January 23, 2004 | Peter

PC and the Culture Wars

PC stands for political correctness, but in the culture wars now hotting up in the western world, and particularly in the US and Australia, it is taking on a much wider meaning. Increasingly it means, or signifies, anything that does not support the ever-narrowing views of leaders like George Bush and John Howard.
A brief history of how and why this ideological tool arose: as modern western society emerged for the millennium long dark ages, when arbitrary religious and aristocratic power dominated, several different principles of social organisation vied to replace the old ideational order. Among them were newly invented ‘science’ and newly reinvigorated ‘capitalism’, both underlaid by a new humanism and acceptance of the need to ask questions and seek new answers (sometimes called ‘the enlightenment’) about the world and society.
Due to the immense power struggle between different civilisations and regions, exacerbated by the growth of industrialisation and then mass industrialisation, a hybrid social form known as nationalism emerged which best balanced the somewhat contradictory needs of social cohesion, economic development and defence. Nationalism reconstructed humans as being members, citizens, of particular nation states, as opposed to Catholics or Welsh or working class or women. This was very effective in promoting economic growth and relative social stability, but also generated catastrophic warfare.
States, which had become very important under nationalist systems, maintained social cohesion through a balancing of freedom and control. Eventually this balance became more liberal as control was more and more guaranteed by rising living standards and political legitimation through democracy, so that eventually even the state could be criticised.
However, in the last few decades we have seen the rise of a new social order, potentially global in scale, which is replacing nationalism. Built on techno-economic growth it also embodies an increasingly global mass culture, mostly American in flavour. George Bush and John Howard, although national leaders, represent one form of political manifestation of this logic. Being extremely authoritarian in approach, they are less tolerant of dissent, including criticism. Bush, Howard and the people behind them have understood that intellectual thought of any depth, and certainly any sustained criticism, are a problem for their program of socio-economic development. Based on increased liberal globalisation and US dominated global security, it is in actuality totalitarian in its attempt to reconstruct all human society as maximally productive in economic terms, and with the rich ever richer and the rest in trouble.
They thus find it necessary to undermine alternative viewpoints, or stories, of any kind. As such they are trying to re-interpret history and marginalise a whole series of alternative ways of seeing society, like socialism, feminism, environmentalism and even non-fundamentalist religion. So the point is that now almost any criticism of the prevailing mainstream position (markets are good, US military power is good, wealth is good, and life is simple) as enunciated by leaders like Bush and Howard, is seen as problematic. In particular, any consideration of the cost of this whole project, in human or environmental terms, is unacceptable. Since any substantive criticism is unacceptable, a term which rejects the idea of criticism itself is needed. This is what the term PC actually means.
Being called PC is then becoming the equivalent of being labelled communist or pacifist or feminist in the past. It is the overall catch term that is code for ‘at best misguided, but probably actually malevolent’. It never has to be properly explained or justified, or evidence provided to support assertions made. The term becomes the reality.
PC actually means nothing, but it is coming to mean anything the people who like to use it want it to mean. ‘Politically correct’ is etymologically meaningless. It is just a label that means ‘disagrees with the current dominant ideology’. This denial of the right to criticise, of course, takes us back to the bad old days when any deviation from the all-encompassing doctrine was persecuted and suppressed as heresy.
And of course this is not about left V right, feminist V patriarchy, development V conservation, religion V secular society, etc. It is about having one big unquestionable idea or a diversity of ideas about the world works and how it can be made better.

Posted by Peter at 2:05 pm | Comments Off on PC and the Culture Wars |
Filed under: Uncategorized

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.