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.