A.S. Haley looks at the intellectual incoherence of modernity
It was entirely foreseeable, but unavoidable nevertheless. The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads.
The sad thing is that it is all a mirage of their own manufacture. Political correctness is the ultimate vanity of the self. The self presumes to judge others as unworthy of it, or as threatening to it, or even as indebted to it — in other words, political correctness builds up the self at the expense of the other. Ask yourself: just who is it who makes the determination of what is and is not “correct”?
The phenomenon is the prime example of what Elias Canetti (pictured) described in 1960 in Crowds and Power:
A man stands by himself on a secure and well defined spot, his every gesture asserting his right to keep others at a distance. He stands there like a windmill on an enormous plain, moving expressively; and there is nothing between him and the next mill. All life, so far as he knows it, is laid out in distances — the house in which he shuts himself and his property, the positions he holds, the rank he desires — all these serve to create distances, to confirm and extend them….
These hierarchies … exist everywhere and everywhere gain a decisive hold on men’s minds and determine their behavior to each other. But the satisfaction of being higher in rank than others does not compensate for the loss of freedom of movement. Man petrifies and darkens in the distances he has created. He drags at the burden of them, but cannot move. He forgets that it is self-inflicted, and longs for liberation. But how, alone, can he free himself?
(My emphasis added.) How, indeed? Canetti’s insight was that in such individual acts of discrimination, and in the psychological, self-induced fears that they generate, crowds have both their genesis and their reason for existing:
Only together can men free themselves from their burdens of distance; and this, precisely, is what happens in a crowd… Each man is as near the other as he is to himself; and an immense feeling of relief ensues. It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no-one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd.
So it is with political correctness. An individual’s fear of being viewed as “different”, or as a victim, or as inferior, weak or helpless, dissolves when that individual can link up with others of like mind and form a crowd which possesses the collective power of their groupthink: they can express a condemnation of the source of their fears that has the illusion of being well-nigh universal. “Everyone agrees that … ” “No one would ever be so cruel as to think that …”
Despite the seeming power of a crowd, it is ephemeral and illusory. So long as it has a defined direction, it can continue to grow. But if it splinters into groups headed in different directions, or meets an insurmountable barrier, it breaks up, dissolves, and loses its apparent collective force.
And that is what we are witnessing in the aftermath of the election. The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction — which is supplied by a leader.
As the successful candidate has demonstrated time and again, the best defense against political correctness is to refuse to play along with its illusory power — indeed, to do the very opposite of what it “commands” in any given instance. By saying and showing that the emperor has no clothes, the bubble of the illusion is popped, and sober reality steps in.
But it is not enough just to prick the balloon of political correctness. The reality that replaces it has to be a genuine reality, or else it, too, will devolve into just another variety of PC miasma. And to be genuine, that reality has to be experienced as having its own integrity — as possessing an inherent guiding force that derives from its goals, and from the means employed to achieve them.
Such a reality has been but dimly encapsulated in the campaign slogan “Make America great again.” It needs to be fleshed out with concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions that are designed once more (as they were at the country’s outset) to foster American exceptionalism, in order to allow both Americans and others to be comfortable with a world leader that seeks no one’s subjugation, no territorial conquests, and no applications of force save in the defense of America herself, or of her allies.
We are not there yet. Such a program has not yet taken discrete form.
But there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made — is being made as I write — and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.
And in the meantime, it will not hurt to pray for those currently drowning in the sea of their own political correctness: that they may shake off their self-absorption and fear, and emerge onto the firm, dry land of an America that could put them to good purpose as well.