Thursday, November 04, 2010

Speechless Speech

"I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the Civil Rights movement in this country," Williams said on the show. "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

So said Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio (NPR), to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. The remark got him promptly fired from NPR, and subsequently hired fulltime by Fox News. What was NPR’s reasoning?
"His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," the statement read.

And what editorial standards and practices might those be? No one really knows, but it is easy to guess, to judge by the wholly left-liberal-progressive bias and content of all its news programming. From NPR’s perspective, Williams not only shot from the hip, but shot himself in the foot. Williams expressed a private concern shared by multitudes of Americans, including very likely many denizens of NPR, when they see Muslims in their tribal garb anywhere, and not just in airports. But those other NPR employees will not be punished, because they have kept their mouths shut.

Using Williams’s pseudo-gaffe as an example, Gary Wickert, an insurance trial lawyer in Wisconsin and author or editor of several books on insurance, wrote an interesting article on Pajamas Media on the corrosive effects of political correctness, “Political Correctness and the Thought Police” (November 1st). He begins by stating that political correctness is hard to define.
It’s hard to define political correctness, but like pornography, you know it when you see it. Some say it is a social philosophy that strives to ensure nobody will ever be offended by anything, ever. Wikipedia defines it as a term which “denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, disability, and age-related contexts.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities — as in matters of sex or race — should be eliminated.”

Two minor errors in the piece should be corrected: Mr. Wickert says that “niggardly” (a supposedly offensive term discussed in the article) means “spendthrift.” Actually, it means not quite the opposite: “ungenerous,” or “cheap,” or “penny-wise.” Then, he invented a new term, “cow-tow,” when he meant “kowtow.”

However, his article delves handily but inconsistently into the causes and consequences of political correctness in speech, action and policy.

I penned a review of Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, published by The Task Force on Bias-Free Language, in 1996 for The Social Critic, “The Ghouls of Grammatical Egalitarianism.”
Thought orthodoxy is not synonymous with thought control. There is no Federal Board of Language Usage to which publishers must submit their books and journals to be tested for discriminatory or disparaging language before they can be put on the market for sale to the public. However, while no official agency of control exists, there is a kind of interlocking directorate of semi-public institutions and organizations which accomplishes the same purpose by presenting a united front against freedom of expression and imposing orthodoxy on our culture's intellectual and literary pacesetters. 'Say what you please, we're not censors!....But say it our way, or do not bother to say it.'

Short of overt government repression, I cannot imagine a more insidious form of thought control than this, which is to thrust independent minds of whatever professional suasion or degree of ability into a purgatory that is not quite freedom and not quite slavery.

(See also my entry, “Censorship,” in The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science.)

The Task Force was created by the Association of American University Presses (the AAUP, see its membership here) in response to constant mewlings from other cultural quarters to research and write Guidelines, which has become a kind of Psalter of Bowdleristic Banter for academics and others obsessively sensitive to sensitivity.

Only H.L. Mencken could do better than P.J. O’Rourke, who reviewed this abomination in August 1995:
The pharisaical, malefic, and incogitant Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing is a product of the pointy-headed wowsers at the Association of American University Presses, seven women, two men] who established a Task Force on Bias-Free Language filled with cranks, pokenoses, blowhards, four-flushers, and pettifogs. This foolish and contemptible product of years wasted in mining the shafts of indignation has been published by the cow-besieged, basketball-sotted sleep-away camp for hick bourgeois offspring, Indiana University, under the aegis of its University Press, a traditional dumping ground for academic deadwood so bereft of talent, intelligence, and endeavor as to be useless even in the full precincts of Midwestern state college classrooms.

Politically correct speech and writing are not necessarily traceable, as Wickert alleges, to the Frankfurt School and Marxism, although the two are closely allied ideologically. I doubt that even David Axelrod, Cass Sunstein, or Anita Dunn would claim that politically correct speech is Communist in origin, though they would have no problem enforcing it. Politically correct speech in America, as a phenomenon, is a direct result of legislated envy.

Politically correct speech is the political bowdlerizing of thought and expression of thought. It requires ceaseless “conditioning” by government- and academically-approved wardens. As Thomas Bowdler sought to expunge “indecencies” from language by simply removing them from literary works (such as Shakespeare’s plays), politically correct speech seeks to expunge objectionable terms from the mind. The “authorities” plant un bacio Della morte on unwelcome terms, as surely as Michael Corleone condemned his brother Fredo in Godfather II.

However, while a mind cannot be forced, it can be corrupted. That is the sole purpose of politically correct speech. A corrupted mind will accede to anything. It is ready to be moulded and given its marching orders.

Political correctness is an insidious, poliomyelitic epistemological affliction that attacks, not the brainstem or spinal cord, but language, concepts, and ideas in one’s mind to render the mind an impotent and helpless plaything of authorities or the thought police. In short, it attacks the mind, and, like Orwell’s Newspeak Dictionary in Nineteen Eighty-Four, seeks to reduce the range of the mind by homogenizing and cleansing its contents and imposing a literal mindless conformity.

The catch is that, while imbeciles would not know the difference between plain, politically correct, and “incorrect” speech – they are not the objects of the tyranny, it is only active minds that are the object of controls – it works only if one is willing to submit, Muslim-style, to a higher “authority,” only if one knows that one is expected to knuckle under and bow to the god of sensitivity.

Compliance with politically correct speech, however, is voluntary. It is a conscious action requiring knowledge of what one is submitting to and for what reason, and knowledge of what one is abandoning. This in turn contributes to a deadening miasma of habitual, congenital conformity in politics, art, speech, and other realms of endeavor, even in soccer moms who applaud scoreless, “non-competitive” games – designed to protect the feelings of the losers and bolster their “self-esteem” – which in turn contributes to the growth of a servile, passive, complacent citizenry.

And a dishonest one, as well, for while “incorrect” terms may be suppressed, the banished terms form a black market of expression. They do not disappear. Genuinely offensive terms, which would not be employed by a civil person in any circumstance, such as wetback, Polack, wop, or kike take on even more vicious meanings, as well as prejudice-free terms such as black, idiot, moron, and imbecile. (Note: Black basically means either a color or an absence of color; the latter three terms were formerly clinical terms used to measure thinking or reasoning capacity, and are now “disused.” I have no idea what terms have replaced them, except the popular, universally applicable and now humorously denigrating challenged.)

In the written realm, political correctness results in staleness of writing, in thinking, in literature.

It is only government force that can fuel and sustain political correctness by imposing penalties on incorrectness. The trials of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolfe in Austria, and of columnist Mark Steyn in Canada are proof of that power, a power handed government by its allies in academia. Political correctness is a trickle-down phenomenon with dual ends: the punishment and fettering of independent minds; and fostering the increase in truncated minds, which are more easily managed, manipulated, and led. It is a communicable polio that corrupts an increasing number of fields, from the military to politics to education and art. It is an enfeebling disease, promoted and imposed by government.

Political correctness, especially in speech, vitiates a person’s epistemology, with the consequence of creating a universal state of desideratum, or the nagging sense that the identifying terms of some things have been deliberately banished or eradicated. One’s only option is to conform to an arbitrarily enforced norm. For an individual who knows the terms, it puts him on a cautious self-defense regime that is more destructive repression than it is studied discretion.

It is noteworthy that it is specially protected or patronized groups that are the beneficiaries of politically correct speech. They are viewed in the same way that certain animals and plants have been designated “endangered species.” They beg protection from indiscriminate speech or “wounding words” and real and imagined insults. The disabled, the aged, the mentally incapable, and so on are allied in a unique menagerie of untouchables and the socially coddled, and safe-housed in the same iron-clad fortress of exclusivity with the spotted owl and the delta smelt and, more recently, Muslims.

To echo Juan Williams, whenever I encounter politically correct speech and action, I get worried and nervous. It means that I am dealing with dishonesty, with corruption, with a consciously shrunken mind that demands that I speak and write on its terms.

But then, as a free man, I simply laugh and say what I wish.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

"But then, as a free man, I simply laugh and say what I wish." And if you did not who would bother to read your blogs. It's so refreshing to hear someone speak/write clearly.