January 28, 2015

"I first ran into the term 'Politically correct' in '67 in San Francisco. It was a leftist term then as now."

Writes John Henry in the comments to "Why Jonathan Chait thinks political correctness 'went into a long remission' and now has returned." Henry continues:
For example: "It is not politically correct to mention that the Viet Cong are murdering villagers who take US medical aid." It may have been factually correct, but since it harmed the cause, it was not "politically" correct to mention it.

I later, reading Lenin, found that he used something very like the term. For example: "It is not correct to say that people are dying of starvation in Moscow." He admitted that it was factually true but it should not be said because it made the party look bad.

When something is "politically incorrect", it generally is also factually correct.

I did not realize that the term ever went out of fashion.The concept certainly never has.
And then there was the time the U.S. Supreme Court Justice James Wilson said "This is not politically correct" back in 1793:
The states, rather than the people, for whose sakes the states exist, are frequently the objects which attract and arrest our principal attention.... Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial, language. Is a toast asked? "The United states," instead of the "People of the United states," is the toast given. This is not politically correct. The toast is meant to present to view the first great object in the Union: it presents only the second. It presents only the artificial person, instead of the natural persons who spoke it into existence. A state I cheerfully fully  admit, is the noblest work of Man. But, Man himself, free and honest, is, I speak as to this world, the noblest work of God.

39 comments:

bleh said...

Ah, good old context.

And nuance.

And whatever else is useful at shading the truth or defending the indefensible.

MadisonMan said...

If I'm accused of saying something politically incorrect (which doesn't happen often, as I keep my opinions to myself), I usually ask if my statement is false.

People -- especially politicians -- do not like uncomfortable truths.

tim maguire said...

When Chait says political correctness went dormant for a long time, he simply means it wasn't directed against him for a long time. Which is all that matters.

Carol said...

The new term is "not helpful." Facts are helpful/not helpful.

Got it? You're welcome.

bleh said...

So it's the reverse of "fake but accurate ..."

Does Glenn Kessler have a phrase that captures the sense of what John Henry is explaining, something like "true but dangerous and therefore false"?

tim in vermont said...

One of your definitions is not intended to obscure an objective truth. There is such a thing, you know. The Viet Cong either cut off the arms of children receiving vaccinations from US troops and piled the little arms up in the village commons or they didn't.

Hopefully, if they came upon a pre-op transgendered person, they cut off their dick for them as a kindness too.

Michael K said...

The progress of this term and the related concepts, like "War on Women, racism (which describes anything white people do, "privilege," and "micro aggression," is accelerating and closing off any discourse between the great majority of ordinary people and those who need to be hearing the truth.

Anonymous said...

Play with fire and get burnt, such is the law for most in political commentary, and Chait is starting to feel the heat.

Unknown said...

I first came across the term politically correct in a review of an album in Rolling Stone in 1982. As in, "this album is not politically correct."

That was the last time I read a copy of Rolling Stone.

pst314 said...

Political correctness never went dormant, the left merely changed its jargon.

Known Unknown said...

PC has really hampered my Boko Haram Scarem comedy bit. #ElvisBringBackOurGirls

Also, Boko Haram vs. Procol Harum, know the difference twitter series.

"Bring your axes and we'll jam."

"What a minute, we didn't mean actual axes!"



Gabriel said...

The 1793 usage "politically correct" has nothing whatever in common with its modern usage.

He meant "politics" in the sense of "operations of government", and we no longer use "politics" to mean this.

He certainly was not trying to silence anyone's opinions because he found them offensive, which is modern "political correctness".

He was merely saying that to emphasize the states at the expense of the people of the states is not a correct description of how the republic is organized.

Trashhauler said...

The purpose of insisting on politically correct speech is to limit or stop debate. It requires all participants to accept the premises of the politically correct advocates.

Thus, any "national dialogue" on race or gender is no dialogue at all because the only acceptable positions are to assert either one's victimhood or one's guilt.

traditionalguy said...

The point is being well made that free speech is a bold claim to possess political freedom. It is a claim to have authority.

Which will get most people told to shut up because it's something that upsets the existing authority.You are told to shut up because its rudeness, or being a jerk, or disrupting a meeting or starting a fight, or speaking without permission to speak.

The PC codes assert a superior authority.

Wince said...

"Al the news that's fit to print" is a pretty scary motto when you think about it.

Anonymous said...

Policing speech is the same as policing thought.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Jonathan Chait tells us that PC went out of fashion for a couple of decades and has now returned.

Only an intellectual like Chait, cloistered with like-minded cronies well removed from the world of people who work for a living, could develop such a gut feeling for the history of PC. Those upon the receiving end of it - chastised for failing to adopt and promote the leftist party line, or at least for failing to shut up our own opinions - have had no relief for those decades.

Chait should check his privileges, if he's been so exempt from the moral totalitarians who dish out PC.

SJ said...

Why is the descriptive phrase "is...correct" modified by inserting the adverb "politically"?

In the quote from Justice Wilson in 1793, the adverb "politically" carries the meaning "relating to political structure".

In the quotes from the late 1960s and onwards, the adverb "politically" carries a meaning closer to "supporting a particular political cause"?

...

Anyway, I've got a thought experiment I'd like to describe.

Suppose a hypothetical religious organization, the Church of the Sacred Brethren of Higher Thought, used the phrase theologically correct in its internal literature and discussion.

Then suppose that the this organization was able to spread the meme of theologically correct into the broader culture. To the point that in every discussion with leaders or representatives of the Church of the Sacred Brethren of Higher Thought, the question is that theologically correct? was raised.

And suppose that the broader culture took on an attitude of self-censorship. Out of respect for the Church of the Brethren of Higher Thought, any mention of something that is not theologically correct would be squelched, modified, or altered in favor of a theologically correct statement.

Would anyone describe that situation as a situation of thriving free speech?

To finish my thought experiment: if the phrase politically correct is used to squelch/modify/alter any statement, is freedom of speech being supported or denied?

Ron said...

A good rock song attacking PC is Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad"

Bilwick said...

I first ran into the term "politically correct" in the 1980s, before the term had become ironic. A film critic in this city, doing a movie-review column in an "alternative" newspaper, would use the term, and she actually meant it seriously.

Steve M. Galbraith said...

As others have accurately noted, Chait is now discovering this because its been directed at him.

Your monster is turning on you, liberals. And this is just the start.

A small part of me is enjoying it but most of me isn't.

The vital center - the center left and center right - needs to win.

Bilwick said...

"The vital center - the center left and center right - needs to win."

Yes, then we can have moderate liberty! Yaay! To the barricades, moderate-liberty lovers! You have nothing to lose but part of your chains!

Owen said...

So many good comments here. I particularly like Trashhauler @ 10:18:

"The purpose of insisting on politically correct speech is to limit or stop debate. It requires all participants to accept the premises of the politically correct advocates.

Thus, any 'national dialogue' on race or gender is no dialogue at all because the only acceptable positions are to assert either one's victimhood or one's guilt."

This gets at the "meta" or "framing" strategy whereby the Left constantly slips the punches thrown by its opponents. If you are winning, they redefine the question. If you disagree, it's because you don't understand; or are mentally ill.

The Godfather said...

William Chadwick mentions earlier in these comments that the use of "politically correct" became "ironic". That, indeed was my sense, or perhaps it was more used mockingly by the Right against the Left. If the "sincere" use of the term has become dominant once more, that would be a change, and an unfortunate one.

I am not a PC robot.

Steve M. Galbraith said...

"Yes, then we can have moderate liberty! Yaay! To the barricades, moderate-liberty lovers! You have nothing to lose but part of your chains!"

Who said "moderate"?

The reference to the vital center was to Schlesinger's use of the term.

A center between the far right and the far left.

Nothing "moderate" about it otherwise.

Michael said...

This goes back past Lenin to Nietzschean nihilism and was much reinforced by the deconstructivists. If all statements are merely constructs flowing from the (class) interests of the authors, and either there is no underlying "truth" or approaching it is beyond human capability, then all that matters is whether or not a statement advances your objectives. There is no actual truth; there is only "revolutionary truth" or "Progressive truth." Most of the evils of the past hundred years are consequences of this philosophy.

Gabriel said...

@William Chadwick:To the barricades, moderate-liberty lovers! You have nothing to lose but part of your chains!

Live free or don't!

Robert Cook said...

"Ah, good old context.

"And nuance.

"And whatever else is useful at shading the truth or defending the indefensible."


In the the arguments made for our illegal war in Iraq, and the denials that our torture program isn't torture at all, but even if it were, it's vitally necessary to prevent the annihilation of America!, there was no nuance or context, merely the Big Lie.

Robert Cook said...

"There is such a thing, you know. The Viet Cong either cut off the arms of children receiving vaccinations from US troops and piled the little arms up in the village commons or they didn't."

It seems there is no verification it happened, so we must assume it did not, until new information appears. (The tale told by the young Kuwaiti girl before we mounted Desert Storm that she witnessed Iraqi soldiers cast out Kuwaiti new-borns from hospital incubators and bayonetted them was likewise false.)

Swifty Quick said...

Lip service notwithstanding, the left really doesn't believe in the 1st Amendment, free speech, or open exchange in the marketplace of ideas. Quite the opposite in fact. Free speech is anything but if it only applies to speakers with whom you agree.

buwaya said...

I don't know about that incident, but across the dozens of first hand sources I have read, the theme of Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong atrocities/terrorism is a constant, and it was deliberate policy.

Just an example.

http://www.amazon.com/Platoon-Leader-Memoir-Command-Combat/dp/0891418008

Delayna said...

""Al the news that's fit to print" is a pretty scary motto when you think about it."

They should change it to "all the news that fits our views".

But being *factually* correct was never important to them.

Steve M. Galbraith said...

Here's the ground of the vital center that I think we can all agree on (although Chait limits it to liberals):

"Liberals believe (or ought to believe) that social progress can continue while we maintain our traditional ideal of a free political marketplace where we can reason together as individuals. Political correctness challenges that bedrock liberal ideal. While politically less threatening than conservatism (the far right still commands far more power in American life), the p.c. left is actually more philosophically threatening. It is an undemocratic creed."

That's the vital center I'm referring to. It's not moderate or weak in any way.

John henry said...

Robert Cook:

In the context that it was used as well as the way Lenin used it, it was assumed that the fact was true.

Lenin was not questioning that people were dying in the streets. He accepted that as factually true.

Likewise the hippie in SF in 67 did not question that the atrocities were real. He accepted them as fact. He may have been wrong in doing so but he did.

He did not say they were not happening, merely that it was not "politically correct" or as another commented said "helpful" to the cause, to mention it.

Therefore we should STFU about it.

Truth and fact or their absence have no bearing on whether something is politically correct or not.

John Henry

John henry said...

Wow, my very own Althouse tag.

Now I can die happy. My life's work is done.

John Henry

rcocean said...

"the left really doesn't believe in the 1st Amendment"

Ever hear a leftist complain about the lack of free speech in Castro's Cuba?

One fellow traveler supposedly said "They don't need free speech in the USSR, they have Socialism".

cubanbob said...

Michael said...

This goes back past Lenin to Nietzschean nihilism and was much reinforced by the deconstructivists. If all statements are merely constructs flowing from the (class) interests of the authors, and either there is no underlying "truth" or approaching it is beyond human capability, then all that matters is whether or not a statement advances your objectives. There is no actual truth; there is only "revolutionary truth" or "Progressive truth." Most of the evils of the past hundred years are consequences of this philosophy.
1/28/15, 1:46 PM "

Cuban's summed that up pithily in a an adage that translates as follows " a pious lie in the service of the revolution".


And along comes our Robert Cook with his Big Lie about illegal wars....

cubanbob said...

Truth and fact or their absence have no bearing on whether something is politically correct or not.

John Henry

1/28/15, 5:38 PM"

Una mentira piadosa en el servicio de la revoluciĆ³n.

Smilin' Jack said...

""I first ran into the term 'Politically correct' in '67 in San Francisco. It was a leftist term then as now.""

Nonsense. As Lenin said, it is simply incorrect to say anything that makes the Party look bad. Anyone who said it was merely "politically" incorrect would have gotten a bullet to the back of the head in the basement of the Lubyanka.