Political Correctness

The Single Biggest Issue with Postmodernism

It’s interesting to note that, of all philosophical trends in history, only modernism was declared dead due to a failure of architecture.  The demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis was hailed by everyone from serious sociologists to literary critics as the end of one era and the beginning of the next, which they imaginatively called “postmodernism”.

pruitt-igoe implosion

Pruitt-Igoe complex demolition – hailed as the end of Modernism.

Of course, the aspiring postmodernists had were simply using a fortuitous event to further their cause and ignoring inconvenient truths.  While it’s true that Pruitt-Igoe was undoubtedly designed on modernist principles, its failure had more to do with mismanagement and public policies than with modernism itself*.

In the long tradition of social reformers, however, the postmodernists ignored the facts and pushed their way of thinking forward – successfully.

In its original form, postmodernism was a typical adolescent rebellion by social theorists against what had come before, turning a skeptical eye towards both antique institutions and modernism itself.

So far, so good.  They say nothing is more predictable for intelligent people than the avant-garde, and postmodernism was living up to that truism from the outset, and would soon settle down to become the established norm with new rules and values.

They did this admirably.  Nowadays, if you know what is particular pet topic is, you can write a postmodernist scholar’s paper for him before he knows he is going to write it**.

And therein lies the problem, and ultimate barrenness of postmodern thought.  At some point, postmodernism began searching for tools with which to give form to what began as a rejection of what came before, and they seem to have taken a wrong turn.

The central tenet they ended up embracing is, in layman’s terms, that there is no such thing as a “big picture”, and that it is perfectly valid to analyze individual elements separately – and in a separate, but ultimately equally damaging turn, that the observer is a critical part of the analysis.

While subjectivists were alive in Ancient Greece, the idea that single-element analysis is valid it’s called deconstruction, BTW) has been particularly detrimental in combination with it, damaging fields as disparate as History and Architecture.

We can dispense with the architectural elements easily – all one needs to do is to envision a building where the elements are meant to be viewed individually with no concern for the whole.  There are some out there (you can see one below – and it isn’t even the ugliest), but most architects have a grounding in art history, and an appreciation for aesthetics, so they have, on the whole, rejected the idea that the big picture is irrelevant.

k2_building_tokyo

The K2 building is Pure postmodernism.

Where things do get unfortunate, however is in the softer sciences such as history or literary criticism (I won’t repeat the XKCD joke here – go find it yourself!).

History students suffering the postmodern wave of revisionism (every movement has its revisionist wave) are being taught that unimportant groups and people were just as important as the movers and shakers of their era.  That slaves were historically important in societies where they were just used as human cattle, or that minority groups were politically influential in ancient India, or whatever.  The justification seems to be that the history of anyone who ever existed is important, so it must be taught as important.

The reality is that the suffering of minorities, slaves, or any other disenfranchised group is only important in times when the group managed to get some kind of power… if not, their suffering actually was in vain.

And yet, historians today are telling a different story.  It’s all very democratic, but will ultimately prove as damaging to the science as any other philosophically-based prejudice (see Eugenics for another 20th century attempt to fit history to philosophy – that one didn’t turn out so well either).

Criticism is often a butt of jokes about the academic worth of its practitioners, but we have to admit that, lately, the discipline has earned the scorn.

The problem is that with deconstruction allowing one to choose the focus one wants, it becomes easy – nay, obligatory – to focus on a single dimension when evaluating a work of art.

Warhol Campbells Soup

Soup Can: very pretty, but how does it speak to animal rights?

So a novel that touches the human spirit can be attached for not being feminist enough, a beautiful sculpture is worthless because it doesn’t address the plight of oppressed minorities.  Postmodernism’s obsession with minutiae blinds it to everything other than minutiae, to its own detriment.  Political arguments in the early 21st century seem to be imbibed with the same kind of narrow-gauge thinking.

It ends up feeling like postmodernism is the whiny self-absorbed teenager of philosophical movements…  Even to the point where there are already rumblings of a post-postmodernism.

However, like whiny teenagers, it will be hard to steer this one to a good port.  You see, the death blow to postmodernist thought has already been dealt, nearly two decades ago.

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal submitted an intentionally flawed, parodical academic article to peer-reviewed postmodern journal Social Text.  Not only did the ridiculous piece pass the peer review process, but, after Sokal came forward to announce the hoax, some of the journals defenders actually said that (and I paraphrase) “Sokal didn’t understand the actual depth and significance of the piece he had written”.

Now that is more embarrassing than a simple demolition, don’t you think?

 

 

 

*Modernism clearly had its moronic moments, but Pruitt-Igoe wasn’t its fault.

**For example, that last sentence would be rewritten by a feminist post-modernist using “her” in place of “him” and “she” in place of “he”.  A multi-gender postmodernist will attempt to use an invented gender-neutral word in its place, etc.

Why I Fight Against Political Correctness – A Very Personal View

no political correctness

Today, Classically Educated’s Editor-In-Chief answers exactly why he’s been so outspoken – sometimes controversially so – against organized expressions of political correctness.  These are his views, and clearly might not reflect that of all our contributors (see here if you happen to doubt that – or read any of Scarlett’s posts).

I am often asked why I react negatively whenever a practicer of the dogma of political correctness pops up.  Those who know who I am and how I think are puzzled by the strength of my feelings towards this.  “After all,” they say, “the PC brigade is merely fighting for things you believe in strongly: freedom and equality regardless of race, gender sexual orientation, etc.  You should be on the bandwagon with a megaphone.”  Even this very blog has a number of female guest bloggers (many more than the men), Bloggers who are notable members of the LBGT community and even people who enjoy Tango!  That clearly shows an open mind.

Well, they’re partially correct.  The stated intentions behind the PC onslaught are good – but jumping on the bandwagon implies looking past certain extremely difficult issues.  I will ignore the obvious agenda-driven stuff (we’ve covered that elsewhere), but will look at the root problem I have with it.

But first, I’d like to see if you can guess which system gave rise to the following phrases:

A) …man is man only by virtue of the spiritual process to which he contributes as a member of the family, the social group, the nation, and in function of history to which all nations bring their contribution

B) Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.

C) It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.

D)  Experiment shows that drinking but one small bottle of beer or one glass of wine may impair a man’s driving capacity… Practically all the hit-run fatal accidents are caused by drunken drivers, says Frank A. Goodwin, Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

Weird Car Crash

Let’s see how well you did:

A) Fascism (from an article by Benito Mussolini)

B) Satanism (from the commandments of the Church of Satan)

C) Nazism (Hitler quote)

D) Prohibition (Temperance Movement propaganda pamphlet)

What do all four of these movements (plus communism, populism, Christian Fundamentalism and almost all the other isms you’ll encounter) have in common?  They all believe that the world would be a much better place for all mankind if only people would think the way they do.

They essentially come up with a set of rules to try to tell adults how to think and act that go beyond what the social contract has evolved to look like.  Now, it is understood that society works on the tenet that, if we all agree on something, we make it a law in some way – but that should not extend to thought.

In particular, I am concerned by the tendency of the PC crowd to attack innocent bystanders for not doing enough to promote their agenda.  I’ve been told that being truly colorblind isn’t possible (with which I vehemently disagree), but that even if it was, it isn’t enough. One must actively work to address all inequality inherent in the patriarchy (their silly concept, not mine).  Patently ridiculous – people who peacefully live within the accepted social norms should not be bombarded with internet hatred by weirdos because they aren’t perceived to be doing enough.  That is a violation of individual rights and freedoms which I feel is unacceptable.

The second thing that all these movements have in common is that humor is off-limits.  What I personally enjoyed most about Seth McFarlane’s Oscar show in 2013 was watching the backlash on social media the following day.  The PC crowd went nuts. But then, fledgeling totalitarianisms where aberrant thought is illegal tend to be composed of humorless apparatichiks.  I happen to believe that adults should be allowed to laugh at whatever they want, and that it can still be funny, even if it’s lacking in sensitivity.

Another thing I am completely against is quotas.  Otherwise intelligent people in the PC community swear that they don’t favor quotas, and that quotas are a myth, especially in corporate society.  Perhaps things have changed since I was last employed a World 500 company, but as of 2007, I can say the quota system was running beautifully, and that finding a competent female minority among your candidates was celebrated like a sudden-death touchdown.  They might not always have been the best candidates, mind you, but they were good enough and ticked two boxes at once, allowing you to optimize for talent in the rest of your structure.  Some equal opportunities are more equal than others.

The same thing, of course, has been happening in the literary world, especially in some genres.  There are sad, bored people out there who dedicate their lives to reading tables of contents with a fine-tooth comb to try to see whether women and minorities are acceptably represented (don’t believe me?  Look here).  So editors tend to skew towards the safe call, and tokenism results, often at the cost of quality*, which is unacceptable to me.

On a slightly more technical note, the current PC movement is philosophically based on postmodernism and, even worse, on the utterly ludicrous (and inexplicable even by its own creator) concept of deconstruction.  Now, while I understand that it’s easier to create an army of PC parrots** if you only look at things from a single point of view, exhaustively analyzed, it doesn’t change the fact that things do not exist in a vacuum like ideal gases.  Most objects of criticism need to be understood in many phases, which is why things like critical race theory or feminist criticism can usually be picked apart with little training.  They simply omit too many important factors to be relevant.

impostor

Please see original comic on XKCD (plus mouse-over), here

I won’t get into the “postmodernism is dead discussion” other than to say that postmodernism should have been aborted at conception.  Preferably violently.  Of course, modernism had its issues, too, so it’s a thorny question.

Finally, like all totalitarian regimes, PC-Parrotism is trying to tell people what the right way of thinking is.  There is a tendency towards revising history to show more “balance” (I would love to ask a 10th century serf if he felt a balanced view was accurate), a tendency towards progressive education which attempts to level the playing field between the talented and untalented, and any number of other tools attempting to create a “right” way of thinking.

I believe that the only way of of creating people who think correctly is to give them the facts, to teach them all the points of view and the thinking behind them, and to let them go out and figure it out for themselves.  Starting from the conclusion is a stupid way to try to teach stuff – which is probably why it only occurs in the social “sciences”.

Of course, this is all open to discussion.  Context is important.  The last time I called Prohibition the dumbest thing ever invented until the PC movement, I was told that, in the context of post Civil War and WWI America, many men were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, and drinking was a real problem.

Perhaps, but removing a pleasurable experience for every other adult in the country on those grounds seems unacceptable.  Individual freedom is too valuable to sacrifice on the altar even of something so important.

If I’d been alive back then, I would have invited them to discuss the issue over a nice drink.

Hmm.  I probably would have gotten in trouble even without the internet…

* In my particular case, this works in my favor, as no one would confuse my name with that of a random white guy.  But I still HATE it.

**Called that way because most of its proponents are simply repeating empty phrases that sound good to people without critical faculties.

PC Runs Amok in Science Fiction Community

politically-correct-hypocrisy

Back in the mid-90s, when the political correctness movement was bursting onto the scene, one tended to pass it off as a bunch of post-modernists playing at deconstruction*.  The old “Doberperson” joke just about summed up how seriously it was taken by anyone not in the public eye.  Most people, it was concluded, wouldn’t care, and, in general, they didn’t.  People went about their lives normally, and only some of the weirdness filtered into everyday life, mainly in positive ways such as the use of non-pejorative terms for certain groups.  It was OK, and life went on.

But all was not as well as it looked on the surface.  A friend of the house was studying at the University of Arizona just about at this time, and he turned in a story for a creative writing assignment which, knowing this guy, was probably extremely well-written and insightful.

His teacher came back and said that the story was unacceptable.

“Why?” asked our friend

“Because it doesn’t contain any references to feminism or to the struggle of women.  Literature without those qualities is unacceptable to me,” was the gist of the reply.

Random question

Now, our friend is both non-confrontational and was, for scholarship reasons, trying to maintain a perfect GPA, so as far as we can recall after twenty years, he mumbled something and modified his tale (creative writing is not important enough to an engineering student as anything other than credit for him to have done otherwise), went on to maintain his scholarship and graduate with gigantic honors and now designs products that all of you use every day.  His response was probably the wisest course of action.

But it was the wrong response.  The correct response would have been to say “What the fuck?”, send the teacher and her imbecilic agenda to hell, and then immediately report her to the school authorities.  You see, using coercion in this way is, to me, a fireable offense.  I don’t care what your political / social leanings are, it’s wrong.  I also have no idea whether the teacher in question is still at UofA, but I doubt it – people of that sort don’t last long at prestigious universities (well, they do sometimes, but hopefully not in this case).

This may seem like an isolated incident, and in real life, probably is.  But there is one particular place where the kind of people who think this way are not only a vocal (if small) minority, but are being pandered to by the rest of the community mainly because of the fear from the tactics they use, and that place is the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers and fan community.

Over the past five years, the community has been rocked by several tempests in a teapot regarding the nebulous and politically charged concept of “privilege“. Essentially, the idea of the concept is to disqualify anyone who is part of the “mainstream” in a number of categories (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc) as being able to voice a valid opposing opinion (or of writing about in fiction!!!!!!) to the view of the extremists because they have privilege – essentially “you haven’t suffered what I’ve suffered, so you don’t have any right to talk about it.”  Usually, the fanatic goes on to call the other person a sexist or racist.

Since the discussion is usually about charged subjects, most of  the antagonists stop arguing right there.  People who go on have found that reason simply doesn’t work against them, so they stop, too.  The problem is that, by the time people pull out, a small but rabid strike group has been put into action, and Twitter, blogs and emails to employers have been sent out to the effect that so-and-so is a racist.  Perfectly nice, unracist people have lost paying jobs, guest-of-honor gigs and editorships as well as being hounded, bullied and harassed thanks to these unfounded accusations of racism – as defined by a splinter group of extremists.

A book that was censored and who's editor was hounded

The problem, you see, is that these nice, rational people, who won’t think twice about ruining someone’s career, livelihood or reputation for not marching in lockstep are trying to stop racism.  That makes it all right, then.  They can call you whatever they want, because you have privilege, and they (most of “they” are just as privileged, intellectual and white – but are making the “effort” to understand) have suffered.

So it’s no real surprise that no one in the genre world was willing to stand up to these people.  It has gotten to the point where many people no longer consider the SFWA to validly represent the interests of authors in the genre – many qualifying professionals are choosing NOT to send the SFWA their fees at all until the current group of vocal activists are severely reduced in power, as they are noxious to all the writers who want an organization that represents the majority of them, not a puppet spokes-arm of a “diversity” activism group, which it is on the slippery road to becoming.  Romance writers don’t seem to have these issues (probably because they sell a lot more books than SF writers, to their professional organization HAS to be professional!).

Fortunately, I’ve been seeing a recent trend towards people speaking out.  This was recently posted on the Heroines of Fantasy site (and you can imagine that Heroines of Fantasy is not precisely sexist), and this has been written about the most recent guest of Honor Affair, plus a good piece on Jonathan Ross hosting the Hugos.  All in the last couple of months.

Which, as tangential members of that community we find encouraging.  Maybe Science Fiction and Fantasy can find a way to stop being offended by everything and return to a civil discussion of things – you know, like rational human beings?

Many of the Classically Educated team and contributors are proud SF geeks.  We hope the fact that people are stepping up and saying that the bullying is not OK is a good sign.  Hope springs eternal.

Agree?  Disagree?  All discussion is welcome – especially differing points of view! But calling anyone a racist or a sexist immediately invokes a modified version of Godwin’s law that we’ve created just for this post, and you automatically lose the argument!

 

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*If you think deconstruction can ever be serious, all you have to do is read the Wikipedia entry about  it to disabuse yourself of that notion.**

**Even better is the story of the Sokal Affair.  Only tangentially related, but still brilliant!