Better Dead Than Rude
Political correctness began as a reasonable adjustment of manners, but as an ideology, it corrupts language and dulls thought, says John Derbyshire
Since the late 1980s, when it first came to general attention and acquired a name, PC has been part of our lives. Those of us of a conservative temperament-those, I mean, who demand of any large social change that it be weighed in the scales of liberty, order, amenity, and reason, that it be justified-have been scoffing at, grumbling about, deploring, or excoriating PC for 20 years now, yet its sillier manifestations can still make us gasp.
Item: `Stone Age' is no longer acceptable, joining the list of other words and terms deemed offensive in polite society. `Primitive' also is considered, well, primitive by some. `All anthropologists would agree that the negative use of the terms "primitive" and "Stone Age" to describe tribal peoples has serious implications for their welfare,' the British-based Association of Social Anthropologists said Tuesday. `Governments and other social groups have long used these ideas as a pretext of [sic] depriving such peoples of land and their resources.'
We are all familiar with stories of this kind, laughed at around the office water cooler or retailed on TV late-show monologues. PC is now part of the landscape. We are, in fact, at a point where PC fatigue has set in. News items like this one are as likely to generate sighs of resignation as giggles. In that sense, PC has won. To those who still mind it, PC is now just another disagreeable feature of the environment, like bad weather. And of course, a great many people don't mind it at all.
The Stone Age story illustrates the most prominent fact about PC: it is mainly a linguistic phenomenon. Words and phrases that were commonplace 50 years ago are now taboo. Many ideas that were likewise commonplace may not now be put into spoken or written words. Some of those ideas were actually true so that the taboo on their expression hinders us in dealing with reality-not a problem for those noble dreamers who regard the "reality-based community" with scorn.
Many of these now forbidden words, phrases, and notions were widely considered obnoxious and insulting even in 1957 and had already been banned from polite society for decades. Others were useful and innocuous, and their outlawing seems arbitrary. I can certainly understand a Chinese person's anger at being called a chink, but why would he mind being called an Oriental or hearing-what any Chinese person of my acquaintance will freely admit-that his countrymen are unusually fond of gambling?
Along with the proscribing and replacing of familiar terms has come a whole new vocabulary employed to deal with violators of these taboos. A recurring feature of our public life is the stylized drama played out when some person of significance utters a word like "faggot" or asserts that black people make good sprinters. The little pantomime that ensues-condemnation, apology, penance, forgiveness-is dressed up in a jargon as prescribed and artificial as Oriental court ritual. The violator is guilty of "hate," "bigotry," or "prejudice." If he uttered taboo words, they were "epithets" or "slurs." He did not, in fact, utter them: he "spouted" or "spewed" them. (There is a Ph.D. thesis to be written by some student of linguistics about the fondness for "sp-" verbs in this context.) The noun "epithet" is preferentially qualified by one of a small set of adjectives now set aside for this purpose, being hardly ever used elsewhere: "vile," "abhorrent," "repugnant," "hurtful."
Language has also been overhauled in ways less emotionally charged. Nonfiction writers are pressed by their publishers to alternate "he" with "she" when speaking of unspecified individuals or even to use the preposterous "s/he." They are told to write "BCE" and "CE" in place of "BC" and "AD," to write "gender" for "sex," "human-made" for "man-made," and so on.
(On the first of those points, and by way of showing that the PC phenomenon is by no means restricted to the Anglosphere, I note the following comment by a friend recently returned from Spain: "In Spanish the ending of a word is used to define whether the subject is male or female. So while in English you can write `All of them,' in Spanish it would have to be `todos y todas.' This is too cumbersome even for PC devotees. The solution: `tod@s.' I'm not kidding." No, he's not. A Google search for "tod@s" found 1,370,000 occurrences. I have not been able to locate any definitive advice on the pronunciation of "tod@s", but then I don't yet know how to pronounce "s/he," which I spotted recently in a White House press statement. In this essay, I shall use only generic "he" on the principle declared by Winston Churchill: "The male embraces the female.")
This is all familiar. On the evidence of my own social contacts, I believe that most people born after 1970 have internalized the PC taboos and comply with them unthinkingly. Such complaints as one still hears come from the over-forties. Even they have a defeatist air. I repeat: PC has won. It is now the cant of our age....
PC is the realization of this need for a new decorum. It has intellectual roots, as any social movement must. The PC I am discussing, in fact-the PC of speech and manners-is the offspring of a powerful ideology. One might call the ideology Strong PC, with the derivative speech-and-manners aspect being Weak PC.
Strong PC, which has now attained near total dominance of our universities' humanities departments, belongs to the cast of mind-traceable back through the Critical Theory of the 1930s, via Marx, to the 19th-century German idealists and beyond-that places power at the center of human affairs, reducing all of history, sociology, psychology, even literature to a "who, whom" game in which someone is always oppressing someone else. It has close affinities with the "blank slate" theories of human nature that took over the human sciences in the middle of the 20th century.
The Strong PC ideology has found its natural home in the academy and its most prominent expression in the cult of Diversity. You can't cross a modern campus today without encountering a Museum of Tolerance, a Tunnel of Oppression, or an Office of Diversity Programs. (Washington State University has a chief diversity officer with a full-time staff of 55 and a $3 million annual budget.) College freshmen are relentlessly badgered with Strong-PC propaganda. Intensive efforts are made to instill guilt and shame in those who are white, male, heterosexual, and able-bodied.
Ordinary citizens, however, are largely indifferent to, or ignorant of, this intellectual background. To most, PC is a way of dealing more fairly with their fellow citizens, of acknowledging others' rights to as much of the glorious new freedom, prosperity, and equality of the post-World War II world as we enjoy. PC has been, for most Americans, not an ideological crusade but a reformation of manners-a necessary, and to many, a welcome one.....
The Four Horsemen of the PC Apocalypse
There are at least four areas in which the apparent internalization of PC cant has been particularly poisonous: education, immigration, law enforcement, and war.
Education. Educational practice has long been a playground for PC's "experiments against reality," with the ludicrous No Child Left Behind Act, legislating that all students must be above average, as the culmination of those experiments.
Much energy has gone into a sissifaction of the schools-an effort to get boys behaving like girls. Fighting-a normal activity among small boys-is now considered an offense so horrible as to justify suspension and psychiatric intervention. "Use your words," our sons are told, when they would rather, and would be better and healthier, using their fists. Schoolyard confrontations that would once have been taken to the gym to be decided with boxing gloves on now end with clenched-teeth apologies and grudging handshakes under the anxious eye of some senior staff member, usually female. Repeat offenses are dealt with via tranquillizing medications.
The converse thing-getting girls to be more boyish-has, where it has been attempted, mainly worked to the further disadvantage of boys, as with the ruthless application of Title IX of the 1972 education law to destroy athletic opportunities for male students.
The language of education is even more punctiliously PC than that of society at large. I have just returned from the annual field day at my son's school, the events terminating in a, yes, "tug-o'-peace." Talking to my son, I contemptuously called it a "tug-o'-mayhem, massacre, and blood-spattered death." He laughed. He liked that. He's a boy.
Immigration. PC has rendered this topic, a matter of tremendous national moment needing serious discussion, well nigh unmentionable, except within the narrow confines of a few vacuous PC-approved clich‚s: "nation of immigrants," "out of the shadows," etc. Efforts to broaden the conversation are countered with savage reprisals from the heaviest artillery pieces in the PC armory. Reductio ad Hitlerum is frequently and shamelessly deployed. The other day I heard columnist Linda Chavez on Laura Ingraham's radio show being challenged to defend her assertion that opponents of the recent Senate immigration bill "hate Mexicans." In a trice, Ms. Chavez was accusing immigration restrictionists of favoring eugenics. Eugenics!
Law enforcement. The fact, borne out by every statistical inquiry under the sun, that some racial groups are more inclined to criminality than others, is of course anathema to those who have internalized PC precepts. Any program of law enforcement that delivers disproportionate numbers of black or Hispanic perpetrators to the courts and prisons is ipso facto considered to be "racist." Such programs are strongly discouraged.
In my own county of Suffolk (New York), the police launched a campaign against unlicensed drivers. Within three weeks they arrested 50 such, with Hispanics heavily over-represented. The police commissioner, on orders from the district attorney and a local judge, thereupon suspended the program on suspicion of "racial profiling." A revised version of the program has since been permitted, but presumably, while the program was in suspense, some county residents-myself, perhaps-might have been killed or maimed in crashes with unlicensed drivers, another instance of the "better dead than rude" mentality that has long ruled our airport-security screening procedures.
War. By the turn of the century, many of us feared that PC had so emasculated our language and manners as to have rendered us incapable of any collective action against hostile nations. If you may not speak of-may not notice-the negative characteristics of other nations, cultures, sexes, or "orientations"; if the incorrigible selfishness of us white, male Americans prevents us from seeing that all men are brothers with the same motives and aspirations; if pride in Western civilization must yield to self-abasement before the moral superiority of the non-West; then why should we bother to defend our country? Would we even know how to do so by any method other than "using our words"?
I was therefore glad to see us acting vigorously against Afghanistan and Iraq, imagining that these campaigns would be in the monitory style of 19th-century British gunboat diplomacy: smash their forts, kill a few leaders, then get the Marines back on board and away. I had reckoned without PC and its lunatic spawn, "compassionate conservatism." We had, apparently, embarked on a campaign to bring to the Afghans and Iraqis the kind of consensual government they surely yearned for, all peoples being precisely equal in their collective aptitudes and desires. The results can be seen on the TV news any night of the week.
The Coming PC Crackup
PC was a response to great social changes. It has not been all bad. Some softening of manners toward other races, and toward homosexuals, was proper. So was a fairer recognition of the rights and abilities of women. We needed a new decorum. Not all systems of decorum are equal, though. The PC I have been talking about, the Weak PC of speech and manners, has a deep flaw, which probably renders the new decorum unstable. The flaw is that Strong PC, the ideology underpinning Weak PC, is premised on falsehoods about human nature.
This is, I think, quite widely understood now-much more widely than was the case 20 years ago. Consider, for example, the lawsuit recently launched by George W. Bush's attorney general against the Fire Department of New York. The suit charges that the FDNY practices racial discrimination. The evidence for this charge-the sole and only evidence-is that black and Hispanic applicants scored lower on the department's entrance exams in 1999 and 2002 than white applicants did. In the 1999 test, about 90 percent of white applicants had a passing score, but only 61.2 percent of black and 77 percent of Hispanic test takers passed. In 2002, the figures were 97.2 percent of white applicants passing, versus 85.6 percent for black applicants and 92.8 percent for Hispanic applicants, an illustration of the simple mathematical truth that you can narrow these gaps by making tests easier. In the limit, when the test is infinitely easy, all groups average 100 percent, and the gaps have vanished!
There is no allegation in the complaint as filed that the Fire Department marked the tests incorrectly. The complaint is, so far as I can understand it, that clever racists in the Fire Department-the same department that lost 343 brave firefighters on 9/11-designed the questions so skillfully that black and Hispanic applicants were bound to score lower than white applicants. We are not told how the FDNY did this or why they do not get themselves off the hook by doing it in reverse: devising questions that disproportionately baffle white test takers.
Thirty years ago, the lawsuit would have met with broad approval. Today, after decades of observing in untold numbers of different situations the intractable gaps in cognitive abilities between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics, on the other, there can be few people who believe that any injustice has taken place. We are not yet at the point where it is permissable to scoff openly at the idea that test scores can ever be equalized across all races, but to judge from private conversations, and some published commentary on the event-Heather Mac Donald's in City Journal, for instance-we are getting close.
Other educational process are well in motion: the Iraq War, the slow disintegration of No Child Left Behind, the statistics about Hispanics that are emerging-in spite of all the efforts of the PC establishment to prevent them doing so-from the immigration debates. Behind those, like a slow-rising tsunami, are beginning to come the results of research programs in the human sciences: in neuroscience, brought by new imaging techniques; in human genetics, following the 2003 mapping of the human genome; in paleo-anthropolgy, primatology, and evolutionary biology. Aspects of our human nature that have been argued over for millennia by philosophers and ideologues will soon become matters of cold scientific fact.
You may drive Nature out with a pitchfork, said Horace, but she will come running back. So she will. I believe we can already hear the pattering sound of her feet coming up the path.
Free market leads to more equal pay
Worldwide, men earn 25% more than women of similar education and experience. Theories abound as to why, exactly, this is true, but some new research suggests a way to mitigate the wage gap: More capitalism.
"More competitiveness in the economy can reduce gender inequalities in wages," conclude the authors of a new discussion paper released by the Center for Economic Policy Research, economists Martina Zweimueller and Doris Weichselbaumer of the University of Linz, and Rudolf Winter-Ebmer of the University of Linz and Austria's Institute for Advanced Studies.
The findings suggest that opening markets is a more effective way to achieve equal wages than anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action programs.
While the new paper is among the first to look internationally at the impact of open markets on the gender wage gap, it tests a theory that has been kicking around for a half century. In the 1950s, economist Gary Becker--who would go on to win a Nobel Prize--first began to examine the role of prejudice in the market place. He held that competition reduces discrimination.
Why? Suppose that a few companies refuse to hire Martians. For a time, Martians will be cheaper to hire than Earthlings throughout the marketplace. But then other company owners will take advantage of this lower-cost but just-as-skilled labor and start hiring as many Martians as they can. These non-discriminating companies will make bigger profits as a result, eventually driving the racist firms out of business. In the process, wages will also achieve parity.
Winter-Ebmer suggested another possible reason for his team's finding: Lower regulation could foster greater wage equality by encouraging entrepreneurialism. "If it's easier to start new firms, there's more competition, which may include competition from new [corporate] cultures. New firms might have a fresh view and be less inclined to discriminate."
Australia: Government may appeal "stolen generation" ruling
Nonsensical verdict but VERY interesting evidence. Fostering the black guy out probably saved his life. There was no "generation" stolen but this case highlights very well the circumstances in which some black kids were fostered to white parents. White kids treated as badly would be fostered out too, one hopes
THE South Australian Government will consider whether to lodge an appeal after an Aboriginal man was awarded more than $500,000 compensation for being taken away from his family. The State Government yesterday was ordered to pay Bruce Trevorrow $525,000 for injuries, losses and false imprisonment, a first for a member of the stolen generation.
Mr Trevorrow was 13 months old in 1957 when a neighbour drove him from his Coorong family home, south-east of Adelaide, to the Children's Hospital on Christmas Day, with stomach pains. Hospital notes tended to the South Australian Supreme Court show staff recorded that the child had no parents, was neglected and malnourished.
Two weeks later, he was given under the authority of Aborigines Protection Board to a woman, who later became his foster parent, without the permission of his natural parents. He did not see his family again for 10 years.
In June 1998, Mr Trevorrow sued the SA Government for pain and suffering, claiming he had lost his cultural identity, suffered depression, became an alcoholic and had an erratic employment history after being taken as a child from his family. The court heard the 50-year-old was depressed due to a chronic insecurity and had been treated with antidepressants and tranquillisers since he was 10.
Justice Thomas Gray yesterday ruled in favour of Mr Trevorrow, saying the state falsely imprisoned him as a child and owed him a duty of care for his pain and suffering. Rick Morris, a spokesman for SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson said the government would read the lengthy judgment and seek legal advice before making a decision on whether to appeal.
The Leftist hatred of people doing well for themselves rolls on
Comment from Australia:
"We have to do something about wealth," Melbourne broadcaster Jon Faine implored Kevin Rudd on ABC radio last week. "What do you do about people making too much money?" For starters, let's give them a round of applause, said Rudd. They must be doing something right. And then thank them for contributing to society by paying taxes that fund our buses, trains, hospitals and schools. Not to mention the many new jobs they create when their business thrives.
Actually, I'm teasing you. That was not Rudd's response. Instead, he fuelled the rich-hating myth that, just as a spot of dancing leads to sex, a booming economy leads to that eighth deadly sin: inequality. The rich get richer and the rest miss out on the spoils. In other words, this economic prosperity thing is not all it's cracked up to be. Unfortunately, those in the media, in politics and academe who feed the populist myth that prosperity is bad and inequality is a dirty word do so by ignoring reality.
As it turns out, in Australia the Howard years have brought a major redistribution of income from the rich to the rest. The average Australian household receives more in cash benefits and government services than it pays in tax. According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 40 per cent of households pay any net tax. The average family pays $360 a week in tax but claws back $375 in cash benefits and government services.
So when people agonise about the wealthy and ask what is to be done about people making too much money, it turns out much is already being done. The taxes paid by the wealthy are used to fund transfers to middle and lower-income groups. Indeed, middle-income earners - those dubbed the forgotten people by Robert Menzies - have been the biggest beneficiaries under the Howard Government.
Late last year, a study by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling revealed that during the Howard decade those in the middle income bracket had benefited more than those at the top. Families earning between $55,000 and $80,000 a year and with children have seen their real incomes rise by 32 per cent, largely through family tax benefits. In other words, the rich may be getting richer, but the rest are also reaping the rewards of the nation's wealth boom. The only group not getting tax breaks and government handouts at the same rate are couples without children and single taxpayers on lower incomes.
So what explains the mythology that says your average family is being dudded? Why the complaints after 16 years of uninterrupted growth and wages rising by 25 per cent compared to a 14 per cent rise in consumer prices over the past five years? Sure, petrol prices are biting and interest rate hikes hurt. But I suspect there is more to the present malaise than the price of groceries and mortgage payments. The problem is human nature. According to studies, if you ask a worker whether they would like to earn $33,000 while their colleagues collect $30,000, or earn $35,000 while their colleagues pick up $38,000, most will opt for the lower wage, so long as they are earning more than their colleagues. In other words, affluence is relative. Arthur C. Brooks points out in the latest edition of City Journal that 56per cent of participants in another study said they would rather earn $50,000 a year when their colleagues get $25,000 than earn $100,000 where their colleagues are paid $200,000.
These surveys explain why in Australia's booming economy, where everyone is reaping the rewards, there is still a sense of being left behind. The problem is that there is always someone doing better than you. Jealously is a more powerful human trait than reason. That's why socialism and its promise of central control of society's wealth continue to have such a powerful hold on the public imagination even though it has failed everywhere it's been tried. And failed to the point of making everyone worse off.
Jealously explains why people such as Clive Hamilton still get traction. The director of the Australia Institute, who rails against capitalism, taps into our sense of unease that others are doing better than us. Working hard and earning more money than we did a decade ago will not make us happier because there will always be a Joe in the next office earning more than us. Inequality is bad, he says. So bad that he wants to convince us that it is spreading a disease called affluenza. And every disease needs a cure. Hamilton's cure, as he wrote in The Age last week, is for the rich to pay more tax and do so with a smile in order to relieve the ache in their philistine souls.
British economist Richard Layard has another solution that would please Hamilton. Slug the rich with high taxes until inequality is cured. Layard thinks the rich are making others so unhappy by earning so much more money that they need to be hit with taxes so high that they will work less and earn less and therefore apparently make everyone else feel much happier. We must all be brought down to the same level lest we earn too much and make those earning less feel unhappy. But there's a hitch. When people start to work less, earn less and pay less tax, where will governments get the money to pay for the services that we all expect and need? And where will the jobs come from as people work less and downsize their business?
Those trying to convince us that inequality is bad secretly dislike progress. Progress is born of competition and inevitably leads to inequality. People with bright ideas, or who work harder to get ahead, are more successful more quickly. Bang, there is inequality. You can just imagine the guys from the Hamilton/Layard school of economics standing around in the Stone Age muttering that no good will come of this new-fangled wheel business, it will just create a two-tiered society: those with wheels and those without.
Attacking the rich is easy politics but lousy policy. Lashing the wealthy might make envious old socialists feel nostalgic about the halcyon days of Soviet Russia and East Germany. But others, such as Rudd, ought to know better. Writing in The Spectator, Ross Clark pointed out that when Tony Blair was asked about inequality during a Newsnight interview in 2001, he responded: "It's not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money." Rudd has some way to go before he fills Blair's sensible shoes.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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