Sunday, November 07, 2010

Thoughts on PC.

The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.
(Oscar Wilde)


There have been several notable posts recently on the phenomenon of Political correctness otherwise known as PC. Jim Kalb's, PC: The cultural Antichrist and Ferdinand Bardamu's, Citizenship Sola Fide; Or evidence that liberalism is a natural outgrowth of Protestantism.  One of Jim Kalb's commentators, Bruce Charlton, has chimed in and has put up a few intelligent posts on the subject matter. These commentators have reawakened several rudimentary thoughts that I have been mulling over for some time.

I'll start first with a comment from Jim Kalb's post:
Something that trumps normal considerations so completely must have transcendent importance. It's clear that PC relates to something big.

What it relates to, in fact, is a sort of new religion: the gospel of inclusiveness. It's a religion of salvation, and what PC stands for is the salvation of the world. It's going to destroy the demons of the past--hatred, bigotry, division--and open up a new age of freedom, equality, unity, world peace, and unbounded horizons.
Whilst I agree with Mr Kalb that PC is in fact a new religion, the meta-religion of the middle class, within which all other religions are incorporated and subordinated to, I think he is wrong with regard to the nature of its "gospel". PC is certainly capable of exclusion, after all people who don't follow it's precepts are excluded quite easily,  rather the gospel of PC, at least within the Anglo-sphere, is the gospel of "niceness"

By niceness  I mean the "virtue" of not causing offense to anyone and the "virtue" of trying to make the world a more agreeable place for all. As such this virtue has both a redemptive and a missionary character. The redemption comes from the self-exertion of "niceness", a man rising up the moral ranks to the degree by which he possess wit, charm and pleasantness and by performing the missionary component which manifests itself in "helping" others or things less fortunate.

In many ways this philosophy resembles the Christian gospels with their concern of "helping" others and it is quite interesting to note just how many Christians seem to have hitched on to the PC bandwagon. However where the Christian concept of charity is directed towards doing what is good (with a capital "G") ,the PC concept is directed towards doing what is "nice". Now this is an important distinction because working out what is the "good" thing to do in a particular situation is frequently quite hard, a lot of thinking has to be done, therefore the apprehension of goodness is a function of the intellect. On the other hand, doing what's nice is usually intuitive and is a function of the sentiments. in other words, it's an imperative based upon one's feelings. Political Correctness is the religion of agreeable feelings.

Now it needs to be understood that what's agreeable and what's good can sometimes concur, but it's also apparently that sometimes what seems most agreeable can be evil, and it's this "overlap" which frequently confuses the issue.

Christianity's relationship with PC illustrates this quite clearly. PC has no problems with the "soft" virtues of Christianity. Helping the poor with funds, forgiveness, the "social justice" gospel etc, never get any censure from PC. On the other hand Christian precepts which are "hard" such as the prohibition of fornication, euthanasia, homosexual marriage,  etc( the ones which cause people to feel "hurt" or "exclusion") get the PC hurt. In PC theology, that which causes psychic pain (and hence is not nice) to anyone is "sinful".

Being a "logic" of sentiments so to speak, PC has its appeal at most to the "half educated". The bovine masses, nearly always operating on self interest and primitive sentiments can be "nice" but only to a limited the degree. The intelligent see that the whole logic is ridiculous. It's that middle level of intelligence, the credentialed yet unreflective, who are its main proponents. Secondly, being a logic of "feeling" it "syncs" and finds a home more easily with women than with men. Feminism, almost by necessity is its handmaiden and PC most naturally finds its home amongst the respectable "middle class".

How did it arise?

I think Ferdinand has a point when he says Protestantism is its original source,  but it was not Protestantism alone which caused this, several other factors had to converge. Protestantism did its bit by providing the theological justification for effectively everyman his own Pope, it allowed a man in the privacy of his own "conscience" to determine to determine what is "good". Religion is practiced by people, not theologians, and by giving people who think with their feelings the moral justification to act as they see fit, most people would act in a way which most agreed with them, not in a way which was intellectually rigorous, with a firm knowledge that God was on their side.
Paradoxically though, being a hard core literal "Sola Scripturalist" protected one to a certain degree against intellectual gymnastics which would justify anything agreeable. The literalist "Bible thumper" who ardently believed in creationism was also likely to believe in the prohibition of fornication, his scope for theological creativity was limited by the insistence on literal conformity.  I was the more "elevated" or "intellectually mature" Protestant who was liable to the seduction of PC.  Intellectually then, the Protestant camp can be though of as split along two lines: the Fundamentalists, and the others. ( I know that there are numerous further subclassifications but this is a blog, not a doctoral dissertation).

The other factor is historical. The industrial revolution resulted in England amassing enormous wealth, power and prestige. England's military victories and world domination ensured that not only would England wield military and economic power but that it would exert a powerful cultural influence on the entire world. England's culture, which by the standards of the day was remarkably liberal,  thus spread and was most emulated by the Anglophone middle classes. It think people seem to forget just how much a "style" and "fashion" capital London was until the Second World War. Looking back at B+W films of the 30's it surprising to see just how many upper/middle class American, Australian even Asian characters spoke with an Anglicised accent. America may have been rich but England had class, and anyone aspirational(middle classes) wanted some of it. What in the end happened is that people emulated the habits of the British middle to upper classes, particularly their manners. Men wanted the habits of a Gentleman, women a Lady.

Here is Newman writing on the manners of a Gentleman (1852):
It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast; — all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny. If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blunder. [From The Idea of a University, 1852] 
(My underlining)

Note whats going on here. The idea of a gentlemanly behaviour is to be nice and agreeable to everyone. Could you see such a man opposing open borders?

Protestantism unintentionally provided the theological justification for agreeable behaviour. Agreeable behaviour became the accepted norm amongst British upper classes.  Britain's power and influence made it a cultural force throughout the world and the behaviours of the ruling classes were emulated.

Now whilst the religion was considered important, it moderated the extremes of "nice behaviour", it set limits on what was tolerable. However with the secularisation of Britain beginning in the second half of the 19th Century, these limits were removed and the habit of niceness  became the overriding virtue of the middle class. It became its "default" morality. Anyone familiar with G.K Chesterton's newspaper articles from the early 1900's shows that the English middle classes already possessed many of the idiotic ideas that are today part and parcel of PC.

Membership of the middle classes is not simple a function of income, its a function of behaviour, and a man wanting membership of the middle classes is expected to behave in an appropriate manner. He is expected to be nice above all else.  Niceness or agree-ability is the religion of the middle class and it is from this class from which the managers of the modern state are drawn. The lawyers, doctors, teachers, analysts, civil service administrators and so on. The PC state is not so much a product of any conspiracy, rather it is the product of middle class habits devoid of any other cultural modification. When nice people rule the world, they're going to behave a lot like Newman's gentleman.

BTW, I'm not trying to diss Protestantism, I think there are many good things in it. However I do believe that Protestantism has a "structural flaw" which permitted the birth of PC.

P.S. Someone else is thinking along the same lines as I am. Quote:

Professional prominence or position will not secure a place in the class any more than mere money. In fact, it is possible to be an official of a major corporation or a member of the U.S. Supreme Court (just ask Justice Clarence Thomas), or even president (Ronald Reagan), and not be taken seriously by the ruling class. Like a fraternity, this class requires above all comity -- being in with the right people, giving the required signs that one is on the right side, and joining in despising the Outs. Once an official or professional shows that he shares the manners, the tastes, the interests of the class, gives lip service to its ideals and shibboleths, and is willing to accommodate the interests of its senior members, he can move profitably among our establishment's parts.