“You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan….
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait ”
-”Revolution,” The Beatles
One of the best ways to understand our current mess in intellectual life is through what I call the three option situation. In the past, something has been unfair (position one). What should be done according to democracy and Enlightenment values is to correct it by fairness (position two). But instead the dominant ideology wants to make it unfair in the opposite direction (position three). Thus, the situation remains arguably just as bad instead of being made better. The dominant idea of justice is merely to switch victims rather than try to make nobody a victim.
America was founded on the basis that government should be limited, individuals should have the maximum possible rights, and all were created equal. When those precepts were not properly kept – as with slavery or denial of the vote to women – the proper goal was to correct inconsistencies, to treat everyone alike. Liberalism arose in the nineteenth century as a protest against the power of the rulers and in favor of freedom from regime and social controls. How ironic that the word has now been turned into its exact opposite.
On the level of intellectual discourse, the great progress of Western civilization was made by setting up certain guidelines. These included:
-The search for truth is paramount. While no one can perfectly define what is objectively true, they should do their best. But since people will disagree and no one can be absolutely right, the ability of government or society to impose the version held by any individual or group should be limited as much as possible.
-One’s attempt to define truth should be done without fear or favor as honestly and objectively as possible.
-Opinions should be based on the best possible evidence. One should not favor evidence merely because it suits one’s cause, group, interest, or personal preferences.
-Color, gender, religion, national origin, or any other factor should not figure in this process. If such a thing is done, that is a deviation that should be remedied. I like the folksy way a Chinese Communist leader argued for pragmatism against the previous ideological rigidity of the Mao Zedong regime: It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.
There are many more principles that could be listed and all of them conflict with political correctness, which is the equivalent of rigging the outcome of an athletic event because somebody judges that one individual or team “ought” to win. It can lead to no good.
These reflections are prompted by something that happened in the case of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA). In an article about the issue, James Kirchik observed:
YIISA was hardly more political or activist than a vast array of programs of dubious academic merit, whether African-American studies, Chicano studies, gay and lesbian studies, and so on, which have long been accepted as integral to American universities.
Kirchik continued that when he asked one critic of YIISA how such a double standard was being justified, the reply was: “Israel is not an oppressed group that we’re supposed to feel this enormous sympathy for, in the same way as gays and lesbians.”
In other words, if you are classified as an “oppressed group” that means you can demand totally uncritical treatment in academic studies and get everything you want politically. Sympathy, not truth is paramount. There is, thus, nothing wrong with lying, cheating, and treating people unequally; it is merely a question of who is getting beneficial treatment. All that counts is who you have “sympathy” for. Thus, it is right and proper to promote your political views rather than journalistic balance and accuracy or academic honesty and effort at objectivity. The result is the destruction of the West’s key institutions.
This is how a generation of academics, journalists, and students in general is being educated, to scorn professional ethics to be a professional propagandist. Once again, people face discrimination because of their views. It is simply a different set of views being persecuted.
This is totally contrary to liberalism’s long historic struggle against governmental and social oppression. And, of course, this isn’t historic liberalism or modern conservatism (which has incorporated many liberal concepts compared to what conservatism meant in the past) but radicalism.
What has happened is that what was once “conservative” oppression at the hands of authoritarian traditional political and social systems – rationalized by state religions, divinely justified monarchs, and restrictions on free thought – has now become “progressive” oppression at the hands of unlimited governmental power, ”anti-racism,” and “social justice.”
It is strange but quite understandable that the profoundly reactionary nature of the current dominant doctrine is so little recognized.
Here’s a recent experience of mine. I wrote an article defending television/radio personality Glenn Beck from the unfair charge that he was the leading antisemite in the American media. That this claim was made in a prestigious newspaper, the Washington Post, is bad enough, especially since the article offered not one iota of evidence for the accusation. The main “proof” was that Beck had interviewed a man who had praised the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In fact, the man was on Beck’s show once discussing a totally different subject and the article in question actually stated that the Protocols were a forgery!
Senator Joe McCarthy would have been ashamed to accuse someone on the basis of such flimsy evidence. (See what I mean about the reactionary nature of political correctness and “progressivism?”)
Following my article, I was criticized by several professors on an Internet list of academics that discussed antisemitism. The basic arguments to prove me wrong can be boiled down to the following:
-Beck must be an antisemite because all Mormons are antisemites. (To which I replied, among other things, “Does that include Senator Harry Reid?”)
-Beck must be an antisemite because he praised Polish people for helping Jews.
-Beck must be an antisemite because he criticized George Soros, who is of Jewish descent, for being too powerful and rich (a traditional antisemitic trope, it was said).
In other words, these professors, who study group hatred, did not even realize that they were engaging in a “hate crime” by accusing all Mormons and Poles of being antisemites, engaging in what they themselves might call “racism.” As for Soros, they were saying one cannot criticize someone for behavior even based on evidence if the group to which they belong has been criticized in the past – justly or unjustly – for anything like that. Thus, the charge of “Islamophobia” makes it impossible to study Islam or Islamism seriously.
Many of these “reactionary leftists” know the Pogo comic strip’s famous line to the effect that we have met the enemy and he is us. Yet these people have become the very thing they revile – the medieval inquisitor, the McCarthyite, the racialist, the hunters after witches to burn, the intolerant censors who close off open discussion, and the persecutors of those they label “enemies of the people.”