Saturday, March 18, 2006


An article by John Burtis

Years ago, it used to take the Gestapo, the NKVD or the Kempitei and a lot of coercion, force and propaganda to insure that everybody expressed himself in the politically correct fashion. Midnight raids, informers, hero children and show trials were all trotted out to illustrate the proper path. Dissenters, Jehovah's Witnesses, deviationists, the work-shy, wreckers, cosmopolitans, defeatists, and anybody else who failed to toe the line were rounded up, leaned on and dispatched to corrective labor camps or shot out of hand for their failure to get with the program--Hitler's, Stalin's or Tojo's politically correct policy of communication.

Somewhere in the past 30 years or so, an equally perfidious set of rules governing free speech and disquisition in America--voluntarily accepted and often rigidly imposed, without any threat of force or violence--has become law, both unwritten and codified, in many of our institutions of higher learning, in much of government, in the pages of our leading newspapers, on our television screens and in our daily conversations.

These disquieting norms of political correctness now govern and invade our relations with the banking industry, our once private discussions with co-workers, the sermons of our parsons, the crank formulations of our country's history by "scholars" and their inclusion in what purport to be text books on the subject, the ongoing investigations into the names of sports' teams, the geometric growth of the industry of victimization, the unshakeable belief that all whites are inherently racist, the exclusion of specific words from daily conversation, the flowering of pseudo-intellectual idiocy like "Ebonics" and the inability to call things as one actually may see them. Opinions are to be avoided, while the accepted, oft repeated and easily learned politically correct presumptions are to be parroted from rote, like passages from Mao's little Red Book, key phrases from a Kerry speech or lines lifted from a pithy Howard Dean speech on the perils of economic Bulwarism.

These self-imposed strictures have bred a long list of enforcers--the informants, finks, nay-sayers, tut-tutters, flunkies, gadflies, bathroom barristers, stooges, liberal know-it-alls, class action lawyers, government prosecutors, and others--whose sole purpose is to hound the recalcitrant into submission and to insure the survival of our homegrown brand of political correctness. And they have become as successful as any carload of Gestapo agents, without the rubber truncheons, brass-knuckles, the accents and the camps because we are too collectively cowed to say no their outlandish demands.

Scholarship, of an acceptably politically correct nature in many universities, has degenerated into the mere omphaloskepsis of new age folderol, anti-historical and pseudo-scientific tommyrot, which is buttressed by false scholarship, phony historiography and the spurious research of other so called "experts" in a particular field of study. As a result of this transparent tomfoolery and academic rubbish, there are actual races to land mountebanks of a noted stature before other "universities" can grab them from the want ads for the trophy cases in their make-believe specialties.

So, now, we hear that Harvard has kicked out Lawrence Summers. This stunning, yet expected, turn of events is another triumph for the liberal minority and is a clear example of a small, vocal and shrewish, but still politically correct, bevy of whiners--like the old hall monitors of our childhoods who continually shushed us on the way to the bathroom--to control and shape the discourse in the hallowed vestibules of higher learning to their personal and narrow liking. That they succeeded is testament to the power of PC thought, the retreat of reason and John Locke, the failure of Mr. Summers to possess the proper Arts and Sciences corridor permit for free passage throughout his own University and the abject cowardliness of the remainder of the faculty for their shared timorousness.

And now Yale has let good old Rahmatullah Hashemi, the veritable Baghdad Bob of the Talibani netherworld of murder and mayhem, enroll at Harvard's sister, or is it brother, institution, whatever is most PC.

What'll his flouncing around in his robes and turban do to the PC crowd? Will the co-eds be empowered to dress like him? Will kids go home for the summer and lounge around the yacht club or the stables similarly attired? Will the undergrads tell the old man what the Taliban think? Will he be tapped for Skull and Bones? Will any professor worth his salt dare give him anything other than a gentle-Taliban's B? Will he be expected to maintain the same level of stellar scholarship as, oh, say John Kerry? Who can say, but I'll bet you that he'll have a blast, that he'll taste the forbidden liquor if not the fruit, do just fine and get a scholarship to boot.

The New York Times has recently announced, with all the political correctness it can muster, and with all the glib advice that it alone can dish out to the unwary and the politically limited, that of course we can live with a nuclear Iran and the happy go lucky lemmings running that particular sanitarium. It'll be just like wandering the PC halls at Harvard or sitting next to the lad from the Taliban in French class--you know, really simple stuff and they've got it all down.

All we have to do to keep the mullahs happy and their stubby little mitts off the nuclear trigger is the time tested PC way--to watch what we say, don't rock the boat, no more of that cartoon business, easy on the thoughtless gibes, keep an eye on what you eat, don't fence them in, walk very softly and tip-toe whenever possible, always let them crowd ahead of you in line, lend them whatever money they want, offer to do errands for them--hey, up to now it sounds like the dormitory sheep dealing with the football jocks. Always give them the credit they need for more uranium enrichment, never interrupt them when they're on a long anti-Semitic denunciation, never dip the bullets in bacon fat, nod in synchronization with the other PC dupes--I mean believers--when they hold the next anti-Holocaust get together, go about your business as if they don't have a nuclear bomb and an effective delivery system capable of incinerating NYC, always let them get away with the small stuff like jumping the turn-styles and shaking down their neighbors, never rat them out to the UN, and if they hit you first, fall to the ground and assume a hedge hog-like position of determined acquiescence.

Political correctness inhabits the classrooms and the corridors of the world, all right, and it's always been good for everyone. Unless, of course if you're Larry Summers or the one at the wrong end of the gun, looking down the barrel and into the faces of the guys with the PC eyes who have come for you.

Stop living "ethically", and start living

Even British Conservative leader David Cameron now wants to live a more 'ethical life'. What's going on?

'Ethical living' was once the domain of hair-shirted hippies living in north Wales; now it has been adopted by the urban glitterati. Last week Tory Party leader David Cameron announced that he was planning to add wind turbines to his posh west London home. American Express launched its ethical 'red card', which donates 1p out of every pound spent on designer brands to the cause of AIDS in Africa - a campaign endorsed by stars including the supermodel Elle MacPherson.

Ethical clothing has made its way into the high street. Topshop stocks a range of organic and fair-trade baby clothes; the ethical clothing company People Tree has lines in Selfridges. Enamore does sophisticated hemp, while American Apparel does sophisticated cotton prep-wear. Online, the choice of ethical produce is vast. So Organic offers 'funky organic baby clothes from Hug and Cut 4 Cloth to the purest toys from Keptin-Jr', while a swathe of companies offer pricey organic eyeliners and lip glosses.

Ethical holidays have gone from the mud hut in the jungle, to luxurious log cabins with designer furniture. Being carbon neutral is cool: it's practically obligatory for pop bands on tour, a trail blazed by the likes of Coldplay. Meanwhile, organic food has gone from farmers' markets to delis in west London, with organic supermarkets in the smartest parts of town.

The only criticism levelled at ethical living is that it is a sham. Some bemoan the fact that ethics is becoming just another fashion label; it's not really about helping the planet or changing your behaviour. You had to get a long-haul flight to your Brazilian eco-holiday, they point out. Fair trade isn't really that fair. Washable nappies aren't any more environmentally friendly than disposables. Ray-Bans are Ray-Bans, even if Amex did donate some of their price tag.

But this gets things the wrong way around. When ethical living is just a sham it's relatively harmless, arguably no worse than other fashion fads. It's when ethical living is taken seriously that it is a problem.

Ethical living redefines the whole point to life as cleaning up after ourselves. Every action is assessed in terms of impact - more impact, bad; less impact, good. Traditionally, ethics was about pursuing greater goals in life: fostering virtues such as friendship, honour, courage, and overcoming vices such as jealousy and vanity. Ethics was about obligations to other people, expressed in aphorisms such as 'do as you would be done by'.

Today's ethical living is merely about the self. 'My conscience is clear' is a phrase that trips off the tongue of the purveyors of the eco good life. Whatever happens to the rest of you, they say, I've done my calculations and I'm clean. Online calculators allow you to total your carbon impact, with the aim of approaching the desired karma of 'carbon neutral'. Rather than seeking to do something good in the world, you seek merely to leave the world as you found it. This is a drawn-out apology for existing.

'Do you really need that?', is the question always asked. The result is a mean-spirited survivalism in the midst of plenty. Friends of the Earth suggests that rather than give people presents, why not 'give your time - helping with decorating, gardening, or a big clear out?' (1). The Guardian's ethical living columnist Leo Hickman warns against giving flowers: 'the only truly sustainable alternative is to show your affection to loved ones in other, more imaginative ways, or to carefully source seasonal, preferably organic, flowers grown in the UK, particularly bulb flowers'. He concludes that best of all would be a 'pot plant' (2). The Green Choices website asks whether you should really be embarking on that big DIY project, or if you could make do with a 'subtle revamp'. 'Is it ethical to have children?', asked an Observer article earlier this year: 'Are parents contributing to the future of our planet - or just fuelling an unsustainable population explosion?'

Life becomes an 'ethical minefield' to pick your way through. Sources of enjoyment are seen as suspect. According to a Guardian ethical shopping guide, prawns and swordfish should be avoided, and only very specific varieties of salmon and tuna are permitted. The result is a Woody Allenish self-scrutiny, analysing the implications of every action. Hickman tried to work out acceptable ways of doing everything from skiing holidays to banking to pets - and the end result of his efforts was appropriately published in book form as A Life Stripped Bare. This is Puritanism without the promise of redemption; self-restraint is driven not by a desire for transcendence, but by the soulless calculations of the green calculator. 'Make less mess' is the prosaic motto of today's ethical living brigade.

Of course, if putting windmills and solar panels on our roofs were a cheaper and better way of generating electricity, that would be fine. Ditto recycling. But that would be a technical decision about resource allocation, it wouldn't be an individual ethic. Ethical living is promoted not because it makes rational sense, but because it offers a guide for personal behaviour.

This guide is not just impoverished; it is a cop-out. Ethical living is an excuse for not thinking about real ethics: about our goal in life, about how we treat people, or even on an everyday level about what we eat or wear. Rather than decide what you want to cook that evening, you plump for the one kind of fish that is ethically permitted. Rather than make your own decisions, you live life by the pluses and minuses of green gurus. Get a life.


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