Being Politically Incorrect

Sometimes it's right to be in the wrong

Since I posted the July article on homosexuality, I've received quite a few comments from people I know pointing out that my opinions on the subject are rather 'politically incorrect'.

I'm glad to hear that. For the past couple of decades or so, a trend has spread throughout the Western world, and in particular in those first-world countries where English is the first official language, which has stifled free expression and continues to do so. The trend is the desire to be 'politically correct'.

The History

Before we look at the present day incomplete concept of political correctness, it helps put things in perspective if you look at its history.

The term 'politically correct' was first coined by the Russian despot Stalin, and adopted for more widespread use by Mao Zedong, a man who created a series of hare-brained mass movements which resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese, many from starvation. Nevertheless, Mao's schemes were very politically correct for the time. Because the man who decided what was and wasn't politically correct was Mao himself.

Mao also had a penchant for pretending to welcome a diversity of views, to identify those people who were politically incorrect (that is, those who had views out of harmony with his own), prior to having them jailed or killed.

Mao's concept of political correctness could not be applied to the wider world, even within the Cold War communist nations; they were after all, his own personal notions. Those not inspired by his particular brand of revolutionary zeal could never adopt them. For example, one of those incorrect political figures in China at the time was Deng Xiaoping, a 'capitalist roader' Mao had jailed, who had his own ideas of what was and wasn't politically correct.

Deng Xiaoping was Mao's successor. A chain-smoking little despot who barked out his own politically correct orders between spitting bouts, he had two obvious traits in common with Mao: Firstly, He was able to inspire the support of millions, especially because his own political views were rooted in the real world, and most people by then had had enough of starvation and political persecution for being politically incorrect. Secondly, but more significantly, he was, of course, always politically correct. As Deng candidly admitted in 1994, he had "never been wrong before". Because, as a dictator, he was the one who decided what was right.

Thus, we can see that the concept of political correctness is eminently suitable for a dictatorship, where one person decides what is and isn't correct. It's a concept which has no place in a democracy, where by definition, you should find a huge range of diverse views. Where every person's views are equally valid, how can there possibly be correct and incorrect views?

Current Circumstances

Today, we still see examples all over the world of politically correct leaders who are able to inspire like Stalin, Mao and Deng. In some cases, such as that of the psychopath presently running Russia, the politically correct view of the leader has a wide enough resonance with the general population to ensure that he can appear in public without a high risk of attack from politically incorrect elements. In other cases, such as that of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, there is simply too much political incorrectness in the population at large to make that advisable. Others still, like the Thai Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha have an even less broad appeal. Hence, when asked by reporters in March 2015, how the government would respond to news media which does not adhere to the official line, he had to augment his political correctness with the warning "We'll probably just kill them." In the annals of political correctness, such measures are tried and trusted methods for getting a despot's message of political correctness across. What we say is correct, and if what you say doesn't match, you're wrong, and you'll suffer for it.

The notion of political correctness didn't arrive in Britain from the totalitarian regimes of Soviet Russia or China, however. It came from the United States in the 1990s, re-packaged for use in the post-Cold War world, and like so many other things from the western side of the Atlantic, was wholeheartedly embraced and adopted without question in the UK.

In the free world, the term 'politically correct' has since been used by right and left-wing political extremists, both to describe what is acceptable to themselves and to criticise their opponents at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Of course, there is little to differentiate the extreme left and the extreme right, and much they have in common, such as intolerance of dissenting views. Both are opposed to democratic ideals.

Yet, over the past couple of decades or so, a creeping self-censorship has taken a grip of even the mainstream media, particularly the English-language news media and web publishing. In mainstream media, political correctness is generally presented today as a concept in which traditionally dominant groups are treated as if they were a minority, and minorities are spoken of as if they were the majority. At first blush, this may seem to be merely going to great lengths to make minorities feel more welcomed and comfortable. However, this is not the case. And even if this were the full extent of 'political correctness', then it is obviously anything but democratic. In reality, political correctness in the English-speaking world, as in everywhere else from Stalin's Soviet Union onwards, covers a broad range of subjects which have to be mentioned in specific terms or not mentioned at all.

In today's model, governments, far from being the ones dictating what is and isn't politically correct, play a mostly supportive role; they themselves are to a great extent guided in political correctness by the media and advertising, who have apparently already reached consensus on the matter.

The New Political Masters: The Media

Browsing the web today is a remarkably homogeneous experience, regardless of browser, operating system or computer type. Hardly surprising, when you take into account that all the major players likely to be involved in your web experience -- including Google and the YouTube video-sharing site it owns, Microsoft and the Skype service it owns, Apple, Adobe, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, and Paypal -- are American-owned. And let's not forget the site we all go to when we need to know more about anything, Wikipedia, which has easily won us all over because the information on it's pages is provided by amateurs!

There was a time when these commercial enterprises could be easily defined. For example, Google was a search engine. Now it's a software maker, a browser certificate authority and a social networking hub, among other things. The only way to describe them all today is as 'web media companies', and their influence is now naturally a lot more far-reaching than it once was. At the same time, of course, traditional media companies have scrambled to adapt themselves to delivering their messages over the Internet and thus retain their dominance, so both groups are now heavily involved in digital publishing. But all media and advertising (and what media these days doesn't come with barrages of unwanted advertising?), regardless of delivery method, plays the role of guiding the public as to what is and what isn't politically correct, backed up by legislation only for the more seriously incorrect opinions (which is to say, the opinions which are illegal and can get you jailed).

What's Not OK

Top of the list of politically incorrect behaviour which is right off-limits in the English-speaking world and on continental Europe is any remark which seems to portray Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in a good light, or rather not in an obviously bad light.

The only acceptable behaviour at the mention of Hitler and the Third Reich is frothing at the mouth with a barrage of terms like 'Madman', "Devil Incarnate', 'Regime of Horror and Evil', etc., etc.

Which isn't to say that Hitler and Germany under the Nazis were not these things, but they could not possibly have been only these things. Even the mass-murder cult currently known as ISIS must be doing something right to keep recruiting and opening up affiliated branches in diverse locations (for a start, they obviously have very efficient funding channels, or their resources would have dried up long ago). Only grudging admission that scientific and technological progress did not come to a complete halt during the Nazi era is permitted, and even that will get you viewed with distrust. And perhaps - no kidding - even investigated as a possible extremist. This is one of the few examples where being politically incorrect can even land you in jail.

The case of the Austrian politician, Jorg Haider, provides a good illustration of what happens when a public figure seems to endorse Nazi Germany. Haider's populist, centre-right Freedom Party had - with the exception of immigration - policies very similar to those of the UK's populist, centre-left New Labour, for which Haider also expressed some admiration. Then, he mentioned his belief that something could be learnt from Hitler's employment policies. Led by Britain's tabloid newspapers, a withering bombardment of vitriolic comment directed at the Nazi sympathising, Holocaust-denying, anti-Semitic hate merchant emanated from Fleet Street, and, with no change whatsoever in the Freedom Party's policies, it became transformed into an extremist group on the far right fringes of European politics. The role of the English-language news media in Haider's downfall is all the more significant when you take into account that Austria has the most extreme anti-Nazi legislation in the world; it's a country where even car number plates seeming to make reference to the Nazi era are banned, and just publicly refusing to accept the official line on the Third Reich has got people the kind of prison sentences normally given to rapists and murderers.

How ridiculous this kind of childish behaviour on the part of Britain's news media is becomes all the more obvious when you consider that none of the media moguls who shape public opinion in Europe and North America have any experience whatsoever of World War Two, and many have less knowledge of the era than the average layman. Europe is now less able to deal with the Nazi era dispassionately than it was a decade or two after the war ended.

The fact that nothing about the extreme right-wing German Nazis may be condoned does not imply that the extreme left of the political spectrum may be. Communism is officially dead, and is now another subject best not mentioned in today's consumerist world. With public opinion throughout the English-speaking world and beyond now shaped by a dozen or so American corporations, who dares to call themselves a 'Communist' (even in their 'tweets')? The world's most hardline, extreme left-wingers are now nothing more than 'Socialist'. After all, Communism collapsed 25 years ago, right? (Even though South America, taken in its entirety, is orders of magnitude more left-wing than it was in the 1980s). The arms race with the United States drove the Soviet Union to bankruptcy, thereby proving communism to be a faulty ideology. I know, I read it in Time.

So, clearly, there is very much an ideological dimension to what is and what isn't politically correct, as the term would imply. But let's leave that aside a moment and look at what political correctness usually claims to be in the West.

As a former English teacher, when I first discovered English-language news articles referring to all (anonymous) members of male-dominated professions (such as engineering) as 'she', I began to wonder what intelligent English students in countries where males are normally 'he' and only females are 'she', would make of this practice? Recently, I realised I had a chance to find out.

My only student in recent years was Professor Huang, a specialist in marine biology. Once a week, we had an informal 90-minute coffee-shop conversation 'class', which consisted mostly of him talking about various subjects, while I corrected his grammar. As someone who claimed to have not had the time to see a film or read a novel since his student days, over two decades previously, he was almost an ideal subject; someone sure to be unfamiliar with Western political correctness. I shot off a computer printout of a Guardian story about a homosexual convict in an American prison who wanted a sex-change operation, and gave it to the professor to read at the next class.

Huang read the news story aloud, puzzled over it for a few moments, then asked me if it was some kind of trick story? I told him it was a genuine news article. He re-read it, then said he thought he understood it, but couldn't tell from the article when the prisoner had had the sex-change operation? He pointed out a particularly puzzling sentence, which stated that the prison authorities were concerned “She may try to castrate herself”.

When I told my student that most British news media referred to men as 'she' and women as 'he' if that was what they preferred, he looked at me with an air of disbelief, before bursting out in laughter. He found the sentence about the prisoner trying to castrate herself hilarious!

At the end of the day, if journalists and other media figures insist on politically correct practices like this, they should be allowed to do so, even if it does make them a laughing stock. But those who want to remain 'statistically correct' or 'biologically correct' in their reporting should not be corralled into adopting politically correct usages.

In my own opinion, the notion of political correctness belongs with the despots who first made use of the term: in the dustbin of history.