Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Political Correctness

"You see, according to Cacteau's plan, I'm the enemy. Because I like to think. I like to read. I'm into freedom of speech, freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy who would sit in the greasy spoon and think, 'Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the big rack of barbequed spare ribs with the side order of gravy fries?' I want high cholesterol. I want to eat bacon, butter, and buckets of cheese, alright? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in a non-smoking section. I wanna run around naked with green jello all over my body reading a Playboy magazine. Why? Because maybe I feel the need to, okay pal? I've seen the future. You know what it is? It's made by a 47 year old virgin in gray pajamas soaking in a bubble bath drinking a broccoli milkshake and thinking 'I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener.' You wanna live on top? You gotta live Cacteau's way. What he wants, when he wants, how he wants. Your other option: come down here, maybe starve to death."
--Edgar Friendly (Demolition Man)

Article proposes that political correctness is about control rather than politeness. Political correctness (PC) is defined as "the conscious, intentional manipulation of language intended to change the way people speak, write, think, feel, and act, in furtherance of an agenda." Use of positive substitute symbols is a common tool of those seeking to foster political correctness.

Political correctness can be considered propaganda. However, unlike other forms of propaganda, PC tends to be all-encompassing, seeking to mold individuals into submissive beings with no capacity for critical thinking. In a politically correct world, natural law is diverted and rerouted. Truth is not absolute, and can be bent to serve the purposes of those who manipulate language.

The author credits much of 19th century Austrian Edward Bernays with much of the basis of political correctness. Bernays was a press agent. He was employed by the Wilson administration to gin up popular support for US entry into WWI. He was also employed by the private sector to direct several successful advertising campaigns for consumer products such as Ivory soap and Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Central to Bernays approach was the exploitation of herd psychology in the "manufacturing of consent," a term used by British psychologist Wilfred Trotter in his work Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War published in 1919.

Herd instinct relates to concepts in social identity theory and involves deep seated desire to win the approval of social groups. Through the herding lens, the desire to fit in is seen as paramount and overwhelms most other human urges.

Bernays viewed herd instinct as volatile, irrational, and unpredictable. To control it, herd psychology must be steered by 'smarter people' in many small, imperceptible ways. Imperceptible because it is important that the people being herded do not realize that their thoughts are being influenced.

As such, Bernays employed techniques designed under the basis of several assumptions. One was that people are generally not creative and individualistic at heart. Instead, they are malleable and desperate to fit in with groups. He also understood the importance of third party authorities (e.g., athletes, actors, politicians, wealthy elites) to promote causes and products. People take their cues from positions of authority. Finally, he understood the role that emotion plays in tastes and preferences. It is not the substance of the political candidate or consumer product that we deem important, Bernays believed, but rather the emotional content that affects us.

Today, PC campaigns are designed with similar assumptions in mind. People who permit statists to frame debates and control narratives are likely to cede power over their lives.

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