Although the mechanism is mysterious, it often seems as though a centralized control center is issuing out for dissemination the turns of phrase and interpretations of events to be spread by celebrities, prestige journalists, and other influencers. These narratives end up influencing and controlling the way we think about things.
Political correctness has been a subject for amusement and mockery for some time, but it is a serious matter, because over time it has corrupted language and restricted the range of acceptable ideas. It has slowly corroded ordinary and normal feelings of community and “in-group” loyalty, particularly among people with a longstanding historical roots in America.
Worse, political correctness has been used selectively to permit and forbid expressions of group identity, allowing new outsider groups and minorities to have a strong sense of identity rooted in victimhood, while inculcating feelings of doubt and shame among the majority.
We’ve seen this most recently in reactions to the recent explosion of Anti-Christian violence in Sri Lanka. Muslims there, as they do almost anywhere they live alongside non-Muslim groups, have engaged in terrorist violence, in this case by murdering 253 Christians and wounding hundreds of others in a series of bombing attacks on Easter Sunday. Muslims make up only 10 percent of the Sri Lankan population but, as in Europe and the United States, their small numbers have not forestalled aggressive violence towards non-Muslims. The Easter attacks were horrifying not only in their violence, but in their sacrilege against a day holy to all Christians.
As one might expect, the attack received nearly unanimous condemnation in the West. But the language used to describe these events, particularly among the cognoscenti of the far Left, was peculiar. Instead of calling it a Muslim attack on Christians, the victims were widely described as “Easter Worshippers” by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and various other media personalities.
The use of this peculiar term happened nearly instantaneously and unanimously. No one referred to the Muslim victims of the Christchurch mosque attack in New Zealand as “Friday Prayer attendees” or “Halal eaters.” This clumsy phrase is simply strange, distancing their activity from their identity, and implicitly suggesting that Christians cannot be a victim group. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Christians engaged in revenge attacks against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, the perpetrators were described as Christians without qualification. Of course, the victims of these revenge attacks were described as Muslims.
Language Choices Direct Thoughts and Values
These linguistic gymnastics are admittedly subtle. One could plausibly argue that because the attack occurred on Easter, calling them “Easter Worshippers” was shorthand for highlighting the grave evil of the attack. But we know that in many other contexts, Christians are persona non grata whose claims of a right to a place or authority to influence culture is under assault.
The distancing language of “Easter Worshippers” here chiefly functions to alter our perceptions, sympathies, and loyalties. It helps Western Christians experience less fellow feeling with their brothers in Asia, and it downplays the various places where Christians are under attack because of their identity.
We know generally that language matters. The widespread use of the phrase “‘N’ word” magnifies the grave impropriety of the racism of yesteryear, just as the widespread use of formerly foul terms like “s–t” and “f–k” undermines the older view elevating mankind from being a merely clever animal, defined chiefly by bodily functions.
The selective magnification or denigration of victim groups occurs in other arenas, particularly those dealing with race. News articles will make much of gruesome white-on-black crimes, such as the murder of James Byrd, and use these events as “teachable moments” to explore endemic racism in the broader, white-majority society. But proportionally greater black-on-white crimes receive little notice, including cases such as the Wichita Massacre or the Knoxville killings.
Indeed, a myth persists of white serial killers, but even here the politically incorrect truth is that blacks make up a disproportionately high percentage of such killers, though not nearly as high as their disproportionate percentage among ordinary crimes and homicides. The facts in all these cases, along with the selective focus and choice of words, all serve to elevate some groups (immigrants, minorities, and nonwhites) at the expense of the erstwhile dominant groups (Americans, whites, and Christians).
The Narrative Undermines the Confidence of the Majority
None of this is an accident. It all reinforces the broader leftist narrative, which is rooted in various calumnies and libels against traditional civilization, whites, and Christians. These three things made up the cultural and demographic core of the old America and the old Western Civilization. And thus, they are systematically denigrated, delegitimized, and devalued by a constant drumbeat of propaganda.
We hear stories, see movies, and read books endlessly regarding the evils of slavery, the Holocaust, and colonialism, but little is made of our abolition of slavery, tradition of natural law and natural rights, and the evils of non-Western peoples, such as the murderous Genghis Khan or the extensive Muslim slave trade. At the same time, we almost never hear generally that we have a right to exist, a right to flourish, and a right to maintain ourselves as a distinct people, culture, and civilization.
This line of critique is not applied fairly or equally. Mayan human sacrifice, the Chinese cultural revolution, and the Turkish barbarities in the Balkans and against Armenians are rarely brought up to undermine the legitimacy of these groups and their rights as a people—moreover, to the extent these criticisms are made, they almost never arise from the peoples themselves. The reversal of the normally cautious human instinct against change and the diminishment of one’s power in favor of “progress” and “social justice” has its foundation in the pervasive and misleading leftist narrative of the various sins and shortcomings of our people.
As Roger Scruton has observed, this kind of thinking is a shoddy foundation for civilized life. Writing in City Journal, Scruton argues:
Political correctness is not a morality in the traditional sense: it does not require you to change your life, to make sacrifices, or to live by an exacting code of conduct. It tells you to watch your language, so as to avoid the only prevalent adverse judgment, which is judgment of the adverse judge. It tells you to speak inclusively of other cultures, other life-styles, other values: never take a disapproving stance or use words that might imply one. Hence the extreme volatility of the new speech codes. Any phrase or idiom that seems to imply judgment of another category or class of people can become, almost overnight, an object of stigma.
The whole point of the new morality is to extend equality from a principle of fair treatment of individuals to one of indifference to and, indeed, enthusiasm for one’s own people’s decline in power, prestige, and population. Is this healthy or normal?
More important, this line of criticism is hard to resist, as it takes advantage of the West’s preexisting individualism, including its high regard for the rights of minorities, the rule of law, and the preference for thinking of morality in terms of “universals,” an extension of the broader universalism of the Christian belief system.
The combination of shoddy historical education, remorse over prior injustices to minorities, and the high social and economic costs visited on dissenters provides fertile ground in which this type of criticism can slowly eviscerate the confidence upon which any people and its civilization depends to survive.
The Way Forward
The foundation of this criticism makes plain the proper antidote to such propaganda plain, both for conservative intellectuals and for individuals. Real historical education, found in the Great Books and western art and music, by their own grandeur do much to instill faith in our people and its achievements. The very ugliness of the world crafted by the left does much to reduce its legitimacy.
As for injustice, there is no need to retreat from recognizing and even atoning for injustice. But any such recognition, just as in the case of individuals, does not require the root and branch destruction of a people and institutions. As Solzhenitsyn observed, “Nations are the wealth of mankind, its generalized personalities . . . the least among them has its own unique coloration and harbors within itself a unique facet of God’s design.” As with individuals, nations may be called to repentance, but as with individual repentance, this is a process with an end in mind: reconciliation.
Finally, the high social and economic costs should be emphasized at every turn; as more and more people find themselves fearful of being destroyed, jobless, and pariahs on account of some wayward utterance, the fragility of the system is laid bare. A system that needs to eliminate, ban, or silence critics is not as strong as its apparent power may first suggest. We should refuse to participate and join in this chorus of condemnations, instead questioning the long term designs and purpose of such a regime.
At the same time, let’s be prudent. The dissident Right and normal people more generally live in enemy territory. The institutions are in the hands of hostile forces, and their power is substantial. But their power depends largely on the rest of us genuflecting before the pseudo-morality of political correctness, progressivism, and multiculturalism.
By recognizing their propaganda, we become more immune to it. By refusing to participate in tactical victories—condemning Democrats for 100-year-old racism, for example—we maintain the strategic high ground. And when fewer and fewer people really believe this ideology of Western suicide, the leftist overlords are left only with raw power, which is hard to muster against an awakened majority. Indeed, when this occurs, their apparent powers of coordination will instead be an indictment of the small, self-interested, and hateful clique that wants nothing less than the destruction of America and the West’s historical peoples and their hard-won civilization.
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