this is not so much a book as a pamphlet in the best English radical tradition, a genre that I am particularly familiar with from my studies of the seventeenth century, when it was the favoured mode of political communication.

Retreat of Reason, at fewer than 120 pages, is brilliant little polemic, a sustained exposé of the practical and moral corruption behind contemporary notions of political correctness. The argument is not completely fresh and there is much here that people will be familiar with. But Browne still makes some trenchant points.

It seems obvious now that the Labour Government of 1997, which dominated our national life for thirteen years, was the first in history to come to power with an agenda based on political correctness, devoid, as it was, of any more meaningful philosophy. But it was only after reading Browne’s dissertation that the whole thing fell into place.

The author identifies what might be referred to as the pre-history of PC. Although Marxism failed in both political and economic terms it made significant advances in the cultural arena, through universities and opinion-forming bodies, to the point where ordinary debate was contaminated by a new orthodoxy, one which amplified the perceived injustices done to minorities, even so far as silencing debate over uncomfortable issues.

The most pertinent example Browne gives here is the public health campaigns over the rise in recent years of HIV rates among heterosexuals, put down to promiscuity, when in fact it was caused by immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa. The dissimulation here benefited nobody, least of all the sufferers, while distorting resource allocation by a politically correct rather than a factually correct truth.

Those who question the PC position are almost never attacked in the context of fact, no; they are most often anathematised for disrupting the official consensus, promoted most assiduously in England by such papers as the Guardian and the Independent.

It’s impossible to read this little book without a creeping sense of anger and frustration over the more ludicrous examples. The most ludicrous of all is surely an argument put forward by one Decca Aitkenhead. In an article headed Their homophobia is our fault, published in the sanctimonious Guardian in 2005, she said that homosexuals were hated by Jamaicans because of imperial sodomy!

Yes, it’s all our fault, the hand-winging lament of the PC liberal, fawning towards the ‘wretched of the earth’, vicious when their absurd nostrums are put to the test of fact. Paradoxically their arguments are also based on the worst forms of patronising condescension, a mirror image, if you like, of old forms of imperial and racial superiority they are so anxious to eschew. In rebutting Aitkenhead’s risible argument one black gay activist said that Jamaicans were not compelled by history or poverty to be homophobic.

Intolerance and sanctimonious moral superiority are among the defining features of the proponents of the politically correct, people whose chief response to criticism is ad hominem attacks. Still, there are hopeful signs. Multi-culturalism, once beyond question, is now increasingly under attack for the damage that it has done to a sense of a common national identity, allowing people to embrace alien ideologies at total variance with a British way of life.

Retreat of Reason is a bold and important riposte to stupidity, hypocrisy, dissimulation, cant and moral cowardice, a tool for all, myself included, who follow the path of FC – factual correctness- and despise the distortions of PC. It is we who are now the partisans of Enlightenment, rather a delicious historical irony.

30 comments:

  1. To reshape the political landscape it will be necessary to rip down all the statist collectivist signposts and relabel everything. There must be new maps and new guidebooks. Old terminology will not do; it is tainted with ghosts of false association and myth. History must be rewritten with new eyes that turn away from the deeply-rutted paths of habit and follow new directions and new waypoints past the ancient blockades of political cant towards an open territory of new ideas.

    Every that happened, happened, but its meaning has been twisted so that all paths lead to an endless repetition of the same follies. When we have broken out of those bounds, we will be able to look back on the past and understand it all differently.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have come to despise the term PC. If everyone practiced ordinary decent behavior, all would be well and we wouldn't have to tiptoe round every subject, for fear of offending someone.

    Did you know virtually every religion or community on earth has some version of, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."? It's one of our greatest commonalities, and probably one of the most ignored.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You say Anna - "That day fifty-two people died, killed by those who, on the face of it, were British, killed by their own fellow citizens"

    But the killers weren't British or fellow citizens.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ana you are right to identify pc as a pernicious force, favoured by the weak and eaten by the ignorant. It relies on jargon for its effect and has no substance when analysed. You cannot protect a supposedly vulnerable minority by legislating against certain words, any more than you can eradicate prejuduce by indoctrinating people with a politically correct register. It props up those who wish to be in an unassailable position and is also inherently prejudicial. Certain sections of society are exempt from challenge. If you are a white middle class English male you are anyone's target, add heterosexual and middle aged to that and look out for the lynch mob.

    ReplyDelete
  5. They will get what they deserve in the end.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I console myself with the thought that the influence of political correctness may not be as wide or as deep as it seems to those of us who have worked in universities or the public sector. Time will tell but I have a sense that reason will prevail.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The lovely thing about PC is the way it enables an almost Alice in Wonderland inversion of beliefs in which the ostensible proponents of tolerance are, in fact, completely intolerant of anyone other than their favoured groups.

    I would take one point of difference with you on 7/7 though. I don't recall the actual bombings disappearing as a story, although for a while they were eclipsed by the Menezes shooting incident and, particularly, the faslehoods perpetuated by the police. I suspect that had they come out as soon as it was clear that he wasn't a terrorist and said, "In a very difficult situation, we got it wrong", rather than maintaining an incorrect story for some time, it would have faded back behind the real story of the bombings.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sounds like it is time for a purge, who enabled the spread of communism throughout the world?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Calvin, I make that my personal ambition.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Richard, yes. As I've said before I hate PC with a passion and will always do my best to undermine it whenever I can.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Michael, that's something else I've argued, that holding a British passport does not make you British.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mark, the reaction is already there, here against multi-culturalism. But there were always those with the courage and the wit to expose the stupidity of PC. I love South Park, specifically Eric Cartman. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Falaise, you may have a point. I just remember that it seemed to dominate to the exclusion of the main story.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anthony, it's certainly time to clean the stables. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Falaise, don't forget that on the day before de Menezes was shot, there were four further failed bomb attempts (again three on the tube, one on a bus).

    I've never known such a tense atmosphere in London (having lived there through many bombings and bomb attempts by the IRA and various offshoots thereof; and, well a period of about six months long of "slow riots" and repeated large scale arsons on the unlovely council estate on which I grew up...) as on the the 21st and 22nd July 2005.

    In some ways, apart, except, perhaps, I guess, for those directly involved with those who had been injured or killed in the 7/7 attacks, I think the general mood was even worse, even though no-one was even hurt, and the attempted bombers were patent incompetents, as then it really looked as though we might have been part-way through a sustained campaign of attacks - whereas, well, I think the notion of one set of bombs on the Underground, detonated by jihadis, by the summer of 2005, was more or less expected. Shocking and horrific, and tragic, of course (and I walked past Russell Square station that morning, seeing the blackened faces in the booking hall of those who had evidently escaped hell deep below ground) - but really not unexpected. A second attempt so soon afterwards was unexpected. Which goes some way to excuse or at least explain the overreaction (well, yes, and much incompetence and nervousness) by the police on the 22nd.

    I flew to Kiev on holiday a couple of days later. Not sure if (as a Londoner) this verged upon a minor act of treachery (obviously plans had been made months in advance), but in a way I have both never been so glad to be out of my home city; the atmosphere had turned very dark. And that reallyw as after the 2nd failed bombings. After the 1st there seemed to me to be much more of a spirit, yes, partially of resignation, but of defiance (everybody out on the streets for the minute of silence - I worked opposite the Spectator's offices then - but also making tasteless jokes about Ken Livingstone and Jacques Chirac); the 2nd attempt crushed that spirit for a time.

    I must read this book, in any case. I think it's not just a "retreat from reason" that characterises the whole PC "project" - and Blairism - but the complete rejection of any kind of moral objectivity; or of the notion that there are any posts at all that might be labelled "truth" or have any objective meaning as such.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I first came across this book a couple of years ago in a lonely section of the university library and considering its small size has had a disproportionate influence on my politics. One section I liked in particular was a bit towards the end about foreign aid and how it can make the people it is designed to help actually worse off.

    Suddenly it was clear. The most downtrodden people in Africa live in countries headed by the most oppressive governments, so handing over money to these governments in the name of assisting its citizens can prolong their suffering. It seemed so obvious when I read it, but I'd previously seen the issue through the prism of political correctness.

    Good post

    ReplyDelete
  17. I remember the case of Jean Charles (not John Charles, BTW) because he's my name pal, however, it didn't get special attention here in France, and I never ever considered the case more than a tragic accident. There's really no room to believe the police knew he was not a suicide bomber.

    PS: don't you think it is politically incorrect to call "British" people who very probably don't define themselves as "British"?

    ReplyDelete
  18. The apostles of political correctness are in the business of carrying gasoline to house fires. If you don't remove 'em from power in Europe, and if we don't do it in the States, Western Civilization (to mix a metaphor) will go the way of the 8-track tape.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jean Paul, quite right. I've made the correction. Well, they held British passports and were citizens of the country, so in a technical sense they were 'British'. I am, however, sensitive to the deeper point that you are making.

    ReplyDelete
  20. You are fortunate in one respect in the States. You don't have to suffer the Archbishop of Canterbury, the high apostle of PC. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  21. That surname - how ironic.

    Anyway, I have just ordered a copy of Browne's book Ana. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  22. ps I was teaching in China at the time of the 7/7 bombings. While horrified at what had happened to my fellow Londoners I was not surprised at the events which had come to pass on that fateful day.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Nobby, he has an extra e. :-)

    I was an awful time.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Ana, An extra 'e'?! You mean, Brownee's?

    ReplyDelete