Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Conor Friedersdorf: (Pretty Much) Right On Target Re: Trump and PC

   This is one of the best pieces I've read on the subject of Trump...and also one of the best pieces I've read on political correctness. The whole thing is worth reading--really worth reading, I think. (It's interesting that some of the best points are quotes referenced in an internet discussion thread.) Anyway, here's the end of the thing:
   Some “politically correct” codes of conduct, like “Muslim Americans should be treated as equal citizens whose rights are not at all abrogated because some of their co-religionists are terrorists,” help to prevent the U.S. from perpetrating horrific injustices against innocents and serve to uphold the guarantees of our founding documents. Other “politically correct” codes are little more than arbitrary etiquette that people educated at selective colleges use to feel superior to others, to engage in “tone policing” that they don’t recognize as such, and to attack ideological adversaries. (A third “politically correct” code insists that one shouldn’t criticize a police officer, a soldier, a veteran, religion, U.S. foreign policy, or Israel.)
   In between the core norms that are vital to democracy and the most frivolous demand for political correctness there is a lot of contested territory. Trump’s rise represents large swathes of that territory being seized by people who reject elite pieties.
   To counter Trump and the forces he represents, his rivals need to develop smart, targeted attacks on dumb norms that are as effective as Trump’s carpet-bombing approach. And citizens who oppose Trumpism are going to have to take a careful look at everything that falls under the rubric of political correctness; study the real harm done by its excesses; identify the many parts that are worth defending; and persuade more Americans to adopt those norms voluntarily, for substantive reasons, not under duress of social shaming or other coercion. Trumpism cannot prevail in a contest of logic and rationally differentiated controversies; but in a contest of emotion, tribal loyalty, and stigmatizing out-groups, I’m no longer sure that it can be beat.
   Now, I disagree with Friedersdorf that claims like Muslim Americans should be treated as equal citizens...has any right to be classified as a bit of political correctness. That's a view held by almost everyone, it's independent of PC, and denied only by the Neanderthal right. I also deny that there is any "political correctness" per se on the right...but that's really just a semantic point that can be thrown away. 'Political correctness' is a term tied to the loony left...but the right does push similar things sometimes. I understand the urge to say "well, there are good things and bad things in x...  And x is something that afflicts both ends of the spectrum..."....  But it just really isn't true. It's very difficult to point to anything that PC has introduced that was right. The bits they're right about were already advocated, at least by more mainstream liberalism, and the new ideas they've introduced have been almost uniformly cracked. But we can put that stuff aside.
   But here's the really good bit from above...so good I have to repeat it:
...citizens who oppose Trumpism are going to have to take a careful look at everything that falls under the rubric of political correctness; study the real harm done by its excesses; identify the many parts that are worth defending; and persuade more Americans to adopt those norms voluntarily, for substantive reasons, not under duress of social shaming or other coercion. Trumpism cannot prevail in a contest of logic and rationally differentiated controversies; but in a contest of emotion, tribal loyalty, and stigmatizing out-groups, I’m no longer sure that it can be beat.
   Again...there just aren't "many parts that are worth defending..."...but forget about that:
Trump is on fire, in part, because he's right about some important things, and one of those things is PC. It's a crackpot, destructive, illiberal, totalitarian movement that gets almost everything wrong, has nothing but contempt for most of the rest of America--especially ordinary, blue-collar Americans, whites, straights and males--it's doing real harm to the lives of real people, especially at universities. Its proponents simply do not have good arguments for their positions, and that's why they employ "shaming", dogpiling, insisting, false accusations of violence, racism, misogyny, etc.  It's the only weapon they have in their arsenal. (Though, note: the effectiveness of the weapon gives the lie to their claims. The very fact that we so abhor racism is what makes people shut up and toe the line rather than risk being called a racist...) Most importantly, Freidersdorf is right that, if we are to adopt new norms, they must be adopted freely and for good reasons. That is exactly what PC denies. It holds that norms are to be imposed non-rationally, by the coercive methods described above. That is: PC denies that people are endowed with and have a right to a freedom of conscience that allows them to deny that 2+2=5. No amount of insisting that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, for example--some go so far as to say obviously so, and/or always so--will make it true. And coercing people to say what they can clearly see to be false (or, for that matter, even what they cannot clearly see to be true) is wrong under most ordinary circumstances.* Even if you really, truly, somehow believe that Jenner is a woman, surely you must admit that honest, well-meaning people with good reasons for denying that should not be coerced into asserting what they reasonably believe to be false. And, in fact, categorizing Jenner as a woman really is nothing more than a bit of etiquette adopted by the PCs and their sympathizers... I think it might be a nice piece of etiquette to follow if one were around someone like Jenner a lot...but that doesn't make it true, and it doesn't justify the religious fervor with which the point has been pressed...
   PC is a powerful weapon for Trump because PC is insane and awful, and because many liberals refuse to acknowledge this, and so Trump can paint all of liberalism--with some plausibility--with the PC brush. The way to take this away from Trump, in short is to repudiate PC. There are a lot of liberals out there who refuse to do the right thing merely because it's right. Maybe they can be convinced to do the right thing because it's expedient.

*
Here's this excellent quote again (which I think my bud J. Carthensis turned me onto some time ago, but I'd forgotten about it:
Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

-Theodore Dalrymple/Anthony Daniels, Jewish psychiatrist and immigration advocate

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