On political correctness, multiculturalism, and their effects
0 comment Monday, August 4, 2014 |
In a recent thread here on this blog, commenter james c opined that multiculturalism and political correctness seem to have started within the Anglosphere. This thought caused me to want to explore the origins of political correctness and multiculturalism, so this entry will be a very tentative attempt to consider that question. I hope my readers will feel free to offer their own thoughts on this subject.
Of course we all have a general idea of how and where these poisonous ideas started. Political correctness is also known as 'cultural Marxism', and it is an attempt to apply Marxist ideas to the social sphere. Economic or political Marxism focus on the means of production and the economic connection between human beings, or more accurately, between classes of people. In fact, the economic nexus is the explanation for everything in the Marxist world view. Cultural Marxism tends to focus, again, on groups of people, and on the power relationships between them. And of course those with power, or apparent power, are cast in the role of villains in the same way that the rich or the bourgeoisie are the villains in the economic view according to Marx. The downtrodden, the 'wretched of the earth', the workers, the exploited classes, are the heroes in that scheme of things. In cultural Marxism, socially 'exploited' or oppressed groups, those who are weak in some way, those who are less successful, those who are outsiders or outlaws are the heroes by virtue of their weakness and ascribed victim status. And the system of speech codes and social hierarchies which we call political correctness is just a way of codifying the social order as seen by the cultural Marxists, with minorities, women, gays, and Third Worlders (not necessarily in that order) as the apex of the pyramid. Members of those groups are to be treated with kid gloves, spoken of in exaggeratedly respectful terms, exempted from criticism and from accountability for their actions, and above all, must not be offended in any way, whether by failing to display proper deference or by using a taboo name to designate these groups.
What political correctness does is to attempt to coerce respect for groups of people regardless of inward attitude. It attempts to coerce and enforce feelings and thoughts. It is akin to forcing conversion to a religion and demanding that the unwilling participant display reverence without belief. It demands insincerity, because it fails to acknowledge that you cannot coerce feeling or thought. You can only coerce behavior, outward compliance, which is hollow and empty.
So, since we know that political correctness is an offshoot of Marxism and leftism in general, how did it come to be so dominant in America? And did it originate here, or were Americans the first to adopt it to a large extent? There were others who contributed to the growth of the system we now call political correctness, among them, Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist, and George Lukacs, a Hungarian. They perceived that Marxism, as it was originally proposed, was not working in the West. As time went on, the United States seemed impervious to the efforts to mobilize the proletariat to revolt, because American blue-collar workers began to be the best-paid in the world. A 'proletariat' which lived a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, as many skilled tradespeople and factory workers did in America during much of the 20th century, was not likely to rally to the cry to revolt. Some Marxists began to see blacks as the substitute for the 'proletariat' as the vanguard of the revolution, and it's well-known that efforts were made to encourage disaffection and rebellion among blacks. This bore fruit by the mid-20th century.
Much of the ferment in leftist thinking occurred in Europe, with the so-called Frankfurt School and Critical Theory, which attempted to bring down Western culture simply by relentlessly criticizing every aspect of the culture from the angle of every 'oppressed' or aggrieved group. It was an attempt to discredit the existing order of things and to foment more dissatisfaction and anger to be channeled into revolt. And of course by this time, the ideas of Gramsci, who advocated infiltrating all the existing institutions to bring them down from within, had mostly supplanted the old-fashioned idea of armed revolt.
Another factor which strengthened the left's war on America was the youth culture of the 1960s, in which the baby-boom generation, the millions of young people who grew up during the prosperous 50s, reached adolescence. This group, of which I am one, was a rather spoiled and privileged group who, when confronted with the imperfections of the adult world, responded with petulance and rebellion. The so-called 'New Left', based in the Frankfurt School, and represented by people like Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm, saw in the Boomers a restless but malleable group that could be mobilized for the revolution.
So, shrewdly divining the hedonistic and shallow character of many Boomers, they chose to dumb down the leftist wonkishness and focus on hedonism, eroticism, and self-indulgence, all the while with a veneer of self-righteous moralizing about peace and love.
It worked. In contrast, the old leftism, especially as exemplified in the Soviet Union and Red China, was puritanical in the extreme. Those of us who grew up in the Cold War era read many news stories of how rock 'n roll was banned in the Communist countries as 'decadent' and lewd. The Communist countries always denounced the 'decadence' and degenerate nature of Western countries. It was said that when Mao Tse-Tung (now known as Mao Zedong) assumed power in China, he completely eradicated prostitution and other such vice, and eliminated STDs. How true this was, I don't know. But the fact is, among baby-boom Americans, such strict moralism was not likely to sell. My peers and I were brought up in a fairly strait-laced time, when the 'old morality' still prevailed, and many now blame Boomers for the promiscuous and permissive culture which suddenly appeared in the late 60s and 70s. However, the blame also goes partly to Hollywood and popular culture, which had already begun a liberalizing campaign by the 1950s. Please see the movies of the mid-50s for examples. There was a spate of movies on lurid and salacious subjects which began then, and my baby-boom peers and I were then in grade school. So we did not invent the X-rated culture, though we did participate eagerly in it when we were of age to do so -- encouraged by the 'New Left' philosophy.
There was a kind of collusion of interests: Hollywood and the entertainment industry wanted to sell titillating movies and music to a 'repressed' public, especially to the baby-boom generation, who represented a very lucrative new market. So good old capitalism was happy to collude, wittingly or unwittingly, with the left's desire to alienate and radicalize the young, and thus bring down Western culture.
We all know the history of the 60s and 70s, with racial strife, a sometimes violent anti-war movement, strident feminists, and the general overturning of most things traditional and old-fashioned.
The process seemed to be happening in the rest of the Western countries on a parallel track. As student riots and unrest were happening in America, we read of the 1968 student uprising in France. Similar unrest and violence happened in various places, and cultural upheaval was a phenomenon all over the West.
At around this same time in the United States, we began to see mass immigration, on a scale unknown previously, and almost exclusively from non-Western, non-white countries. Slowly at first, and then more quickly, our cities began to be transformed, as more and more exotic peoples and their enclaves became an accepted part of the American landscape. However, during the early phase, most of the immigration was limited to big cities, while small-town and rural America remained as it had always been.
In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, Americans of European ancestry had become accustomed to learning to use appropriate terms for black people; at that time, the acceptable word was declared to be the word 'Negro' which replaced the former polite term, 'colored.' But by the end of the 60s, the term 'Negro' was decreed, by the more militant, to be a slur, and the word 'Black' to be the acceptable name. An alternative was 'Afro-American', but that did not catch on. Black became the polite word. Similarly, as other disgruntled groups witnessed the success of blacks, they too made demands. Women began marching in the streets as blacks had done, making demands, denouncing 'male chauvinism'. Women declared that 'women's libber' was a slur, and 'feminist' was the accepted term. Asians demanded not to be called 'Oriental' on the basis that it was a term that conjured up stereotypes, as in 'the inscrutable Oriental.'
Homosexuals were soon demanding special rights, including re-labeling as 'gay' rather than homosexual.
And, thanks to the agitation by home-grown black Moslems, the term 'Moslem' was out, and the preferred term 'Muslim' was established. Of course, at that time, most of the Moslems in this country were American-born blacks who had converted to Elijah Muhammad's sect of Islam.
But this was the beginning in earnest of politically correct language in this country. One of the things which some people quickly objected to was the arbitrary nature of some of the terminology. The frequent changes of names, from colored to Negro to black to the present 'African-American', keeps people off balance. The demands seem more like an assertion of power and dominance than anything else, especially when the unwitting offender who slips up and uses an outmoded word is subject to accusations of racism.
Political correctness, after all, is based in cultural Marxism, which is all about power, and attempting to reorder power relationships between the strong and the weak, the 'oppressor' and the 'oppressed.' It's all about revenge, really. It's about payback.
And political correctness takes two; the former victim, who asserts superiority simply because of a history of victimhood, and the supposed victimizer, who must agree to assume a penitent pose.
The Civil Rights movement, which plays a pivotal role in this turnaround of American society -- and oddly, it seems, all of Western society -- took inspiration from the tactics of Mohandas Gandhi, with his strategy of 'satyagraha' or truth-force. His nonviolent tactics, in defying the British colonial powers, relied on the essentially principled and humane nature of British culture. To use non-violent tactics, such as lying inert on a railroad track, against an unscrupulous power would result in the peaceful protester being turned to mincemeat. The British valued human life, coming from a culture still dominated by Christian morality and chivalry, and thus would be reluctant to harm a defenseless, unarmed, nonviolent opponent. The Indians, led by Gandhi, used the morality of the British against them. The same thing happened in the Civil Rights movement. By and large, most Americans, coming from the same Western Christian culture, would not attack unarmed men, or women. And even when militant blacks took up arms, or rioted, as in Watts, Detroit, and many other places, the response was mild. And it has become weaker as the decades have gone by; look at the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
So it's been said, in a broader sense, that the West is being defeated by its own values, its own softheartedness and basically humane sensibilites. The Moslems, in Iraq and everywhere they confront us, are doing the same thing: they are turning our virtues into weaknesses by exploiting them. The Mexicans and other illegals who are invading and colonizing our country have our number, too; they know that for every tough gringo, there are half a dozen soft-hearted ones who want to help them, take care of them, treat them as dependent children. Thus we aid in our own destruction.
I've heard it said on numerous occasions that Christianity is to blame for this apparent weakness of Western culture. And I've heard it said on equally numerous occasions that Anglo-Saxons are the most liberal of all ethnic groups in this country. Look at Britain, they say; Britain is farther down the road of national suicide than other European countries. And here in America, they say, it's the WASP elites who sell out their country and advocate multiculturalism and 'diversity'. WASPs invented multiculturalism, I have heard from various people.
First, the question I ask in regard to the WASPs in America is: are you referring to the WASP elites, such as the vaunted 'Boston Brahmins' or the old WASP money in the Northeast? How many of them are there? Do they represent all WASP Americans? I would say not; they are a relatively small group of people, unrepresentative of the vast majority of Americans of mostly Anglo-Saxon Protestant origin. I question how much actual power they have over events in America, despite the fact that there are wealthy and prominent WASPs. I don't see any real center of power there. We might say that historically, WASPs from the original New England colonies tended to become liberal in a religious sense as they became Transcendentalists. They tended to be universalists, and to be in the vanguard of radical ideas like woman suffrage and abolition and what we would now call the 'social gospel', the attempt to create heaven on earth by good works and good intentions. I say that tendency has caused mischief and damage. Those who followed that philosophy were the forerunners of today's meddlesome, self-righteous liberals. They paved the way for today's leftism, multiculturalism, and political correctness. I say this with some chagrin, since many of my ancestors and kinsmen from New England were, in fact, agitators for these liberal programs. Name a liberal cause of the time, and you can find some of my kinfolks from New England at the forefront of it. I can't say I am proud of that.
There may be a grain of truth, too, in the charge that Britain and America were more prone to liberalism, given that Britain seems to have more serious problems than say, France or Germany with immigration and multiculturalism. But did the British, or Anglo-Saxons, invent multiculturalism? I see no evidence of that. The one factor that might have predisposed both the UK and America to adopt a 'multiculturalist' outlook is that America has been traditionally a receiving country for immigration -- although it is not a 'nation of immigrants'. However we have accepted immigrants from many nations, and at first, maybe the 'melting pot' metaphor was a way of trying to put a positive spin on the mixture of peoples in this country. Similarly Britain was a nation which was the great imperial power, with an empire on which the sun never set. Having had a vast empire which included people of many races and nations, they may have developed a tolerance for 'diversity' that other nations without such an empire never developed.
Multiculturalism, I think, was an afterthought. When America began to receive heterogeneous immigration, from Southern and Eastern Europe and from Asia, for example, there was an attempt to concoct a way to make others feel included, at the very least, so as to minimize strife and conflict. What began as a well-intentioned gesture to make new immigrants feel a part of our country became entrenched, and the polite myths about the wonderful 'contributions' made by every ethnic group were taken as gospel, and exaggerated further. Now each group, no matter how insignificant in the larger scheme of things, demands its place in the sun, demands credit for some supposed accomplishment. And by now, we are used to acquiescing. Our ancestors, bless their hearts, had little idea of the monster they created in the 'melting pot' myth.
So the myth of pluralism, and of America as the 'first universal nation' was invented, and the emphasis placed on adherence to a creed, a vague set of beliefs about 'freedom', democracy, and equality. When leftism became powerful, then dominant in the 60s, the existing American national values and myths were co-opted and the meanings thereof given a subtle twist, so as to clothe leftist ideas in traditional American clothes. It worked. So now, we have changeling ideas, such as leftist egalitarianism, dressed up as the founding values. Diane Alden, in this essay on Political Correctness, said
Once upon a time in a different America, we all knew that communism was a despicable philosophy that was used to condemn billions to slavery, poverty and oppression. It was clearly the enemy of Western tradition, particularly Christianity and Judaism, as well as all the great world religions. The enemy was definable and therefore the plan of action against it possible.
Currently, the followers of the Western tradition have no such luck. PC is winning the minds of kids in schools and perverting the understanding of recent immigrants to the United States. It destroys the intent of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It takes our liberty and replaces it with the new totalitarianism couched in religious terms. It gives back a black hole that will suck up the best and brightest and destroy everything it touches.''
Leftism and its political correctness has, to use a worn cliche of our time, 'hijacked' the institutions and the high ideals of our culture, and perverted them into a caricature of their original meanings. This has happened with Christianity, as a liberalized, politicized, watery version of the faith of our fathers has been substituted for the real thing. And it is happening, or has happened, with our American founding ideals.
The phrase 'all men are created equal' has been stretched beyond anything Thomas Jefferson ever imagined or intended, I am sure.
Here is a good encapsulation of what is wrong with political correctness, taken from a lengthy essay here:
Spinoza said: 'Every man is by indefeasible natural right the master of his own thoughts.' The great fallacy of monolithic doctrines like political correctness is that they seek to eliminate an important step in human cognition: the dialogue with the self, the act of dialectical mastication that allows us to absorb and process experience, to direct and enable our own moral lives. Only in the inviolable sanctuary of the soul, in the sacred act of self-communion, can man realize his own transcendence and salvation. Politically correct speech and thought provide us with the predigested morality of self-appointed ideologues, the profane consensus of mediocre minds, in lieu of our own common sense and the collective wisdom of the ages.''
Note: I offer a few links below, which might provide some more food for thought or fodder for discussion:
Philip Atkinson on The Origins and Nature of Political Correctness
Frank Ellis on the Soviet Origins of Political Correctness
A leftist academic credits John Winthrop with laying the foundations of multiculturalism

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