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« Writing a Book | Main | Facts for the Day »

August 02, 2005

PC Enough for You?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The main reason I avoid hanging around most lefties is the love so many of them have for policing each others' thoughts. What a strange way to spend time. Unpleasant in itself, of course: Sheesh, but aren't some lefties the least liberal people you've ever met? And jaw-droppingly naive (IMHO) in its basic assumption, which I take to be: If only only we could eradicate the thinking of evil thoughts, then life would transform into something peachy-keen and super-dupe. Call me Dirty Harry, but my own priorities run 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Behavior prevails: Act decently, for god's sake. Your mental life is yours to enjoy as you see fit. I mean, really: Why should it be any business of mine?

Right Reason's Steve Burton wonders if, in the left-o-sphere, it's ever possible to be PC enough.



posted by Michael at August 2, 2005


It was that line in Diamond's book about refusing to consider race-based explanations because they are "loathesome" which made me throw the book across the room. What ever happened to following the argument wherever it leads? Imagine if a religious scientist wrote a book about the Big Bang and refused to consider the views of "loathesome" atheists.

It's nice when the narrow minded and ignorant eat each other for breakfast.

Speaking of which, PC and Islam are battling it out at a New Jersey college:

A state university in New Jersey has reprimanded a student-employee for describing homosexuality as a "perversion" in a private e-mail that he sent a female professor, after she sent him an unsolicited announcement about a university event that promoted lesbian relationships. But Jihad Daniel, 63, who works for William Paterson University repairing computer hardware and takes graduate-level courses part time, said he was only expressing his Muslim religious beliefs when he responded to professor Arlene Holpp Scala, head of the university’s women’s studies department.

Heh, as the man says.

Posted by: Brian on August 2, 2005 8:41 AM

This stuff makes my head hurts so much that I often pretend I have no political opinions rather than put up with the shrieking.

The PC crowd seems to be suffering from the same syndrome as Catholic girls of the 50s who worried that somebody might see the reflection of their panties off their black patent leather shoes.

Which were, incidently, called "Mary Janes."

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 2, 2005 9:05 AM

Seemed like Right Reason mis-stated Ozma's principal objection to Diamond, which was not that Diamond had unfairly characterized the West as technologically superior, but that his theory failed to assign culpability to those behind slavery, colonialism, and the like, which Diamond views as just more accidents of geography, according to Ozma. It may be that no idea is liberal enough for Ozma, but whether or not blame can be assigned to civilization's moral lapses seems like a legitimate philosophical question.

Posted by: paul on August 2, 2005 3:09 PM

I am a leftie but I also consider myself "liberal" - Liberal enough to shut the f*&^ up and listen to a considered opinion, whether or not it agrees with my politics. I agree with you that Lefties are much worse about doing that than Righties and I have a Rightie ex-husband, with whom I have a wonderful loving friendship, who, when on a date, the subject turns to politics and "what are you" pops up, he answers "I'm a romantic..." which I think is sweet and true to his nature.

Now onto the PC portion of the post - a little true story for you. I was at a departmental open reading last May at USC and they were announcing that Chris would be taking over the mailing list for Joe so all announcements should be sent to him. Chris was not present at the reading and someone in the audience said "Who's Chris?" (it's a big dept.) Joe started saying what classes Chris had been in, what his concentration was, the fact that he has an afro...everything except "Chris is the black guy" ...what in jiminy is that all about? If I were the only white chick at a party and someone said "Who's Sam?" you can bet someone would point me out as the "white chick over there". They would not say, she's the chick with the straight black hair, the glass of Cabernet in her hand, laughing way too loudly and smoking a cigarette (side note I do laugh loud so they might say "she's the white chick laughing too loudly")

I'm just sayin'...

Posted by: Sanora on August 2, 2005 3:14 PM

No, it's never possible to be P.C. enough.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 2, 2005 3:14 PM


...whether or not blame can be assigned to civilization's moral lapses seems like a legitimate philosophical question.

Sure, if you can find a civilization without moral lapses to use as a measuring stick. And if you can establish free will and moral responsibility in the first place, despite the well-known philosophical difficulties that attend to both ideas.

Inquiry into the morals of civilizations seems more of a practical question relating to predicting the future behavior of their members...a practice which actually tends to undercut notions of personal freedom and moral responsibility. In other words, establishing that, say, Roman political culture was cancerous would both tell you to steer clear of Rome and would also suggest that the morals of individual Romans were somehow being affected by forces outside themselves, and hence 'let them off the hook' morally.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 2, 2005 3:26 PM

Behavior prevails: Act decently, for god's sake. Your mental life is yours to enjoy as you see fit. I mean, really: Why should it be any business of mine?

Interesting that you say "for god's sake." Aside from that though, I can basically agree with this sentiment up to the point where it naively (IMHO) seems to assume people's actions are not at all influenced by their thoughts. If people (and I mean everybody) were really able to let each other just live their lives without interference of any kind, what people thought wouldn't matter.

I agree that some people go overboard with PC-ness, but for me the point of it is to be polite and considerate of others to facilitate fair treatment of everyone.

Posted by: claire on August 2, 2005 5:11 PM


Sure, if you can find a civilization without moral lapses to use as a measuring stick....

That the question is problematic does not mean it ought not be asked or that the asking of it must be politically motivated.

Inquiry into the morals of civilizations seems more of a practical question...

If the civilization that may be guilty of something is one's own, the question seems more than practical. It becomes a matter of conscience about accepting or not accepting responsibility for the unpunished faults of one's family, nation, race.

Posted by: paul on August 2, 2005 5:47 PM

I call BS on your comment about leftists. If you link through the the Right Reason post you cite, you will see that one leftist (Ozma) says Jared Diamond is ethnocentric or whatever. You will then find links to *two other* leftists (Crooked Timber and Brad Delong) who say at great length that the first leftist is completely full of shit. Crooked Timber is a nest of, well, avowed socialists, and Brad Delong as a former Clinton administration official who is one of the most vociferous critics of Bush and the Republicans that you will find in the entire blogsphere.

One of the things that the net has done is sensitize me to an entire world of otherwise intelligent middle aged white males who seem to have been permanently traumatized by their exposure to some leftist academic or other during their sensitive formative years, and now see PC under the bed.

Posted by: MQ on August 2, 2005 5:48 PM


Some questions--such as what degree of moral responsibility current day individuals should take for acts many generations removed--are so problematic (methodologically speaking) that in fact it does suggest that raising them is only a stalking horse for another goal.

To wit, I suspect you've outlined your true desire with the remark:

It becomes a matter of conscience about accepting or not accepting responsibility for the unpunished faults of one's family, nation, race.

I believe Nietzsche made the point that whenever people were insisting on the primacy of free will in human affairs (and its corollary, moral responsibility),ignoring the effects of chance, circumstances, heredity and all other real-world factors, the desire to either punish or be punished lurks nearby.

I think we've found the root of P.C.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 2, 2005 6:26 PM

MQ, there's probably not much point in lumping together liberals like DeLong and PC language police types like Ozma under the label 'leftist', either to attack or defend them. The PC language police are, as Michael said, 'the least liberal people' around. They simply don't deserve the title 'liberal' any more. As for 'leftist', perhaps that's just a word that's outlived its usefulness.

Oh, and as for your shot about 'middle aged white males', there is a 'middle aged white male' (and Lord how I despise the way that phrase, unmodified, is used by some as an insult) who was far harder on Ozma than MvB was. And who do I mean? Why...Brad DeLong!

Just look at DeLong's comment about Ozma on CT:

" say that arguments made at the macro level are Thoughtcrime even if they are correct—because you (mistakenly) think that they have an elective affinity for a certain passivity—is not a move allowable in any speech situation. It is the discourse of thugs and hacks."

Maybe you might think about calling bullshit on him.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 2, 2005 6:35 PM

Don't understand what that first throat-clearing paragraph was about, Patrick. By any reasonable definition of the American political spectrum both Delong and Crooked Timber are far, far to the left of center. Hence, "leftists". Maybe you had some other political spectrum in mind. I like both of them, and thought their criticisms of Ozma were well taken (although the quote from Brad you included shows him sliding over the edge into the histrionic, as he tends to do).

As for "middle aged white males", that's just a factual description of a demographic. Hardly an insulting one either, I'm one myself and it suits me just fine. What I was pointing to is the particular variant of "identity politics" practiced by some in that demographic. Like all identity politics, it causes those who believe it to be oversensitive, easily insulted, and quick to claim victimization. In this case victimization by the supposedly powerful forces of "political correctness" on some vast, murky left wing. I see it as a sort of counterpart or perhaps reaction to left wing identity politics movements which I also find annoying and intellectually harmful, but perhaps less dangerous because they wield less real power in the broader society. So it's the self-perceived victimization that is the issue, not the ethnicity.

Posted by: MQ on August 2, 2005 8:01 PM


I did not intend to say 'punished', and don't feel secure in saying that to punish is my true desire; and yet I feel I remain fully deserving of the Nietzsche citation. Thank you for these great remarks.

Perhaps you've read it, but I must strongly recommend on this subject --the haunting of unrectified moral offenses through history-- Faulkner's classic collection of closely interwoven short stories Go Down Moses, the most remarked upon story from which is The Bear. In any event, it was Uncle Ike's repudiation of his birth right in this book that I was thinking of as an instance of someone making a reasonable attempt at atoning for his family's past -- for crimes in which he had played no direct part -- and which even, as I think you're saying, perhaps no one played any direct part. And it is a great tale.

Posted by: paul on August 2, 2005 9:17 PM

Being brown myself (Indian-American) I find the PC scrapes I've gotten into funny. Also, slightly disgusting because sometimes I've used my female brown status to get myself off the hook. Well, why not?

In an college anthropology class, we had to give real live examples of some kind of social reciprocity, I think the term was. I said that Indians who migrated to the West wanted to keep in contact with other migrants for many reason, but in particular, so that they could have a pool of marriageable Indian emigrants to keep in mind for their own kids. Shocked the room into silence for some reason. I remember feeling embarrassed at the time: as if I had let onto to something wrong and worrying in my culture but they couldn't admit to being shocked. Now I look back on it and think I should have milked it for all it was worth.....the looks on their appalled faces! I wish I'd had the guts to tell them what I really thought.

Posted by: MD on August 3, 2005 11:46 AM

Cowardice will be the end of us.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 3, 2005 1:36 PM

MD -- I could give you a number of examples of good social science papers published in excellent journals that relate to exactly the phenomenon you described in your anthro class (endogamy within immigrant ethnic groups) and study it as exactly what it is -- a very common fact of social life across a wide variety of cultures. For the most part hard core PC is UNCOMMON even within the academy.

Good point to bring up in class discussion by the way, if your professor didn't pick up on it in a positive way s/he should have.

Posted by: MQ on August 3, 2005 4:28 PM

MQ, upon rereading, I didn't understand my first paragraph either. Posted after a very long day yesterday at work. Sigh. Let's just say it had something to do with 'leftist' no longer being a useful political designation, since deep and angry disagreements about what even constitutes legitimate discourse divide many on the left. My post might even have had a whiff of agreeing in some way with your point! It might have been more useful for Michael to have identified PC as the problem, not 'leftism', since PC Ozma-style seems to invoke even greater wrath among some on the left than it did from Michael.

Or something like that.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 3, 2005 6:17 PM

Tatyana, "cowardice will be the end of us" applies in so many different ways, I don't even know where to begin. If you know what I mean (she says cryptically.....)

MQ, the academy is just so inherently annoying to me that the 'left-leaning' parts are (and I'll let the rest of you debate the real nature of the leanings amongst yourselves) are the least of it. Ugh. So many smart people, so many intellectual boxes that they just can't seem to break. And isn't being PC just the left version of social-conservatism, in a way? Don't say this, don't say that, don't think this, don't think that. Leave me alone! Just leave me alone, I say! PC-ness is less to due with the academy that with sheer busybodiness. Well, maybe it does have something to do with the academy. What a bunch of busybodies. Again, I say, ugh! (although, good work *is* done, even I can admit that)

Is it any wonder I love blogs?

Posted by: MD on August 4, 2005 2:47 AM

FvB says:
"I believe Nietzsche made the point that whenever people were insisting on the primacy of free will in human affairs (and its corollary, moral responsibility),ignoring the effects of chance, circumstances, heredity and all other real-world factors, the desire to either punish or be punished lurks nearby.

I think we've found the root of P.C."

I think you've found the root of Christian morality, Nietzsche's distaste for which is proverbial.
(Although I would agree that you have identified something of a connection in that P.C. is a Christian heresy, a currently popular form of it's ancestor, the arch-heresy Puritanism.)

Posted by: bald cypress on August 4, 2005 10:34 AM

MD,I was sort of talking to myself...

Posted by: Tatyana on August 4, 2005 10:45 AM

Patrick, thanks for the reply. You're right -- what I was annoyed about in the original post was the identification of PC with leftism (broadly construed) in general. Not only are the two not the same, but there are forms of right-wing PC as well. In fact any intellectual subculture tends to develop its own sacred cows that constrict speech, the deal is to understand that real intellectual life requires genuine freedom of speech.

MD: Sounds like you might be a student who is just overdue to get out of the ivory tower for a while. You'll find plenty of forms of bullshit there in the "real world" too, I promise you...the style varies but there's BS everywhere.

Posted by: MQ on August 4, 2005 12:34 PM

I recommend memorizing these words from the 1549 wedding service to say to anyone who tries to PC you--just to see them expostulate! If I ever have a wedding I hope to use it:

[marriage] "...therefore is not to bee enterprised, nor taken in hande unadvisedlye, lightelye, or wantonly, to satisfie mens carnal lustes and appetites, like brute beastes that have no understanding: but reverentely, discretely, advisedly, soberly, and in the feare of God. Duely consideryng the causes for the whiche matrimonie was ordeined. One cause was the procreacion of children, to be brought up in the feare and nurture of the Lord, and prayse of God. Secondly it was ordeined for a remedie agaynst sinne, and to avoide fornicacion, that suche persones as bee maried, might live chastlie in matrimonie, and kepe themselves undefiled membres of Christes bodye. Thirdelye for the mutuall societie, helpe, and coumfort, that the one oughte to have of thother, both in prosperitie and adversitie. "

Posted by: winifer skattebol on August 4, 2005 7:52 PM

I don't get why that marriage vow isn't PC. PC maybe silly but it isn't everything silly.

Posted by: Joe O on August 5, 2005 3:54 AM

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