The PC Tyranny

political correctness (noun): conformity to a belief that language and
practices which could offend political sensibilities should be eliminated.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

I’ve been invited to write about political correctness and philosophy
in the North American academy. What qualifies me? I’m a refugee
from political correctness. I emigrated from Canada to the USA because
of an insidious quota system, euphemistically called ’employment
equity’, which decrees that there are too many white male philosophers
in Canadian universities. The Nuremburg Laws excluded Jews from
Nazified German universities because we were ‘non-Aryan’; Jews are
now excluded from Canadian universities because we are ‘white’.
This is a compelling irony. It compelled me to get the hell out.

Before quitting Canada in 1994, I penned a satire on political correctness,
called Fair New World. Libertarian lawyer Karen Selick called
it "the most politically incorrect work of art I have ever
seen. It’s also hilariously funny and scathingly insightful."
Since no Canadian publisher had the courage to bring it out, I founded
my own press, Backlash Books, and published it myself. Fair New
continues to be taught in colleges and universities, by
politically absolutely incorrect professors, all of whom have received
Backlash Books’ highest award: ‘Offender of the Faith’. So much
for my political credentials.

I am currently tenured at The City College of New York, which graduated
eight eventual Nobel laureates among its illustrious alumni of halcyon
years, but where thanks to a generation of open admissions Great
Books have been replaced by Comic Books. What kind of refuge is
this? I offer two stock answers. To the cognoscenti, I reply that
I have Bertrand Russell’s job. Russell’s appointment at CCNY was
infamously denied by the New York Supreme Court, which convicted
him, much as Athens convicted Socrates, of moral corruption. Instead
of putting Russell to death, they merely denied him employment.
This is called ‘social progress’. To the incognoscenti, I reply
that I was hired by CCNY to fill a quota system: New York City was
running short of Jews, so they imported me.

By now you should be persuaded that I am politically incorrect enough
to write this piece. Now let me unpack Webster’s definition. First,
to which ‘political sensibilities’ does it allude? These generally
entail a Rousseauesque-cum-Marxist vision of the world, which perceives
humanity as an innocent and well-meaning horde of erstwhile noble
savages, inequitably differentiated by race, class and gender by
an evil conspiracy of white male heterosexual patriarchal hegemonists,
who use logic, mathematics, science, classics, capitalism, democracy
and testosterone to disenfranchise politically and deprive socio-economically
the rest of the world, who are the ‘victims’ of ‘oppression’.

While Marx’s putative ‘remedy’ was partly predicated on his slogan ‘from
each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, current
political correctness is incomparably more surreal: it has no truck
with ability at all, which it finds intolerably offensive and therefore
among the first things slated for elimination. For example, many
primary schools now give ribbons to all children who run in field-day
races, because they are terrified of ‘offending’ and therefore also
(by the puerile etiology that informs their world-view) of traumatising
the children who do not win or place in the contest. Thus they have
confused fleetness of foot with moral worthiness. This has two serious

First, at the grass-roots level, political correctness fails to teach children
that sportsmanship and self-development are the lasting lessons
of competition. Win or lose, one is morally worthy if one runs the
race and does one’s best. If Jane is a better runner than Sally,
there is nothing wrong (i.e. ‘offensive’) about rewarding Jane for
fleetness of foot. If Jane wins a gold medal and Sally finishes
out of the medals, it means that Jane is a better runner than
Sally: it does not mean that Jane is better than Sally. But
a politically correct race is socially-engineered: all runners must
finish together, or all must receive identical ribbons regardless
of place. This is an offence against fleetness of foot. It is typical
of a pervasive unwillingness to acknowledge natural and acquired
differences among human beings, which in turn devalues individual
excellence and obliterates moral worthiness. That is an offence
against humanity.

The second consequence marks a death-threat to American democracy. Tocqueville
had observed presciently that Americans must choose between liberty
and equality. Any undeluded person knows that equality of opportunity
leads inevitably to inequality of outcome. However, the inability
of political correctness to tolerate unequal outcomes in the wake
of equal opportunities, and its dogmatic commitment to a neo-Marxist
doctrine that equates justice and fairness with a levelling of outcomes,
have contorted the North American Academy into a sublime estate,
in which equal outcomes in higher education are guaranteed by pervasive
illiteracy, innumeracy and aculturality. The Academy has become
a neo-Procrustean Inn, whose former halls of learning are converted
into dormitories of indoctrination, whose patrons (the students)
have their heads chopped off instead of their legs, so that all
fit equally into its deconstructed cots.

The ‘language and practices’ that offend the deepest sensibilities of political
correctness form the very foundations of Western civilization: the languages
of logic, mathematics, classics, philosophy – along with the language of Shakespeare
too – and the practices of science, capitalism, democracy and due legal process-along
with the inescapably allied and respective notions of reliable method, generation
of wealth, government by consent of the governed, and protection of inalienable
individual rights. By metastasising like an opportunistic cancer throughout
the mind-politic of the academy, political correctness has proceeded, true to
Webster’s definition, to eliminate the language and practice of Western civilization
itself, and therefore to kill the very body-politic upon which it parasitically
feeds. Lest you deem my accusations implausible or exaggerated, I will regale
you with a few examples.

Grade inflation is rampant in American universities, to the extent that
undergraduate degrees are increasingly worthless pieces of paper.
From the Ivy to the Poison Ivy Leagues, institutions have capitulated
to ‘egalitarian’ demands that students receive A’s for attendance.
They graduate hapless victims of victimology, who can neither read
with comprehension nor write grammatically correct sentences. When
such students receive D’s or F’s in my upper-level philosophy electives,
they complain that they are ‘straight-A’ majors in psychology, or
education, or in some other department that subscribes to the barker’s
slogan ‘Everybody plays, everybody wins’. By the same token, one
very bright and hard-working student, who happened to be a black
female, asked me if she had really ‘earned’ the A she received in
my course. When I assured her that she merited the grade based on
her performance and nothing else, she actually wept with gratitude
– at having been allowed to display her merit. By contrast, politically
correct ideology systematically deprives excellent students of opportunities
to excel, so as not to ‘offend’ mediocrity and worse.

Political correctness eradicates individual liberties as well as merit. Princeton
University’s Office of Student Life annually prints a handbook lauding
‘tolerance’ and extolling the ‘virtues’ of cultural diversity. The
office also compels attendance at freshman orientation films, one
of which illustrates methods of contraception and abortion. When
a Roman Catholic student tried to exit the cinema, asserting that
she had no need watch these practices because her religion forbade
them, she was physically prevented from leaving. She was coerced
(in the name of tolerance and diversity!) to watch the entire film.
This is another face of political correctness: rank hypocrisy.

Freedom of speech was an early casualty. In denial, Katherine Whitehorn wrote
in the London Observer: "The thing has been blown up out of all
proportion. PC language is not enjoined on one and all – there are a lot more
places where you can say ‘spic’ and ‘bitch’ with impunity than places where
you can smoke a cigarette." She should have been at a Canadian University
in 1994, when a professor of political science remarked jocularly to a teaching
assistant noted for her stern grading: "I’ll bet the students think you’re
a real black bitch." The president of that university promptly shut down
the graduate studies program in political science, while the teaching assistant
sued the university and pocketed more than $300,000. (Hey, for that kind of
cash, you can call me anything you like.) This catapulted UBC onto the national
news, and cost the president his job. Stand-up comedy proliferates precisely
because the comics remain at liberty to say what – thanks to political correctness
– their audiences are increasingly afraid to think.

Around the same time, Yale University was busily refusing a gift of 20
million dollars, offered by a Texas oilman and patron of high culture.
He wanted the money spent on a humanities program that celebrated
Great Books of Western civilization. Unfortunately, Yale was long-since
committed to the politically correct doctrine that there are no
great books, that the idea of great books is a pernicious myth used
to oppress illiterate and innumerate savages, to keep women barefoot
and pregnant, to exploit the developing world, and to glorify dead
white European males who apparently plagiarised Western civilization
from an unidentified tribe of transvestites. Thus Yale could not
possibly accept 20 million dollars to teach so-called ‘Great Books’,
either because ‘greatness’ is entirely arbitrary, or because recognising
a few ‘Great Books’ would be offensive to a great many inconsequential

PC hiring practices are utterly Orwellian. In a Canadian university,
a male and a female candidate were finalists for a tenurable position
in philosophy. The male was demonstrably better qualified, but the
female was offered the position owing to an alleged ‘gender imbalance’.
Two members of the selection committee were willing to testify to
the province’s Human Rights Commission that the female’s appointment
had been politically orchestrated. But when the male finalist formally
asked the province’s HRC to investigate, his request was summarily
denied. He was informed by the HRC that, since he was a white male,
it was impossible for anyone to discriminate against him.

The siege engines of political correctness have been dragged to the very walls
of MIT, where cries of ‘gender imbalance’ herald the administrative re-allocation
of scientific funding to satisfy arbitrary gender quotas. Copious evidence on
sex difference, much of it accumulated by female researchers themselves, shows
that males are, on average and by nature, more adept than females at mathematical
and spatio-temporal reasoning. But any fact that offends regnant political sensibility
is dismissed as a ‘social construct’, and ignored by wishful thinking. The politically
correct explanation for the dearth of female Newtons and Einsteins is that female
geniuses have been ‘oppressed’ by the usual conspiracy of white males, and by
the very institution of civilization itself.

And what is philosophy’s explicit role in all this? It varies across
a continuum. In so far as academic philosophers are political animals,
prey to the edicts of a brain-dead academy, they either resist political
correctness, or pay lip-service to it, or embrace it according to
their respective lights or darknesses. But those who fail to resist
its fatuous tyranny, or who revel in its egregious self-righteousness
become apologists for the deconstruction of the very intellectual
culture that makes philosophy possible, and accomplices to the sapping
of the principles which sustain that culture itself. Thus North
American philosophers who champion group rights and trample individual
liberties (epitomised by proponents of quota-based hirings), who
hysterically demonise reason, and who absurdly deny Hume’s distinction
between fact and value on the alleged grounds that all ideas are
‘social constructs’, excepting this idea itself, which they take
as brute fact (epitomised by Richard Rorty’s flagrant anti-realism)
– these are not lovers of wisdom, but high priests and handmaidens
of hubris.

To philosophy students who can yet read, I recommend J S Mill’s On
. His enlightened conception entails

…liberty of tastes and pursuits, of framing the plan of our life to suit
our own character, of doing as we like, without impediment from
our fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them,
even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or

Mill’s salient distinction is between offence and harm; its implications
for political correctness are pellucid. People who are offended
by others’ languages and practices should not have the liberty to
eliminate them, as long as such words and deeds are not harmful.
But once this critical distinction between offence and harm is blurred,
as it is daily and extravagantly by the politically correct, then
those who blur it arrogate to themselves the supremely illegitimate
authority to proscribe whatever conduct they deem ‘offensive’ (for
example, affairs between professors and graduate students, or ideologically
unpopular research), to silence whatever speech they deem ‘offensive’
(such as ethnic humour or sexual innuendo), and to censor whatever
ideas they deem ‘offensive’ (for example that there are biologically-based
human differences that may not be eradicable by social engineering,
or that equal opportunity virtually guarantees unequal outcomes).
The near-ubiquitous conflation of offence with harm has sanctioned
a thirty-year reign of political terror in North American universities,
whose degenerate administrative ideologues daily micromanage the
minutiae of thought, speech and deed.

In such a totalitarian climate, philosophers who fail to draw and defend
Mill’s distinction between offence and harm are not only professionally
derelict, but are also party to the catastrophe that has ensued
from its blurring.

The ‘dark side’ of philosophy is compassed both by what it has failed
to do in defence and preservation its own mission – the love of
wisdom – and by what this failure has permitted the enemies of open
and reasoned inquiry to entrench in its place – the worship of folly.

This article was originally published in Issue 14 of The Philosophers’ Magazine.

Comments are closed.