Why Political Correctness is Failing the World

PC isn’t really politics. So what is it?

Why is it that whatever you say online these days, wherever you go, there’s a Digital Dog the Bounty Hunter skulking close by, carefully policing every word you say, poised to pounce and call you a privileged culturally appropriating classist heteronormative oppressor of the powerless…for something you barely even said…to people you barely even know…without knowing anything about you…for a comment that matters to precisely no one? WTF?

In the first essay in this series, I discussed how Political Correctness was failing democracy. In this essay, I want to suggest that Political Correctness is failing the world. Not just intellectually, politically, or culturally, but pragmatically — in very real terms. Not because it is banning speakers from colleges, clogging up your social media feeds with indignant admonitions to use the right buzzwords, or policing great literature. Those are minor (pseudo) intellectual issues. The real problem with PC is that is doing precisely what it claims not to: it is stunting, not expanding, human potential. From defiantly accepting precisely the moral obligations, the earth-shaking challenges, that matter most in the world today.

Political Correctness, and it’s guiding system of belief, New Leftism, I will argue, is not just not a political or moral philosophy fit for reasoned people, or the world as it is — it is not one at all. So what is it?

It will take us a while to get there. I hope you will bear with me, and forgive me some wordiness. I will discuss it in full because think this issue is vital. For I see a generation of young minds effectively, through no fault of their own, being indoctrinated wholesale into clearly, fatally, and strikingly deficient moral illogic and ethical unreason. And while you may think that is merely an abstract intellectual exercise, let me assure that it is not. I will demonstrate how Political Correctness is failing the world in a very real, pragmatic sense, here and now.

Let us begin.

What is the clear dividing line between someone who is Politically Correct, and who isn’t? If you’ve hung out on the internet lately, you know that it’s something like this. Use a very specific set of words and phrases — and pressure people, socially, personally, and emotionally, to use them too, policing zero-tolerance for infractions . Here’s a smattering. “Androgynosexual”, “Romantic Orientation”, “Spivak Pronouns”, “Polygender”, “Trigger warning”, “Transablism”, “Allosexual”, “Asexophobia”, “Multi-Attraction Spectrum”.

Since words and their mandated usage define New Leftism, let us think for a moment about them.

What are these words? They are strictly defined labels. About what? Desire. Who should want who, and how. By and large, people’s sexual orientations, or beliefs about everyone else’s. What do we call strictly defined labels of desire in the real world? Brands. Hence, the jargon of New Leftism is mostly…personal brands. Just like brands, they advertise. The label tells you what’s inside the box, and whether or not you should buy, consume, want it.

What does all that remind you of? In what other discipline, field, domain do people devote themselves to doing all the above?

Marketing. Political Correctness is marketing. Of a very specific kind. Not from corporations to people, but marketing by people, to people, to convert their preferences. It is evangelical marketing. The average New Leftist will tell you that they vehemently object to the globally oppressive capitalist hegemony. And while they might, they’re also its hapless pawns-slash-delivery-drones: people so wrapped up in painstakingly branding themselves to advertise whom they want and how, they appear to have totally brainwashed one another into forgetting about what truly matters. In perhaps the most ironic act of capitalism since the publication of the Communist Manifesto at Amazon Dot Com, New Leftists have branded themselves more perfectly than any bearded hipster marketing agency ever could.

So let me say it again, for clarity’s sake. Political Correctness isn’t moral or political philosophy. It’s evangelical marketing, and that is why it is becoming an absolutist ideological crusade. Like all ideological crusades, while it may turn us into warriors, it also prevents our becoming our fullest moral selves: those capable of engaging the greatest good that may be said to matter.

Hey!! You object. Who are you to tell me what truly matters?! I’m not telling you. You’re going to tell you. But I will get into that shortly. Let us first pin down what precisely New Leftism is further.

By and large, there is no serious thought behind these words. They are not the products of careful research, science, or even theory. They do not refer to well-defined concepts, grounded in reasoned ideas about the world. They are simply made up…by people on the internet…for people on the internet. And so their number continues to grow…and grow…and grow.

The problem is this. The act of labelling is an oppositional one. To label is not just to arrange and categorize — it is also to divide and separate. Every label also implies its opposite. If you are X, then you are not Not-X. Thus, if you do not accept the precepts of New Leftism, you are also labelled — despite the fact that you do not wish or consent to be. And the labels placed upon you are just as absurd as those you object to in the first place. You are a “colonialist”, “privileged”, “cissexist”, “called out”, “oppressive”, etc.

Note carefully what has gone on here. You cannot object to, discuss with a New Leftist the terms they create. For New Leftism is language. Therefore, if you object to X, you are instantly labelled as Not-X. Thus, little critical thought is possible, for no engagement about ideas is allowed. Forget reason, logic, evidence— New Leftists do not allow any kind of dissent to words themselves. That is why one cannot debate ideas, concepts, theories, facts with New Leftists: they are interested in the names for ideas, not the ideas themselves, and therefore no substantive discussion about the ideas themselves is possible. As a simple example, a New Leftist might object to the Theory of Relativity being named so, and instead call for it to be named “A Heteronormative Theory of Culturally and Gender Specific Time and Space Relations”. But this debate is not about the idea, it is about the name.

That is why New Leftists are so irritating. They have created a titanic neo-Kafkaesque managerial system that subdivides the world into oppositions. Whose end result is a gigantic people’s bureaucracy-cum-police-force with a zero-tolerance policy and a quota , searching everywhere for infractions of a law no one has consented to be governed by. So of course people are irritated by it.

The irritation is not a minor nuisance. It is a more profound issue: Political Correctness, like all evangelical crusades, denies us pluralism, which is perhaps democracy’s greatest gift. Let me explain.

Two reasonable people may call one another “liberal” or “conservative” without the taint of moral judgment — purely to describe one another’s beliefs. That might sound minor — but in fact it is the single crucial difference between philosophies and ideologies. That is, each person may believe their philosophy is true, and the other’s false — but not necessarily that theirs is the only one that is right. They may believe that their is righter, but that does not necessarily make the others’ wrong — just less right, here and now.

But New Leftism is different. Such differences of moral worth cannot abide in it. If you do not agree with it’s obscure terminology, you automatically become a “cissexist”, “heteronormative”, an “oppressor”, etc. But the real question is: are you? Words can hurt. But it does not follow that only approved words can help, or that all words that may hurt do harm, or that that hurt is not merely the discomfort of growth. Presumably oppression requires one to do more than not not use occasionally hurtful language: it requires one to actually harm people’s possibilities. Merely because you disagree with terminology, though you may still agree with the idea or spirit of a belief, does not mean you have oppressed anything more than letters. Seeing oppression lurking around every corner is to trivialise, reduce, diminish the mighty idea of struggle itself right down to meaninglessness….from Rosa Parks at the back of the bus, to whom college students should sleep with this week, and how.

Thus, New Leftism contains within it the presumption of moral supremacy. A Christian and a utilitarian might disagree, for example, over the worth of virtues versus motivations. But they can still agree that the other system has truth in it, and, crucially, even that it’s followers can act morally, though they disagree: that to believe in it doesn’t make the believer automatically wrong, evil, bad. A Christian can still say a utilitarian led a morally worthy life, was a good person, etc — and vice versa. All that is what we call pluralism. It is the greatest byproduct of liberal democracy, for it is both unique in history in that it is the improbable foundation of peace, prosperity, and progress. But pluralism cannot happen between New Leftism and any other belief system.

You are presumed not just to be mistaken — but absolutely wrong, not intellectually, but morally, as a person of intrinsic worth. You are an agent of harm if you dissent. Two reasonable people cannot disagree over New Leftism: one will automatically be judged as morally inferior, deficient, bad, evil whatever the worth of their ideas, actions, lives. The problem with “the personal is political” is that it precludes the possibility of pluralism. The presumption of moral supremacy and everything else’s inferiority is what reveals New Leftism is not a political philosophy, but precisely the thing it purports to despise most: an ideology of faith, an absolutist totalism, an evangelical crusade, that is cheating society, and minds, of pluralism, an open society’s greatest gift.

And because they are busy calling people silly names, they are shifting the terms of debate. From the substantive to the trivial; from the actual to the self-referential; from the meaningful to the meaningless. The byproduct of New Leftists constantly calling everyone under the sun names for simply not agreeing with their terminology is that they are making it ever more difficult for reasonable people to discuss what matters more: ideas, concepts, facts, evidence — the world as it is, not merely as it is referred to.

So far, we have established that New Leftism is not a true political philosophy. It is evangelical marketing, a system of marketing desire, a set of personal brands that advertise people’s tastes, so they can be marketed back to, more accurately than any big-data wielding suit ever could. Now that we have established what it is, let us answer the question: is Political Correctness making us better off, and if so, who benefits from it, and how? To do so, let us delve further, past the surface world of its labels, and into the inner world of its unexamined logic.

What kind of moral system is all the above? Can it be said to be a reasonable one? Perhaps it’s OK, after all, to call people names in the name of marketing desire — especially if they really are awful people. After all, the great justification for a neo-Kafkaesque bureaucracy endlessly creating jargon about desire, want, not need, might be: it’s making the world a better place. Is it? Let us examine, then, for a moment, the moral grounding of New Leftism.

New Leftists will fight tooth and nail for gender free bathrooms. Meanwhile, two and half billion people lack…basic sanitation. New Leftists are passionately consumed by ultra-fine gradations of gender. Meanwhile, more than half the world’s economies have laws restricting the kinds of jobs women can perform. New Leftists would like us to believe that that hurt feelings are just as harmful as hurt bodies, opportunities, or lives. Meanwhile, over five billion people lack access to basic medicine, nearly two billion people lack basic nutrition, and five million children a year die from malnutrition. New Leftists bicker over endlessly over words, labels, names. Meanwhile, half of humanity lives on less than two dollars a day.

Let me put that set of facts to you differently.

Here are the truly great problems in the world: climate change, poverty, inequality, debt, stagnation, to name just a few. Here is what New Leftism is concerned with: desire, who to want and how, and who wants you and how, and the idea that it is the fundamental element of one’s identity.

What does that tell us? In its heirarchy of moral concern, pleasure (you may choose whatever name for it you like) is the highest priority, and fundamental human needs receive little priority. To choose one’s identity from a long, long list is a very great luxury, that can only truly be said to motivate one after one’s fundamental needs are met. A want is not a need. Unless you believe that choosing a nebulously defined “identity” is a more pressing need than actual…food, education, sanitation, income, security, safety, shelter, then New Leftism fails the most basic moral test. If you disagree with me, ask yourself just how much a starving homeless person (no, not you, college couch-surfing New Leftist — I mean a real one in a globally poor megaslum) is likely to prioritize having one. Some needs are more fundamental than others — and so the moral prioritization of needs in New Leftism is, by any reasoned standard, hopelessly upside-down.

Conversely, how far does New Leftism’s sphere of moral concern extend? Whom does it consider worthy of having the highest needs met? Barely — to almost no one except the self. It is almost purely egoistic — by definition, it is concerned with the self’s identity, not with the world’s possibility. When you’re “identifying as” [insert buzzwords], by definition you’re not interested in anyone else’s problems. Thus, New Leftists are not concerned with the problems of the global poor, disadvantaged, or vulnerable. They are largely concerned with themselves. New Leftism is narcissism distilled into pure form.

And that is why it is both so alluring — and so lethal. For it is hard to admit such a moral system as morality at all. A moral system that places the self first, and it’s pleasures at the highest, can barely be said to a working morality. I won’t go so far as to say that New Leftism is morally monstrous. But it is, by any reasonable standard, profoundly morally stunted, deficient, bankrupt. That is precisely you will almost never hear the true giants of left thought, from Amartya Sen to Joe Stiglitz, speaking its language, or endorsing its non-ideas — because, in truth, there is only one idea in it, and even that is not a worthy one: narcissism.

But even that is a limited account of New Leftism’s moral deficiency. Here is the greatest one. New Leftism’s narcissism isn’t for everyone.

Who is it for? For the global rich. The global poor aren’t interested in New Leftism for the simple reason that it is totally, utterly, mind-blowingly irrelevant to them. They are busy trying desperately to food, shelter, safety, security, income, education. The idea that they might spend their lives debating silly buzzwords is so ludicrous it’s almost comical. All of which explains why New Leftism’s bulwarks are…Very Expensive Colleges, at which the kids of the global one percent can play make-believe morality, without taking the risk of actually daring to be so. It is entertainment, the globally digitized extreme spectator sport of narcissistic self-indulgence contests. A game the global one percent plays, it is not social justice, but social justice theatre. New Leftism is what happens when they the world’s richest, freest people come to believe they are the most oppressed…without spending a minute considering what the word actually means: it is evangelical lifestyle marketing by and for the one percent.

All of which brings me to the true tragedy of New Leftism.

This generation is wasting its potential on narcissistic buzzwords about who wants who and how instead of actually changing the world. Endlessly memorizing, creating, enforcing, debating endless numbers of them. Versus changing the world as it needs to be changed. Desperately. For the starving, struggling, suffering billions who deserve that those born into privilege act morally, and do better. Imagine for a moment if all the minds furiously slaving over…the next imaginary New Leftist buzzword…devoted their energy, time, talent, defiance, creativity to…things that mattered more.

Sorry: I’m not Moses, and that is not my commandment. It is the timeless path to a meaningful, purposeful, happy life. You will not win meaning, happiness, and purpose by wasting your life on meaningless, pointless, and egoistic stuff. That is why it is New Leftism is a colossal waste of human potential. And while it’s certainly true that there are kids of all kinds who don’t fit the norm all over the developing world, it’s truer that they need food, education, homes, jobs, and a planet first. For the simple fact is that without the resources of the latter, the former is a luxury one can never fully realize, enjoy, know, savor.

Let me be crystal clear. I’m a friend to the left. I support the ideas of equality, justice, opportunity, dignity. But as a moral theory, New Leftism isn’t just failing liberalism — it’s also failing the left. It is a morally stunted caricature of all that leftism truly prioritizes. It is not a fitting inheritor to the great and welcoming mantle of leftism — instead, it is a dark alley, a dead end, a cul de sac…a barren desert of mirrors.

So am I not “against” you expressing, exploring, discovering, revealing, creating your self any way that you please. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can and do strongly encourage you to be whomever and whatever you are, and celebrate it to the edges of your spirit in every single moment of every day you are privileged to live.

Yet I also think that you is a deeper ocean, a greatest endeavor, a harder struggle — and a truer miracle — than all the above. You are not just who you desire, and how. You are not just who you are desired by, and how. You are not just more — but greater— than that. You are the strongest and proudest creation of all being. Yet that is why you must be the humblest and noblest. Here is what you are truly made of. Not words, names, labels. Nor are you made of desire. You are made of love. The capacity to love, not just to reason, is truly what divides man from beast, by liberating him from instatiable appetite— not keeping him enslaved, yoked, captive to it. That is the great everyday miracle of life. That, not words that cannot fully express what love is, means, makes, gives, creates, bestows, is your truest identity, your innermost self. But it is as eternal as it is fragile, as unbreakable as it is evanescent. And so, to become our fullest selves, each and every one of us must live as if every moment were so.

Umair
London
November 2015