Global Independent Analytics
Vladimir Golstein
Vladimir Golstein

Location: USA

Specialization: international relations, Russia

Angela Merkel – the Angel of Political Correctness: Part One

A specter is haunting Europe—and it is not the specter of Communism. 

Marx’s dream had been replaced by a much more primitive, pernicious, and grotesque specter, that of Political Correctness and by its twin brother: the equally primitive, grotesque and virulent xenophobia and racism. This specter replacement is hardly coincidental. Like a good cop, bad cop routine, these twin brothers seem to succeed in their insidious attempt to suppress any serious discourse, any attempt to go beyond the previously approved and predetermined lines of reasoning so that the ruling order remains protected from Marx’s or any other truly dangerous specters.

Besides its philosophical poverty, PC had recently demonstrated its utter bankruptcy in the face of wars, invasions, population displacement, and cheap labor policies. It failed to formulate and carry out a proper response to the so-called refugee crisis that overwhelmed Europe first by the sheer amount of people indiscriminately admitted into Europe, and then by the amount of violent sex crimes that some of those refugees have committed. It is getting painfully obvious, that neither brushing the violence under the rug, nor permitting skinheads to demand the banning of all refugees provide an adequate response to the problems raised by years of colonialism, exploitation, and military adventures. The situation appears to be beyond the intellectual league of a well-meaning PC politician, Angela Merkel, to solve. 

How does PC affect Europe?

For many Americans, PC belongs to the esoteric domain of academia; it is connected with teaching on the one hand and spoken/written word on the other. In Europe, however, PC’s reach is much deeper and wider, its philosophy dominates various aspects of society, as been amply demonstrated by the recent events.  

PC penetration into the social fabric of European life is rather thorough. One day we read about Dutch museums who intend to rename various paintings and other objects of art whose titles are no longer acceptable by today’s PC commissars; next day we read of German decision to ban pork products in school cafeterias so that its Muslim students won’t be offended, on the third, we learn about a Danish politician convicted for his 2014 complaint that new, “religiously intolerant” Muslim refugees bring old prejudices, such as anti-Semitism, into European discourse. Persecuting people who write or tweet on the subjects that go against the main PC narrative became a popular past-time for European politicians.

All these cases could have been relegated to the domain of curiosity, similar to some bizarre incidents on US campuses, be they complaints about micro-aggression, demands for trigger warnings, the accusation of cultural appropriation and similar esoteric events. In Europe, however, PC reigns supreme; its role as the leading political force was made painfully obvious during the recent scandals connected with brutal attacks on women and the failure of the police, press, and politicians to confront them.

The warnings about the pervasive and pernicious power of PC discourse have been sounded on many occasions, ranging from radical politicians and journalists, to the counter PC humor. The German press, for example, awards an annual prize to a “weasel word” - “an awkward or controversial term that has shaped public discourse.” In 2015, an award was given to the term “gutmensch,” the word that became too popular to the point of mockery which refers to uber-politically correct person, a well-meaning but utterly helpless individual.   

That’s hardly a coincidence. The refugee crisis, destined to shape the public discourse for the years to come, had exposed the total bankruptcy of “gutmensch” and his PC approach to social, political, and cultural life.

It is a mark of a “gutmensch” not to offend anyone’s sensitivity. But when it came down to mass media’s failure to report violent crimes out of the fear of instilling in the heads of the populace the wrong impression about the perpetrators, it became clear that PC has gone too far, and that “gutmensch” has become an accomplice of a vicious criminal. It is this role of a gutmensch, of a politically correct and well-meaning enforcer of orthodoxy that I want to explore in this essay.

While many relegate the PC debate to the so-called culture wars, it is clear that what lies at the bottom of it, is the plain old struggle for power. Numerous journalists and politicians, who failed to report, or tried to spin the real nature of the sexual assaults that took place in Germany, Sweden or Finland, have used only one argument as an excuse: We don’t want to give ammo to our political rivals: “As Peter Ågren, police chief in central Stockholm, put it: ‘Sometimes we do not dare to say how things really are because we believe it will play into the hands of the Sweden Democrats[i].’ ”

In other words, while the impulse to hush the accusations directed at any group which was traditionally marginalized or suppressed is not only understandable, but perhaps even laudable - especially considered within the context of German and European genocidal and colonial wars - it is clear that what drives politicians today is not the fear of offending somebody’s sensitivity, but rather the fear of losing power.

Consequently, there is nothing new in the desire to prevent certain themes or doctrines from entering public discourse.  That is the practice known as censorship. Those in power strive to impose a particular narrative, a particular way of looking at things that keeps rulers feeling useful and noble, and the ruled ones either hopeful and grateful, or hateful and paranoid.  In both cases people are distracted and cannot carry out a comprehensive analysis of the system’s exploitations and abuses.        

Political correctness, however, does not present itself as an enforced censorship on behalf of the powerful. And herein lies its ingenuity. Since imposing the limits on conversation is clearly a manifestation of power, nobody should doubt that PC is the instrument that the ruling class has chosen to protect itself. This imposition of the limits on the discourse is carried out in the name of the dispossessed, the marginalized, and the underprivileged.  Power uses the name of minorities and the repressed to maintain its position.

The Crocodiles and the Rabbits

It is as if at a certain moment, crocodiles had agreed not to say anything bad about the rabbits that they devour, so that a crocodile that cracks up a joke about a particularly tender rabbit’s bone that he broke the other day, he would get silenced and shunned. Some agree to PC for pragmatic reasons: why spook the rabbits, when it is more convenient to let them believe that one of these days they can turn into crocodiles themselves? Others may have idealistic reasons. They imagine that if nothing bad is said about rabbits, this may induce some of their fellow crocodiles to change their dietary habits.  And why not? The example of those converts can be used by rabbit propagandists, that is by rabbits hired by the croc-collective, for the sole purpose of convincing the rest of the rabbits that the crocodiles have suddenly become vegetarians, and therefore, there is no reason to be concerned, worried, or to stay alert.

By imposing the rabbit-friendly discourse, crocodiles resort to a rather cynical or pragmatic game of masquerading their cruelty as sentimentality. They may write stories about sweet little rabbits and their cruel treatment in the hands of some wolf or fox, or even some pre-historic crocodile, but never a story that tells how this happens in the hands of the current croc-establishment. 

There is certain pragmatism to the rabbit-friendly PC: why say nasty things about rabbits, why be gratuitously rude or condescending?  The less said about eating rabbits the better. Of course, from the perspective of a devoured rabbit all this sounds like crocodile tears. Rabbits would prefer the moral improvement and not just the verbal one.  But that’s their problem. And better to blind them with PC.

It may so happen, that at some point in history, the rabbits will wrestle the power from the crocodiles. At that moment, they would surely insist on new narratives, the ones stressing the unmitigated cruelty and malicious hypocrisy of the crocodiles on the one hand, and infinite nobility of the rabbits on the other. But by no means these new narratives would ever imply that the rabbits that gained power have turned into crocodiles themselves, the transformation so brilliantly exposed by Orwell’s Animal Farm.           

Krupskaia’s black list of books

Russian radicals, whose writings were diligently suppressed by the Russian Empire, began to suppress the writings of the “exploiting classes” in their turn after they assumed power. Lenin’s wife, Krupskaya, has drawn a famous list of books that were supposed to be banned in the Soviet Union. The list included everything from the Bible and Quran to Dante and Schopenhauer. She also proposed to ban ninety-seven children’s books, including famous folk tales, for their promotion of wrong ideology. “Children’s books are the weapons of social education,” she claimed, and therefore “the content of the books should be communist.”

What these cultural politics presupposes, as the case of Krupskaia reveals, is a particular moral stance, a particular sense of superiority, expected from any zealot, martyr, or revolutionary, who overcame oppression and hardship. This superiority results in accepting two highly dubious propositions as axioms:

 1. It presupposes certain moral and intellectual arrogance, implying that the regime that came to power, has an inherent knowledge of right and wrong; it can, therefore, proceed with instilling only “the politically correct” information into the heads of its population.

2. That there is correlation between what one hears in schools or reads in books with what one becomes. This correlation is by no means straightforward, however. One can grow very delicate in a loud mouth vulgar family, or visa versa.

In Part II we will ask why is there a need for truth? Is there is a split between truth and goodness? What does Dostoevsky offer?

 


[i] The Sweden Democrats are the anti-immigration party in Sweden.

 

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