Political Correctness: A Sociocultural Black Hole 2020020721, 2020020722, 9780367528072, 9781003058489

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Table of contents :
Half Title
Series Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction: A Lannister Always Dates His Pets
Chapter 2 PC in Greece: An Atypical, yet Revealing, Case Study
Everyday Life
Chapter 3 A Culture of Hypocrisy
Still Got the Blues . . . Or Do I?
A Well-Rounded Education Versus PTSD Playacting
On Jordan B. Peterson [but not really . . . ]
Grêt-à-porter: On Greta Thunberg
The Bechdel Test
Blackface and Halloween
The Evergreen State College Debacle, and “White Guilt”
Get up, Stand up: Stand-up Comedy for and against PC
Chapter 4 The Story Thus Far: A Critical Review of the Literature on PC
A Genealogy of the Term and Attempts at Definition
Points in Favor of and Against PC
Chapter 5 Alceste . . . and the Rest: A Misanthropic Pessimist’s Outlook on PC
A Case for Misanthropic Pessimism
The PC Elephant in the Chat Room
Chapter 6 [In Lieu of a] Conclusion
Works Cited
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Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought


Political Correctness: A Sociocultural Black Hole

This book explores the nature of political correctness as but one of the faces of today’s widespread sociocultural hypocrisy; it is a critique of a phenomenon that constitutes a threat to the Enlightenment hope that humanity might one day achieve maturity. The author identifies political correctness as a drive towards shallowness, anti-intellectualism and self-flagellation – and a culture in which perception is everything. With attention to the emergence and growth of political correctness in a country, Greece, where it can be observed from a bottom-up perspective, this volume demonstrates that although at first glance it appears as a well-intentioned social movement informed by values with which no moral and judicious person could disagree, political correctness actually represents, at best, a distraction from graver concerns; at worst, a manifestation of human foolishness and malevolence. A study of the destruction of honest and rational debate, characterized by trials of intention, often by social media, Political Correctness: A Sociocultural Black Hole will appeal to scholars of sociology and media studies with interests in contemporary political culture. Thomas Tsakalakis is Adjunct Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Athens, Greece.

Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought

145 The Social Life of Nothing: Silence, Invisibility and Emptiness in Tales of Lost Experience Susie Scott 146 A Politics of Disgust Selfhood, World-Making and Ethics Eleonora Joensuu 147 The Lived Experiences of Muslims in Europe Recognition, Power and Intersubjective Dilemmas Des Delaney 148 Ethical Politics and Modern Society T. H. Green’s Practical Philosophy and Modern China James Jia-Hau Liu 149 Consciousness and the Neoliberal Subject A Theory of Ideology via Marcuse, Jameson and Žižek Jon Bailes 150 Hegel and Contemporary Practical Philosophy Beyond Kantian-Constructivism James Gledhill and Sebastian Stein 151 A Marxist Theory of Ideology Praxis, Thought and the Social World Andrea Sau 152 Stupidity in Politics Its Unavoidability and Potential Nobutaka Otobe 153 Political Correctness: A Sociocultural Black Hole Thomas Tsakalakis 154 The Individual After Modernity: A Sociological Perspective Mira Marody For a full list of titles in this series, please visit www.routledge.com/series/RSSPT

Political Correctness: A Sociocultural Black Hole

Thomas Tsakalakis

First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Thomas Tsakalakis The right of Thomas Tsakalakis to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Tsakalakis, Thomas, author. Title: Political correctness: a sociocultural black hole/Thomas Tsakalakis. Description: 1 Edition. | New York: Routledge, 2020. | Series: Routledge studies in social and political thought | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020020721 (print) | LCCN 2020020722 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367528072 (hardback) | ISBN 9781003058489 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Political correctness. | Social media–Political aspects. | Political culture. Classification: LCC HM1216 .T73 2020 (print) | LCC HM1216 (ebook) | DDC 302.23/1–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020020721 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020020722 ISBN: 978-0-367-52807-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-05848-9 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Deanta Global Publishing Services, Chennai, India



Introduction: A Lannister Always Dates His Pets



PC in Greece: An Atypical, yet Revealing, Case Study



A Culture of Hypocrisy



The Story Thus Far: A Critical Review of the Literature on PC



Alceste . . . and the Rest: A Misanthropic Pessimist’s Outlook on PC



[In Lieu of a] Conclusion


Works Cited Index

147 156


Introduction: A Lannister Always Dates His Pets

The subtitle of this introductory chapter is a play on words I came up with, an intentional spoonerism based on one of the catch-phrases, “A Lannister always pays his debts,” from the all-too-popular HBO series Game of Thrones. Be it clever or gay, and I use the latter adjective in its colloquial sense of “stupid,” this jeu d’esprit was intended to provoke the ineluctable, and more or less rhetorical, question: Could it (and, by extension, the one who thought of it) be regarded as politically incorrect? The answer is a resounding “yes,” perhaps even raised to the power of three, in view of what this pun was followed by as well: (i) my joke indubitably incurred the wrath of some of the animal rights warriors; (ii) I perpetrated the “microaggression” of proposing the word “gay” as one of the ways my play on words might be described; and (iii) I keep committing the academic faux pas of employing the singular first-person pronoun instead of displaying false modesty by conforming to the long-established norm whereby it is highly recommended that either the supposedly impartial third-person perspective or the plural first-person pronoun be used in scholarly texts. [Nonetheless, as the aphorism formulated by the peerless satirist Georg Lichtenberg goes: “All impartiality is artificial. Man is always partial and is quite right to be” (82).] Furthermore, even the die-hard fans of the aforementioned TV show may be affronted (or “triggered”) by my playful transposition of two of the phonemes in the Lannisters’ unofficial motto. Incidentally, if these fans happen to be proponents of political correctness – hereafter abbreviated as PC – as well, should they not also take issue with the fact that, due to the generic use of the masculine pronoun (“pays his debts”) in the show’s popular saying, it appears as if only male Lannisters were reputed to be reliable debtors? It may well be argued that the fact that I am not a US citizen precludes my take on the matter at hand from consideration, given that PC is deemed a primarily American phenomenon. [Ironically, my study may be regarded as a case in which an “outsider,” a “barbarian,” is “carrying owls to Athens,” to borrow a phrase from Aristophanes; an equivalent metaphor used by the English is “bringing coals to Newcastle.” Yet it is an Athenian who offers his perspective on a subject that is perhaps already exhausted by the Americans, who have plenty of figurative owls of their own.] Conversely, it would also stand to reason that precisely because I come from Greece, and therefore not only am I afforded the opportunity to



examine this phenomenon at a distance, ergo from a more objective angle, but I am also a member of a “minority group,” in the sense that my birthplace is a small and almost impoverished country that has been flirting with default and threatened with “Grexit” for more than a decade, I am somehow more entitled to voice an opinion on this issue than, say, a privileged American would be. If the advocates of PC – henceforth: PCers – who have read up to this point have already taken it for granted that I must be opposed to everything PC stands for, they will conveniently disregard my “minority status” and agree with the former argument; they may also feel that they ought to quit reading any further, irrespective of what irrefragable arguments I might be putting forward later on. Nevertheless, if a person is indeed anti-PC, this does not mean that said person should be neatly categorized as a downright bigoted reactionary (i.e., a heterosexist, a racist, a promoter of hate speech, a misogynist, and an evolution denier), a misinformed centrist, or a believer in stale Marxist dogmas that do not vigorously endorse the postmodern wide array of disparate idealistic causes – instead of common economic interests – such as multiculturalism, environmentalism, ethnic-racial identity affirmation, anti-sexism, LGBTQIAPD rights, and the umbrella term “social justice.” The abovementioned initialism stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer (or Questioning), Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual and Demisexual; however, by the time this book is published, it may have already been extended considerably, perhaps even to the point of a reordering of the complete English alphabet. How about an “F” for foot fetishists, an “O” for objectum sexuals (people who are attracted to, and seek to have relationships with, inanimate objects), or an “E” for ecosexuals (those who engage in erotic encounters with various components of a natural ecosystem, such as the soil, a vegetable, or a waterfall)? Of course, many of the letters could appear more than once; for instance, why not an extra “I” for “incels,” a term coined by males who self-identify as “involuntary celibates” and who feel equally marginalized as those who belong to the established LGBT+ community, or a second “D” for digisexuals, that is, persons who forego erotic encounters with other humans because they prefer to have their sexual desires fulfilled exclusively by means of digital technologies and interactive media (online porn, sexting, robotic sex dolls equipped with artificial intelligence, virtual reality sex, and so forth)? The above could easily result in a new Orwellian “Newspeak,” while the incessant emergence of new sociocultural entities (or “tribes”), based either on often illegitimate grievances or on a legion of peculiarities, may lead Western democracies to consider designing a new social contract. If so, what exactly should this entail? These are a few of the controversial issues I shall be addressing in the following chapters. PC does not have to be associated with factional strife, internecine fault lines, or interparty conflicts. In the words of the nonpareil stand-up comedian and social critic George Carlin: “The impulse behind political correctness is a good one. But like every good impulse in America it has been grotesquely distorted beyond usefulness,” and the people responsible for this are “liberal language vandals” and “failed campus revolutionaries” who, if “they’re not busy curtailing freedom of speech, they’re running around inventing absurd hyphenated names designed

Introduction 3 to make people feel better” (173). With this in mind, it is quite within the bounds of possibility for someone to be favorably disposed toward several of the ethical values [not principles] and underlying premises [not actualities] that inform PC, but in disagreement with its discourse, as well as with virtually all the tactics or practices adopted by doctrinaire PCers, and, at the same time, to be above the fray of paltry ideological wars and located outside the orbit of the traditional political framework, in the sense that s/he – I willfully play the “pronoun game” to mollify the PCers – does not have, or want to have, a dog in this fight. Accordingly, neither does this hypothetical someone engage in motivated reasoning (which, in a nutshell, is a confirmatory bias whereby you get to eat your heuristic cake and have it too: you look for, retain, and process only the kind of information that seems to buttress your deeply held assumptions and to satisfy your “feelings” as regards a particular problem), nor does s/he cling to unreasonable beliefs and prejudiced emotions strictly because they are in consonance with her/his ingroup’s views, which is exactly what all the intransigent PCers do, as I shall try to demonstrate in this book. Otherwise stated, the polarizing topic of PC does not necessarily pertain to the constantly shifting ideological groupings within the political spectrum; instead, it could be explored through a lens that is, on the one hand, supra-political, to wit, focused on panhuman realities and universal verities that transcend the immediacy of specific ideologico-political investments, myths, battlegrounds, constellations, or conflicts of opinions (which are purportedly sublated so that a general consensus may eventually emerge) and, on the other, metaethical and metaepistemological, i.e., engaged with a second-order philosophical interrogation of both the normative bases and the practical applications of morality and knowledge. More significantly, but still following the same line of reasoning as before, when it comes to PC (although it should be noted that the same applies to a whole series of equally challenging questions or highly charged subjects), why ought one to classify oneself in advance, sociopolitically, metaphysically, probably even in regard to one’s sexual orientation as well, in order to be “permitted” to enter the arena of public discourse and to make one’s assertions with respect to this topic? [Let us be forthright; the answer is clear: because virtually every book is aimed at a very specific target audience, one which the author is anxious to win over right off the bat.] One does not have to be familiar with Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality in order to have awakened to the fact that “Western societies have established the confession as one of the main rituals we rely on for the production of truth” (56), and that this “obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points, is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us” (60). Indeed, there are many people who, wittingly or unwittingly, perform self-evaluations, exhaustively examine their emotions, their intentions, as well as their likes or dislikes, and then disclose their “findings” to the public under the illusion that this constitutes a “liberating” experience. What currently transpires in the realm of social media is a poignant case in point. The kicker is that this “transparency” is merely a simulation exercise conducted in an environment far removed from truth or from actual reality,



and most “confessions” are anything but sincere. Nonetheless, even within the confines of a preprogrammed confessional culture, it is still puzzling why a lot of (self-proclaimed) liberal-minded academics subscribe to the notion that one should first give a direct or indirect account of one’s leanings or biases, and only then will said one’s ideas find their “rightful place” in the din of the unceasing, warlike debates between the perennially divided “Us” and “Them,” whatever ingroup and out-group these last two may refer to. Echoing Glenn C. Loury’s views, which are germane to the issue I have just raised, when I chose to investigate the topic of PC, I, too, was inclined, even if only for a moment, to “edit my writing so as to avoid conveying the ‘wrong’ (that is, unintended even if accurate) impression” and to “pander to the presumed prejudices of my audience,” as I was aware that both leftists and right-wingers with strong opinions on the matter would primarily (or exclusively) focus on assessing where I am “coming from,” what my “ulterior motives” are, if I am “for them or against them,” and, as a result, their evaluation of my writings could ultimately depend merely upon whether I would be viewed as a friend or as a foe (434). In Illiberal Education, one of the earliest explorations of PC (from a conservative point of view), Dinesh D’Souza appositely writes: “During my research for this book I discovered a tremendous curiosity, on the part of my sources, about my own background and where I was ‘coming from’” (22). However, in this case the question may have been literal, given the India-born D’Souza’s skin color. In any event, Richard Feldstein summarizes a currently popular – if not dominant, although I opine it is not valid always and for everyone – conjecture according to which “any attempt at interpretation tilts to the left or right,” there is “a politicized aim that precedes” someone’s investigation of a topic, and “all intellectual undertakings are bound by an ‘ideological captivity’” (49). Therefore, it should be no wonder that many readers consider it imperative to learn in advance where a critic is coming from. Along a line of thought similar to that of Loury’s, Howard S. Schwartz drives the point home decisively: “There is clearly an element of irrationality in political correctness. It is a form of censorship without a censor; we impose it on ourselves” (4). Jonathan Zimmerman, too, makes mention of the fact that an increasing number of academics, either conservative or progressive, “say that they self-censor for fear of repercussions” (9), and that they refrain from raising their objections to matters such as, say, “race-based affirmative action” (37) in order “to guard against ridicule or harm” (67). In a somewhat similar vein, Geoffrey Hughes states that several of the people he told that he was working on this subject asked him: “Will it get you into trouble?” (x). The foregoing are evidently indicative of the fact that even those who have no immediate involvement in the PC debate get a sense that one should exercise an abundance of caution – a phrase, lest we forget, which came into vogue during the Ebola virus epidemic – when one decides to venture an opinion on it, as if analyzing PC is tantamount to letting oneself become exposed to some kind of epistemological coronavirus … All the same, I write from the vantage point of a non-tenure track academic who is a citizen of a country that has been careening toward failed state status since 2009, and who, having practically nothing to lose (a salient point that I will be

Introduction 5 revisiting in more detail in the following chapters), does not feel overwhelmed by any need to sidestep addressing a problematic issue with as much unvarnished candor as feasible. Absent any novel and comprehensive “emancipatory Grand Narrative,” PC found fertile ground for extending its reach beyond the academic world in several Western democracies, as it has come to play a crucial role in a lot more than just campus politics, speech codes, diversity, or multicultural curricula. PC now pervades virtually all aspects of both the public and the private sphere: art, the political arena, mainstream journalism and social media, international relations, but also everyday interactions, be they professional, social, or sexual. According to the psychiatrist Sally Satel, “not even medicine is immune,” since PC “is spreading into the clinical area” and “identity politics has taken precedence over clinical imperatives” (43), and this is due to what she dubs “indoctrinologists,” that is, social justice warriors whose “prescriptions for cure are ideology and social reform” (6); in fact, there are activists, self-described as “consumer-survivors,” who “claim that psychiatrists make them sick,” so they want to take over the institutions for the mentally ill, and their PC-inspired “movement” is often subsidized by “the federal government and state mental health agencies” (45–47). Satel has no qualm about closing her book with the exhortation to “inoculate medicine against the life-or-death consequences of political correctness” (233). PC is part and parcel of “the raging ‘culture war’ that has replaced the struggle over communism as the primary locus of partisan conflict in American intellectual life. Starting on the campuses—over issues like abortion, affirmative action, multicultural studies, environmentalism, feminism, and gay rights—the PC debate has spread into newsrooms, movie studios, and even the halls of Congress” (Loury 428–429); hence, as Schwartz succinctly puts it, “political correctness is everywhere” (2). Furthermore, a compelling case could be made that a growing antipathy from many different sides toward PC was one of the reasons that Donald Trump got elected as POTUS. I would never dare to presume that I am that well versed in the extremely labyrinthine inner workings of American politics; however, after I first thought that maybe Trump’s rise to power was at least partly due to a right-wing populism spawned (anew) by “PC run amok” and by an overemphasis on identity politics, I conducted a cursory research on the matter, and it was enough to reveal that this point had already been made, plenty of times. Heidi Kitrosser, in an article that leans slightly in favor of PC, sums it up as follows: “Many observers attribute Donald Trump’s political rise to widespread anger over ‘the culture of political correctness’,” and then, in three consecutive footnotes, she cites six bibliographical sources that propose this hypothesis (1989). Significantly, the progressive – or at least certainly not a Republican – yet fervently anti-PC Bill Maher also frequently mentions something to this effect on his HBO political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher. Likewise, and not so paradoxically in my view, the vociferous opponent of radical leftism Jordan B. Peterson, to whom I devote a separate section in the third chapter, expressed virtually the same opinion during an interview (“There was plenty of motivation to take me out. It just didn’t



work”), asserting that “this identity politics battle of ideas was a determining factor in the last American election; if Hillary wouldn’t have played identity politics, played cozy with the identity politics type, she would have kept the working class and she would be President now.” Additionally, several left-leaning and/ or black political pundits have written articles that present PC as a hindrance to promoting progressive policies in the States; a good case in point is Briahna Joy Gray’s tellingly titled piece “How Identity Became a Weapon Against the Left,” in which the author, while discussing Kamala Harris’s possible candidacy for the 2020 presidential race (which Harris dropped out of in December 2019), stresses that “when used cynically, as a political weapon, a simplistic view of identity can allow people of a particular political faction to wrongly imply that they speak for all members of their racial or gender group,” that there are “both principled and pragmatic reasons why people on the left might be skeptical of a Harris candidacy,” that “a black-run police force can be just as harmful to a black community as one headed by whites, but the optics of equal representation can obscure the reality of systemic racism,” and, in her concluding remark, that “the interest in Hillary as a woman candidate trumped interest in having the best candidate for women.” All these observations raise wider PC-related issues that are worth a revisit in the next chapters. So this book is not so much about PC per se as it is about a phenomenon of which PC might be construed as a symptom, namely an unprecedented moral and epistemological impasse occurring within a glaringly hypocritical sociocultural milieu in which doublespeak, anti-intellectualism, or even idiocy can be exalted, sound bites are the order of the day, and the favorite mantra of the zeitgeist’s brazen spokespersons is none other than “perception is everything; it is all about the optics.” How and to what end is this happening? I maintain that these are issues of great import, yet they have garnered exiguous critical interest up to now compared to others that merely serve to perpetuate the regnant – yet deceptive – narrative according to which human civilization is taking steps, slow and arduous though they may be, toward “truth” and “justice,” and to camouflage what Jean Baudrillard calls the “desert of the real” (1); this last idea will be thoroughly explained in the fifth chapter, yet in the age of “alternative facts,” and in a world where “what we are seeing and reading is not what is happening” and “the truth is not the truth,” one does not require the help of the French philosopher’s recondite theories to understand one is living in a desert-like simulacrum of reality. Attentive readers will have noticed by now that, by virtue of the apparent inescapability of having to put the “where-I-stand” cart before the “let-us-review-thefacts-first” horse, I have already partly succumbed to the unstated but existent pressure to “confess,” albeit in an oblique manner, “where I am coming from.” So, let us grant, concesso non dato, that the following propositions are true: If I were an American, in all likelihood I would have “felt the Bern,” at least on an emotional level, during the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses. In addition, I would probably be part of the pro-choice movement, support those economic policies and social mechanisms that might lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth and income, be in favor of a restrictive gun control policy, take active

Introduction 7 part in the fight for environmental protection and against climate change (which is, by all accounts, anthropogenic), and align myself with those who strive for equal opportunities – admittedly a rather broad brush concept – for everyone, irrespective of race, age, sexual orientation, looks, disabilities, or gender (undoubtedly a tall order if one takes into account all the deeply entrenched, structural socioeconomic disparities) and for universal health care coverage. Having posited the above, at the same time I would most likely support a strict immigration policy, be branded an “Islamophobe,” make a point of challenging the premise that all people are equally competent, intelligent, or hard-working and, thus, that they should benefit from a guaranteed state of equal outcomes (which is, practically, what equity amounts to), and, what is more to the point, I would definitely steer clear of anything even remotely resembling PC. Further, within the context of the nature–nurture debate, I would argue that I am “prewired” toward intellectual elitism and elitist individualism, whereas, from a social constructionist perspective, the sociocultural milieu I grew up, live, and work in – reinforced, perhaps, by some deep-seated propensity to root for the underdog – might explain why I cling to some left-of-center ideals (hence the “feel the Bern” reference). All in all, where would my suppositious stance on these randomly selected issues situate me on the traditional Left-Right continuum? “Liberal,” “moderate,” “conservative,” “libertarian,” “regressive leftist,” “reactionary,” an exponent of “syncretic politics” (or the “Third Way”)? It does not actually matter, since my hypotheticals, although they were interspersed with the telling qualifiers “concesso non dato,” “probably,” “in all likelihood,” and “most likely,” will undoubtedly generate more than a fair share of vituperative criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, as well as from the so-called center, which, as we know, cannot hold … [I allude to William Butler Yeats’s famous line: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” (1880).] At any rate, it is highly problematic whether these designations or labels still retain some well-defined meaning today, given both their semantic equivocality and the fact that not only are they often fraught with contradictions, but also that every one of them can be employed to describe utterly distinct policy agendas and various perspectives, depending on the context. Before I proceed, a few conceptual elucidations are in order. Throughout this book, I shall be fulminating against anti-intellectualism; by using this term I am referring to rampant cultural impoverishment, i.e., the trend toward willful fatuity, unreason, and dumbing down, and to the fact that self-righteousness and the extolment of one’s “feelings” about any given problem have replaced the attempts to solve it by means of rational argumentation, all of which, in my view, are defining characteristics of PC culture. Forty years ago, before the advent of PC, Isaac Asimov castigated a “cult of ignorance,” to wit, “a strain of anti-intellectualism” that is “nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’,” a mentality consummately exemplified by PCers, and he also derided the “obscurantists” who ask us not to trust the experts (19); as Tom Nichols brilliantly phrases it, while we are sometimes fond of those “explainers who are more than happy to enlighten the rest of us about everything from the history of imperialism to the dangers of vaccine” [or, I would add, from



the history of “cultural misappropriation” to the dangers of “ablebodiedism”], an advanced society cannot do without “a reliance on experts, professionals, and intellectuals” (13–14). Likewise, in his seminal, groundbreaking text on antiintellectualism in the United States, Richard Hofstadter pointed out “a malign resentment of the intellectual in his capacity as an expert” (34); he also related anti-intellectualism to a “passion for equality” in politics and to “evangelically egalitarian” beliefs in education (23), declared that “the leading anti-intellectuals” are usually “unfrocked or embittered intellectuals, the literate leaders of the semiliterate, full of seriousness and high purpose about the causes that bring them to the attention of the world” (21), pointed out the public’s preference for “folkish humor” over “aristocratic” wit (225), and wrote about the existence of “a type of mind” for which “group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies” (37); the combination of these observations could work as an apt description of the PCers’ tribal ethos. Regarding elitism, I view it as an antidote to the populist pluralism and multiculturalism of PC; in chapter three I argue in favor of a hierarchy of ethical principles and intelligence, not of newly institutionalized, hegemonic, self-legitimized elites – PCers being a prominent example of these – within which the autonomous individual is to be subsumed. As admirably stated by Arthur Schopenhauer: “If we want Utopian plans, then I say that the only solution to the problem is a despotism of the wise and noble, of a genuine aristocracy and true nobility, attained on the path of generation by a union between the noblest men and the cleverest and most brilliant women. This is my idea of Utopia, my Republic of Plato” (“On Jurisprudence and Politics” 256). An elite is not undemocratic in and of itself. This is merely what the purveyors of PC ideology claim: what is not PC is not democratic, it is immoral in its “essence,” and should never even be expressed. Robert Hughes puts things into perspective by asserting that equating your enemies with a blameworthy elite “is one of the oldest tools in the demagogic kit” (48–49), and also that the “political-correctness flurry” stems from “the 1960s’ animus against elitism” that “entered American education” and “brought in its train an enormous and cynical tolerance of student ignorance, rationalized as a regard for ‘personal expression’’ and ‘self-esteem’” (66). I align myself with those select (but unhappy) few who epitomize the unclassifiable. Like Samuel Beckett, for instance, a liminal literary figure par excellence: Was he a modernist or a postmodernist, a pessimist or some kind of prophetic realist? Be that as it may, I aver that Emil Cioran was right: “An existence full of irreconcilable contradictions is so much richer and creative” than the “empty and sterile” life of a wise person (On the Heights of Despair 89), at least insofar as the conventional meaning of “wise” is concerned. With respect to equity, Evan Charney rightly states that the ideology of PC [IPC] takes the liberal principle of equal respect to absurd lengths. Classical liberals saw equal respect as embodied in a series of individual rights—the right to

Introduction 9 own property, the right to compete in the marketplace, the right to participate in the political process. While equal rights entailed (a rough) equality of opportunity, it was never intended to ensure equality of outcomes; acceptance of equal rights was not intended to entail equality of worthiness. […] In fact, the IPC represents a shift from classical liberalism’s emphasis on the individual qua individual to the individual qua group member, as embodied in the movements of multiculturalism and identity politics. (512) Along the same lines, D’Souza makes a valid point when he writes that “democracy is not based on the premise of equal endowments, but of equal rights. It does not guarantee success, but it does aspire to equal opportunity. This opportunity is extended not to groups as such, but to individuals, because democracy respects the moral integrity of the human person, whose rights may not be casually subordinated to collective interests” (250). By the way, whenever individualism is mentioned in this text, it has nothing to do with its new variant advanced by PC, through which identity politics is “ultimately reducible to individual issues” (Friedman 158), but, depending on the context, with one of its classical political or philosophical varieties: liberalism, libertarianism, ethical egoism, or existential nihilism, upon which I will enlarge in chapter five. As for Islamophobia, Jonathan Friedman makes it clear that while “not every Muslim is a terrorist,” the truth of the matter is that “a clear majority of contemporary terrorists are Muslims. The threat of Islamic colonization has been depicted as a mere fantasy typical of extreme right-wing fanaticism, yet the Muslim political scientist Bassam Tibi, no doubt a dangerous character, has stated […] that such colonization is exactly the intention of much migration to Europe today, a phenomenon he goes to great lengths to substantiate” (242). The main hypotheses of this work are these: PC is a double-edged sword which, paradoxically, cuts only one way: the wrong one. Just like the gravity of a literal black hole distorts the fabric of space-time, PC is a sociocultural black hole that warps people’s truth-seeking processes and moral radars. PC is simply one of the innumerable manifestations of human inanity, egotism, and malice; no allegedly constructive dialogue can ever be expected to yield any higher-order truths or to be crystallized into genuine macrosocial consensus on any political, economic, or cultural issue. Other propositions that I put forward are as follows: The term PC itself is problematic, to say the least; this is why John Lea, for example, declares that one of the primary objectives of his book is to “highlight what exactly is political and correct about PC” (6). Robert Hughes emphatically states that PC talk is “political etiquette, not politics itself” (24), while Geoffrey Hughes does not hesitate to claim that PC, when seen as a set of behavioral and speech prohibitions, is “a misnomer, being concerned with neither politics nor correctness,” and it also constitutes an antinomy, since “it is liberal in its aims but often illiberal and its practices” (3), thus promoting intrinsically paradoxical agendas like “positive discrimination and liberal orthodoxy” (4). Picking up on the latter Hughes’s



point, I would suggest that PC ideologues tend to concern themselves with petty pseudo-political skirmishes, and they are rarely interested in what is logically correct; so, maybe PC is even worse than a misnomer, as it strongly resembles a contronym, or a Janus phrase, i.e., it comprises two concepts the meaning of which is virtually the opposite of what most practitioners of PC usually engage in. Despite the doubt cast on whether the “P” in PC is properly justified, it cannot be readily denied that the discussion about PC has evolved into a staple of the political culture in a lot of Western countries. Hence, it would be useful to check what fruit, if any, it has borne in the last thirty years in terms of the improvement of the social, financial, and cultural conditions of the underprivileged, but also what impact it may have exerted on people who do not identify themselves as members of any of the myriad heterogenous minorities or “victimized” groups. The crux of PC entails epistemic and moral concerns: Whether to broaden and diversify the Western canon or not, what is the scientific legitimacy of disciplines and theories that emerged fairly recently (for instance, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, queer theory, postcolonial theory, and so on), how to act, dress, or speak in the presence of – a key-phrase that speaks volumes – members of minority communities, what cultural reparations are to be exacted from “white colonialists” on behalf of subjugated indigenous populations, and how to ensure a level playing field for disadvantaged persons (in other words, though this is by no means an exhaustive list, for people who are “financially challenged” [poor] or “differently abled” [physically or mentally handicapped], and for those who have had grave injustices inflicted upon them, or upon their ancestors, due to their religious background, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation). It does not fall within the compass of this study to delve deeply into this matter, nonetheless it should at least be noted that the jury, composed of physical and cultural anthropologists, neuroscientists, sociologists, and geneticists, is still out on whether phenotypic variations amongst humans do bear any taxonomic significance, or if “race” is merely a social construct with no biological reality; otherwise put, a category that was invented in order to denote differences in cultural identities and social customs. To illustrate, in the Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture, on the very first page of its introduction, one reads that “the concept of ‘race’ defies scientific definition” (x). The concepts of “ethnicity” and “gender” are – or have begun to be presented as – equally complex and problematic since, similarly to what happens in the case of “race,” it is often argued that they are not rigorously defined, and that they can be invested with ideologically charged and ambiguous meanings. For instance, according to the aforementioned specialized dictionary: “Ethnology, anthropology and sociology are not clear on the concept of ethnicity” (96), while “recent theorizing has attempted to treat both ‘race’ and gender as relational […] and as a dynamic, changing process” (246). Likewise, the entry for “ethnicity” in David Robertson’s Dictionary of Politics, which has no entries for “race” or “gender,” starts as follows: “Ethnicity refers to a sometimes rather complex combination of racial, cultural and historical characteristics by which human groups are sometimes divided into separate, and probably hostile, political families”

Introduction 11 (171). Steven Pinker often lays particular emphasis on the intricacies of gender politics; in The Blank Slate he asserts that “unlike other human divisions such as race and ethnicity, where any biological differences are minor at most and scientifically uninteresting, gender cannot possibly be ignored in the science of human beings” (340). In any case, the meaning of each of the abovementioned concepts is usually regarded as anything but categorically fixed. While taking all the above into due consideration, I cautiously address myself to these thorny issues in various instances in the following chapters. Moreover, I will be examining the validity and soundness of the argument that PC is a self-defeating pattern of thought, emotion, and/or behavior; it is also a no-win situation for both the Right and the Left, but mostly for the latter. [Even though I employ the catchall term “the Left” for all the pro-PC progressives, social liberals, liberal socialists, radical leftists, eco-socialists, “cultural Marxists” – a rather ill-defined (if not antinomic) term; “cultural leftists” would be more accurate – and so forth, admittedly it cannot denote all the nuances in the respective ideas, identities, and goals of these political factions. However, nowadays, it would be quite unlikely, though not utterly impossible, for one to find a self-proclaimed PCer amongst those who espouse any of the other political positions (including the culturally conservative orthodox communists, as will be discussed in the fourth chapter).] I contend that not only is PC a game that left-wingers can never win, but it is also one they should not have even decided to play to begin with, since on the one hand it hardly ever accomplishes anything substantive in regard to the amelioration of the material conditions under which the downtrodden and underprivileged exist (which, theoretically, is what the Left is striving for), and on the other it helps those who wish to substantiate allegations of dogmatism on the Left’s part. The above hold true regardless of whether PC is truly the current ideological spearhead of the Left, or, as most cultural leftists would have it, some kind of cultural projective process whereby “neoconservative extremists” transfer their “paternalistic fervor” onto the “radical intelligentsia” (Feldstein 66–67), a conspiracy orchestrated by right-leaning newspapers (in the United Kingdom) and funding organizations (in the United States) with the sole aim of instigating “moral panic” by turning PCers into “folk devils” in order to “manipulate public opinion for political advantage” (Lea 161–163), or a “myth” that the conservatives have spread, and rather successfully at that, largely due to “the willingness of liberals to believe them” (Wilson 15). Although I detest repeating a pronouncement that has been frequently repeated by the Left in an ironic manner, I am of the opinion that PC, much like today’s globalized – hedonistic, narcissistic, and homogeneous mainly in terms of its advocacy of hybridity and heterogeneity – culture in general, has genuinely “gone insane.” If one wanted to fight fire with fire, to wit, if one chose to use PC ironically in one’s reiteration of the aforementioned anti-PC statement that the pro-PC leftists ironically reiterate, one would probably come up with something like this: It seems that the discourse and the tactics of PC would most likely have to navigate a plethora of critical unresolved issues regarding their somewhat dysfunctional relationship with rationality …



The original contribution to the extant body of scholarly knowledge on PC and the novel insights into PC-related issues this text yields have to do with the following: It connects the implications of PC to arguably much larger concerns; it explores the rise of PC from “scratch,” as one of its chapters investigates how it is slowly but steadily gaining momentum in a country other than the ones where it has already been established, analyzed, and become the bone of contention; it offers a new compelling perspective on PC by means of a heretofore untapped, heterodox philosophical approach, which utilizes humor as well. More specifically, and supposing that the thesis, the significance of the problem, and the scope of this research have been established, I will now give an outline of how the following chapters are organized and of the factors that hopefully make this work unique. It would be remiss of me not to examine what the state of affairs concerning PC is like in Greece, so this is what I do in Chapter 2, focusing on PC in Greek politics, art, mass media, everyday life, and the sphere where leftist PC is prevalent: academia. Even though it would be reasonable for one to assume that the citizens of this troubled country have infinitely more pressing problems to grapple with than to engage in the so-called culture wars, PC is on the rise here; this may be happening precisely because of the deep economic morass Greece is in, as all kinds of social tensions become increasingly heightened. Perhaps it would not be exceedingly daring to suggest that Greek society, in its current state, serves as an ideal “laboratory” in which one is able to study PC from a bottom-up perspective. It therefore occasions no surprise that most of my friends and/or colleagues suggested that I should start my book with this somewhat “Orientalist” case study. Although Greece is not part of the “Orient,” in the minds of many citizens of other Western countries it is time and again associated with it, mostly due to some of the Greek people’s cultural traits that are quite similar to those found in nearby eastern regions; how this came to be, as well as its possible repercussions, will be explored in Chapter 2. The third chapter continues the problematization of PC by tackling controversial questions – some in direct reference to PC and others just triggered by it – that either lead to or emanate from a broad array of ethical, socioepistemological, and cultural aporias related to the paradoxes inherent in the inflexible conceptual framework of PCers. It covers the same thematic areas as the ones in the preceding chapter, yet it provides eight separate case studies, all drawn from countries other than Greece and each of them examined in a different section. Two parts focus on public figures inextricably linked with PC: one on Jordan Peterson and the indefensible counterarguments his left-wing and/or feminist detractors deploy against his well-founded opinions on the subject, and the other on Greta Thunberg, the current face of the environmentalist strain of PC. The other six sections investigate the questionable practices PC rigidly enforces (namely, safe spaces, speech codes, trigger warnings, the condemnation of cultural appropriation, the cries for an equitable representation of minorities in all spheres of activity, and the perpetuation of racial victimhood and its attendant “White guilt”) in order to dissect their possible adverse effects on Western culture.

Introduction 13 The fourth chapter starts discussing the major findings and the key issues that emerged from the case studies by placing them within the context of a (relatively) brief critical review of the – already overly extensive – theoretical and research literatures on PC. [I emphasized the word “brief” because this is where the proverbial “owls” become relevant: There is no point in me expatiating upon historical facts and ideological battles that have been covered meticulously, and from almost all possible angles, over the past three decades.] It presents a balanced view of the field in the sense that it covers, in an as unbiased a manner as possible, texts written not only by critics who challenge PC but by those who portray it in a positive light as well, and it deconstructs the logical inconsistencies and equivocations found in the belief systems of both sides of the debate. However, it reveals that leftist PC partisans make significantly more questionable assertions than their ideological rivals, whether the latter are supporters of the right-wing variant of PC or people who, irrespective of the position they occupy on the political spectrum, including the Left, are against PC. This meta-critical analysis pinpoints lacunae in the theoretical assumptions underlying the narrative of pro-PC critics, particularly when it comes to their inquiry into the opinions expressed by anti-PC authors, and it interrogates the self-righteous moralism of PC. Moving on to Chapter 5, it must be evident from the tongue-in-cheek internal rhyme in its title – “Alceste” is the name of the protagonist in Molière’s The Misanthrope – that it is devoted to the explication (and application) of the pivotal misanthropic and pessimistic theoretical constructs underpinning this study; in particular, it explains how misanthropic pessimism, a philosophical position (and life stance) that transcends formulaic and facile ideologico-political binaries, can be employed as an exegetical schema (i.e., an analytical tool) with reference to PC and, thus, incorporate the inferences drawn from the previous chapters. Further, while focusing on specific aspects of PC, this chapter discusses a few arguably larger issues: today’s globalized digital environment, which gave considerable momentum to PC, and the shadow cast on sociopolitical and cultural events by the “event horizon” of the social media’s black hole illustrate that the idea of an honest debate among rational participants is utopian. PC culture may be commanding solidarity and altruism, yet these are merely chimerical notions; real-life experiences, for instance the current situation with COVID-19, reveal that most people disregard them. Therefore, not only do PCers exemplify how widespread pretentious foolishness is amongst humans, but they are also so selfdeceived that they view their hypocritical moralizing as a genuine virtue. I opine it would be apropos at this point to refer to Schopenhauer’s famous “porcupine dilemma,” in which a group of porcupines have to huddle together in order to protect themselves from the winter’s cold, yet each time they do so they end up moving apart from each other because they feel the effect of the other porcupines’ sharp spines; being “tossed between two evils,” they eventually discover “the proper distance from which they could best tolerate one another,” just as humans are obliged to employ “politeness and good manners” so as to be able to put up with their fellow humans’ “many unpleasant and repulsive qualities and insufferable drawbacks” unless one of them happens to be blessed with “a great



deal of internal warmth” of one’s own, in which case said one “will prefer to keep away from society in order to avoid giving or receiving trouble and annoyance” (“Similes, Parables, and Fables” 651–652). The multifarious implications of this parable will be assiduously explored in Chapter 5, especially in connection to Sigmund Freud’s appropriation of cardinal Schopenhauerian ideas; before Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant had written something similar, yet slightly more optimistic, namely that people “cannot do without being together peacefully and yet cannot avoid constantly being objectionable to one another. Consequently, they feel destined by nature to [develop], through mutual compulsion under laws that come from themselves, into a cosmopolitan society (cosmopolitismus) that is constantly threatened by disunion but generally progresses toward a coalition” (Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View 236). More often than not, the concept of “misanthropy” is misconceived and misused; at times, even abused. In the moralistic regime of PC, misanthropy, in any of its protean manifestations, is considered the most contemptible of all the (ostensible) mala in se, i.e., it supposedly hypostatizes evil itself, and it can only be described as the ultimate taboo. However, a dianoetic – to wit, unencumbered by illusions – misanthropic pessimism, as exemplified by the works of, to name but a few, Cioran, Jonathan Swift, or Freud (especially in his later writings), in contrast to its romantic variety (for example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Molière), may also be the ultimate “Grand Narrative,” albeit an ironic one. What, if not the rapacity, the absurdity, and the self-absorption of our species, can account for the fact that after around 5,000 years of complex civilization (and about 50,000 years of behavioral modernity), and in spite of our multitudinous “well-intentioned” social constructs, cultural institutions, ideologico-political systems, and socioeconomic reforms, we are still endeavoring to figure out a way to live with one another in relative peace? Now that human sciences seem to suffer from theoretical stagnation, while, simultaneously, there is a war being waged against them, is perhaps an opportune time for one to frame this contentious issue and give it a stridently favorable spin, thereby – ideally – causing some creative disruption; or, alas, fomenting even more discontent. Chapter 6 starts by fulfilling the tasks that come with the territory as part of the conclusion of an academic text: it restates the thesis, it summarizes the findings, and it proposes ideas for further research; nevertheless, in keeping with the unconventional approach and the politically incorrect line of reasoning adopted throughout this book, it closes in a rather unorthodox manner, that is, with several apophthegmatic remarks – hopefully in the vein of François de La Rochefoucauld’s or Ambrose Bierce’s witty aphorisms – and thought experiments that best encapsulate the tragicomic quality of today’s blatant and all-encompassing sociocultural hypocrisy, of which PC is but one of its manifold faces.


PC in Greece: An Atypical, yet Revealing, Case Study

Introduction Beware of Greeks, period; bearing or not bearing, whether it is gifts (as in the well-known saying from Virgil’s Aeneid), arms, children, testimony, a grudge, or virtually anything else, many of them can oftentimes be simply unbearable . . . A lot of modern Greeks bear the name of Homer, Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, but this does not necessarily mean that they also bear the torch of the intellectual legacy bequeathed to them by their ancient namesakes. By and large, novel Western customs, values, cultural traits, political ideologies, and schools of thought diffuse to Greece at a slow pace, if at all. When they do, they tend to be filtered, improperly digested, and distorted. The same applies in the case of PC. Greece is no stranger to orthodoxy (this is a Greek word after all), be it religious – there is a vast preponderance of Greek Orthodox Christians amongst its population – or political. Greece is a place where, as a rule, doxastic logic is valued over epistemic logic; hence, it constitutes an ideal breeding ground for PC, to wit, for the promotion of the “right” [which is the meaning of the prefix “ortho-”] set of political “beliefs” [“doxa,” also a Greek word, means a subjective opinion or a popular belief, or, as Friedman fittingly puts it, “the incontestable ground upon which contestable discourses are built” (25)]. Indeed, right now Greece seems to be developing its own brand of PC, just as it does with nearly every other idea that happens to make its way here. As might be expected, in this chapter I draw heavily upon personal experiences, given that, up to now, there have been no other books, academic studies, or articles in learned journals that focus specifically, and in detail, on the situation with PC in Greece; thus, I will perforce deploy the “confessional” trope. The thematic landscape I will be traversing both in this and in the ensuing chapter is roughly the same: PC in politics, in art, in mass media (both “old” and “new”), in everyday life, yet special emphasis will be placed on my sphere of activity, the halls of academe, and on the extent to which campus life in Greece has so far been affected – or should I say infected? – by PC. Bearing in mind that, in Greece, the PC phenomenon is still in an embryonic stage (others might call it “a work in progress”), one’s findings with regard to the topic under investigation can only be tentative, and also contingent upon one’s unavoidably restricted perspective.


PC in Greece

Politics When I started writing this book, in 2017, the party in power in Greece [“Syriza”] was – or, for those unhappy with how readily it reneged on many of its anti-austerity campaign promises, merely pretended to be – a pro-PC coalition of radical leftists, democratic socialists, social democrats, and various ecological and social justice movements. Nonetheless, being politically correct in this country (even though the term has not yet become fashionable here), as far as its actual political life is concerned, still amounted primarily to a rigid adherence to retrograde morals or values and to backward social customs, rather than to fastidiously outlined conservative ideals, at least in most cases. It meant not going against the grain, since nobody stands a real chance of upsetting the status quo, while appearing as if you are in order to ingratiate yourself with those who “believe in change.” It had to do with deploying a stream of antiquated platitudes in reference to country, religion, and family, even when those politicians who spout such clichés could not care less about what is best for Greece, the dogmas of piety of the Orthodox Church, or a happy traditional marriage, respectively. It also pertained to regurgitating trite soundbites about supposedly caring for the lowbrow or middlebrow, “hard-working,” “law-abiding,” “church-going,” average Joe, who, in Greece, may be a plumber, but it is more likely that he is an indolent civil servant, a taxevading shop owner, or a heavily subsidized farmer. Finally, it was tantamount to celebrating the numerous national and religious holidays with pomp and circumstance, although most Greeks focus mainly on the cultural trappings (parades, festivities, decorations, and so forth), and of course on the fact that they do not have to go to work on these days, rather than on learning more about the sociohistorical significance of these public holidays. What Robert Hughes wrote about the United States almost three decades ago is also valid for Greece today: “The right has its own form of PC—Patriotic Correctness, if you like—equally designed to veil unwelcome truths” (28). One deplorable example of the variant of PC enforced by many supporters of the Greek far right is that, while they claim uninterrupted historical and cultural continuity between ancient and modern Greece, they tend to ignore or distort certain controversial aspects of our ancient past that are not consonant with their ideological positions; the revealingly-titled article “White Nationalists call ancient Greek homosexuality a ‘myth’” is a good case in point. Moreover, the type of PC advocated by certain demagogic ultraconservative populists favors a rather facile approach – i.e., one that does not take into account the exigencies of Realpolitik – to matters of the utmost national importance. A recent illustrative instance of this, and also an extremely sensitive subject that is beyond both my bailiwick and the scope of this study (so I will not even attempt to analyze it in depth), involves the character of a few of the protests against the 2018 “Prespa agreement” that was reached between the Greek Prime Minister at the time, Alexis Tsipras, and Zoran Zaev, the Prime Minister of the country that was until then referenced as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” Their declared aim was the effective resolution of the long-standing and multilayered dispute between the two countries

PC in Greece 17 concerning matters of nomenclature (that is, the use of the name “Macedonia” and its derivative adjective “Macedonian”), which have crucial implications with respect to issues of language, ethnicity/nationality, as well as historical and territorial considerations. As is so often the case with any strain of PC, there were quite a few superficial, if not downright hypocritical, appeals to public outrage regarding our neighboring country’s new constitutional name (“the Republic of North Macedonia”) when, instead, perhaps what all interested parties should have focused on is a spirited yet reasoned public debate that might not only adequately highlight whatever crucial flaws exist in this agreement but also offer a viable, realistic alternative. My patrilineal ancestry comes from the ancient region of Ionia, which is the central part – known as “Asia Minor” – of the Western coast of modern-day Turkey. When asked about it, I always say that my paternal grandparents lived in Smyrna, not in İzmir, as the Turks have been calling this once great city since 1930. As honored as I may feel about the fact that my lineage is traced to the Greek colony that became the birthplace of Western philosophy, I foster no illusions that the simple act of calling these pieces of land by their Greek names makes any difference as far as the current geostrategic realities in the region are concerned. As I have already indicated, I am no great connoisseur of political affairs, but I feel confident in presuming that this is not how this particular game is won . . . The adoption of a mere nomenclature does not effect any substantive change in the existing state of affairs. No amount of sentimentalizing about one’s roots, and certainly no hypocritical staging of galvanizing spectacles about a country’s glorious past [is it ever anything else?] by political agitators, can help to rectify whatever international problems said country may be faced with at present. Therefore, on balance, in the realm of Greek politics, at least until recently, PC had been utilized significantly more frequently by reactionaries – who, naturally, put their own spin on it – than by leftists, a notable exception being the Left’s solidified, though insufficiently substantiated, claim about its so-called “ethical advantage” over the Right; this phrase, frequently used in Greek, means that politically correct left-leaning parties and/or individuals have placed themselves on the moral high ground and, up until now, conservative social theorists have not been able to disconfirm the leftists’ alleged ethical superiority. Notwithstanding the above, PC in this case has been just as futile (or, differently put, a “no-win” situation) as in any of its other manifestations. By this I mean that the Greek right-wing “thought police” have usually been prescribing, instead of diligently explicating, the importance and potential usefulness of, say, patriotism, morality, religion, or a strong work ethic. As a corollary, abstract principles such as these are now effectively regarded as a dead letter (or, even worse, as something to be eschewed at all costs) by quite a few crisis-stricken Greeks, a growing proportion of whom, although by no means staunch social liberals themselves, have started to clash with several of the inherited, age-old, political and sociocultural traditions, which they consider to be the sole reason for the dire straits the country is now in. However, they do not seem to detect the irony inherent in the fact that, by doing so, they are upholding yet another hoary Greek “tradition,” namely their


PC in Greece

ingrained inclination toward self-serving bias, i.e., in simple terms, the tendency of many Greeks to ascribe their troubles and failures to anything and anyone but themselves: grave misfortunes, the envy of inimical alien powers, the Big Bad Wolf, and what have you. An evolutionary biologist or a cognitive psychologist might rightly argue that all humans are prone to attribute their achievements to skill, and their lack of success to adverse circumstances; for instance, according to Robert Trivers, “self-deception is older than language” (13), while “the tendency to judge others more harshly for the same moral infraction than we judge ourselves” is an integral part of human nature (22). Nevertheless, the difference here is that most Greeks are not only uniformly averse to honest self-evaluation, but also deeply conscious of their hypocrisy; to wit, they are fully aware that they are dissembling the facts about themselves. Yet, in David Runciman’s terms, upon which I enlarge in Chapter 5, they contentedly slide into the second-order hypocrisy of attempting to make their counterfeit virtues seem real (70). As a consequence, these disenchanted Greeks, particularly those amongst them who belong to the generational cohort known as “the Millennials,” have set their course toward PC in its currently prevalent sense, thereby constantly making mountains out of molehills or missing the forest for the trees; and sadly, in Greece there are infinitely more forests (enormous problems) than there are trees (nugatory PC-related matters to cavil about). Here are two typical examples: 1 On 2019’s International Women’s Day, a few Greek women’s rights groups organized “a so-called Feminist Strike” for the first time in this country, “calling on female workers in the state and private sectors, students and all women at large to walk out of their jobs, studies, family duties and any kind of shopping,” and claiming, as one female university professor phrased it, that women “are still strugling [sic] against the rise of the far-right and the kids-kitchen-church kind of expectations package for women” (“Feminist strike & protest gathering to be held in Athens on March 8”). For one, the members of these initiatives cannot presume to be speaking for all Greek women (or even for all feminists in regard to that), many of whom do put their children above all else and they regularly go to church of their own free will, and not because of some “expectations package,” while a large number of them have actively supported the parasitical excrescence on democracy called “Golden Dawn” in the past; and as far as domestic chores are concerned, it has been decades since these were considered a responsibility carried out only by women in this country; secondly, with the situation in Greek economy and in Greek education being what it is, asking women to “walk out of their jobs and studies” does harm to all parties involved, and no good to anyone. However, given the lack of work ethic that characterizes the majority of Greeks, it is small wonder that these “feminists” want to add this day to the already plenty of officially established nonworking and no-class days. As for the Greek feminist collectives’ cries for “equal pay for equal work” and for an enforced proportionate gender representation in government institutions

PC in Greece 19 and in the labor market, these issues are discussed in other parts of this book, since they are not phenomena peculiar to Greece. 2 Coincidentally or not, the morning after International Women’s Day, leftleaning PCers, mainly from the ruling party at that time in Greece, and especially from the governmental agency titled “The General Secretariat for Gender Equality,” expressed their indignation, and they had every right to do so, against a far-right newspaper’s obscene front-page article that called all the female members of the Greek government the most offensive and sexist names imaginable (“Syriza Rage for the Title Page of ‘Makeleio’”). The point, though, is that this rather provocative tabloid has existed for many years now, spewing crass sensationalism, absurd conspiracy theories, and extreme right-wing rhetoric, yet rarely had it drawn so much ire as when it decided to turn specifically against the female members of the leftish political party that was then in power, as if this, and only this, was the ultimate red line that should never have been crossed. When I first embarked upon this project, all of my Greek colleagues and friends thought it was a foolish idea. What they would say to me was something to this effect: “If you write this book in English, your chances of breaking into the English-speaking market are slim, given that you are a Greek ‘nobody’; if it is in Greek, well, what is the point, since PC bears no significance for this country, in any respect.” With reference to the former part, I cannot but express my hope that their prediction will not be borne out; as for the latter, I was wondering, then, why they could not see that PC, though still in its infancy here, was bound to leave its indelible mark on Greece too, sooner or later. As it turned out, I did not have to wait very long for them to be proved incorrect: it was only last April [2019] that a textbook case of PC led to a no-confidence motion being leveled by the conservative opposition party [“New Democracy”] against a minister of the progressive party that was in power up until July 7, 2019. There is an abundance of incongruous threads – ideological, ethical, epistemological – running through this intricate and kaleidoscopic tapestry that is PC, as the following example from contemporary Greek politics will hopefully reveal. An article on the website naftemporiki.gr (“Censure motion in Parliament against minister who criticized wheelchair-bound rival over healthcare system hiring”) reads as follows: The latest inflammatory statement by the alternate health minister, this time taking issue with a European Parliament candidate from rival New Democracy (ND) for using favorable provisions to acquire appointment to Greece’s public health system (ESY) as a physician, generated a firestorm of criticism in the country. The crescendo of opprobrium against Minister Pavlos Polakis reached all the way to Parliament in the form of a proposed censure motion by the main opposition, with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras later saying he’ll treat the motion as a “confidence vote” for his hard left government.


PC in Greece [. . .] “If you vied for equal opportunities, Mr. Kympouropoulos, you would have submitted your papers for (the position of) an attending physician in ESY for examination by a (hiring) council, as all other physicians, and not like this (under more favorable conditions for people with special needs). It’s a shame you say things like this,” Polakis wrote via his preferred mode of communication, Facebook. His unprecedented reaction came in reply to Stelios Kympouropoulos’ statement that “I never used (affirmative action) credits, subsidies, favors; I want equal opportunities”. Kympouropoulos [. . .], a psychiatrist by training, has been confined to a wheelchair with very limited overall mobility since a teenager, when he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy.

Written in the same tone as the one above, another online article (“Polakis sparks fresh outrage with criticism of wheelchair-bound MEP candidate”), appearing on ekathimerini.com, describes the aforementioned circumstances of this incident, adding that Mitsotakis responded via Twitter to Polakis’s comments, which were branded by social media users [some users, I should clarify, not all of them] as “immoral and vulgar,” with these words: “I thought there would be some limit to the venality; I was wrong,” and he also addressed the Prime Minister – at that time – as follows: “Shame on you Mr. Tsipras for keeping the unscrupulous Polakis in your government.” Finally, in a piece written for thenationalherlad.c om (“Tsipras Defends ‘Vile’ Minister Who Chided Wheelchair Candidate”) it is argued that Tsipras “leapt to the defense” of Polakis, who is described as “a kind of political pit bull for the government,” and who accused Kympouropoulos “of abusing equal hiring laws in order to be appointed, without mentioning SYRIZA hiring unqualified people, including former pizza workers, to high-level high-paying jobs”; this article also mentions that Nikos Filis, another member of Syriza, and former education minister, “said Polakis’ comments were unacceptable and not part of the party’s ethos.” Before I commence expounding my views on the above, I deem it prudent to clarify that I have no horse in this race, as the idiom goes; my sole interest lies in laying bare, or in at least gaining some insight into, the deceitful inner workings of PC, irrespective of who puts it into service, in what context, or for which purposes. First, a few factual elements about this case that were not mentioned in the above articles: in the 2014 European parliament election Kympouropoulos was a candidate fielded by the Green Party, not by New Democracy, with which he had no prior political affiliation, a fact that is highlighted by his support for the “No” vote – the conservative party was in favor of “Yes” – in the 2015 Greek referendum, which was held so that the people could decide whether to accept the bailout conditions concerning the country’s debt crisis or not. Nota bene: this sheds light on two antinomic situations (each of them carrying its own host of convoluted implications) that got tangled in the Strange Loop – this concept, formed by Douglas R. Hofstadter, will be elucidated in Chapter 4 – of PC for reasons of mutual benefit.

PC in Greece 21 1 First, in broad terms, New Democracy could be classified as part of the antiPC camp; thus, Kympouropoulos was anything but an obvious choice to be put forward as a candidate in the party’s electoral list, and yet the conservatives prioritized him, probably in order to prove that they can beat the Left at its own game, to wit: PC. It was virtually impossible for a right-leaning party to endorse a candidate who was, for instance, a radical LGBT+ activist or an avowed atheist, so they opted for a well-educated disabled person, with special emphasis put on the “well-educated” part, so that his nomination would not be met with the disapproval of – at least some part of – their electoral base. Kympouropoulos was eventually elected MEP by a landslide, in fact he “topped the poll in the European elections, earning a record 577,114 votes in total” (“Prime Minister Johnson moves closer . . .”). However, it may well be argued that this victory seems to belong a lot more to the conservative party’s spin doctors, who instrumentalized his disability in New Democracy’s favor, than to PCers in general or to Kympouropoulos in particular. In all likelihood, New Democracy voters provided him with this overwhelming support for two reasons, neither of which having anything to do with his qualifications as a politician: to “teach Polakis a lesson,” and to show that they can be more sensitive toward minority groups than left-wingers are (or claim to be). It would be fair to assume that Kympouropoulos felt incentivized to go the extra mile in order to convince the leadership of New Democracy, his new colleagues (who appeared to be pushing him out of the way so that they could get in front of the camera during a photo shoot before the elections), and primarily those voters who adhere to liberalism’s beliefs in laissez-fair, free socio-economic exchange and expansion, competitiveness, and the unfettered development of individuality – rather than in diversity, the pluralist perspective, or identity politics – that he is “one of them,” hence his robust pronouncement against positive discrimination. Nonetheless, this perplexes the issue even further, since the fact of the matter is that Kympouropoulos, being a disabled person, or “physically challenged” as some PCers would put it, did make use of the welfare state institutions, did receive favorable treatment because of his condition, did skip the line in his career by being appointed at the National Health System before his time; and for what it is worth, this occurred while Syriza was in power. Is it not a lot easier for someone to speak against unearned benefits when that someone’s privileges have already been safeguarded and, what is more, he finds himself in a situation in which his interests can be even further advanced if he waves the “no special favors” flag high? 2 Second, let us examine the Syriza/Polakis part of this complex equation. Politically speaking, this left-leaning coalition is heavily invested in PC. [By the way, it is still too early for political scientists to determine if the excessive emphasis Syriza put on identity politics played a role in its defeat in the 2019 general elections in Greece, and whether this is comparable to what happened in the 2016 United States presidential election or not.] Therefore, it is only logical that its officials went out of their way to make sure that as many


PC in Greece marginalized groups as possible were represented on their electoral list. Yet then came Polakis’s comments, which sharply divided not only the members of the party’s Central Committee, as shown by the above-quoted remarks Filis made about “the party’s ethos,” which in this case translates to PC, but also, and more crucially, its voters. Now, I cannot be denouncing hypocrisy while being a hypocrite myself, so I admit that, on the one hand, I agree wholeheartedly with what Polakis said, though not entirely with the manner in which he expressed himself. If Kympouropoulos truly wants equal opportunities, as he stated, then he ought to be aware that this also entails having to accept the kind of criticism that is just as trenchant as that directed toward any other nondisabled public figure. Further, those who are on his side should, theoretically, rejoice that he was treated the same as everybody else, and not protest vehemently about it, which is doubly ironic since it was people from the anti-PC side who condemned a member of the pro-PC camp [Polakis] for his politically incorrect demeanor. On the other hand, however, I am quite certain that Polakis would be singing a different tune if Kympouropoulos were a Syriza candidate, in which case all the tables would be turned and, concomitantly, all the pieces on the (hypocritical) political chessboard would be rearranged.

I fail to comprehend why in a democracy worth its name there should be an “Overton window” of public discourse, which means a predetermined list of “acceptable” opinions, with all the rest being considered “fringe” ones; only the former are said to have a political future, and the same applies to the politicians who put forth one of them, while the latter go against the current zeitgeist and, therefore, if voiced, they are bound to be rejected by the public. For far too long, both the politicians and the citizens have been willing participants in such duplicitous games; it is self-evidently true that Trump has shifted the Overton window to the right, but maybe he was able to do it simply because a significant proportion of voters want to get rid of this concept, which smacks of PC propriety, altogether. As regards the matter that is in dispute here, the view expressed by Polakis was not too extreme for the standards of the contemporary Greek body politic; nevertheless, Greeks, whether they be journalists, citizens, or political figures, and regardless of their proclaimed political sympathies, play with the idea of the Overton window at will, just as they do with any other “imported” idea. One may detect this in some of the things mentioned in the preceding articles: Polakis caused an “outrage” with what he said about Kympouropoulos “abusing equal hiring laws” while talking about equal opportunities, but it is somehow politically correct to claim that “former pizza workers” are by definition ineligible for “highlevel high-paying jobs”; it is sarcastically reported that Polakis made his non-PC comment “via his preferred mode of communication, Facebook,” but it is of no relevance that Mitsotakis responded via Twitter. A statement issued by a rival partisan may be characterized as “inflammatory” or “vulgar,” but if an identical statement comes from “one of ours,” it will be regarded as “bold but accurate,” or something along these lines. In an unusual move for a politician (later in this chapter I expand on how rare in-group criticism is, especially for PCers), Filis reprimanded his comrade Polakis, but he did so most likely because he foresaw

PC in Greece 23 the political losses Syriza was in danger of suffering, since many of the party’s pro-PC voters might be triggered by the minister’s comments, and not to restore Kympouropoulos’s ostensibly impugned dignity.

Art With respect to PC in some of the other domains of interest here, the situation is quite similar to the one I have described regarding Greek politics. To illustrate, starting with art: even long before the meteoric rise of the far-right party “Golden Dawn,” whose members have been accused of racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and countless violent acts, one of the most infamous amongst them being, as Paul Mason vividly describes it, the forcible closing down of a performance of Terence McNally’s play Corpus Christi – due to the fact that the American playwright portrays Jesus and his followers as homosexuals – at a theater in Athens in 2012, PC in Greek art has mostly been equivalent to an implicit obligation on the artist’s part to abide by the norms of moral and religious traditionalism. Three cases in point: in 1984, only three years after a socialist party, “PASOK,” came to power for the first time in Greece, one of the state-owned TV channels decided to screen a Greek film titled Bullets Fall Like a Hailstorm, a postmodern piece of art with an anarchic narrative, and rife with (sexually provocative) surrealist imagery. This “caused a political uproar” (Karalis 183) to such an extent that the movie had only been playing for around twenty minutes when the channel went off-air and the viewers were left watching a black screen for hours, and this was because someone from the administration of the public TV network turned off the power to the entire building that housed The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, in a panicked response to phone calls made by citizens who felt deeply incensed by a film that obviously questioned their morally regressive beliefs and practices. The next two representative examples come from Theo Ioannou’s aptly titled article “When Art Causes Reactions, Bans and Rioting in Greece.” In 1988, a group of enraged Orthodox Christian demonstrators throughout Greece blocked the entrance to movie theaters screening Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s classic novel of the same title, which interrogated Christian morals and had been denounced by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church. [Ioannou also wrongly states that Kazantzakis had been “excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox church,” members of which often did threaten to excommunicate the famous Greek writer, but never actually followed through with this threat.] After about a week of protests, which on several occasions turned brutal, the screenings were cancelled. In a similar, more recent incident [2017], another “group of religious fanatics carrying Greek flags, banners reading ‘Orthodoxy or Death’, icons and even a wooden Jesus on the Cross,” joined by “various nefarious nationalistic crowds,” were not equally successful in banning the performance of Fernando Pessoa’s play The Hour of the Devil, which was deemed “a ‘blasphemy’ against Orthodoxy,” at a stage in Thessaloniki. Nonetheless, in no way should the abovementioned lead one to the hasty conclusion that the Left is . . . left out of the game of safeguarding ideological


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orthodoxies by any means available when it comes to art. Ioannou, again, refers to one such case: Eleni, the 1985 film adaptation of the same-titled memoir by Greek-American journalist Nicholas Cage, depicts “the atrocities committed by Greece’s communist guerillas” during the Greek civil war in the 1940s; on March 26, 1986, the day the movie premiered in Athens, “communist and other left-wing protesters gathered outside cinemas attempting to stop viewers from entering them. Some of them bought tickets and attempted to disrupt screenings by jamming projectors and even tearing up the screens.” It seems somewhat redundant to point out that such an act constitutes a blatant attempt to abolish the right to artistic freedom of expression and to exercise flat-out dictatorial control over the way in which someone chooses to transmute his painful memories – or his interpretation of them, if you will – of his life story into a work of art. Another case in point is that of the eminent Greek comic book artist who uses the nom de plume “Arkas”; his real identity remains unknown to this day, after almost four decades, which is without parallel in Greece. Arkas’s work has always been the epitome of political incorrectness, without ever expressing partisan sympathies. People either revered him or did not care about him; be that as it may, nobody was inclined to paint him as a racist, a sexist, and so on. This changed drastically during the last few years, when some of Arkas’s single-panel gag cartoons, usually appearing on conservative websites, started to involve pointed digs at the left-leaning ruling party, and especially at its leader, Alexis Tsipras. As a result, many leftists, who had been his most avid fans for decades, disavowed Arkas. One would suspect that, out of the blue, these PCers collectively experienced an epiphany about how foul, insensitive, racist, and sexist Arkas had always been; and “deep down” they “always” knew this about him . . . Purely coincidentally, around the time I finished writing – what I thought would be – the final draft of this book [August 2019], Arkas started producing comic strips specifically against PC. The protagonist of the two books that are already out (Toxic Masculine! and Keep Calm, Apostolis!) is a fervid advocate of PC, an exasperating teenager named “Rosa” after her grandmother, although she irascibly demands that her father state she was actually named so after Rosa Luxemburg (Toxic Masculine! 23). Rosa incessantly goes out of her way to find something to be triggered by, and her physical appearance might be said to bear a resemblance to Greta Thunberg. As expected, Arkas’s latest work provoked quite a furor amongst Greek PCers, who fail [or rather choose not] to recognize that it merely parodies the preposterous exaggerations of PC authoritarians, and it does so in a brilliant manner. Instead, they see it as a not-so-humorous Greek version of the alt-right’s all-out attack upon minority rights, conveniently ignoring the fact that at no time does Arkas make any slighting remarks against blacks, LGBT+ people, and so forth; he simply satirizes the hyperbolic ideological posturing and the ethical attitudinizing of nescient, abrasive, privileged, “guilt-ridden” white PCers like “Rosa.” Until now I have mostly been citing examples of the Greek public’s PC-inspired reactions to art, and these are rightly attributed by critics and journalists to reactionaries more often than to radical left-wingers. However, as far as the production

PC in Greece 25 of art in Greece goes, the politically correct attitude, which is surprisingly adopted by many conservatives as well, has made it imperative, especially after the collapse of the military Junta in 1974, that only leftist novelists, composers, singers, painters, or playwrights be hailed as “true” artists. This serves to indicate that, in the context of the heated domestic culture wars, Greek right-wing intellectuals and artists have not risen to the challenge, perhaps because they never avoided the pitfall of feeling obliged to measure themselves against the authoritative – and allegedly aesthetically, morally, and ideologically superior – criteria established by the Left. There are, of course, a few honorable exceptions: the historian of ideas and social theorist Panagiotis Kondylis and the Academy Award–winning composer, as well as right-wing revisionist, Manos Hatzidakis immediately spring to one’s mind; yet the fact remains that their collective artistic and/or intellectual heritage has not managed to make as substantial an impact on Greek culture as it could (or should) have. In fine, Greek artists, no matter where their political loyalties lie, studiously avoid pushing the envelope. For most of them, this is due to the fact that they have been fully immersed in the sui generis Greek PC culture, and they do not know any better. For the rest, it is precisely because they do know that the Greek sociocultural milieu is not conducive to exceeding the politically correct limits.

Media The ancient causality dilemma, plainly represented in the timeworn “chicken-oregg-first” paradox, is commonly regarded as a typical case of regressus in infinitum. As a result, linear causal thinking and binary logic are probably unable to provide one with a clear-cut answer to the following questions. Do social and traditional media make their users increasingly more vacuous, or do they have to become ever more jejune in order to accommodate the inanity that characterizes the majority of the public? Is it the proverbial “powers that be” who manipulate the mass media – be they public, private, or hybrid – and transform them into an “Ideological State Apparatus” that functions “predominantly by ideology” and secondarily by a kind of “concealed, even symbolic repression,” and has as its sole purpose the reproduction of the capitalist “relations of exploitation” (Althusser 142–150), or is technology in general, hence mass media as well, always already value-laden, “a way of life” that is outside of human control and oriented, by its very “nature,” toward domination (Feenberg 7–8)? Even though this strategy of critical reflection in relation to metaphysical, ethical, epistemological, and political ideas about our complex relationship with the products of human ingenuity, ideas that have been historically shaped and are often handed down to us as immutable laws, would likely be more suitable in the context of a Communication Theory workshop or in a book that deals with the philosophy of technology, it is also applicable to the issue that is under discussion here. A plausible case could be made that PC in Greek broadcast, print, and digital media, all of which simultaneously both shape and (relatively faithfully) mirror the barnyard mentality that pervades everyday life in Greece, is virtually a


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nonfactor. Nonetheless, in this particular set of circumstances, this is not necessarily a good thing. Here is where the “unbearable” part I referred to at the start of this chapter becomes relevant: both the abysmal quality of most of the Greek mass media and a substantial proportion of the Greek people’s dominant cultural traits and social customs, i.e., both the “chicken” and the “egg,” are just as insufferable as the porcupines’ quills in Schopenhauer’s famous metaphor cited in the introduction. A lot of modern Greeks, arguably the overwhelming majority of them, are averse to refinement, and they hardly ever engage in deductive reasoning or in structured, bona fide, argumentative dialogue, which is ironic, given that ancient Greece was the place where Western formal logic was developed. However, this does not prevent them from having inveterate opinions on nearly every issue imaginable. This, naturally, makes them perfect candidates for PC. Furthermore, they have a penchant for dance and music styles with pronounced Eastern influences, a persistent heavy smoking habit, a proclivity for all types of bullying and for jumping into whatever fray, appalling driving etiquette, a blithe disregard for other people’s rights or personal space, cliquish behaviors, and a devil-may-care attitude toward work efficiency, the Law, and sometimes even life in general. These are some of the distinctive sociocultural elements that, on the one hand, are reflected in (as well as extolled and perpetuated by) the Greek traditional and social media and, on the other, lead many Westerners – especially those whose woolly thinking is stereotypical – to look upon Greeks as “Orientals.” The fact that Greece remained under Ottoman rule for about four hundred years, roughly from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the Greek war of independence, which commenced in 1821, has inevitably had a dramatic impact on the way that the cultural landscape of modern Greece evolved from then on. Greeks who live abroad have often proved to be significantly more patriotic than some of the ones who never left their country; thus, many affluent Greek merchants and members of the Greek intelligentsia who had migrated to Western Europe during the Ottoman occupation earnestly endeavored to stimulate an intellectual revival in the newly-born Greek state, the sovereignty of which was established in 1830 by “the three Great Powers” of that time, namely the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that, for the most part, the native Greeks of the 18th and 19th centuries were deprived of the opportunity to become fully immersed in the fundamental ideas and the core values of the Enlightenment. As a result, unfortunately, plenty of the social institutions, customs, traits, and practices that presently prevail in our barely 200-year-old state are still redolent of the Ottoman Empire culture. All the Greek mainstream media, including the state-owned Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, display intense partisan loyalties; however, the political bias of each of them can easily move from one location of the traditional left-center-right spectrum to another, depending on how the business interests of any given media outlet’s owner might be better served. Hence, the situation here is not that different from what transpires in many other Western countries. PC is understood simply as making sure that nothing rocks the boat, which, in turn, means the following three things: that no dissenting voices are heard (at least not

PC in Greece 27 on a regular basis); that the content of the radio/TV show, newspaper, or website may very well be of lowbrow quality, sexist, grotesque, sensationalist, or softly pornographic, but it should never stray too far from well-entrenched mores; and that, contingent upon the mass medium owner’s evolving interests and desires, a happy medium [pun intended] should be struck between what is really happening out there in the world and how it is reframed by the journalists who work at this newspaper or that broadcasting organization. Alternative media, and specifically performance arts, zines, or independent videos and films that deal with social issues affecting the underprivileged and the marginalized, have not caught on in Greece thus far, at least not to such an extent that they would merit a thorough examination in relation to how they interact with the tenets of PC. Graffiti, though, is somewhat popular here, perhaps because it dates back to ancient Greece, and, on the whole, it could not be more politically incorrect, regardless of whether this happens by choice or inadvertently. Contemporary Greek street “artists” fill the walls of the country’s major cities with graffiti, the content of which pertains to one or more of these four recurrent themes: (a) sexual topics: bawdy verses, ribald jokes, lewd drawings, double entendres, (homo-)sexual innuendos about specific persons or groups of people, and so forth; (b) coarse slogans or soundbites in support of or against some political party and its followers; (c) football hooliganism: soccer teams’ logos and chants, or vulgar battle cries against a rival team’s fans; (d) ethnically and culturally unaware youths, straight outta the Parthenon, attempting to imitate the kind of graffiti usually associated with the hip-hop subculture. [I hope that the satirical allusion to the album Straight Outta Compton, by the controversial gangsta rap group “Niggaz Wit Attitudes,” was evident.] With regard to Greek new media (blogs, vlogs, internet forums and chat rooms, YouTube channels, and social media), their most conspicuous features are as follows: (a) salacious stories and third-rate jokes that pull everyone and everything down to the basest common denominator; (b) malicious and/or fatuous travelers of a chaotic digital cosmos full of self-proclaimed gurus and overlords, usually in search of a casual sexual partner; (c) an unhealthy obsession with vacuous celebrities or with trifling everyday occurrences that are constantly being uploaded (like an Instagram photo of someone’s brunch, or a YouTube video of a person breaking a limb while trying – for some imbecilic reason – to do a wheelie on a motorcycle that is coasting on a downhill slope); (d) people who, quite paradoxically, feel that they are “substantiated” only when they turn into avatars and assume online identities that make a big song and dance about various issues, and especially if they manage to “rise through the ranks” and become a moderator, an administrator, an invigilator, an exterminator, a perambulator, or whatever other titles internet forums tend to bestow on someone. Once again, these are all prominent characteristics of what the situation is like with new media in almost every country in the West. In no way, though, do all the above mean that PC is entirely absent from Greek social media. Here are two notable examples, one from the extreme Right and one from the side of social justice warriors:


PC in Greece

1 Dusten Carlson writes about a story that went viral a few years ago: a 27-year-old man had created a satirical Facebook page under the internet persona “Elder Pastitsios,” which lampooned Paisios, a famous Greek Orthodox monk, “highly respected in Greece and Russia, and a prime candidate for formal canonisation as a saint.” The page cover showed the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” – the “deity” of the pseudo-religion “Pastafarianism,” which mocks creationism – as the Virgin Mary holding a baby dinosaur, the Greek flag, a Christian cross, and the monk in question, with his facial features having been replaced by pastitsio (a Greek baked pasta dish, made with ground meat and béchamel sauce). The man who set up this page was clearly playing about with the fact that the words “Paisios” and “pastitsio” are near homonyms. Carlson reports that the man got arrested and the page was taken offline because, according to Greece’s Cyber Crime Unit, his “blasphemous account” contained “profane and abusive content for Elder Paisios and Orthodox Christianity.” Irrespective of whether one finds this whole Paisios/pastitsio farce amusing or not [I side with those who do not, primarily because I much prefer wit to mockery or caricature], what is of import here is that the arrest took place after an MP from the far-right Golden Dawn party raised the issue in the Greek Parliament. Furthermore, as Carlson points out: “Religious blasphemy, on social media or otherwise, is considered a crime in Greece. Three articles of the Greek Penal Code punish anyone who ‘by any means blasphemes God,’ and Article 199 states that any person ‘who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church’ will be punished ‘by imprisonment for not more than two years’.” All this harks back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this section about how extreme right-wing PC in Greece boils down to homilies on traditional religious values and hackneyed social norms; occasionally, though, as evidenced in this case, this form of PC raises its game to the point that it leads to the arrest and the public shaming of those who dare go against it, in however infantile a manner. Once more, the heart of the matter revolves around the issue of freedom of expression: there is no middle ground, one is either for it or against it, but this has to hold true in all pertinent cases. It goes without saying, though, that free speech should neither be completely unfettered nor equated with freedom from suffering the foreseeable consequences of what one chooses to say or write. Yet even with the latter stipulation, is it not also beyond dispute that the punishment ought to fit the crime? How strict should the criteria be in situations like the one I just described, and who establishes them? This is a Bag of Aeolus (or, in colloquial terms, a can of worms) that nobody in their right mind would be happy to open up. The fact that this instance of reactionary intolerance resulted in this man being dragged into court for making fun of a monk – Paisios, now “Saint Paisios of Mount Athos,” had not yet been canonized by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church at the time these events took place – may lead someone from the opposite PC camp, which is steadily on the rise in Greece, to the patently false conclusion that, mutatis mutandis,

PC in Greece 29 knife-wielding or gun-carrying “woke” female vigilantes are given free rein to castrate, or even to put to death, all men who sexually harass women; and for those who might hastily conjecture that this scenario is implausible, in the following chapter I briefly discuss a case in which a feminist college student had once called for exactly this kind of reaction. Perhaps the whole issue must be reframed: the focus should not be on preserving free speech per se, but on the paramount need for civil dialogues and on what is logically correct and ethically responsible on a case-by-case basis, that is, in accordance with the ethical principles better suited to the specifics of each individual situation; then, maybe even intolerance could be tolerated, provided it were to be directed exclusively toward acts of egregious inanity and/or horrendous iniquity, malice, ruinous deception, and so on. Apropos, left-wing PCers, who fiercely reprehend intolerance, do not usually brook a critical evaluation of their own creeds. On a related note, D’Souza makes the following pointed remarks, while discussing the issue of free speech on campuses: “The problem arises from the desire of minorities to enjoy their new political power while insulating themselves from criticism” (155); also, according to Green, “victim status can insulate a group from criticism that would apply to anyone else. It does so by implying that all critics must be oppressors,” and this “underlying assumption of the growing culture of victimhood” ultimately “weakens the toleration and give-and-take that have been central to our [liberal] political culture, and even encourages aggression” (3). As for in-group self-criticism, this hardly ever happens. Loury paints an accurate picture of how things work: “If a partisan opponent criticizes our party, we respond by saying that the critic ‘doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ and in any case seeks only to discredit us,” but instances of “insider criticism” are discouraged “by punishing the members who engage in it – a tendency that has important implications for the ethics and efficacy of public discourse,” even to the extent that a group of black Americans may treat one of their own who happens to agree with an opinion expressed by a white person as a “deviant” who is “racially inauthentic” (450). 2 Unfortunately, I could not find a source in English for my second example, but the story is too astounding to leave out, so I will translate from a Greek article, titled “Why Traiana judged Kyriakos Papadopoulos guilty of . . . an offside offence”; its author, Vasilis Tsakiroglou, reproduces verbatim the dialogue between a well-known Greek soccer player, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, and a (by all accounts) significantly less known actress [or “female actor,” if you prefer], singer, and TV persona, Traiana Anania, using a screenshot of a relevant post that appeared on the latter’s Facebook page. Papadopoulos sent the following message, via Instagram, to Ms. Anania, who had previously started “following” him and had already given him a “like”: “Good mooorning [smiley face]. How are you doing?”, to which Ms. Anania retorted: “Good morning. I do not know you. So why the forwardness?” Papadopoulos then simply wrote: “Ok. Ahahaa. Sorry to have bothered you [frowning face],” and left it at that. However, Ms. Anania, who apparently saw this as a golden


PC in Greece opportunity to begin orating about PC, wanted to have the last word; and, my oh my, what a word it was . . . At first, she replied to the soccer player with an incomprehensible aphorism about how “people who never learned to practice good manners mistake impertinence for courage, pedantry for wisdom, mockery for intelligence, cruelty for simplicity, and flattery for kindness.” Could it seriously be the case that Ms. Anania was prompted by a simple greeting addressed to her via social media by a soccer player, no less, to offer examples of what Aristotle meant when he wrote about the rhetorical technique of paradiastole, i.e., the redescription of vices as virtues? [In an “encyclopedic interlude,” as he calls it, Tsakiroglou insists that Ms. Anania borrowed the above excerpt from John Locke, although she did not cite her source; however, the fact that what I quoted is a back-translation does not allow me to verify if this is so.]

Then, according to the same article, Ms. Anania made her Instagram exchange with Papadopoulos public and, after he complained about it, she wrote a withering diatribe on her Facebook page, fuming over the large number of “perverted” men who undress her with their eyes, send her loads of “aggressive” pictures of their erect penises on a daily basis, or make sexist threats against her. She also wrote that she has been sexually harassed twice in her life and, finally, she did not forget to advise men who “may have been mistreated by their mothers, a fact that turned them into shitty persons, to seek out psychiatric help, please.” After this, and before the subsequent hubbub died down, Ms. Anania made sure to give a number of interviews to websites, TV channels, and magazines in order to expand upon her “ordeal” with the soccer player. In all probability, Papadopoulos, a male athlete in his prime, wanted to flirt, and not to initiate a profound discussion about whether Sergei Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges was indeed intended to parody both the pretentious Italian “reform” operas and their audience, or about the potential ontotheological implications that arise from the possible existence of parallel universes. As regards what Ms. Anania’s underlying motivations might have been, I would prefer not to venture a guess, just like a modern-day Bartleby, since we are living in a litigious age and I would like to maintain at least a semblance of an academic career. Nonetheless, I will not avoid mentioning a few incontestable facts: a) I wholeheartedly agree with Costas Vaimakis’s opinion piece (in Greek), according to which this incident reeks of an “overdose” of PC, as it “criminalizes” a simple “Good morning.” I would add that it shows a course of prejudging facts based solely on a hypothesis about a man’s purported ulterior motives. b) Virtually all women have, alas, been sexually harassed to some degree; sometimes by other women, lest we forget. Ergo, most men, who have allegedly been socialized within a “tyrannical patriarchal tradition,” are potential harassers and/or rapists who use their genitalia as instruments of oppression? Where is the logic in this? Should all males who try to approach Ms. Anania, for whatever reason, pay the price for the two men who, according to her,

PC in Greece 31 molested her in the past? Why has Ms. Anania not gone into a similar tirade after one of the multiple times that, by her own account, she was sent not a mere “Good morning, how are you doing?” but an “aggressive” [?] photograph of a male sex organ – would a “passive” penis selfie be less inappropriate? – by someone who was not a famous soccer player? c) “Undressing another person with one’s eyes” is neither a phenomenon peculiar to males nor a “crime.” Pascal Bruckner waxes lyrical about the desire inflamed by the mutual erotic gaze, by the game of reciprocal ocular seduction played between the two sexes for the sake of play and for no other reason: “Observing the young women who stroll in front of the café terraces is a delicious pastime, while being stared at, looked at, and wordlessly lusted after is a pleasure for these same young women who in their turn measure up and eye their observers. All of that creates an atmosphere of complicity between the female and male parties, made up of winks, smiles, and allusions, a kind of superficial eroticization but without erotic goals, and it instills in even the most neutral relations a kind of disconcerting intimacy” (The Temptation of Innocence 200). Likewise, catcalls possess the same ambivalent quality as pharmakon does, which means that while they can often be poisonous to the female psyche, there are also times that they act as a remedy, since they provide some attention-seeking women with an external source of validation that boosts their sexual confidence and enhances their general self-esteem. In fact, all women, and all men too, may find themselves, at some point in their lives, in need of almost any kind of affirmation that they are erotically desirable. Thus, would it be prudent to leave it entirely at the whim of females, some of whom could be acting in bad faith or even suffering from antisocial personality disorder, whether either their womanhood or their (alleged) victimhood may be weaponized? Twenty-five years ago, long before the Me Too movement, the adamantly pro-PC John K. Wilson wrote: “The fear that women will start making false claims of sexual harassment is greatly exaggerated,” because, as Wilson maintained, the “legal awards” were “still quite small” back then (125). However, as it is clearly shown by numerous recent examples, the power of making any type of false accusations in order to arouse the sympathy of the PC-public or to put someone you have a grudge against on the spot can be – or at least seem like – a reward in and of itself. [Even though the name “Jussie Smollett” immediately comes to mind, his case is simply one of the most (in)famous ones, and by no means an extremely rare exception.] d) Her foul language aside, is Ms. Anania’s nonexpert conclusion that some men become awful – or “shitty,” as she put it – persons who need psychotherapy due to the fact that they had been mistreated by their mothers politically correct, feminist, or anti-sexist? Does it not clearly imply that it is women’s fault that a few of their sons may become misogynists? In any event, this is just one more prime example of what I stated at the beginning of this chapter: most Greeks view PC through the distorting lens of their distinctive mindset and they put their own spin on it, just as they do with all the sociocultural phenomena that originally emerge in some other Western country.


PC in Greece

Everyday Life All things considered, Greece is a culturally backward society in which hidebound political institutions, antiquated religious decrees or social mores, and retrograde tendencies concerning almost all aspects of everyday life abound. To paraphrase the poet Alfred Tennyson, mine’s not to reason why things are the way they are in Greece (as this would require a lengthy, in-depth analysis by a diverse team of highly qualified historians and sociologists), mine’s but to refuse to lie – I allude to the famous lines from “The Charge of the Light Brigade”: “Their’s not to reason why, / Their’s but to do and die” (509) – even if the truth hurts me perhaps even more than it does any other Greek who may be reading these lines. I trenchantly maintain that environmental determinism is not without merit; thus, aside from whatever admittedly decisive socio-economic factors come into play, it may also be due to the region’s climate that Greeks with “strong feelings” about this or that topic do not bother themselves with arduous and time-consuming things such as whether their “beliefs” pass the acid test of falsifiability, nor do they care to delve (at least as much as time permits) into the origin, the exact meaning, and the interrelationships of the abstract concepts they interpolate into their firm statements. For instance, only an infinitesimal percentage of Greek communists are well-versed in Karl Marx’s writings, just as most Greek right-wingers are unacquainted with the principles of classical liberalism, yet this does not deter the members of either of these two groups, or any other Greek for that matter, from being extremely opinionated. No, the irony is not lost on me: I am Greek as well, and I, too, am sometimes inclined toward expressing strong opinions; nonetheless, I also tend to refrain from pontificating on subjects I know little about, and I at least try to keep an open mind. For the vast majority of Greeks, and as far as their everyday social and workplace interactions are concerned, being “politically correct” boils down to two things: try to avoid engaging in political discussions in public, unless you are in the company of like-minded people, and always insist that you (and only you) are correct, irrespective of whether your positions are utterly untenable, and even if you do not know the first thing about the subject you are debating. If one manages to find oneself in a position to wield power over other people, and it makes no difference if we are talking about the sole handyman in a remote village populated by elders, a lowly street-level bureaucrat, a bank branch manager, or a high-level government official, that person instantly adopts an overbearing manner. I surmise that this is not an exclusively Greek phenomenon; however, when it is combined with other equally unbearable social practices and cultural traits or traditions, it allows for the creation of a rather unique situation. In this country, the most common (if not the only) ways to get ahead, so that you may become able to foist your beliefs on others and to abuse whatever amount of power you end up gaining over them, is through nepotism, favoritism, sycophancy, and pork barrel politics. Both the ones who “have made it” and those who have not are imbued with crab mentality [in simple terms: if there is something I cannot have, I will make sure that neither will you], and

PC in Greece 33 they are customarily characterized by what Cyril Northcote Parkinson dubbed “injelitance,” which means a fusion of high levels of “incompetence and jealousy” (79). Prima facie, it might seem as if I am hedging my bets here, so to speak, yet this is probably as good a time as any for me to declare unequivocally that I do love my country, its history, its natural beauty, its potential, and some of its people; this has no effect whatsoever on – neither is it in any way affected by – the fact that I am a misanthropic pessimist. Should love for one’s country entail turning a blind eye to all the things that are wrong with many of its institutions, its customs, or its citizens’ bizarre predispositions? The workings of Greek society are perfectly typified by two catchall phrases that are thrown around all too readily each time someone is in the wrong: “So what?” and “Yes, but . . .”. When it comes to everyday life in Greece, both in business relationships and in personal ones, PC – no matter which of the different meanings that have been attributed to it over the years one may have in mind – seems rather irrelevant, and this is so because it is overridden by the prevailing ethos described above; otherwise stated, the distinctly Greek brand of PC, whenever it manifests itself, is steeped in, and informed by, this mindset. Consequently, in most of the cases in which leftists, feminists, non-whites, or persons who do not subscribe to “cis-heteronormative” labels invoke the tenets of PC, it may appear as if they are reframing the narrative about “social justice” and extending their fight to a potentially more favorable battleground, but, in the end, what they actually want is exactly the same as what virtually any other Greek – that is, every white, heterosexual, male, and non-feminist female anti-PCer, whether a nominal right-winger, left-winger, or centrist – wants: maximum gain with minimum effort, special privileges, to have the upper hand, to prove themselves right, and/ or to suffer no consequences for whatever foolish, unscrupulous, or even unlawful actions they may have performed. In the rest of the cases, Greek PCers exaggerate inconsequential matters out of proportion. To illustrate: instead of putting forth plans and ideas about how to cope with the countless problems posed by the millions of refugees and/or migrants flooding into Greece, leftist PCers incite fierce debates about whether it is appropriate to use the term “illegal immigrant” or not. Another example: Greek is an inflected language, which means that there are noun declensions (suffixes and changes in the form of a word that indicate grammatical gender, amongst other things); left-wing PCers lay way too much emphasis on the “importance” of establishing the usage of a feminine noun ending for female doctors, members of parliament, or judges instead of the male noun that has been used for both genders up until now. Vulnerable to criticism – and to disbelief as regards their veracity – although they may be, from now on I will focus exclusively on a few of my personal experiences with PC, both in everyday life and, last but not least, in Greek academia. Most Greeks have a propensity for flouting laws and rules; for instance, they positively loathe waiting in line, so they hardly ever form an orderly queue at bus stops, metro stations, taxi stands, public service desks, ticket counters, and so forth. In Greece there were no rails, stanchions with ropes, queue barriers, or even lines marked on the floor, neither in the public nor in the private sector, up until


PC in Greece

around two and a half decades ago; in many places there are still not any, so people keep doing what they always used to do: cut in line, shove each other so as to get to the front of the group, or use lame excuses to convince their fellow citizens that there is a pressing need for them to be served first. A few days after they first installed stanchions at my local Post Office, I went there to cash an order. I stood between the ropes at the back of a non-existent waiting line. As I soon noticed, half a dozen middle-aged ladies had completely ignored the poles and they were already clustered around the desk of the middle-aged female clerk, who did not bother to explain to them what the queue ropes were there for. So, what does all this have to do with PC, one might ask. Well, I made the grave error of looking at them askance, at which point one of the female customers accused me of trying to cut corners. I then asked her, with a relatively strict tone of voice, to look at where I was standing, and she went on to cry bloody murder. All of a sudden, according to her, I was a male chauvinist pig attempting to manhandle her and, as they now say, to “mansplain” to her the new queuing etiquette. Meanwhile, the rest of the viragos, with whom she had been viciously fighting for a better spot up until a moment ago, were more than happy to chime in with scathing comments against “patriarchal oppression.” PC rhetoric at the service of petty self-interest at its very best/worst . . . Some years later, and while I was waiting in yet another line, this time at a supermarket checkout, the non-white – probably of either Romani or Middle Eastern descent, not that this is either relative or important – lady in front of me had the odd, and utterly unsanitary, idea of placing her three- or four-year-old son, who was wearing soiled clothes and muddy shoes, on top of the belt along with the groceries. The female cashier flashed the boy a beatific smile. Conversely, I was flabbergasted. The checkout operator noticed the bleak expression on my face, but she did not say a thing at that time, and neither did I. When it was my turn to put my groceries on the (by now begrimed) counter, the cashier, who was at last presented with the opportunity to exert her tiny bit of power over me, went out of her way to find something, anything, wrong with me as a customer, as “payback” for my not having looked lovingly at the scruffy child. She claimed that one of the banknotes I handed her was damaged (it was clearly not), that I was carrying with me more items than this lane was for (I was certainly not), that I was being rude (quite the opposite of what was actually going on), she even called the manager to back her up (he took a quick glance at her enflamed face and decided he wanted no part of this), and, after everything else failed, she had to admit the real reason for her belligerent demeanor toward me: she started to rebuke me for my “flinty” stare and for my “unsympathetic” manner, and exclaimed that, being both a young mother and a committed anti-racist herself, she would not stand for it, whatever “it” meant. Why on earth she felt the need to play the race card was beyond me, at least at first; the same goes for the possible implicit motives that made her weaponize her motherhood and play the “I-am-a-mom-too” card. Evidently, neither of her statements had any bearing whatsoever on the matter at issue; she simply resorted to two “politically correct” remarks, flagrantly disregarding the fact that they were both fatuous and immaterial, in order to have a better chance either at

PC in Greece 35 demonstrating some amount of unearned authority or at imposing her worldview on me, even if only for a moment. Since, at this point, I have fully adopted the “confessional mode” of writing, I have no reservations about revealing that, for more than two decades now, I have been suffering from a rare, acquired, immunologically mediated disease of the peripheral nerves called Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP); it more commonly affects young men, and it is characterized by poor balance, progressive weakness, and impaired sensory function in the arms and legs. [Perhaps some of the PCers who were all too willing to judge me harshly for what I wrote about Kympouropoulos in the section on political life in Greece will now see my arguments in a different light; but then again, maybe not . . . ] Despite the myriad problems it has caused me, CIDP has also provided me with the opportunity to investigate PC from practically all possible angles: I have, on occasion, been championed by PCers, because I was seen as a member of a disadvantaged minority group; I have often been the victim of “ableism,” in other words, of discriminatory attitudes and negative social prejudices due to my sporadically evident disability; I have met other CIDP sufferers who, in spite of the fact that they were in a much better state than I was, thought of their ailment as an ideal chance to suck on the government teat indefinitely; finally, before the Greek government-debt crisis, I was entitled to a disability allowance I do not receive any more, although there has not been – nor is it expected that there will ever be – any significant improvement in my condition. However, as long as I am still standing, I try to get by on my own, and to reduce the suffering however I can, arduous though this is. A close relative of mine, who is an ardent social justice warrior, used to reproach me for my views on the matter: “How can you be against PC,” she testily asked me once, “given that not only do you belong to a marginalized group who are frequently faced with the negative outcomes of deep-rooted systemic biases and structural inequalities, but you were also the beneficiary of an income support program for the differently abled that would not exist without the altruistic efforts of progressive-minded PCers, who regularly stand up for the rights of the downtrodden?” My multilayered reply to her loaded, disingenuous question was this: i. I do not allow myself to be in any way (solely, primarily, or even partially) defined by my disease. CIDP and its severe symptoms, as well as the serious adverse effects caused by the prolonged corticosteroid treatment I have been undergoing, are not “part of my identity”; they are a distressing state of affairs I was obliged to learn how to live with, or battle against. ii. While I may have indeed enjoyed some perquisites for a few years because of my condition, it was never at the top of my agenda to ask for them; as a matter of fact, I became aware of their availability by chance, more than two years after I was first diagnosed. In addition, whatever I may have accomplished thus far, be it utterly insignificant, just average, or perhaps great, I have done so despite my condition, not thanks to it, and although I am struggling to make ends meet, now that I no longer qualify for social security


PC in Greece

disability insurance, never have I seen fit, conveniently and all of a sudden, to join any of the “special interest” pressure groups that raise hell about the sharp health insurance cutbacks. It would be selfish and hypocritical of me, let alone futile, since the Greek economy is in such a deplorable state that one should now either “have friends in high places” – I do not – or be blind, deaf, and probably missing two or three limbs in order to be eligible for disability benefits; but, then, what would be the point? iii. Being a misanthrope of the pessimistic variety, I am resigned to the fact that fools, who seem to constitute a substantial majority, as I will argue in the fifth chapter, will always be prejudiced either in favor of or against one category of people (one idea, one situation, and so forth) or another; thus, it is inevitable that I will regularly have to suffer them no matter what group I do or do not belong to or support. iv. It is a telling fact that I abominate PC even though I do belong to a disadvantaged group myself. However, any way one looks at it, and wherever said one may be “coming from,” PC is invariably a two-edged sword which, quite paradoxically, cuts only one way: the wrong one. I could cite innumerable biographical experiences to illustrate this point, but I will have to settle for only a few. Before the onset of my disease, I used to work out at my local gym together with an acquaintance of mine, a haughty member of the bourgeoisie and a crude womanizer, who was about to apply for state licensure as a district attorney. We ran across each other about a week after the symptoms of the autoimmune disorder I suffer from had started to manifest themselves and, although I patiently explained to him – that is, to a highly educated person, but also a sexist and a classist, who was embarking on a career in criminal prosecution no less – that my disease was not transmissible and that my recent absence from our common gym sessions was due to a temporary motor nerve dysfunction, he had no qualms about treating me as if I was the index case in a novel coronavirus global pandemic or the poster child for the ominous return of the bubonic plague . . . Just a couple of days later, I was riding the bus on my way home from the hospital when, as a result of the balance disorder that usually accompanies CIDP, I may – or may not, I could not tell, this is exactly one of the things the sensory impairment caused by my condition entails – have inadvertently and very briefly brushed past or leaned against a female co-passenger. Of course, there was no Me Too movement back then, but the middle-aged and objectively unattractive lady was determined to make me feel like a precursor of Harvey Weinstein; only a powerless, Greek, and definitely falsely accused one . . . The politest way I could extemporaneously think of as a circumspect response to her delusional rant about my supposed sexual harassment of her was to ask this woman whether she had any mirrors in her house. After all, unlike her, I was in my twenties and, regardless of my serious health issues, not unhandsome; to wit: I did not need to fondle someone sexually in a surreptitious manner, as I had my fair share of female admirers. [Admittedly, there are some young, attractive men who, even so, do tend to “cop a feel”; yet, in my case and at

PC in Greece 37 that time, I was infinitely more interested in finding out if my disease could prove fatal than in sexually caressing anyone . . . ] Nonetheless, my remark went over her head, and she was not abashed by it at all. Other than what I said to her there were no other socially permissible options available to me; hence, I was left at the mercy of this termagant’s vagaries, which, thankfully, were ignored by the rest of the passengers. In both of the poignant events I have just described I was the illegitimate target of someone’s prejudice and psychological abuse: the first time I was the “victim” of a boorish anti-PCer and the second of an imprudent PCer, though the latter clumsily attempted to present me as the “victimizer.” By the way, I am of course in no position to know precisely what prompted the woman on the bus to act the way she did, so maybe I was something more like “collateral damage” than the intended target, which, if true, brings a whole different range of thoughts and emotions into play. It might be the case that she had reasonably become overly defensive owing to some negative past experience of this kind, and that a confluence of stimuli (including my, or some other male co-passenger’s, brushing up against her) triggered her response. Therefore, I may have been treated unfairly by someone who had previously been maltreated herself. Nevertheless, this does not make any difference as far as the factual aspects of that particular situation are concerned, and it certainly does not authorize her to level false accusations at any men – all of them “guilty until proven innocent” – who just happen to be in her immediate vicinity, because, then, by the same token, and as a result of their traumatic experience, these same men would be equally “justified” in becoming hostile toward all women in a self-perpetuating vicious circle (one that is, mutatis mutandis, analogous to other sweeping negative stereotypes of that ilk: all blacks are so and so, every Jew is this and that, and so on). These two personal experiences speak volumes about the many things that consistently go awry with PC. I contend that neither of them allowed for anything better to have been done (say, for instance, a reasoned and mutually edifying conversation between the parties involved in each of these situations), because, to quote Beckett, people in general “are bloody ignorant apes” (Waiting for Godot 13) and, as I stated above, Greeks in particular counter whatever valid criticisms they may receive with either a cynical “So what?” or a bellicose “Yes, but . . .”. The idea of an honest and “fruitful” dialogue amongst participants who are inherently pre-equipped with ethical and practical rationality is utopian. Especially in Greece, the decisions of the persons who enter into discursive exchanges, usually with the sole intention of sizing up their opponents, or perhaps simply in order to pretend to be complying with social norms, have always been made in advance; rarely, if ever, does listening to each other’s arguments lead one of them to back away from one’s previously held stand on whatever issue.

Academia “Very well done”; this was the complimentary remark I once addressed to a female colleague – we were both mere PhD candidates then – who had shown


PC in Greece

me an article of hers published in an esteemed academic journal. “You sound patronizing and misogynistic,” she retorted. I dread to think what might have happened if, instead, I had remained silent upon seeing her work; a textbook case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” This serves as an illuminating introductory example of what the situation with PC in Greek academia is like. There is an old Greek adage that roughly translates as follows: “If you do not praise your own house, it will collapse upon your head and crush you”; it is uttered in situations where you are expected to speak highly – or to actively protect the interests – of an in-group you belong to, be it your relatives, your friends, your fellow country(wo)men [PC alert: successfully averted], your business associates, or, in this case, your compatriots in academia, otherwise you will face dire consequences. However, I enjoy the dubious privilege of having no glittering academic career to speak of and, therefore, I also have no reason to be apprehensive of letting chips fall where they may; or, in keeping with the previous metaphor, of letting “my house” fall down upon me. I should note that the chicken-or-egg dilemma is, once more, germane to this discussion, since some readers might be tempted to infer that the fact I have not been granted tenure thus far is what incited me to write this section; an intellectual elitist who is not part of the self-replicating grandiosity bubble of his country’s academic elite: what a grudge he must hold . . . Nonetheless, I put forward the obverse hypothesis, i.e., that the main reason why I (and a few others like me) have not “made it” is because these observations are indeed true, and I have invariably made a point of not turning a blind eye to them, since I do not covet a place in this particular self-aggrandizing pseudo-elite. University campus life is the only milieu in Greece where PC, as it is currently understood in the United States, is steadily gaining more and more ground. However, once again, a peculiarly Greek spin is put on it. Greek academe is an exemplar of the familiar maxim “it is not what you know, it is who you know, and what you are willing to do for/with them.” Political partisanship, nepotism, and diversity – the last one especially in recent years, due to the massive influx of immigrants and to the conscious decision of many Greeks to spur upward social mobility for LGBT+ people – unfailingly trump scholarly meritocracy; and if what you have done for/with the persons with whom you cultivated your spurious friendships does not prove enough to make them honor their promises, there is always PC for you to fall back upon. Not incidentally, my aforementioned colleague, the one who used to introduce PC (without any regard to whether it was relevant or not) into the power plays she continually made, now does have tenure. It goes without saying that I cannot offer any irrefragable evidence that what I posit here is true, given the following: (a) PC in Greece is in its nascent stages and it has not been systematically explored until now, and (b) the issues I am raising, to the extent that they are associated with PC, are highly vexed (to say the least), and I am not in the habit of secretly recording my meetings and/or my phone conversations . . . Moreover, I will of course not be mentioning any specific names, since I do not want the readers to misconstrue what I write as if it were nothing more than ad hominem attacks, and also I am not afraid to state that, as it turns

PC in Greece 39 out, I am somewhat afraid of losing what little I have still left to lose as far as my domestic academic career prospects go . . . At any rate, from the experiential evidence I have gathered during the one and a half decade in which I have been occupying various positions in academic settings, here is the most accurate profile I can construct of a typical left-leaning pro-PC full professor at any given Greek university, especially in a Humanities Department. She (and yes, it is preponderantly a “she”) will be fashionably late for class, with a to-go cup of coffee in her hand, either totally unprepared or carrying with her the same scrappy lecture notes that she wrote many years – sometimes even decades – ago, usually comprising of an offhand selection of excerpts from her doctoral dissertation. At first, and for a considerable amount of time, she will rant about things such as these: (a) she did not recognize any of her students’ faces during the previous day’s protest march (which was for this social cause or against that social injustice), and they should all be ashamed of themselves for not having participated in it; (b) there is no such thing as sexual monogamy, particularly amongst people who are her students’ age. [Here is a thought that may be running through her head while she is saying this: “Since my husband turned out to be unfaithful, the least I can do in order to feel better is crush other people’s dreams of marital fidelity”]; (c) male students ought to make sure to avoid the use of generic masculine nouns and pronouns in their essays if they want to pass her class, as if employing gender-inclusive language constitutes the quintessence of, say, a course on literary theory, or as if indexicality – i.e., the sociocultural meaning of linguistic forms, and also the basis of what Friedman dubs “associationism,” that is, “a language of identification, rather than one that fundamentally separates who one is from what one thinks” (62) – should have priority over the persuasiveness of one’s argumentation; (d) finally, she will superciliously declare that she has tenure, so she could keep blathering on about anything she wanted, for as long as she pleased, and nobody could do a damn thing about it. Then, with a gravelly voice, she will read from her notes for an equal amount of time, and “an honest day’s work” will be complete. After class, and during her office hours, she will crow to her cronies [alliteration intended] about how she carved an extra notch on the grip of her figurative pistol, by which she means that she managed to make yet another reactionary male chauvinist – at least this is how the person in question “struck her as,” which should be enough – drop out of graduate school. Power corrupts, as the well-known saying goes, and PCers consider patriarchal power structures to be abominable; however, they do not voice similar concerns when women rise to positions that are incontrovertibly associated with tyrannical authority and structural oppression because, according to one of their many delusional dogmata, a woman would hardly ever use her power in an abusive way, and she is even less likely to do so if she has declared herself a left-leaning nth-wave feminist and an advocate of racial and gender minorities. Bruckner dispels such misconceptions by pointedly remarking that “violence and cruelty are by no means purely male prerogatives. [. . .] And it is not clear what angel would keep women forever secure from committing foolish or malicious acts, as if being born female removed them from the errors


PC in Greece

and pettiness of the human condition” (The Temptation of Innocence 202–203). Nevertheless, why should PCers let ample evidence to the contrary get in the way of their complacent doctrine? No one is completely immune to vile impulses, except for the hallowed, self-righteous PCers . . . At her Department’s general faculty meeting, the same avowed social justice warrior will reiterate for the nth time that she scurrilously reviles most of the prospective professors in training (i.e., assistants and/or fixed-term lecturers who work to develop a case for tenure), all of whom are probably infinitely better educated than she is; they are usually alumnae of American Ivy League schools, but in this case no feminist vision of women’s solidarity is more important to her than eschewing the embarrassment of having her many academic inadequacies exposed through the constant comparison with these younger and more distinguished female would-be colleagues. She will even go as far as to coerce, either directly or indirectly, the PhD candidates she supervises into uncovering whatever disparaging information – nostalgic for the Soviet era as she is, she knows enough about how kompromat works – they can about her “foes” in the Department, so that she can then denigrate their achievements; and her graduate students had better do what she asked of them, thus leaving their integrity behind, lest they, too, want to end up as notches on her gun, which is exactly what befell someone “I know very well.” Needless to point out that in situations like these, to wit, when her sole focus is to attain her devious objectives, PC conveniently goes out the window. Last but not least, her extracurricular activities, as well as her sabbatical leaves, will principally center on her endeavors to pave the way for her future political career. Way too many Greek academics hunger for a highranking position in the government, and they often get it, providing they “have played their cards right.” How do any of the above relate to standing up against structural injustices, championing the causes of the various downtrodden minorities, or helping to make the university a more fertile marketplace of ideas? Well, they apparently do not, do they? This is precisely the point I have been trying to illustrate throughout this chapter: in Greece, PC, for all intents and purposes, is merely the latest ad hoc weapon that has been added to the argumentative arsenal of people – no matter what their politics are supposed to be – who have an ax to grind, who want to get the better of their opponents, or who simply try to further their own agendas. So far, I have referred exclusively to Greek professors, tenured or aspiring; hence, as I bring this part of the book to a close, I should also discuss a few personal experiences I had with pro-PC Greek students. First, though, it is imperative that the following be clarified: I cannot emphasize enough that, in most respects, I am worlds apart from “Coleman Silk,” the fictional anti-hero of Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain, a subtle, multifaceted, pungent indictment of PC if ever there was one. Silk is revealed to be of African American ancestry; he is old; he resigned from the College he worked for, and before he was unjustly accused of employing the fighting word “spooks” as a racial slur against two of his students who were always absent from his classes – thus phantom-like, or “spooks” – and who were also black, as it turns out, Silk had already had an illustrious academic

PC in Greece 41 career, including having served as the dean of faculty. So, as I mentioned, he is nothing like me. However, readers who are familiar with Roth’s great novel will notice that there are, indeed, obvious parallels to be drawn between Silk’s predicament and mine. I shall start with a case in which a member of the right-wing “language police” – for whatever reason, my student volunteered this piece of information about herself, i.e., that she belonged to the political Right – missed the forest for the trees, as she felt a compelling need to assail me for my using (what she regarded as) a politically incorrect term in class, rather than to focus on how to fully grasp the gist of my lecture in order to get the most benefit from it. The equivalent word for “cop” (the informal way of referring to a police officer) in Greek is “mpatsos,” the difference being that the Greek term falls into the category of slang rather than that of colloquial language, which in turn means that it is used less often and in more specific social settings than “cop” is, and it carries slightly more negative connotations than “cop” does. According to a canon of the Right’s identity politics, all members of the police force should be reverenced in all circumstances. Similarly, left-wing PCers presume that all immigrants and/or refugees, for example, are always and equally deserving of trust, respect, and support. [As Friedman succinctly phrases it: “The refugee has become the new hero” (19); consequently, no one dares argue that “large-scale immigration in a declining welfare state” may cause “increasing social segregation,” which, in turn, “leads to marginalization, criminalization, increasing violence and aggressive ethnic attitudes” (123–124), unless he wants to be labeled as a “racist.”] In this regard, both the Right’s and the Left’s position are untenable; setting in-group solidarity and out-group animosity aside, as they are often utterly ungrounded, I contend that such assessments as the ones above ought to be made on a case-by-case basis. Turning attention back to the issue in question: I am practically bilingual in English and Greek, so it often transpires that the first word that comes to mind while I am delivering a lecture is an Americanism, and I have to translate it into Greek on the spur of the moment; so, at one point I used the Greek word for cops in passing, while talking about a subject that had nothing whatsoever to do with the police, yet it just so happened that the father of the student in question was a policeman. She immediately took offense at – or “felt triggered by” – my utterance, having given no consideration to its context and, thus, misrepresenting its intent. After she had reproved me for a while, not only did I not feel forced to resign from my lowly post as a fixed-term lecturer (unlike Silk, I could not afford this luxury), but my student and I eventually worked it out amicably when I patiently asked her if she ever watched any American action films and, if so, whether she felt outraged every single time she heard the word “cops” in said films. The protagonists in the final couple of examples are left-wing pro-PC former students of mine, and readers can easily pinpoint the essential differences between their mentality and that of the policeman’s daughter, although all three of them were equally fanatical adherents of some form of PC. The first instance involves a self-professed “non-binary, anti-speciesist, anti-racist, anti-sexist,


PC in Greece

anarchist-leaning” PC-monger, whose only contribution (if one could call it that) to my class was the perfervid manner in which he “corrected” me every time I used the “wrong” nouns or pronouns. [The latter, of course, constitute a closed class category of function words, which means that they contribute to syntax, not to meaning, therefore it makes no sense that their conventional usage by someone should be taken as the ultimate litmus test of that someone’s alleged hatred of – or even mere prejudice toward – women, blacks, trans people, and their respective views on any given matter.] More often than not, I grade on a curve, and I am rather lenient, so the marks I give are distributed along the bell curve in such a way that the targeted course average is not the usual “C” but a “B,” which was exactly what the student in question got for his final paper. All of my students were assigned better grades than they either expected or deserved. Yet two of them complained: the PCer in question, and a biracial female student. The latter finally accepted, however reservedly, that the “B-” she had been awarded reflected her knowledge of the subject and the effort she had put in her paper; it had nothing to do with her “identity.” In contrast, the overzealous PCer demanded, via email, a detailed analysis of my grading process. As it was the middle of the summer already, and I was going through a relapse of CIDP (a fact this particular student had been made aware of), I offered to meet him during my office hours once the fall semester commenced in order to satisfy his firm request. Here is where the “PC-gonecockeyed” part kicks in: the same truculent student, then, thought it prudent to send an extended, rambling, formal email to the dean of faculty, accusing me of refusing to fulfil my “institutional obligations,” meaning the ones that stem from my being an occupant of the social role of a teacher. Imagine that! An “anarchist” who self-servingly sought recourse to institutional power; a “woke social justice warrior” who claimed to be selflessly dedicated to protecting the rights of women, animals, the LGBT+ community, immigrants, and the underprivileged in general, yet he turned out to be so self-preoccupied that he callously disregarded his disabled professor’s right to be nursed back to full health before he catered to the arbitrary demand put forward by one of his dozens of students . . . Satel informed her readers that “PC medicine puts ideology before patients” (6); well, in Greece, PC students put an “à la carte” pseudo-ideological approach to higher education before their own actual intellectual, ethical, and aesthetic development. Lastly, as part of the syllabus I had developed for a course on the various motivated functions of “politically committed” (or “socially engaged”) art, I made extensive references to protest movements and organizations such as “Occupy Wall Street,” “Billionaires for Bush,” and “Pink Bloc,” all of which incorporated, at least to some degree, street theater, carnivalesque music and dance, video art, mime, happenings, and other types of performance art. “Pink Bloc” was the one my students seemed to know less about, and hardly had I finished clarifying, in a distinctly neutral and purely informative tone, that it is a loose collective which comprises feminists, queer, trans, and other non-cisgender anarchists who deploy non-violent tactics and avoid confrontation with the police, when a student started verbally assaulting me for uttering these terms (queer, trans, and so forth) as a form of furtive mockery, or at least this is what he claimed to have “detected”

PC in Greece 43 in my voice, in my body language, and in – what seemed to him as – my baleful glare. Thus, quite unexpectedly, I found myself unduly subjected to what is known in French as “un procès d’intention”; in other words, I underwent a trial of intentions, the issue was prejudged, and my purportedly “hidden” motives were impugned by this “mind-reading” student, whose “mission in life” must have been to identify non-PC attitudes in everything he sees or hears. [I should note that I and this student shared many research interests and, before his unwarranted outburst, I had offered to help him with a Master’s thesis proposal he was working on.] Had I not already shed all romantic notions of solidarity and become a misanthropic pessimist by then, that would have definitely been the time to do so . . . Much to my chagrin, even though my fervent desire in all the cases I presented here had been to prove myself as useful to my students as I possibly could, these PC zealots much rather played power, mind, and/or word games, while I was being relegated to playing their hapless antagonist. In fine, none of the above should have really come as a surprise to me, given that Greece is a country that has more publishing houses, authors’ associations, college professors, and higher education students than it has regular readers, competent authors, or people who evince any unfeigned interest in either imparting or acquiring academic knowledge, respectively. PC in Greece, especially in regard to its academic environment, is nothing but a newfangled means whereby one can bring one’s (usually sordid) plans to fruition, exert one’s dominance – irrespective of whether it be of a low, medium, or high level – over other people, or simply enjoy one’s stint as a post-adolescent “rebel” without either a cause or a clue.


A Culture of Hypocrisy

Introduction This chapter comprises eight case studies that address the same thematic areas as the ones in the previous chapter – politics, art, mass media, everyday life, and academia – and delineate several aporias that derive from discursive practices, tactics, and dispositions associated with PC and identity politics. In studies such as this, it is oftentimes the case that it would be preferable to forego a baseline set of assumptions or preconceived notions and to occupy the role of a “gadfly” who tries to formulate the right second-order ethical and epistemological questions, irrespective of how discomposing, disputatious, or even unanswerable they may prove to be. For example: could, or should, certain Western social, moral, and aesthetic values be regarded as objective and transcultural? What epistemic gains, as regards the “what,” the “how,” and the “why” of a specific state of affairs, can one attain by theorizing about such abstractions as “right” and “wrong”? Is empirical investigation the path that will lead us to ethical truths about how to keep societies from falling apart, or ought we to rely on a priori moral intuitions that will, somehow, some day, “bring us all together”? More specifically, concerning the facts and circumstances of the matter at issue, does a statement like “it is inappropriate for a non-black person to use the n-word” reflect a sentiment, a desire, or a belief on the part of whomever utters it, or does it correspond to some unassailable verity, either in the sense of an analytic truth, that is, an a priori, necessary, self-explanatory, conceptual truth, or as a synthetic truth, i.e., an a posteriori proposition that can be empirically validated by virtue of observational evidence? Are “fervent convictions” and “strong feelings” about all-things-PC exempt from passing some kind of acid test that ensures their logical coherence and ethical grounding? Is it a moral fact – true for everyone and across all times, unconnected to any given group’s motivation or to a particular culture’s norms – that a “good” person should demonstrate her/his/ their solidarity with every minority group that is fighting for whatever “rights,” is it a falsifiable ethical claim, or is it merely an open-ended question? Are those who self-identify as members of a “victimized” minority entitled, because of the real or assumed prejudicial situations they are faced with, not only to hold but also to impose upon others beliefs which, while they may comport with their

A Culture of Hypocrisy 45 contingent moral framework, are not based on any type of epistemic justification? Who, and by using what exactly as a benchmark, can decide on what a curriculum that accommodates many diverse cultures – but not at the expense of the most seminal texts, the cardinal ethical principles, or the core philosophical doctrines of Western civilization – ought to include? Should higher education institutions democratize the mode of knowledge production even further, to wit, make it even more “sensitive” to social and cultural context by taking into consideration other factors as well, such as age, family background, looks, or perhaps even . . . dietary preferences? In fine, what exact roles, if any, are universities expected to serve in the twenty-first century? Supposing that sometime in the near future the human race decides to send a third Voyager out into the far reaches of the Universe, what criteria ought to be adopted by those entrusted with the task of determining the type of data about our modern world that are to be included in the Quantum Chip this new robotic probe will probably be carrying with it? Should the device contain photographs and brief bios of “nonbinary” persons, or even “manifestos” written by them? Jon Lomberg, who was part of the late, great Carl Sagan’s committee for the Voyager Golden Record in 1977, notes that, due to fears “of adverse public reaction,” NASA rejected their team’s original proposal to include a biologically informative depiction of human reproduction by means of a picture, which was “neither sexist, pornographic, nor clinical,” of a nude [and . . .“cisgender”] couple, with the young woman being many months pregnant (74). Has the cultural landscape shifted to such a degree due to PC that, now, NASA would perhaps insist that a proclamation issued by a person who, for instance, is black, trans, and a Muslim – a PC trifecta – be included? If we had to send only one “self-portrait” of our contemporary, and for all intents and purposes globalized, culture to any potential extra-terrestrial intelligent beings out there, what would that look like? I will endeavor to shift the terms, even if only ever so slightly, of the current debate on PC by oppugning the established, preprogrammed framework under which moral, gnoseological, and aesthetic issues pertaining to PC tend to be explored. More likely than not, it would not be advisable for me to begin this chapter with a long-winded excursus into the existent literature on the psychology of music preferences, i.e., what personality traits they may reflect, how they correlate with gender, with one’s past experiences, or with a person’s ideal ego, what functions they serve, and so on; therefore, to start with, I shall settle for citing the following simple (albeit illustrative) example, which hopefully sets matters on the right track.

Still Got the Blues . . . Or Do I? My musical tastes range from classical music to heavy metal, but the genres that are by far my most favorite have been principally associated with Black American culture, or assigned mostly to the black “race”; I am mainly referring to the blues, but also to jazz and to soul music. [Incidentally, a comprehensive, interdisciplinary (musicological, ethnological, and sociological) analysis of whether these

46 A Culture of Hypocrisy genres should be regarded as the exclusive domain of black people is beyond the purview of this book; it would also constitute a completely different “ball game,” one that I do not feel equipped enough to play.] At the same time, however, I thoroughly contemn the whole hip-hop subculture, rap music, and contemporary R&B. These views seem to place me in what can only be described as the epitome of a no-win situation, whereby I am forced to run the gauntlet of anti-racist criticisms due to both my “pro-black” preferences and my “anti-black” dislikes. With regard to the latter, no detailed explanation of why this would be the case is required: I must “obviously” be either a covert racist, or lamentably behind the times as far as my music preferences go. PC apparatchiks, who would go out of their way in order to reconcile their adoration for hip-hop – as a purported cry in support of social justice causes – with the homophobia and misogyny inherent in some of its subgenres, would also probably turn a deaf ear to [pun intended], or even condescendingly reject beforehand, whatever viable arguments I might present. It is my contention that rap, which has been passed off as a mixed art form (rhyming words spoken over rhythmic music), barely fills half the glass of either poetry or music. For instance, although I immensely enjoy many of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poems, I would curl up into a microscopic ball of acute embarrassment if I ever heard “We Real Cool” being “sung” over synthesized machine beats, so one can imagine how I would feel if the rhythmically verbalized rhymes belonged to a lesser “poet” than Brooks; but, as the saying goes, this is just me. Yet the crucial, awkward question that one should probably ask here is the following: as a white Greek, am I “entitled” to these opinions, or is commenting either on hip-hop music or on poetry that was created by African Americans considered off-limits, unless I have only positive things to say about both of them? When it comes to my deep love for the traditional rhythm and blues, as well as to my fascination with the lore, the cultural myths, and the mysticism that surround them (for instance, the soul-selling that supposedly takes place at the notorious crossroads, or the hoodoo practices alluded to in the lyrics of countless blues songs), “PC gone haywire” complicates things even further; in fact, this particular aspect of the lose-lose situation I previously referred to constitutes, all by itself, yet another two-pronged, “damned-either-way” problem. On the one hand, what may be hanging over my head like a sword of Damocles is the threat of my being accused of “cultural misappropriation,” maybe even of “cultural colonialism”; this is something that, as Schwartz fittingly puts it, has become registered as a “brand-new crime,” a fact indicative of “a shift of the whole society toward the fringes of madness,” in the sense of an “ambient rage” which is “diffuse and unbounded” (2–3). Granted, my ancestors did not make use of the blue notes found in field hollers and collective work songs in order to express themselves and to deal with all their trials and tribulations while picking cotton; nonetheless, they, too, were enslaved – by the Ottomans – for nearly four hundred years. In view of all the pertinent circumstances, can I seriously be labeled as a member of a dominant culture that fetishizes and insensitively copies elements of a minority culture? From many PCers’ perspective, it would seem that I can. On the other hand, some persons on the social justice warrior side of the equation may cast spurious aspersions against my allegedly “true” reasons for preferring the blues

A Culture of Hypocrisy 47 over rap music; in this ungainly scenario, my music tastes would merely exemplify a racist throwback to a time when African Americans were disenfranchised and weak. By contrast, within the frame of reference of the hip-hop subculture, toward which I have already expressed my antipathy, black people are presented as “empowered,” nonconformist, and self-asserting. The foregoing considerations lead to the ultimate vexed question: cui bono? For whose actual advantage does this unwitting reframing of such a burning issue as racism transpire? To what presumably useful purpose (ethico-political, cultural, or otherwise) could it be said that this contrived shift in the involved parties’ conceptual viewpoint, emotional setting, and social schemata is taking place? How exactly is a black person “victimized” by a white person’s aesthetic preferences, and what real benefit would the former derive from the latter’s “guilt” about, or “repentance” for, her/his artistic likes and dislikes? By engaging in a bit of self-censorship, since I suspect that I am already in deep enough water as it is, I consciously evaded venturing into an exposition of my thoughts on the double standards concerning the acceptable or malapropos usage of the “fighting word” that starts with the letter “n,” and on the socio-ethical implications it is believed to be carrying. [The currently prevailing theory is that blacks have “re-appropriated” this stigmatizing label so that they can use it (mostly as a term of endearment, but also as a slur) whenever they please and to address whomever they like, but white people may utter it only while being amongst other whites, and perhaps when it is included in the lyrics of a hip-hop song, preferably one performed by a black rapper.] At any rate, I am fairly confident in my assumption that the arguments I set forth regarding the relatively innocuous subject of one’s music tastes – which, of course, are by no means directly comparable to one’s (non-)employment of the “n-word” – at least succeeded in conveying my viewpoint. I will dare aver that it would be anything but outlandish if one suggested that quite a few of the PCers’ emotional and cultural hypersensitivities can be justly perceived as “First World problems,” along with having a bad hair day, a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear, a reclining lounge chair that will just not work, or your iPod dying on you while you are power-walking and listening to your favorite tunes. Following this train of thought, one might also go so far as to submit that most of the feigned controversies that PCers tend to arouse, like the one concerning my example about the blues and rap music, are nothing more than puerile power trips that masquerade as tackling with vital sociopolitical issues while, in fact, they just serve as distractions from the innumerable, and infinitely more daunting, problems that confront humankind as a whole; for instance, the accelerated pace in which severe capitalist crises have been arising in recent years, the potentially catastrophic impact that fracking has on the environment, or the rapid spread of anti-intellectualism and the volitional abnegation of reason by many of our fellow humans. Thus, PC ends up being merely the latest item to be added to this abhorrent pile: nothing but yet another manifestation of abject human malevolence and asininity; a crude attempt on behalf of a minority group member to gain significance and cultural power, even if only temporarily and in a narrow and meaningless context. What better source of inspiration for a blues song than the above?

48 A Culture of Hypocrisy

A Well-Rounded Education Versus PTSD Playacting Supposing that universities still have a role to perform in the twenty-first century, should they remain a marketplace of ideas and strongholds of free inquiry, or be turned into “safe spaces” for perennially pampered Peter Pans [alliteration intended] who asseverate that they are “traumatized” by such “repugnant” microaggressions as being shown a documentary about slavery or told to study an academic essay on rape (and in the case of some archconservative, equally politically correct students, a film like Brokeback Mountain or one of Karl Marx’s works, respectively)? Friedman is right in maintaining that “the content of any particular PC is irrelevant to its form” (43), since the narcissistic members of today’s “tribes” only want to employ PC in order to defend their collective identity, which is central to their “self-image” and their “psychic stability,” and to ensure their “doxa” is not “displaced” (62). When it comes to the quest for academic and scientific knowledge, though, and provided we espouse one of the currently prevalent meta-epistemological viewpoints, we cannot readily shun skepticism or relativism. Otherwise stated, we should by all means strive to reduce the possibility of mistake while forming justified true beliefs, which is how knowledge is typically defined, but without firmly adhering to the Cartesian notion of the total inconceivability of error. Furthermore, life, which is what universities are expected to prepare post-adolescents for, by turning students into moral agents and active citizens with the capacity for a reasoned exercise of judgment and reflection, may indeed sometimes be “a bed of roses” (mostly for the privileged few), yet it is generally plagued not only by mistakes or by situations that provoke dubiety about what is true, good, and right, but also by catastrophes, challenges, horrors, and constant, inescapable suffering; as Beckett bluntly phrased it, “you’re on earth, there’s no cure for that!” (Endgame 44). Robert Hughes raises a valid point by arguing that the dissociation between what are considered “verbal offences and breaches of etiquette” in the halls of academe as opposed to the world outside these halls “is rooted in a Utopian fantasy about the nature and role of universities: they are, or should be, Arcadias. But in practice it may impede the student’s progress from protected childhood to capable adulthood, which is not an Arcadian state” (26). Therefore, neither cognitive avoidance strategies – i.e., shielding students from “educationally inappropriate” words, sounds, images, or even smells that either threaten their “identity” or act as emotional triggers that might agitate their all-too-vulnerable psyche – nor higher education homeschooling within a sheltered, “positive space” could be regarded as either viable or productive options. With these stipulations in place, what vital, factual, rational, but also, “more importantly,” audio-visually and olfactorily trigger-free content knowledge remains available for professors to impart to inordinately and selectively distress-prone students? Why did I refer to “playacting” in the title of this section, one might legitimately ask; the answer is simple: because a university professor and/or administrator cannot know for certain whether each time a student claims to have been

A Culture of Hypocrisy 49 offended or victimized (by a word, a sound, an image, or an act) this is truly what occurred, or merely a logical fallacy on her/his part. For example, what is known as petitio principii is a form of circular reasoning, that is, presenting an argument as valid while taking for granted an initial premise that remains to be proved correct, which in this case would be something of this type: “Any study material that includes even veiled allusions to sexual assault has a traumatic effect on me because I nearly fell victim to a sexual predator once. I was given such material to read, and I am now emotionally scarred and aghast. Consequently, you have to modify this part of the course content.” Perhaps such a claim on the student’s part is no more than a deliberate stratagem so that s/he can take advantage of the opportunity to be accorded preferential treatment, higher academic status, and so forth thanks to her/his being a member of a (genuine or fancifully conceived) victimhood group. The situation is exactly as described by Bruckner: “How then can we avoid transforming ourselves into lobbies of professional sufferers, competing with others for market share and the martyr’s crown? [. . .] To call oneself a victim is to make oneself a candidate for exception; perhaps that is an indispensable stage that has to be passed through by a minority that is reconstructing itself and reconquering its dignity. But it is a two-edged blade. A feeling of belonging cannot be founded on a theatricalized misfortune, it has to be founded on a shared collective experience, a growing responsibility in public life, in the media, and in professions” (The Tyranny of Guilt 141–142). In any event, the purportedly negative ramifications of specific syllabus topics on some students’ emotional well-being are not more significant than the overall aims of a curriculum that is designed for the intellectual benefits that may be enjoyed by all students. As a rule, for PCers consequences are all-important, while intent is irrelevant, unless they want to prejudge what they suppose their ideological opponents’ intentions are in any given circumstance. In relation to the point I am making here, Kitrosser (with whom, as I discuss in the next chapter, I otherwise profoundly disagree on many of the views she puts forward in her article on PC), makes the following accurate remarks: “Free speech politics is especially thorny, both analytically and culturally, in the context of higher education. Analytically, colleges and universities house multiple actors with potentially competing free speech claims. Administrations themselves can legitimately claim some degree of institutional academic freedom. Yet where that freedom takes the form of restrictions on professorial speech, it can conflict with credible academic freedom claims by professors. Similarly, plausible student free speech claims may conflict with institutional or faculty pedagogical judgments and such judgments may themselves be grounded in credible appeals to academic freedom” (1996). This power clash between the different notions of freedom propagated by these “multiple actors” ought by no means to degenerate into a free-for-all. Where should the proverbial “buck” stop if not with the people who are responsible for devising each university’s mission statement? Should not the meticulously established educational objectives and the broad vision of a university’s core curriculum take precedence over some students’ personal grievances about a particular course topic that they view as culturally/racially/gender inappropriate, or against one professor’s refusal

50 A Culture of Hypocrisy to turn the auditorium into a “safe space” for a few oversensitive individuals? Last but not least, where is the cutoff point for what is to be legitimately regarded as disability, trauma, harassment, or discrimination? In no way is it my intention to pose facetious questions or to make light of the grave problems associated with PC, but could being an involuntary celibate be regarded as a disability? And if so, might incels rightfully demand either that the college provides them with a sexual partner or that the assigned course readings ought not to include any mention whatsoever of erotic encounters? For those who might have rushed to judge my example as far-fetched, here is an interesting fact about the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act in the United Kingdom: “The British government [. . .] explicitly excluded by statutory instrument some potential disabilities, including ‘a tendency to set fires’, just in case arsonists tried to claim to be on a par with paraplegics” (Green 36). With this in mind, it should not come as a surprise if, in the near future, self-aware humanoid, android, or non-biomimetic robots start to formally request a guarantee of their rights and privileges. Or even to question ours. Why not, after all? If a student had once been stung by a bumblebee, may said student assert that an external stimulus such as listening to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee (if the student is attending a music college) or reading a textbook on entomology (if s/he is studying at a Department of zoology) triggers a traumatic memory, therefore s/he should pass this particular class without the obligation to be exposed to material that causes her/him psychological damage? Robert Hughes places the issue in its proper perspective by explaining that when the 1960s’ animus against elitism entered American education, it brought in its train an enormous and cynical tolerance of student ignorance, rationalized as a regard for ‘personal expression’ and ‘self-esteem.’ Rather than ‘stress’ the kids by asking them to read too much or think too closely, which might cause their fragile personalities to implode on contact with college-level demands, schools reduced their reading assignments, thus automatically reducing their command of language. Untrained in logical analysis, ill-equipped to develop and construct formal arguments about issues, unused to mining texts for deposits of factual material, the students fell back to the only position they could truly call their own: what they felt about things. When feelings and attitudes are the main referents of argument, to attack any position is automatically to insult its holder, or even to assail his or her perceived ‘rights’; every argumentum becomes ad hominem, approaching the condition of harassment, if not quite rape. (66) Furthermore, can it be demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is a way to pinpoint the essential categories or exact properties of that which constitutes “harassment,” or “discrimination”? In reference to the latter, and particularly concerning the correlation between cognitive and affective elements, on the one hand, and actual biases leading to the witting mistreatment of certain groups of people, on the other, Satel convincingly argues: “A variable like

A Culture of Hypocrisy 51 ‘feeling discriminated against’ is hard to measure and verify because it relies on a subject’s inferences about the attitudes and intentions of another person (the potential discriminator)” (22). On a related note, the psychologist David J. Schneider, while discussing a crucial point to which I return in Chapter 4, clarifies that “‘stereotypes’ are category-based beliefs we have about people; ‘prejudice’ is a set of affective reactions or attitudes; and ‘discrimination’ refers to behavioral tendencies” (29), and although the standard model whereby we view these three concepts is that they are causally connected in a direct line, to wit, from stereotypes to prejudices and from there to discrimination, in many cases “emotions and passions can affect our beliefs as much as the reverse. Some behavior is carefully thought out, designed to further specific goals. Other actions are mindless, and affect is in the driver’s seat” (30). Hence, harking back to what I discussed in the previous section, if I simply professed my love for the blues in class, might I be charged with “culturally harassing” my white, pop-listening students? Does it hold water for one to argue that by employing a lofty academic register in my lectures I am “discriminating against” migrant students who often gain admission to the university despite their poor Greek language skills? [Much to my dismay, under no circumstances does this mean that today’s Greek students are much better at their own language than their foreign classmates.] If the answer to any of the preceding questions is “yes,” then I contend that a well-rounded education will always be a chimera, with all the irreversible repercussions that this entails.

On Jordan B. Peterson [but not really . . . ] Is Peterson an alt-right or alt-lite God (the “internet father figure” of many a disaffected, “cisgender,” young white male), a metaphorical gad (one that stokes unfounded fears and goads people into extreme reactions), a gadfly, a fly in amber, or a fly on the wheel? Did he simply seize the opportunity to jump on board the anti-PC train in order to pursue a more lucrative career than that of an academic? Is he part of the solution to the “PC-gone-insane” problem or does he perhaps exacerbate it by overstating the case, by directing way too much attention toward PC (while thrusting himself into the limelight and profiting from it), and by ascribing PC authoritarianism almost exclusively to left-wingers? Far be it from me to act as Peterson’s unsolicited defender, yet I either agree with many of the points he makes, or I at least have immense esteem for the intelligent manner in which he articulates his ideas, irrespective of whether I espouse them or not, as well as for his wide breadth of knowledge and his sound reasoning. Nonetheless, at the same time I am at variance with several of Peterson’s views; to mention but a couple of points of contention: 1 Peterson sometimes offers hypotheses and opinions on subjects with which he appears to be insufficiently familiar. For example, postmodernism should not be invariably lumped together with “cultural Marxism” (at best an equivocal term, as I mentioned in the introduction), which is what Peterson usually does in his lectures and interviews that are centered on identity politics and

52 A Culture of Hypocrisy on PC in academe. For one, and without digressing to an intolerable extent, postmodernism includes not only social theorists but also architects, artists, novelists, and so forth, most of whom have no specific political agenda; for instance, Beckett, who is regarded as an early exponent of postmodernist literature, and to whom I have devoted a significant part of my research work, was not an active supporter of any variant of Marxism, even though left-leaning, antiestablishment attitudes can be found in some of his texts. Secondly, it is true that many – mostly French – post-structuralists of the second half of the 20th century started out by espousing some strand of Marxist thinking; however: (a) in no way did they form a cohesive group united under the same theoretical or ideological umbrella, be it either (neo-)Marxism or postmodernism, and, in fact, they were infamous for their inveterate (and often petty) factious disputes with each other, as well as for vehemently refusing to be categorized under any single rubric, (b) most of them kept reformulating their theoretical constructs, gradually distancing themselves from Marxism [what I will discuss, in Chapter 5, about the shift in Baudrillard’s later work is an excellent case in point], and (c) as we shall see in Chapter 4, hardline Marxists reject PC, postmodernism, and the Frankfurt School – which is taken to be the origin of “cultural Marxism” (William 19–20; R. Hughes 70), or even of PC itself (Sykes 57–58) – all of them in one stroke, inasmuch as they consider them to be bourgeois, reactionary, reformist, or pseudo-left intellectual movements that propound quietism. Simply put, not all postmodernists are (or remain) Marxists, while the vast majority of bona fide Marxists do not embrace postmodernism. [Moreover, given that postmodernist thought is largely indebted to Nietzsche, it is closer to perspectivism than to an “anything-goes” relativism, let alone how ingenious many postmodernist literary techniques are, but this discussion belongs to a different kind of book than this.] Further, the pro-PC Feldstein contends that it is actually the right-wingers who put into practice the postmodernist theory of an “ahistorical reality” established by the advanced detachment of signifiers from their affective referents, thereby employing terms and concepts without taking into account their historical connotations (143) and sharing with postmodernism “the tactic of destabilizing meaning” (169), while the anti-PC Friedman highlights that the rapid rise of postmodernism coincided, during the 1980s, with “a gradual shift away from issues of class and utopian social transformation” that “followed the disintegration of leftist ideology and politics” when “the Soviet empire collapsed and the ideology of the left appeared bankrupt” (18). In light of all the aforementioned, and regardless of which side of the political divide utilizes postmodernist constructs the most, Peterson’s mantra about “cultural Marxists,” who are always-already postmodernists, is murky at best. [An initial draft of this section was written in late 2018. After I was kindly invited by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and the Embassy of Greece in this city, I went there to deliver a public lecture (“Cultural and Sociopolitical Ramifications of Political Correctness”) on February 27, 2019; one of the

A Culture of Hypocrisy 53 things I mentioned during my speech was the point I am making here regarding Peterson’s error discussed above. Upon my return, on March 2, I watched an episode of the talk show “Q&A” – broadcast on Australia’s public TV network ABC – on its YouTube channel, where it had been streamed live on February 25, under the title “Jordan Peterson Destroys Q&A”; during this show, Peterson qualified his oft-repeated statement about the “postmodern and Marxist way of viewing the world” by saying that “even though those two things shouldn’t be lumped together, they tend to be.” As I point out later in this section, Peterson is open to admitting his mistakes, and he makes sure to correct them, although in this particular instance he avoided mentioning that, for several years, he has also been amongst those who erroneously “tended” to yoke these two terms together. In any case, to be fair to him, lately Peterson has started to put the record straight on how extensive the interplay of postmodernism and Marxism truly is (or is not), as evidenced by an argument he made during an even more recent (March 29, 2019) debate he took part in: “[. . .] for the postmodernists, especially the ones that have a Marxist leaning, there is no such thing as free speech, because, you see, in order for there to be free speech, there have to be sovereign individuals, not mere members of a group” (“Jordan B. Peterson – Liberty University”; emphasis added).] 2 I do not endorse Peterson’s somewhat inexplicit views on the ongoing human habitat destruction and on what should/could – not, according to him – be done about it. Peterson is of the opinion that radical environmentalism, i.e., all the talk about people being “a cancer on the planet” due to their heavy ecological footprint, is nothing but a case of covert anti-humanism (“Campus Indoctrination: The Parasitization of Myth”). In contrast, I am overtly antihumanist, for reasons that will be explicated in Chapter 5, and I maintain that radical environmentalism is not the only path that may lead to a view of humans as a cancer on the planet. As Nietzsche succinctly puts it: “The earth [. . .] has a skin; and this skin has diseases. One of these diseases for example is called: ‘Human being’” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra 103). There is a whole section on “white guilt” later in this chapter, but this is a good place to quote Susan Sontag’s famous words: “The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself” (57–58). Sontag seems to conflate white guilt with echoes of the Rousseauesque notions about the “Noble Savage,” and ends up giving cancer – which is not “inherently” discriminatory against a particular group of people – a bad name; if Sontag wanted to be accurate, she should have stated that the human race is the cancer of Earth’s history. Having posited the foregoing, I would also argue that the wish to conserve the environment is a fundamentally conservative choice, hence I wonder why Peterson is not fully in favor of it. Perhaps he agrees on this particular issue with the antiestablishmentarian Carlin, who thought that trying to save the planet was

54 A Culture of Hypocrisy “just one more arrogant human attempt to control nature” and, thus, he had grown “tired of these self-righteous environmentalist, white, bourgeois liberals” who claim to care about the planet but, in reality, they are motivated by their “unenlightened self-interest,” since all they are worried about is “that sometime in the future they might personally be inconvenienced” by a habitat that is not clean enough for them (374–375). Be that as it may, Carlin was undoubtedly correct in his assertion that Earth survived multitudinous threats, for instance “earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, solar flares, [. . .], cosmic rays, ice ages, and hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets, asteroids, and meteors,” all of them much worse than humans, who are merely one more “failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake,” and they will eventually be shaken off “like a bad case of fleas” by this “self-correcting system” called Earth, without leaving “much of a trace” (375–376). Carlin’s remarks are reminiscent of a view perspicuously expounded by Nietzsche: In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history” – yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die. One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. (“On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” 42) John Gray’s thoughts parallel those of both Nietzsche and Carlin: “Homo rapiens [Gray intentionally, and wittily, substitutes it for sapiens] is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone the Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on” (151). At this point I should also add that on numerous occasions, including his two interviews I cite later on, Peterson does not shy away from pinpointing human malevolence; in fact, in his lectures and speeches he frequently starts from a rather pessimistic perspective, asserting that people have a great capacity for evil and aggressiveness, or that “the fundamental reality of the world” cannot be disassociated from oppression, corruption, suffering, greed, injustice, dereliction and arbitrariness (“Campus Indoctrination: The Parasitization of Myth”). Therefore, up to this point my ideas and his are in perfect sync. Yet Peterson invariably goes on to claim his belief in the redeeming quality of responsibility, in which meaning can be found, and by dint of which suffering may be alleviated. For instance,

A Culture of Hypocrisy 55 as early as in the Overture of his 12 Rules for Life, he asks how we can free ourselves “from the terrible dilemma of conflict, on the one hand, and psychological and social dissolution, on the other,” and the answer he offers is: “through the elevation and development of the individual, and through the willingness of everyone to shoulder the burden of Being and to take the heroic path. We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world” (xxxiii). This is where our views diverge considerably, because as much as I, too, am resolutely in favor of the elevation of the individual and of adopting responsibility, I see this anti-heroic path merely as the only one that is fitting for the hapless minority of high-minded and rational individuals, but certainly not as a viable cure for any (and even less for all) of society’s ills. The only clear meaning to be found is that our suffering – which comes mostly from our dealings with other people – will always be irreducible. All of the above, though, are irrelevant and unimportant, because the nub of the matter in this section is neither Peterson’s worldview per se nor my take on it, but what the impulsive, sharp reactions to his arguments from politically correct interviewers, critics, and social commentators might reveal about the obliquity of PC; in other words, what we can infer about the lamentable state of PC from the fact that leftist ideologues dismiss Peterson far too easily, misconstrue what he is saying to them (either intentionally or due to their lack of understanding), or simply regurgitate platitudes about identity politics. Peterson, an accommodating interviewee and panel member who never interrupts his interlocutors, acknowledges his mistakes, always does his homework, and seems to care deeply about his students, his patients, and his listeners, artfully exposes the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of his detractors and forces them to face their own irrationality merely by prompting them to deploy their nebulous, unsubstantial arguments, which soon implode in quite spectacular fashion. By and large, conservatives (or, sometimes, even right-wing extremists) rarely encounter any cohesive intellectual counterforce from progressive PCers. Peterson first became widely known in 2016, when he vigorously opposed a Canadian law, Bill C-16, which aims [or is it claims?] to protect gender expression and gender identity, but he was shot to fame/notoriety after Cathy Newman interviewed him for Channel 4 News in January 2018. Too much has already been written about Newman’s incautious conduct – let us call it so, and by “it” I mean her pugnacious demeanor and the fact that she continually put words in Peterson’s mouth or purposely misrepresented his opinions in order to buttress her skewed perspective, and leave it at that – during this discussion. Thus, once again, I will refrain from “carrying owls to Athens,” and instead I will critically analyze a relatively more recent interview (October 2018), the one with Helen Lewis for British GQ (“There was plenty of motivation to take me out. It just didn’t work”), focusing primarily on this left-leaning fourth-wave feminist interviewer’s “argumentation,” or rather her ideological vehemence. Lewis had ample time (nine months to be exact, coincidentally as long as a full-term pregnancy usually lasts) in order to learn from the Channel 4 fiasco and to prepare for what obviously seemed to her as a defining battle in the ongoing culture wars; I present some of her takeaways

56 A Culture of Hypocrisy from this interview, as she chronicled them in an article titled “My experience of interviewing Jordan Peterson,” and I carefully evaluate her . . . labored journalistic offspring. 1 “Every man I know has an opinion on Jordan Peterson. There’s the guy who thinks he’s a fraud. There’s the guy who thinks he’s a self-help guru masquerading as an intellectual. There’s the guy who thinks the smug left is dismissing him too quickly.” I happen to know a lot of “gals,” or “lassies,” or whatever the equally objectionable and politically incorrect equivalent term for “guy”—the word originates from the burning of terrifying effigies of Guy Fawkes in celebration of his foiled 1605 plot to blow up the Palace of Westminster—is, with strong opinions about Peterson, most of them positive; so what? As for the comment made by Lewis’s male acquaintance about the “smug left” readily—and complacently, I should add—bypassing Peterson’s viewpoints, instead of critically engaging with them as I did above, it is absolutely on target, and it encapsulates one of the main hypotheses of this study: The Left can never expect “to win hearts and minds,” or to influence public opinion in the PC war front it has decided to open up, since its most boisterous mouthpieces regularly make pontifical pronouncements, resort to aggressive tactics, or display exactly the same sanctimonious disposition that they always castigate when they see their ideological adversaries engaging in it. 2 Then Lewis switches on her confessional mode, so we learn that there were two thoughts running through her head before this interview: “first, will his supporters destroy my Twitter mentions and email inbox for days after the piece is published? Second, will he win?” And in the last paragraph of her piece, Lewis wonders: “Who won? I can’t say.” Hence, Lewis presupposes that Peterson’s supporters would most likely be vile-tempered cybercriminals; more importantly, she mainly cared about whether she or Peterson “will win/ won,” as if it were a medieval jousting fight to the death and not a civil discussion whereby the only ultimate “winners” that she, being a leftist, should be interested in were the people, who would prefer to read/watch an edifying interview that might further their knowledge and help them to expand their minds. It is anything but a coincidence that the other fourth-wave feminist I mentioned earlier, Newman, in an interview she gave to Nosheen Iqbal, had the effrontery to make the following comment about her own interaction with Peterson: “Was it my finest interview? Probably not. If you’re a footballer, you don’t always push the ball to the back of the net. You win some, you lose some.” Thus, her single goal was to . . . score a goal against Peterson in order to “win,” and not to make sure that her audience was educated, uplifted, or enlightened; just like Lewis, she must have seen herself as a feminist gladiator, and the debate with Peterson as a battle against the wild anti-PC beast . . . 3 “Peterson sells himself as Professor Logic, and his fans love to see him ‘own’ and ‘destroy’ his ideological opponents.” Well, it is actually the case that, more often than not, there is a compelling logic to Peterson’s views, and he is a Professor, so he does not need to “sell himself” as anything more

A Culture of Hypocrisy 57 (or less) than that. If “sells himself” was meant to be an underhanded critical remark about the fact that Peterson is capitalizing on his recent fame, is anything “wrong” with what he is doing? We do live in a capitalist society, after all. Would anyone else act differently if s/he were in Peterson’s shoes? Would Lewis? Apropos the issue at hand, it is worth pointing out that during the interview examined here, and while the two of them were discussing the tenuous concept of “Western tyrannical patriarchy,” when Peterson asked Lewis about the “unearned privileges” she derives from this otherwise “oppressive patriarchal structure,” and, more specifically, why she does not resign from her well-paying job, Lewis staggered for a bit, and then she stoutly declared: “I don’t think that’s gonna do the world any good, is it?”, to which Peterson appropriately responded: “That’s a hell of a fine rationalization for your privileged position,” and he remarked that it would be a good start [meaning: toward her practicing what she preaches] if she traded off her job with someone who needs it a lot more than her. Lewis, then, stuttered: “I could, I could do that, and, and, but I don’t, I don’t want to, and I won’t, and I don’t want to be expected to.” There are too many things that are glaringly amiss with Lewis’s “arguments,” so I find it extremely difficult to follow the established, and largely hypocritical, academic “rules of engagement.” Firstly, where exactly does Lewis base her assumption that if she quit her job, this would not do the world any good? Moreover, as Peterson pointedly asked her (yet never received a straight reply), is it alright for her, because she is a woman, and a feminist at that, to hold a position of power in the “patriarchal tyranny”? What sort of a counterargument is “I don’t want to resign, I won’t do it, and I don’t want to be expected to”? There are myriad cases in which one is expected to leave one’s job, either because this person acted unprofessionally, or because there is someone else who is infinitely more competent at the same job, or for whatever other reason. Does the tyranny of symmetry between patriarchal and matriarchal tyranny equal equality? Is this the ultimate (implicit) objective of radical feminists? As Pinker appositely puts it: “To criticize a particular feminist proposal is not to attack feminism in general” (The Blank Slate 341). Someone who finds major faults in a woman’s arguments, or has good reason to be afraid of Islamic fundamentalism, or abhors the “gangsta rap” subculture, is not necessarily “innately” a male chauvinist, a Muslim hater, or a racist, respectively. Secondly, how can one be certain that those who upload such-titled – “Peterson eviscerates/obliterates/extirpates X” – videos on YouTube are Peterson’s typical “fans”? Even if they are, how is that Peterson’s fault, and what does this have to do with the validity, or lack thereof, of his arguments? Did not Lewis herself make it clear that she, as well, intended to “win”? How else could she achieve this if not by “owning” Peterson? And has she never in her life seen a post, comment, article, or video uploaded by a social justice warrior titled “Leftist PCer Y pulverizes reactionary Z”? If she has, did she make an equally big deal out of it? Thirdly, in her article titled “Girl Up by Laura Bates review – feminism shouldn’t be so nice,” Lewis approvingly quotes an excerpt from Valerie Solanas’s Scum

58 A Culture of Hypocrisy Manifesto, according to which “thrill-seeking females” [a euphemism for villainous misandrists?] should, amongst other things, “destroy the male sex”; hence, are we to surmise that Lewis relishes the clarion call for females literally to annihilate all men, but, at the same time, she finds it morally reprehensible when a male thinker is said to have figuratively destroyed simply an untenable feminist position? Is toxic femininity “more equal” or “better” than the justifiably decried toxic masculinity, whatever the precise connotations of this catch-phrase might be? D’Souza cites an incident from 1989 at the University of Colorado, where a feminist graduate student, Kristen Asmus, proclaimed that the solution to the problem of sexual harassment was the following: “Women will begin to stop talking about castration, and make it a reality. Women will begin to abandon their life-giving, caring inner nature and start carrying guns. Women will begin to kill men if they have to” (11). Awkward phrasing aside, what is the message here? That the punishment of death, by an act of vigilantism at that, fits the crime of sexual harassment? Surely this could not be the viewpoint of a progressive humanist; or could it? 4 “[Peterson]’s not some standard issue boorish Alpha Male. (He cries more than I do, and dresses better, too).” So, is Peterson some abnormal or unusual issue boorish Alpha Male? Is this what political debate has been reduced to? Has public discourse become so coarsened and corroded? Is there no longer a limit to the bias of partisan journalism? Does furtive and uncalled for mudslinging substitute for cogent theorization? In this case, how on earth could Lewis ever know how often Peterson cries while at home, at work, or on holiday? Does this statement carry with it an underlying message and, if so, what meaning is to be inferred from it? Could it be, perhaps, that Peterson is more “effeminate” than her, than what he portrays himself as, or than what he “should” be? Would not this be incredibly non-PC of her? In what way is the manner in which Peterson dresses relevant? Is not this observation, too, extraordinarily non-PC? During the interview Lewis claimed that she only wears make-up in order to avoid the disparaging comments she might receive if she did not do it; by the same token, is Peterson not permitted to dress carefully just to avoid snide remarks? How would she react if he published his afterthoughts regarding this interview and concentrated on what he thought of her clothes or her make-up? In addition, Lewis had no qualms about calling Peterson’s theories on lobster neuroscience, as presented in his 12 Rules for Life, “bollocks,” and in her article she writes about this comment she made: “I felt as though I had annoyed him.” Imagine that! I cannot help but be in awe of Peterson’s self-restraint; someone who is largely ignorant about his area of expertise was downright rude toward him and his research, and he barely made her feel that maybe he had taken it somewhat amiss. Incidentally, is not the usage of the word “bollocks” also politically incorrect and sexist? What is so arrantly nonsensical or abhorrent about the male reproductive glands, anyway? Why did the feminist Lewis not opt for the figurative usage of one of the female reproductive organs in her attempt to belittle Peterson’s

A Culture of Hypocrisy 59 theory? For example, she could have called it “an utter uterus,” or “a total vaginal fornix” . . . 5 In her article about this interview, Lewis points out that Peterson’s all-beef diet “is doing wonders for his figure, if not his arteries: in the flesh, he looks enviably lean.” Was this observation intended to be meta-ironic, a case of giving a proponent of male chauvinism a taste of his own medicine, or what exactly? What if the tables were turned? I dread to think the rage that Lewis would probably exhibit if Peterson wrote something similar about her figure, especially given that she is a fourth-wave feminist and that we are living in the Me Too era. In “Girl Up by Laura Bates review – feminism shouldn’t be so nice,” Lewis inveighs against “the double standards that make boys studs and girls sluts; a media [sic] that relentlessly sexualises and objectifies female bodies.” Talking about double standards! It is acceptable, no matter how utterly extraneous to the point at issue it may be, for Lewis to write about Peterson’s slender figure, but heaven forfend that he (or any other male) would do the same in regard to a woman’s body, particularly if he did this in an article that was supposed to be a critical commentary on the ideas she had put forward during an interview with him. 6 “[Peterson] certainly didn’t burst into the room like some people I’ve interviewed, demanding to be the centre of attention, reeling off anecdotes and trying to charm me.” Now, who is it that really thinks she is, or perhaps should be, the center of attention? Why in the world would Peterson feel the need to “charm her”? It was not like he relied on her impression of him for his livelihood, or to gain recognition. He was already a tenured professor and a famous media personality by the time this interview was held, not to mention a conservative who extols the utility and the benefits of monogamy every chance he gets; he did so during this particular debate as well. Lewis also deems it pertinent to draw her readers’ attention to the fact that “[Peterson] (or his team) seemed not to have Googled me before we started, which led him onto a landmine or two.” I have watched this discussion six times, and not once did I notice Peterson stepping close to even the smallest component of a land mine; and again, how self-important is a person who, in spite of the fact that she has not made a single contribution (significant or not) to academe, expects a busy, well-known scholar to “Google” her before he gives her one of the hundreds of interviews he does? All in all, is this the best that feminists, or the left-leaning PC camp in general, have to offer in opposition to Peterson’s arguments, or to those of any other conservative for that matter? If Friedman’s assessment that “PC has a strong tendency to create and defend mediocrity for those who have become incapable of argument or are afraid or otherwise troubled about making statements that are clear enough to be refuted” (63) is accurate, then the answer to the previous question is yes. Parenthetically, it is impossible for me to know, and it is entirely beside the point anyhow, if Peterson and the other members of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” – a diverse group of PC-bashing heretics (including, amongst others,

60 A Culture of Hypocrisy Eric and Bret Weinstein, Camille Paglia, and Sam Harris), who occupy various positions on the political spectrum and who “ostracized” themselves from mainstream media in order to discuss, freely and civilly, their (occasionally antinomic) views on individualism, rationality, freedom of speech, and identity politics – advance some “sinister agenda,” or if they are backed by donors with questionable motives; based only on what I have read and heard from him, I opine that Peterson is neither a new Messiah nor the devil incarnate, arguably not the best intellectual of our times but definitely not a thinker to be trifled with either. Be that as it may, this section, as I made clear, is not really about him; it concerns the petty concerns and the shallow arguments of the anti-anti-PCers, which is not the same as if I write “the PCers,” since the latter may be either progressive or conservative (while the former are predominantly radical leftists), and they can be judicious and ethically well-grounded persons. Contrariwise, on the whole, anti-anti-PCers tend to unleash coarse ad hominem attacks on their ideological rivals. They create, and at the same time malign, two-dimensional scapegoats. They challenge people-as-symbols of all the things they consider to be despicable, and they do it rather ineffectively at that (take Peterson’s case for instance), not these individuals’ actual ideas. It is quite perplexing that far-left PCers resort to the same tactics that they always excoriate, and rightfully so, when they see them being used by right-wingers. Paradoxically, each time these “progressives,” who claim to champion tolerance and open-mindedness, participate in a debate about one of their sacred cows, they employ the authoritarian motto “if you are not one hundred per cent with us, you are against us”; no leeway, no flexibility, no self-reflection, no navigating the nuances of academic, political, or everyday life on their part.

Grêt-à-porter: On Greta Thunberg In an article titled “This Greta Thunberg-Inspired Collection is a Call to Action,” Mario Abad informs his readers that the impact of the Swedish environmental activist’s rhetoric “is spreading to fashion, as well,” so the Spring 2020 collection of the sustainable, eco-friendly, Swedish-based, fashion brand Rare Review “uses only pre-existing materials and unconventional fabrics such as upcycled vintage blankets, bleached flower bed-sheets and white table clothes.” In a similar . . . fashion, Jon Cosgrave’s article (“The Greta Thunberg effect: Hemp at Paris Fashion Week”) mentions that the designers were inspired by the global climate change protests; as a result, Stella McCartney decided to add hemp and sustainable raffia to “her ever-expanding retinue [sic] of environmentally sound textiles,” while Dior’s models “featured Greta Thunberg-esque plaits and wore a distinctly earth-flavoured selection.” Thus, in a flash (from a fashion photographer’s camera no doubt), prêt-à-porter becomes . . . Grêt-à-porter, in (G)retaliation for some of the reGret(t)able choices made by world leaders, coal barons, and industrial magnates concerning climate change mitigation (to wit, the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions). I spent most of 2019 isolated somewhere, finishing the penultimate draft of this text, so I had not got wind of Ms. Thunberg’s rise to fame in time; therefore, my inevitably brief analysis of this latest fad, this new-fashioned [pun intended]

A Culture of Hypocrisy 61 will to power, will probably not do it justice. Be that as it may, I should start by pointing out the telling fact that it was two left-wing journalists who first fiercely criticized Thunberg: Cory Morningstar, who is also an environmental activist, and Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked Online. The former conducted an impressively exhaustive investigation that resulted in a series of articles written in two volumes, under the general title “The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent: The Political Economy of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex,” which borrows heavily from Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. I do not have the time or the resources either to corroborate or to disprove her findings, which range from disclosing that Greta, “the current child prodigy and face of the youth movement to combat climate change, serves as special youth advisor and trustee to the burgeoning mainstream tech start-up, We Don’t Have Time,” which is described as being linked to multinational corporations, like IKEA for instance, as well as to various “well-established corporate environmental entities” (including, amongst others, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and the World Bank), to “divulging that the very foundations which have financed the climate ‘movement’ over the past decade are the same foundations now partnered with the Climate Finance Partnership looking to unlock 100 trillion dollars from pension funds.” As for O’Neill, he opines that Thunberg “sounds increasingly like a millenarian weirdo,” and that “climate-change alarmism is becoming ever stranger, borderline religious, obsessed with doomsday prophecies.” One could justly draw parallels between this and the fact that a current strand of “militant atheism” appears to be transforming into a newfangled religion in its own right. O’Neill also claims that “the latest manifestation of the upper-middle classes’ contempt for industrialisation and progress” is not aimed – as it apparently should be – “at officialdom or government or people with power,” but instead this “extinctionobsessed green cult reserves its priestly fury for ordinary people,” as was the case when “Emma Thompson jetted first-class from LA to London to lecture us plebs about all our eco-destructive holidaymaking,” and its ultimate goal is none other than the enforcement of “tighter controls on car-driving, restrictions on flying, green taxes on meat,” all of which “would severely hit the pockets” of the masses, but not those of the bourgeois “eco-snobs.” In O’Neill’s view, “the billionaires and celebs and marauding NGOs that were in attendance” at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos “lapped up” Thunberg’s rhetoric of fear, panic and miserabilism, and they put her on a pedestal because “she tells them how horrible they are: it is an entirely S&M relationship, speaking to the deep self-loathing of the 21st-century elites.” O’Neill closes his article with an exhortation addressed to all the members of Thunberg’s generation: “Sin against St Greta.” I would rather not speculate about whether Thunberg (who has appeared on the cover of numerous magazines where she was hailed as a role model, a game changer, and a future leader, who has received multiple honors and awards, and who was a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee) is a mere puppet of NGOs and a shill for eco-capitalism or not. What is irrefutable, though, is that she is the current face of PC, and I am fighting hard to suppress an overwhelming urge to resort to lookism . . . Furthermore, I would never insult my readers’ intelligence

62 A Culture of Hypocrisy by dwelling upon the obvious, which is that such critical environmental issues as the ones Thunberg pontificates about ought to be the sole domain of solidly trained environmental scientists, most of whom have been seeing their warnings – based on concrete evidence and not on emotional appeals, buzzwords, opportunistic harangues, lifestyle activism (with its bandwagon effect), or excessive zeal – about global warming fall on deaf ears for three decades now. It is logical to assume that middle-aged paleoclimatologists do not inspire independent artists and fashion designers that much; let alone that T-shirts with equations, models, and theories from atmospheric physics printed on them would hardly fly off the shelves . . . A guess I would hazard is that this “cult of Greta Thunberg,” as O’Neill dubs it, is a glorified and fetishized consumer product that will not cure the problems caused by unbridled consumerism any more than the green skin of The Incredible Hulk will supposedly sensitize people to environmental issues, or the “greener” option of paper straws instead of plastic ones will make the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch (also known as “the Eighth Continent,” composed mostly of clustered plastic debris) disappear . . . In Thunberg’s case, as one might expect, the Strange Loop of PC undergoes manifold iterations. She is a 17-year-old female, and despite the fact that she has chosen to become a household name, which means that public criticism, be it fair or not, goes with the territory, anyone who voices a negative opinion of what she says, does, or represents is liable to be characterized as either a misogynist or a child abuser. Moreover, she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism, hence if someone dared to characterize her jeremiads as “neurotic,” that someone could readily be accused of being not only sexist and ageist, but also ableist. Last but not least, God forbid that some odious lookist should make even the slightest remark about her bizarre facial expressions, which might as well be “part of her act,” and not a result of her condition. All things considered, Thunberg has been “sanctified” by all the facets of PC, and for all time (or at least until she becomes the prime minister of Sweden, in which case she will have to show by her actions that she truly believes in what she is now saying); thus, she has been rendered untouchable, immune from any sort of criticism. Leaving aside Thunberg’s celebrity environmentalism and focusing on the crux of the matter, I propose the following: even on the off chance that climate change turns out not to be anthropogenic, it is in our species’ interest to find the best way to conserve our habitat; in order to do so, the relevant public debate should be led by specialized scientists and by erudite public figures, both progressive and conservative ones, and not be reduced to a cultish phenomenon. But then again, human beings appear to be enraptured by the sociocultural black hole’s shadow that is enveloping them at a frenetic pace, so why not go out with an . . . unfor-Gre(t)ta-ble whimper?

The Bechdel Test Only in a First World country that has germinated the seeds of a brazenly hypocritical, censorious, “call-out” culture could there such a fatuous idea as “the Bechdel test” ever emerge. It is a metric that determines if a film features at least

A Culture of Hypocrisy 63 two women who converse with one another about any topic other than a man; similar tests have been proposed for the proportionate representation of ethnic minorities and LGBT+ people in other forms of art. Many feminist critics employ the Bechdel test as the touchstone of “gender equality” in fiction. These newfound cultural reference points have already come under constructive criticism, which asks pertinent questions that range from whether passing the Bechdel test is enough reason for a work to be called “feminist” to whether the mandatory equitable representation of diversity overrides the work’s overall quality and/or the creator’s original intentions for it. Therefore, there are not many things left for me to add, but I shall try. Affirmative action in movie characters? Quota systems in novels? Must LGBT+ characters be included in TV shows at all costs, even if they do not serve the plotline? Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that all these notions are worth entertaining. However, we would then be faced with a series of uncomfortable questions. Where would the cutoff be, or how low must we set the bar? Should a play be judged also by how many disabled protagonists it contains? Ought the producers of a film about, say, a gang of hooligans doing time in a Norwegian all-male prison to try and find a way so that at least a few colored females, with speaking parts, are included in the cast? Does this rule work in the opposite direction too, in order to avoid reverse discrimination? So, must a novelist who portrays the love story between two black lesbians make a point of creating some well-drawn, heteronormative, white male characters as well? Would these men simply have a supporting role, or should they necessarily be the antagonists? By applying such arbitrary rules, do we not run the risk of falling into the pitfall of turning works of art into politically committed practices and nothing more? How would the equivalent of a Bechdel test in dance, architecture, ceramics, or sculpture work? A former postgraduate student of mine informed me that one of her friends, a painter who is doing her Master in Fine Arts at an American university, was reproached by her teachers because her paintings were “too white”; the kicker is that she only does portraits of her all-white Icelandic family . . . Granted, my ex-student could be lying about this, although I see no reason why she would, but there are still plenty of well-documented cases in which life turns out to be stranger than the most outré work of art or the most extravagant fictions. Take the critically lauded mini-series Chernobyl, for instance. An article in RT titled “Should HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ have had more actors of color? Twitter suggestion met with ridicule” informs us that, even though it is (or should be) a well-known fact that “1980s Ukraine was not exactly a thriving hub of modernday multiculturalism,” there was a UK actor/screenwriter, named Karla Marie Sweet, who apparently had her politically correct hypersensitivities about racism triggered, so she “tweeted that there are ‘so many great actors of colour’ in the UK who ‘would’ve been amazing’ in the series. Sweet felt ‘disappointed’ to see ‘yet another hit show with a massive cast’ that ‘makes it looks like PoC [people of color] don’t exist.’ She later set her account to private after the inevitable backlash that followed.” Nevertheless, there was not just backlash; according to an article from Russia Beyond, titled “No black men in Chernobyl? Wrong! There was

64 A Culture of Hypocrisy one,” the Ukrainian website the Babel did find a black man, by the name of Igor ingwar Khiryak, who appears to have been part of an army unit that “was ordered to help evacuate people from the areas nearby the plant in 1986,” and the site also uploaded “a scan of an honorary Certificate of Gratitude that Igor received for his duty to the Motherland,” although “some online comments doubt the document is authentic.” Will at least some of the world’s grave socio-economic ills and cultural injustices be remedied once it is confirmed that Igor was indeed a Chernobyl hero [or is it victim?], and the producers of a new TV series about this horrific nuclear accident make sure that they cast a black person to play him? But, should the actor be African American? Would this fulfil the requirements for a politically correct TV portrayal of an Afro-Russian? Why be sexist, though? Perhaps Karla Marie could be cast as Igor. However, does this not inevitably mean the damnable deployment of blackface on her part? This, of course, would incite the wrath of the anti-racist PCers, who were the ones that needed appeasing to begin with. There you have it, once again: The Strange Loop of PC. And as if all the above were not . . . loopy – in both senses of the word – enough, from Anna Lewis’s article with the fully informative title “Chernobyl’s creator explains why most of the cast don’t put on Ukrainian/Russian accents” we find out that he, Craig Mazin, said the following: “We had an initial thought that we didn’t want to do the ‘Boris and Natasha’ clichéd accent because the Russian accent can turn comic very easily.” I am of the opinion that Mazin tried to escape one PC pitfall only to have possibly fallen into two others: why did he not choose Russian and/or Ukrainian actors who could speak English, and what is it about the Russian accent that can make it “turn comic very easily”? Overall, why is it significant that a work of art, especially pop art, is gender-balanced and attuned to racial diversity? How would this better the material conditions of existence of underprivileged minorities, or at least their sense of dignity? In the end, each of the different consumer segments will just favor the work of fiction that appeals to the specific sociodemographic sub-group they belong to. Thus, why all this fuss? Robert Hughes might have the right answer: “As a maudlin reaction against excellence spreads to the arts, the idea of aesthetic discrimination is tarred with the brush of racial or gender discrimination. Few take a stand on this, or point out that in matters of art ‘elitism’ does not mean social injustice or even inaccessibility” (7), and this is so because “an artist’s merits are not a function of his or her gender, ideology, sexual preference, skin color or medical condition, and to address an issue is not to address a public” (185). Here are two additional pertinent examples from the movie industry, both of them very recent and extra cringeworthy: i. I have always detested James Bond movies, and one of the reasons was the way they portrayed women, as opposed to the titular protagonist; just a matter of good taste and common decency, no PC involved in this case. Now, the franchise that gave us risqué character names like Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Chew Mee, Holly Goodhead, Octopussy, or Honey Ryder, to mention only a few, is probably feeling the pressure from PCers, so it tries to

A Culture of Hypocrisy 65 . . . atone by casting a black woman in the leading role. Caroline Graham’s article on MailOnline mentions that “Bond girls have been renamed as Bond women in the new movie” [hooray, I guess?], but it does not clarify if the new 007 will be an LGBT+ activist as well, or if the male supporting characters’ corresponding names will be “Dick Vontquít,” “Butch Gogoboï,” “Khan Ilingus,” and the like. ii. The title of KT Roberts’s opinion piece for the Independent, “Now that we’ve got a female Thor, let’s topple every pale, male and stale superhero character we can,” says it all; yet it might be worth quoting a few more of the author’s radical ideas: “Giving audiences superheroes (and spies and princesses) different to themselves normalises diversity in a way targeted campaigns can only dream of. [. . .] So yes, let’s plunder the male heroes – and Thor is an excellent place to start. [. . .] We’re stepping out of the shadows – and if we can step on our male predecessors along the way, all the better.” Therefore, according to Roberts, enforcing diversity in the superhero cinematic heterotopia constitutes real political action (and not a mere distraction, as Marxists would have it); also, it will somehow make those who are sitting on the fence accept as normal that which they will be force-fed with. As for the last part, it is redolent of Solanas’s aforementioned appeal to “thrill-seeking females” to “destroy the male sex”; well, this is undoubtedly a surefire way to eliminate the possibility of a “pale, male and stale” action movie hero ever appearing again. So, the Bechdel test comes alongside rallying cries for the creation of an everincreasing number of strong – or “badass,” as is the established vulgar term – female characters in video games, graphic novels, films, and so forth. Once more we have the application of double standards: it appears that it is not only “alright” but also eminently desirable that women are depicted as possessing all the loathsome traits feminists identify in “oppressive males,” namely as coarse, violent, cynical, lacking empathy, choleric; in one word, “badass.” Even when women are portrayed as psychopathic serial killers, as in the case of the critically acclaimed TV show Killing Eve [could its title be more unambiguous?], this is often considered a feminist victory. However, if one were to look at the larger picture, it is a Pyrrhic one. Here is a characteristic example: the abominable recent TV series UnReal, which for many exponents of “women’s empowerment” was “the most feminist show on television” (see, for instance, Meredith Borders’s piece of this title, word for word). The fourth-wave feminist protagonists of this show, as Silpa Kovvali writes in her revealingly titled article “‘Money. D*ck. Power.’: ‘Unreal’ deconstructs fantasies ─ and asks what TV looks like with women in charge,” were two reality TV female producers, “bereft of morality” and “manipulative,” who decided to “adorn themselves with matching tattoos” that read “money, dick, power,” suggesting that these “priorities,” in this particular order, “are important enough ends to justify their broad set of means.” Have we really been plunged into such abysmal ethical, epistemic, and cultural depths that one actually needs to elucidate what is wrong with this picture? Is showing that women can be just as shallow and malignant as (some) men are a “feminist win”? Do radical feminists

66 A Culture of Hypocrisy aspire to see all women becoming uterine chauvinist pigs who want either to objectify or to extirpate all men? Bruckner certainly seems to think so: “Some women like to imagine a world finally rid of men, who would be reduced to 10% of the world population after an energetic extermination, having been rendered redundant by the development of unisexual reproduction through cloning” (The Temptation of Innocence 174). Is the “fight for gender equality” just empty rhetoric, an elaborate power grab on women’s part, a strategy designed to help them gain a competitive advantage? Is it not the political goal of fourth-wave, fifthwave, nth-wave – oh, the . . . tsunamity! – feminism to attenuate all the morally and intellectually indefensible social hierarchies that are based on the abusive power of a hegemonic group, which in our “patriarchal society” would be men, or is it merely to establish a new one that is constructed on female domination? If, however, it is decided that hierarchies are to be enhanced, would it not be immeasurably better for all the citizens of any given democratic society if these were hierarchies of knowledge and competence, ideally combined with an impeccable moral character, i.e., if everyone adhered to what David Estlund, based on Plato’s ideas, calls “epistocracy”? According to Estlund, “some citizens are better (if only less bad) than others with regard to their wisdom and good faith in promoting the better outcomes. If so, this looks like an important reason to leave the decisions up to them” (53). Despite the obvious problematic corollaries – some of which Estlund discusses in his essay – of such a choice, for instance who, and by which criteria, should determine who the wisest are, how do we compensate for the dogmatic intolerance or the autocratic tendencies that might be displayed by this ruling elite of sages, or what if these epistocrats promoted solely their own interests, it would seem that this hierarchical structure could, in theory, eradicate gender and racial inequality; or, rather, the whole issue would then be rendered moot, since, in this scenario, everyone would cherish the – chimerical, in my pessimistic view – dream of meritocracy. Each person would occupy her, his, or “their” rightful niche in society, no matter what that person’s social or cultural identity might be. Pinker makes a similar point, with a parenthetical coda that is just as pessimistic as my perspective on the subject: “The more information we have about the qualifications of an individual, the less impact a race-wide or sex-wide average would have in any statistical decision concerning that person. The best cure for discrimination, then, is more accurate and more extensive testing of mental abilities, because it would provide so much predictive information about an individual that no one would be tempted to factor in race or gender. (This, however, is an idea with no political future.)” (The Blank Slate 147).

Blackface and Halloween The wild uproar provoked within the PC camp either by blackface incidents or by certain Halloween costumes deserves a section of its own. Abraham D. Lavender and Roger Chapman define “blackface” as “a style of makeup, costume, and performance used in minstrel shows and similar entertainment, typically involving

A Culture of Hypocrisy 67 a white performer who paints his or her face black with burnt cork, greasepaint, or shoe polish to look like an African American,” adding the following clarification: “Depending on the performance and the individual audience member, blackface is viewed as simple comedy, humorous self-parody, low-class buffoonery, or demeaning form of racism. [. . .] By the 1950s, largely as a result of activism by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), blackface came under public attack as racist, demeaning to blacks, and a means of perpetuating negative stereotypes” (59). Later in the same entry, the writers mention that this phenomenon “occasionally still emerges in American culture. [. . .] In 2001, a white fraternity at Auburn University stirred controversy when photos of its members in blackface appeared on the Internet, as did white actor Robert Downey, Jr.’s interpretation of a black action star in the 2008 hit movie comedy Tropic Thunder” (60). Well, there was a far more recent instance of blackface, and it occurred in Europe. Here are three relevant articles, all of them appearing on March 28, 2019. On the france24.com website we read that black rights groups, backed by student unions, blocked a theater performance involving actors with black masks, at the Sorbonne University in Paris; more specifically, they protested “against a performance of ‘The Suppliants’ by ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, arguing the masks promote racist stereotypes,” and chastising the actors for “wearing dark make-up when performing the play last year, during the university’s annual ancient Greek theatre festival.” In her in-depth article for The Guardian, Kim Willsher reports that the activists claimed the performance in question was “Afrophobic, colonialist and racist,” while the play’s director, Philippe Brunet, responded by insisting that “the theatre was ‘a place of metamorphosis, not a refuge of identities’,” that “the actors wore masks on stage, not blackface,” and that “the protests were a ‘form of radicalisation that open a breach that is very dangerous for freedom of expression, and for art as a whole. I wanted these people to see the play and to judge afterwards, but the censors decided otherwise’.” Furthermore, the Sorbonne explained [to those willing to listen and able to comprehend] that “the play recounted the story of the Greek Argives and the Danaids – the 50 daughters of Danaus from Egypt – and was to be performed strictly according to ancient theatre practices ‘with actors wearing white masks and black masks as was done at the time. Stopping by force and insulting the cast of a piece of theatre is a very serious and totally unjustified attack on artistic freedom’.” Finally, Thomas Adamson, in his piece for Associated Press, writes that this was Sorbonne’s “version of the blackface scandals that chastened politicians in the United States and luxury fashion companies in Italy,” and he concludes his article with these remarks: Blackface caricatures, first popularized in 19th century minstrel shows put on my [sic] actors who painted their faces black while portraying African characters appearing ridiculous, attracted renewed attention in the United States recently after the governor of Virginia and his attorney general were made to answer for incidents from their college days in the 1980s. High-end fashion

68 A Culture of Hypocrisy brand Gucci apologized in February for a high-neck black wool sweater that featured bright red lips when pulled over the face, Prada apologized for a monkey bag charm resembling blackface in December. Let us start from the end: one can hardly be surprised – or feel sorry, to be honest – that Gucci and Prada may have been falsely accused of covert racism; we live in an age when Bernie Sanders is asked by PCers, from both sides of the aisle, to apologize for using the “trigger” words “ghetto” and “poor” in relation to nonwhites (although the gist of his comment, made in 2016, pertained to the systemic racism that pervades the American criminal justice system), or an all-powerful multinational videogame company issues a formal apology for not including the possibility for same-sex relationships in the menu of its life-simulator game (Grubb), which is bizarre, given that giant corporations often have immeasurably more serious wrongdoings than this to be sorry for, yet they seldom even acknowledge them, let alone express regret for them. With regard to the protests against the Sorbonne “blackface” occurrence: first of all, they transpired on March 25, which is Greek Independence Day; while some readers might think that this bears no relevance to the question at issue, I contend that protestors, before exhibiting utter small-mindedness in their attempt to satisfy their overwhelming need to discover some obscure cause over which to express their self-righteous indignation, were obliged to have learned at least a few things about the cultural heritage of the country where the play they were bashing was created. Second, they ought to have read about the play itself; if they had, they might/should have directed their outrage at the fact that The Suppliants defend the ancient Athenian law pursuant to which widows were forced to marry a relative of their deceased spouse so that his property would not leave his family’s hands; or, alternatively, they might have been satisfied with the Argive people’s democratic decision to help and protect these Egyptian refugees. Third, was the Sorbonne supposed to find Egyptian actors to play the Danaids and their cousins? Had the director cast white actors without masks, would some other activist group have complained about this, too? Turning back to the connotations attached to the deployment of blackface in the United States, one would be hard put to find a reason to disagree with Robert Stam: Within Hollywood cinema, Euro-Americans have historically enjoyed the unilateral prerogative of acting in “blackface,” “redface,” “brownface,” and “yellowface.” This asymmetry in representational power has generated intense resentment among minoritarian communities, for whom the casting of a nonmember of the minority group is a triple insult, implying (a) you are unworthy of self-represention [sic]; (b) no one from your group is capable of representing you; and (c) we, the producers of the film, care little about your offended sensibilities, for we have the power and there is nothing to be done about it. (479) [Yet there is also the controversial – to put it mildly – self-representation of African Americans in Blaxploitation films, an issue too complex to do it justice in

A Culture of Hypocrisy 69 this section.] However, one would be remiss if one did not also take into account Susan J. Douglas’s point of view: The history of racial stereotyping in the media also became more nuanced. Minstrelsy – the practice of blacking up one’s face and performing the stereotype of the black man as stupid, childlike, lazy, and happy-go-lucky – dates back to the 1830s, and initially historians denounced these portrayals as stemming from and reinforcing white racism. But scholars like Eric Lott (1995) and Michael Rogin (1996) emphasized that minstrelsy was also about whites’ desire to embrace the sensuality and freedom they thought they saw in black culture, and about covert white longing for interracial exchange and comity. Lott and Rogin both insist that minstrelsy was not some marginal entertainment form, but was instead central to the evolution of American media culture. In fact, they argue, one of the ways that many white immigrants – Irish, Jewish, and Eastern and Southern European – came to feel more included in that category “American” was to watch white performers put on, and then take off, blackface, a symbolic rite of passage from ridiculed outsider to accepted American (Roediger, 1999). (88) Taking into account all the pertinent postulates, should all white people feel guilty if a blackface incident occurs, especially if they are in the presence of black people? Are they “allowed” to be offended with minstrel shows, or would this be offensive to African Americans? Does it stand to reason to call the latter “race traitors” if they do not take umbrage at blackface? Is it offensive even to raise these questions? Was Robert Downey Jr.’s blackface role in Tropic Thunder uncontroversial because it was well-performed, yet it makes sense that an ancient Greek play is censured for being “Afrophobic, colonialist and racist”? Zimmerman refers to an indisputably reprehensible episode in which students at the University of Wisconsin “paraded in blackface at one fraternity and conducted a mock ‘slave auction’ at another” (46); nevertheless, moving on to the subject of accusations of cultural appropriation on the basis of Halloween costumes, Zimmerman also mentions a case when “Hispanic students called out people of non-Mexican descent for wearing sombreros, panchos, or fake moustaches” (98). From quite a few similar examples, both of blackface and of “inappropriate” Halloween outfits, it can be inferred that PCers have a temper that is hair-trigger when it comes to trigger warnings, and they are obdurately determined to find, or to invent, some nanoaggression that will make it easy for them to stage a bout of moral or social outrage, which, in turn, will help them maintain their status as valiant social justice warriors. A Halloween costume controversy at Yale, from 2015, provides a striking illustration of this. Both Kitrosser (2020) and Schwartz (175–177) describe the factual background of this absurd event: Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent out an email that warned students not to wear costumes that could be construed as symbols of cultural misappropriation, reduce cultural differences to ridiculous stereotypes, or insult members of

70 A Culture of Hypocrisy any minority group; Erika Christakis, an expert on early childhood education and Associate Master of Yale’s Silliman College, responded to this email expressing her surprise that no one paid an equal amount of attention to how sexually provocative costumes might offend conservative students, and suggested that young people being a bit obnoxious while exercising their imagination is to be expected during Halloween, given the transgressive nature of the holiday, and that it would be healthy for students to overturn the status quo temporarily. [Just as it occurred during the medieval carnival festivities, a point I will revisit later in this chapter.] However, many Yale PCers demanded the resignation of both Erika Christakis and her spouse, sociologist and Master of Silliman Nicholas Christakis, since they were both accused of tolerating offense and failing to create a “safe space.” Schwartz then proceeds to discuss in great detail (178–187) three YouTube videos that show PCers filled with pure rage as they confront Nicholas Christakis, who, as it turned out, was really the one in need of a – literal – safe space.

The Evergreen State College Debacle, and “White Guilt” Two years after what happened with Christakis, Bret Weinstein went through a similar ordeal at Evergreen. [It is probably of some significance that I have to clarify which debacle I am referring to in the title, since more than one incidents of this sort have occurred at this college; for instance, according to a statement issued in 1988 by the nonpartisan, pro-free speech Student Press Law Center, the student editor at Evergreen “was suspended from the campus newspaper by the school communications board for ‘lack of coverage’ of ethnic and minority issues” (D’Souza 145).] Bari Weiss, in his revealingly titled (“When the Left Turns on Its Own”) opinion piece for The New York Times, vividly describes what transpired: Weinstein, a “deeply progressive” biology professor, became the target of “an increasingly widespread campaign by leftist students against anyone who dares challenge ideological orthodoxy on campus”; his “crime” was none other than his refusal to acquiesce in a few radical PCers’ decision to turn the Evergreen tradition of the “Day of Absence,” on which students and teachers of color collectively abstain from the college’s activities so as to accentuate their pivotal roles, on its head: that year, 2017, it was white students, faculty, and staff who were asked to stay off campus. Weinstein expressed the view that this was “an act of oppression in and of itself,” which led to a group of incensed leftist students accusing him of racism, and according to Weiss: The video of that exchange ─ “You’re supporting white supremacy” is one of the more milquetoast quotes ─ must be seen to be believed. It will make anyone who believes in the liberalizing promise of higher education quickly lose heart. When a calm Mr. Weinstein tries to explain that his only agenda is “the truth,” the students chortle. Following the protest, college police [. . .] told Mr. Weinstein they couldn’t guarantee his safety on campus. In the end, Mr. Weinstein held his biology class in a public park. Meantime, photographs and names of his students were

A Culture of Hypocrisy 71 circulated online. “Fire Bret” graffiti showed up on campus buildings. What was that about safe spaces? Weiss covered all the bases with respect to the Evergreen fiasco, but I will add my own question to his: do PCers honestly think that acts like these are the best way to establish lasting racial peace? Weinstein and his spouse, biologist Heather Heying, eventually resigned from Evergreen [as did the Christakises from Silliman College (Kitrosser 2020)], then they joined the “Intellectual Dark Web,” and the rest is history? Well, not quite; speaking of history, I deem it imperative that we briefly explore the correlation between racial victimhood and the [liberal] white guilt originating from the so-called “Eurocentric cultural imperialism,” as if Europe’s political, philosophical, and cultural heritage constituted an undifferentiated mass. First, let us not forget that the expansion of the Islamic civilization was also based on the violent conquest, subjugation, and proselytization of numerous indigenous populations, nevertheless it is mainly white Europeans who feel guilt. This is due to the Enlightenment’s promotion of self-criticism, which often borders on selfflagellation. Second, the distant ancestors of many ethnic minorities had terrible injustices inflicted upon them by their own tribes as well, not only by Europeans. PCers blissfully ignore “the implications of the term slave trade. Trade implies a buyer and a seller. We unequivocally condemn the buyer of slaves, the white man, but isn’t an equal share of guilt borne by the black seller of slaves, the tribal chieftains?” (D’Souza 76). Bruckner’s remarks on this subject are right on point: (For the record, the first Arab Muslim state to abolish slavery was Tunisia in 1846, but the measure was not enforced until the French arrived in 1881. The Ottoman Empire abolished slavery in the early twentieth century. The slave trade was declared illegal in Yemen and Saudi Arabia only in 1962, and in Mauritania in 1980.) [. . .] It was the West and the West alone that developed the abolitionist idea before it was disseminated in black Africa and in East Asia. We are waiting for the Arab Muslim world to make a public acknowledgment and apology for its role in the ‘hunt for black skins’ and to look into its own racism (in Arabic the word abid, slave, became, from the eighth century on, more or less synonymous with black). (155–156) Robert Hughes expands on this even further, asserting that many Afrocentrists “wish to invent a sort of remedial history in which the entire blame for the invention and practice of black slavery is laid at the door of Europeans” even though there was a slave revolt, far less documented than others where whites were the culprits, involving East African insurgents who “beat back the Arabs for nearly ten years” until they were finally defeated by the Muslims in 883 a.d. (141); and he goes on to clarify that the African slave trade was “developed by Arab traders with the enthusiastic collaboration of black African ones, institutionalized with the most unrelenting brutality centuries before the white man appeared on the African continent, and continuing long after the slave market in North America

72 A Culture of Hypocrisy was finally crushed” (142); thus, “Africa, Islam and Europe all participated in black slavery, enforced it, profited from its miseries. But in the end, only Europe (including, here, North America) proved itself able to conceive of abolishing it; only the immense moral and intellectual force of the Enlightenment, brought to bear on the hideous oppression that slavery represented, was able – unevenly and with great difficulty – to bring the trade to an end” (145–146). Third, it is hard to find the cutoff for what passes off as victimization, because there are plenty of people who want to get on board this gravy train, so they start to get offended far too easily and to see themselves as victims. Fourth, even if some groups of people are truly disadvantaged and marginalized, this does not mean that they are above criticism, that they are allowed to weaponize their victimhood, or that they can put their emotional claims beyond factual contradiction. Neither being white, heterosexual, able-bodied, and/or well off, nor being black, an LGBT+ person, disabled, and/or poor should equal impunity. Fifth, I maintain that the dictum “geography is destiny” is accurate, albeit with a few striking exceptions; to be more precise, I abide by the axiom that geography plus inheritance – in both senses of the latter: the reception of genetic qualities and/ or property from one’s ancestors – equals fate. Everyone’s overall situation is largely determined by chance; indubitably, though, social conditions and hard work, or lack thereof, also play some part in it. [For Carlin, though, chance is the only deciding factor: “Everything comes down to luck and genetics. And when you think about it, even your genetics is luck” (720).] In any case, some people are able to rise above their circumstances, while others are not. It cannot be substantiated that ethnic or gender disparities in the labor market must invariably be ascribed to discrimination; correlation does not imply causation. The qualities that make someone suitable for an occupation boil down to the individual, and it would be rash to posit that they are necessarily equally distributed amongst the various identity groups. Therefore, the moral claim for an enforced proportional minority representation in every single profession is not empirically justified. For instance, as regards women in medicine, Satel explains that becoming a surgeon entails many years of training, as well as “brutal hours and strict hierarchy” after one has made it, so it is logical for women who are “in their prime childbearing years” not to be attracted to it (112). The concept of “common interest” is just a phantom. Nietzsche observes: “One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. ‘Good’ is no longer good when one’s neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a ‘common good’! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value.” (Beyond Good and Evil 53), obviously influenced by Max Stirner, according to whom: “The common weal as such is not my weal, but only the furthest extremity of self-renunciation. The common weal may cheer aloud while I must ‘lie down’; the state may shine while I starve. In what lies the folly of the political liberals but in their opposing the people to the government and talking of people’s rights?” (190). Notwithstanding the foregoing, as I pointed out earlier in this chapter, I aver that Plato’s idea of epistocracy, which means being ruled by the wisest, would benefit the whole of society far more than forcefully implementing equality of outcome.

A Culture of Hypocrisy 73 So, whence stems the brashness of those PCers at Evergreen? Perhaps Bruckner has the answer: Minorities, in proportion to the wrongs that have been inflicted on them, have acquired a prerogative that used to be peculiar to the bourgeoisie: unmitigated egoism and the pleasure of self-satisfaction. They noisily proclaim their personalities, take pride in being what they are, practice self-celebration, recognize no defect in themselves, authorize no challenge, and are even sometimes exempted from the common laws [. . .]. We have transferred to minorities the privileges forbidden to the dominant classes and to nations. Moreover, a minority, whether ethnic, religious, sexual, or regional, is nothing more than that: a small nation restored to its angelism, cleansed of original sin, in which the most excessive chauvinism is only the expression of a legitimate self-esteem. On the pretext of celebrating the idea of diversity, we are at the same time separating people and making them unequal because some people, by the very fact that they exist, enjoy advantages that are forbidden to others. (The Tyranny of Guilt 149–150) In the same work, Bruckner claims that the white man is marked with the stigma that he “has sown grief and ruin wherever he has gone. For him, to exist is first of all to excuse himself. [. . .] His skin color is not only a matter of pigmentation but a moral defect, an inexpiable stain” (23), and so, “thanks to him, everything becomes clear, evil acquires a face, the dirty rat is universally designated. Biological, political, metaphysical guilt” (24); however, there is a twist to the white man’s story of self-flagellation, as Bruckner then brilliantly expounds: Hyper-criticism eventuates in self-hatred, leaving behind it only ruins. A new dogma of demolition is born out of the rejection of dogmas. Thus we Euro-Americans are supposed to have only one obligation: endlessly atoning for what we have inflicted on other parts of humanity. How can we fail to see that this leads us to live off self-denunciation while taking a strange pride in being the worst? Self-denigration is all too clearly a form of indirect self-glorification. Evil can come only from us; other people are motivated by sympathy, good will, candor. This is the paternalism of the guilty conscience: seeing ourselves as the kings of infamy is still a way of staying on the crest of history. Since Freud we know that masochism is only a reversed sadism, a passion for domination turned against oneself. Europe is still messianic in a minor key, campaigning for its own weakness, exporting humility and wisdom. (34) A similar idea is found in one of La Rochefoucauld’s maxims: “Humility is often merely a pretence of submissiveness, which we use to make other people submit to us. It is an artifice by which pride debases itself in order to exalt itself; and

74 A Culture of Hypocrisy though it can transform itself in thousands of ways, pride is never better disguised and more deceptive than when it is hidden behind the mask of humility” (73). In view of all the above, can this bizarre tug-of-war between the self-exculpatory pride of minority groups and the deceptive, sadomasochistic pride of the perennially guilty white people lead anywhere useful? Truth be told, in some cases it does provide fertile ground for some nuanced stand-up comedy.

Get up, Stand up: Stand-up Comedy for and against PC Even though wit, i.e., the kind of nimble imagination, lateral thinking, lugubrious comedy, and mordant humor that brings to light the most unexpected affinities between seemingly disparate notions, generates meager scholarly interest due to the fact that it is considered a highly unconventional, all-too-facile subject matter, unworthy of weighty exploration, it has always been the epicenter of my academic investigations, serving as their primary unifying theme. As I have argued elsewhere, there is a felicitous incongruity inherent in the type of acerbic humor which, “by its logically contradictory nature, indicates how imperative, though impossible, it is that one philosophize (about humor, or in general). Humor is indeed an impossible object, similar to a Penrose triangle or a ‘Strange Loop’,” and it is also “the only impossible set, the one that contains itself as a member, given that self-deprecation is another term for a humorist’s selfcontemplative thought. Wit is primarily self-referential, otherwise it is not wit; in other words, what constitutes a catastrophe for formal logic, is a conditio sine qua non for humor. Nonetheless, in no way does this mean that humor launches a withering attack against meaning per se; it merely renegotiates its limits and reprocesses its form” (“Beckett’s Film” 165–166). My research covers a broad spectrum, ranging from literary criticism and philosophical investigations to the study of cultural prejudices and ethnic stereotypes in the media, but it invariably revolves around the multifarious, far-reaching, communicational implications and the potentially subversive sociocultural function of the exceptional wit found in the works of certain literary figures and social theorists. Additionally, I have profound reverence for some stand-up comedians-cum-philosophers; thus, in this section, I will turn to two of my favorites, George Carlin and Stewart Lee, who share quite a few strong similarities, perhaps the most important being that, broadly speaking, they both stand on the left side of the political divide, but who are also worlds apart regarding their views on PC. Parenthetically, if my most beloved stand-up comics were a basketball “Dream Team,” this would also include Doug Stanhope, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock. I know, a basketball metaphor with only two African Americans in the starting lineup; how non-PC of me . . . Of course, those PCers who are determined to find fault with my analogy will be impervious to the fact that two out of five is a higher percentage than that of African Americans in the stand-up business in total; and for what it is worth, my “sixth man,” the first substitute to “come off the bench,” would also be black: Patrice O’Neal, who would have undoubtedly hated it if I had referred to him as “African American.”

A Culture of Hypocrisy 75 Before moving on to Lee and Carlin, though, a slight digression. While I was writing the previous paragraph, I came upon an online article by Madeline Holcombe and Joe Sutton, who report that stand-up comedian Kevin Hart withdrew from hosting the 2019 Oscars “after homophobic tweets surfaced on Thursday. The tweets, between 2009 and 2011, included derogatory language referring to gay people and made disparaging comments about sexuality.” Apparently, Hart had tweeted unseemly jokes about LGBT people, and he had also made it emphatically clear that he would react negatively were his son ever to display homosexual behavior. In accordance with the politically correct habitual practices that have been rigidly enforced in recent times, Hart “apologized to the LGBT community for his insensitive words from his past”; however, when the Academy asked him to issue an official apology or they would find another host, Hart chose not to comply and stepped down, “saying he did not want to contribute to ‘feeding the internet trolls’.” The same article mentions that the head of an LGBT civil rights advocacy group asked Hart to see this as an opportunity to “affirm LGBT people,” and also that Hart was no stranger to controversy, as in the past he “had cheated on his pregnant wife.” In similar fashion, Brian Raftery maintains in his article that it was Hart’s “messy apology” that “doomed him,” and not so much his “odious and vicious” tweets themselves. Raftery conjectures that Hart’s “obviously insincere” mea culpa “was almost assuredly vetted (if not scripted) by a team of handlers,” and that, by pinning the controversy to internet trolls and to the “craziness” of our PC-infected world, Hart “appeared bratty, defensive, and completely dismissive of the growing pushback.” This situation perfectly reflects the pattern described by Robert Hughes: “Complaint gives you power – even when it’s only the power of emotional bribery, of creating previously unnoticed levels of social guilt. Plead not guilty, and it’s off with your head” (9). Therefore, a few PCers, who appoint themselves as the sole arbitrators of what is good or true and what is not, decide that such cases in which one makes bad taste jokes, or tweets – in however crude a manner – about his wishes regarding his child’s future sexual orientation, should be tried on social media, where the prevailing maxim is “guilty until proven innocent.” Is Hart really an opinion maker? Even if he is, are such consequential matters as the rights of minority groups better dealt with by opinion leaders or by policymakers? Is Hart the first person to have ever cheated on her/his spouse, and how is this relevant to the bone of contention in this situation? Why is it imperative that Hart “affirm” the LGBT community? Is the affirmation and the vociferous articulation of gender, racial, or ethnic differences conducive to achieving cultural symbiosis and macrosocial consensus equilibrium, at least for those who – unlike me – still believe that these goals are both desirable and attainable? Compared to that of the “melting pot,” is the PC “salad bowl” metaphor morally fairer, or simply more expedient? How can someone take it for granted that Hart’s apology was disingenuous, in other words that it was not straight from the . . . H(e)art? Where could the apparently pre-established semantic requirements of a politically correct mea culpa be found? What are the prescribed PC standards for redemption? Who amongst the many underprivileged groups of people around the world genuinely

76 A Culture of Hypocrisy cares about the Academy Awards in general, or about their host in particular? What significant advantage, material or otherwise, can these people gain from this ludicrous controversy? Does the echo chamber of PC, with its ideologicallybiased framing, actually benefit the marginalized and the disenfranchised? Would I be far off the mark if I argued that the joke that is truly off-color in this instance is how the PC ideologues have made a mountain out of a molehill? Nowadays many comedy clubs ask performers to sign a compliance document whereby they agree to “joke respectfully” during their shows, while some hyperPC colleges regularly rescind invitations to non-PC stand-up comics, and others “carefully screen comedians before inviting them to campus, lest their jokes offend one constituency or another” (Zimmerman 106). These facts are firm indications of the somber cultural ramifications of PC, or at least they could prove a useful springboard for a discussion on said ramifications. However, even more telling is the fact that many distinguished stand-up comics, Jerry Seinfeld for example (Friedman 264), choose not to perform on university campuses. This is the equivalent of a chophouse owner not serving any steaks two or three days a week in order to avoid the indignation of ethical vegans . . . Regarding the inanities of “moral vegetarianism,” by the way, here is the extremely informative title of an article by Ryan Fahey: “Vegan activists separate chickens from cockerels on Spanish farm ‘so the hens aren’t raped’ because they do not give ‘consent’ in video released by ‘anti-specist, transfeminist’ group.” After reading this outrageous story, many people probably wondered if this was an absurd act of trolling or a sick prank. Nevertheless, modern social life in the West is replete with examples of acts that seem to be nothing more than some sort of post-ironic meta-jokes. The “fewer-than-three-hundred-pages” goal inhibits me from further expanding on my favorite subject, i.e., the conceptual field of the comic, however I should at least clarify the following: “Satire is a lesson, parody is a game” (Nabokov 75). As for humor and irony, they are neither “inherently” rebellious nor “intrinsically” conservative; they do not possess either a radically subversive or a normalizing “essence,” and they can both be employed to achieve divergent results. Notwithstanding the above, the irrefutable fact that, on the whole, religious groups – Hasidism being an honorable exception – and the sacred texts of various religions, as well as tycoons, dictators, and “the powers that be” in general are humorless, view wit with repugnance, and treat the [“morally elitist”] satirists’ lessons as social transgressions, no matter if said satirists are actually right-leaning, means that the comic has been socioculturally associated with a suspension of prohibitions, an infraction of rules, and a reversal of hierarchies; even if only for a short period of time, as it happened, for example, during Carnival in the Middle Ages. In light of the above, it must be obvious why I am of the opinion that PCers appear more regal than the King himself [or, in this case, the Queen herself] when they do not allow present-day jesters – who, I repeat, are often a lot more than that – to do their thing. Comedians “have a responsibility to speak recklessly,” as Dave Chappelle admirably phrased it while addressing some of his colleagues attending his show The Bird Revelation, otherwise [PC-indoctrinated] future generations “may never

A Culture of Hypocrisy 77 know what reckless talk sounds like; the joys of being wrong.” Earlier in this chapter I suggested that we ought to do away with Descartes’s infallibilist conception of knowledge; yet this could be extended to the chimerical notion of the total inconceivability of error in any other aspect of life. According to a conceptual metaphor virtually everyone employs, “life is a journey,” and all of us are errant, to some degree, in both senses of the word: always on the move in search of something, and prone to being, or getting it, wrong. Mistakes are both possible and probable, often inescapable, occasionally useful, and they can even cause joy, as Chappelle argues. Perhaps we should all, and not just the comics, “speak recklessly,” and with self-deprecatory humor about our innumerable, and sometimes monstrous, errors. I now turn to Carlin and Lee who, in some respects, are quite different from one another; for instance, from a philosophical point of view, and as far as their respective stand-up comedy material is concerned, the former performed ordinary language analysis, whereas the latter frequently utilizes deconstruction. One might plausibly argue that they instantiate the long-standing rivalry between analytic (Carlin) and continental (Lee) philosophy, with all that this entails. For Carlin, PC “is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it is especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to fight discrimination” (631). Many of Carlin’s predictions have proven (or are likely to be proven) correct, others not so much; for example, he prognosticated that politically correct language was a “bogus topic” that would soon completely disappear “from everyone’s consciousness” [wishful thinking perhaps?], and before it did, this is what he had to say about it: First, I want to be really clear about one thing: as far as other people’s feelings are concerned─especially these “victim groups”─when I deal with them as individuals, I will call them whatever they want. When it’s one on one, if some guy wants me to call him a morbidly obese, African-ancestored male with a same-gendered sexual orientation I’ll be glad to do that. On the other hand, if he wants me to call him a fat nigger cocksucker, then that’s what it will be. I’m here to please. [. . .] But! When I’m speaking generally, and impersonally, about a large group of people, especially these victim groups, I will call them what I think is honest and fair. [. . .] I don’t think everyone who says he’s a victim automatically qualifies. I don’t think a homely, disfigured, bald minority person with a room-temperature IQ who limps and stutters is necessarily always a victim. Although I will say she probably shouldn’t be out trying to get work as a receptionist. But maybe that’s just the way it oughta [sic] be. (170) As for euphemisms, Carlin thought of them as a type of lies: “Fat people are not gravitationally disadvantaged. They’re fat. I prefer seeing things the way they are,

78 A Culture of Hypocrisy not the way some people wish they were. […] For instance, midgets and dwarfs are midgets and dwarfs. They’re not little people. Infants are little people; leprechauns are little people. Midgets and dwarfs are midgets and dwarfs. They don’t get any taller by calling them little people” (171–172). Well, even in the post-fact era of post-truth politics, the facts and the truth cannot be sexist, racist, lookist, ageist, and the like; they are just the facts and the truth. Or are they? As opposed to Carlin, Lee, in his otherwise brilliant 2008 stand-up show titled 41st Best Stand-Up Ever, declares that he has a problem with the fact that 84 per cent of people apparently, of the public, think that political correctness has gone mad. Now, I don’t know if it has. People still get killed, don’t they, for being the wrong color or the wrong sexuality or whatever. And what is political correctness? It’s an often clumsy negotiation towards a kind of formally inclusive language. And there’s all sorts of problems with it but it’s better than what we had before, but 84 per cent of people think political correctness has gone mad. And you don’t want one of those people coming up to you after the gig and going: “Well done, mate, well done, actually, for having a go at the fucking Muslims. Well done, mate. You know, you can’t do anything in this country any more mate; it’s political correctness gone mad. Do you know, you can’t even write racial abuse in excrement on someone’s car without the politically correct brigade jumping down your throat.” [. . .] Cause I’m forty, like I said, I was forty last week, and I can remember before political correctness, that’s why I think it’s better. I remember . . . It’s better now. I remember when I was twelve, there was one Asian kid in our class, and every day when he read the register out, for a year, the teacher, instead of using his name, called him “the black spot,” every day for a year. The street I grew up in, just south of Birmingham, there was I remember, in 1972, a black family that wanted to move in and all the white families put pressure on the guy not to sell the house. And six years previous to that, David Cameron never mentions it, but the Conservative Party won a by-election in Birmingham, and they sent out little kids with leaflets that said: “If you want a nigger for a neighbor, vote Liberal or Labor.” And if political correctness has achieved one thing, it’s to make the Conservative Party cloak its inherent racism behind more creative language. If PCers had complete control over language use, dress codes, the casting in performing arts, the subjects of paintings, and the material used by stand-up comedians, would this avert the killing of African Americans? [I assume Lee was referring to hate crimes committed by whites, and not to black-on-black violence, which is rampant.] By the same token, does taking down statues of notorious slave-owners or imperialists help in the fight against structural racism or colonialism? Is PC really a “negotiation,” even a “clumsy” one, as Lee concedes, or is it rather an imposition of stringent linguistic prohibitions? As much as I understand, and usually relish, the use of hyperbole for comic effect, is the attempt to restrain the oft-appearing absurd extremism of PC tantamount to a desire to be able to

A Culture of Hypocrisy 79 “write racial abuse in excrement on someone’s car” without consequences? Zealous PCers never miss a chance to asseverate that those who are querulously complaining about PC tend to look hard for rare examples of “PC gone berserk” so that they can heap ridicule upon them; how is this any different from what the PCer Lee is doing here, to wit, having a dig at the exaggerated racist buffoon in his hypothetical anecdote? Lastly, if the English Conservative Party did in fact “cloak its inherent racism behind more creative language,” does this truly count as an “achievement” on the part of PC? I will bring this chapter to its close by briefly discussing the implications of various reactions to the sexual misconduct of another favorite stand-up comedian of mine, Louis C.K. At the primary level, there is the reaction of the female comics who accuse Louis C.K. of having sexually harassed them. Then, there is Chappelle’s second-order reaction to these women’s reaction, as recorded in The Bird Revelation: “One lady said, ‘Louis C.K. masturbated in front of me, ruined my comedy dreams.’ Word? Well, then I dare say, Madam, you may have never had a dream. Come on man, that’s a brittle spirit”; after a joke about what might have happened had Martin Luther King been in her place, Chappelle goes on to say that “one of those ladies was like, ‘Louis C.K. was masturbating while I was on the phone with him.’ Bitch, you don’t know how to hang up a phone? How the fuck are you going to survive in show business if this is an actual obstacle to your dreams?” Chappelle acknowledges that Louis C.K. was in the wrong, but he also states, at the beginning of this bit, that the fact “they took everything from Louis” on account of these allegations “might be disproportionate.” At the third and final [?] level, of course, there is the legion of “triggered” bloggers who reacted indignantly to Chappelle’s reaction to these female comedians’ reaction to Louis C.K.’s (condemnable) action: PC hypocrisy at its ugliest; a series of desperate attempts on their part to be on the right side of the zeitgeist. Yet this becomes problematic when a PCer wants to fulminate against Chappelle, who, in his own words from the same special, is “a black dude” whose “ancestors were kidnapped” and “put on the bottom of boats.” “Pro-women but anti-black? This simply will not do . . . What to do, what to do? Perhaps something that others in my in-group would do, too?” Consequently, somewhere along this crooked line of reasoning, the PCer promptly forgets all about Louis and how gross his sexual misconduct actually was (or not), since it was never really about him, anyway. The only genuine desideratum of a politically correct mind is to find a grievance – however infinitesimal it may be – that will justify raising shrill cries of moral and/or social outrage. Incidentally, last July (2019) Louis C.K. came to Greece for three sold-out performances; sadly, I was unable to procure a ticket for any of them. Some of those who did watch his show, though, took advantage of the opportunity. They blogged/huffed, and they vlogged/puffed, and they blew up Twitter with rambling posts about Louis the Big Bad Wolf [or was it the Dirty Little Pig?], as an exercise in the particular manifestation of PC that is burgeoning in Greece; and thus we come full circle with respect to recounting the tale of the formative years of PC in my home country.


The Story Thus Far: A Critical Review of the Literature on PC

Introduction It is considered de rigueur, or academically correct, that I should devote a chapter to the systematic review and/or the meta-critical analysis of the extant theoretical and research literatures on PC. At the same time, though, in the age of rampant anti-intellectualism and YouTube videos that proclaim they can explain life, the universe, and everything in just under ten minutes, with striking imagery and cool background music as additional benefits, the rule of thumb is to avoid even the minimum of triple-digit numbers at all costs: aim for fewer than a hundred characters in a sentence, words in a paragraph, and pages in a monograph; no such luck here . . . Nonetheless, given that this part of any academic book often tends to be the most tiresome, both for the readers, who are probably already familiar with the gist of what has been written about the topic being explored, and for the author, I shall do my best to keep it as short and sweet as feasible. However, I start with expanding a bit further upon my idea that examining the subject of PC is like being willfully exposed to an epistemological coronavirus. In his introduction to What is your Dangerous Idea?, Pinker cites a few questions – such as “Have religions killed a greater proportion of people in their eras than Nazism?” or “Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?” – that required considerable courage on the part of whomever first posed them, since they put forth some “dangerous ideas,” which are defined thusly: ideas that are far from evidently false or potentially harmful to the public, instead they are “statements of fact or policy that are defended with evidence and argument by serious scientists and thinkers,” yet they are denounced, and those who raised them are “vilified, censored, fired, threatened and in some cases physically assaulted,” because they create a “moral panic” and they “challenge the collective decency of an age” (xxiv). Nevertheless, as Pinker then explicates, science is supposed to describe and to try to explain “the world as it is, without regard to whose feelings get hurt” or, in other words, to PC, which “captures the 1960s conception of moral rectitude” that baby boomers brought with them when they “took over academia, journalism and government” (xxv). [On the same subject, Charles J. Sykes writes: “The Sixties counterculture was the high-water mark of other-directedness, as

The Story Thus Far


well as a precursor of what would become known as ‘political correctness’” (90), but Feldstein disagrees with this way of looking at the cultural revolution of the Sixties and argues that “the pot-smoking hippies of that period” were not “politicized radicals,” but rather “laid-back idealists who followed the smoke rings of their dreams to a utopian end where peace and love prevailed in our society” (65).] For Pinker, progress is hindered by “the intellectual blinkers that humans tend to don when they split into factions. People have a nasty habit of clustering in coalitions, professing certain beliefs as badges of their commitment to the coalition and treating rival coalitions as intellectually unfit and morally depraved” (xxvi–xxvii). The idyllic notion of progress (and what may or may not impede it) does not concern me. Yet one of my major premises is that hypocrisy and self- or other-deception, the latter employed offensively far more often than defensively, are the prevailing modi operandi for most ideological in-groups, and especially for PCers, who adjust the true picture of the world so that it fits their familiar credos, be they appropriate or not; or, as Pinker phrases it in this short essay, they regard “honest opinions” as potentially dangerous and the questioning of their “unshakeable convictions” and “sacred values” as taboo (xxvii). In the next chapter I elaborate on the intricate interplay between duplicity, deception, and other such concepts that cover this particular semantic field. And so, in the case of PC, we arrive at what Douglas R. Hofstadter dubbed a “Strange Loop,” which “is concerned with the snarls which arise when systems turn back on themselves—for example, science probing science, government investigating governmental wrongdoing, art violating the rules of art, and finally, humans thinking about their own brains and minds” (xiii), or, otherwise put, a phenomenon that “occurs whenever, by moving upwards (or downwards) through the levels of some hierarchical system, we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started” (10). Permit me to clarify at least some of the steps this Strange Loop entails: PCers are convinced that they are championing the fight against the dangerous practices, and not only “ideas,” of racism, sexism, ableism, and so forth; to my way of thinking, PC is a vague, contradictory, but not intrinsically alarming idea, yet it does often lead to outrageous and potentially harmful practices. If PC is seen as an epistemic virus, it might not be so far-fetched to contend that it can lie latent until someone (re-)activates it merely by furnishing information on its pathogenic attributes. Hence, thinking about investigating the dangers that may lie in the idea of PC is a research idea that really proves to be dangerous, clearly to the one who puts it into practice, and possibly to all those who are willing to engage in a balanced, rational discussion about its likely outcome. The above lead people of diverse political affiliations – or perhaps of none at all – to consider the arguably dangerous idea that the diversely dangerous idea of PC should be entirely eradicated. This, in turn, exasperates even the most moderate PCers, so their perilous notions and courses of action come back with a vengeance. Thus, “we find ourselves right back where we started,” but perhaps not so “unexpectedly”; the Strange Loop comes full circle: a pattern of regressus in infinitum, a perpetuum mobile made out of acrimonious cries generated by the battle between contingent propositions . . .


The Story Thus Far

A Genealogy of the Term and Attempts at Definition Let us put the proverbial cart and horse in their respective positions: the only thing on which the critics who have explored the topic of PC are in agreement with each other is that they disagree about everything concerning this multifaceted phenomenon (its causes, its effects, its future, and so forth), two possible exceptions being the time and the reason that the phrase “politically correct,” along with its grammatical variations and cognate expressions, was (relatively widely) employed for the first time. The pro-PC John K. Wilson cites various sources that agree it was initially used sarcastically by American socialists and leftists in the 1930s and 1940s “to criticize themselves for taking radical doctrines to absurd extremes” and to disparage anyone whose obsequious adherence to the Communist Party’s strict line “overrode compassion and led to bad politics” (4). The anti-PC Geoffrey Hughes makes no reference to American communists using this term in a selfdeprecating manner back then, and although he does acknowledge that the way it was employed by Americans in the 1970s shifted toward irony, he attributes this to the following factor: “In the totalitarian context of its Communist and Maoist origins, political correctness had a serious doctrinaire sense. Once it was borrowed into a democratic and liberal political milieu, it became an anomaly, an empty formula of conformity open to subversion” (64); yet he, too, writes that PC first emerged in the 1930s, but only “as a policy concept denoting the orthodox party line of Chinese Communism as enunciated by Mao Tse-Tung,” and then it was borrowed “by the American New Left in the 1960s, but with a more rhetorical than strictly programmatic sense, since Communism has never gained a significant foothold in the United States” (60). Similarly, Friedman claims that this notion “actually comes from the Soviet Union, more specifically the Stalinist era, when politicheskaya pravil’nost’─literally, ‘political correctness’─was used with positive connotations within the party as essential for the control of citizens. It was used in the same way in Maoist China and later emerged on the left as a joking, cynical internal criticism of orthodoxy, a notion that partly identified the New Left as opposed to the Old” (85). Wilson argues that “Mao Tse-Tung’s frequent reference to ‘correct’ ideas” may have been responsible for a revival of this phrase in the 1960s, “not by extremists on the left to describe their enemies but by more moderate liberals who objected to the intolerence [sic] of some leftists” (4). Zimmerman traces this term’s origin, not its revival, in the 1960s, but agrees with Wilson that it was Mao’s Little Red Book – which “explained ‘correct’ Communist Party or Marxist doctrine on a host of different issues” – that led those American leftists who had read its English-language edition to start invoking “the phrase ironically, to tease people who rigidly toed the party line (either the Communists’ or someone else’s) instead of thinking for themselves” (11). Feldstein asserts that PC was initially coined not “by right-wing rhetoricians or left-wing ironists, as has been claimed by numerous scholars in the past,” but “by members of the Left against others who shared similar views but adhered to a rigid acceptance of ‘communist dogma,” and also that PC “originally had a moral connotation when employed by Jews to

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condemn members of the Communist Party who sided with Hitler,” as well as “an ‘anarchist streak’,” in the sense that it was used against “the grim holders” of the Stakhanovite line (4); some decades later, the term was either “implemented as a self-ironizing device by left-wing academics who accepted their colleagues’ ideas but found their delivery to be mediocre at best” (5), or “invoked ‘jokingly’” in the context of politics, religion, or everyday life, again amongst left-leaning activists, in order “to poke fun at like-minded persons who share a common identification” and “to comment ironically on their inability to live up to their ideals, their acknowledgment of the complexity of human beings, and the limits of any cherished beliefs” (6). This last point is also made by John Lea, who mentions that while several authors agree that PC “emanated originally in left-wing communist circles to refer to comrades found guilty of doing what was politically correct, but because it was being done slavishly, in an unthinking way, they might be castigated for it” (10), later on, “in Western left-wing circles,” the term was “used in mocking, ironic, and essentially light-hearted ways, to indicate that it is common to know what is the right thing to do, but one does not always do it” (11). In its current usage, the term started to acquire popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Kitrosser 1992). In Wilson’s view: “During the 1980s, conservatives began to take over this leftist phrase and exploit it for political gain, expanding its meaning to include anyone who expressed radical sentiments. [. . .] Politically correct referred to the views of a few extreme individuals; political correctness described a broad movement that had corrupted the entire system of higher education. By this transformation the conservatives accused universities of falling under the influence of extremist elements” (4), and “PC exploded into popular consciousness in 1991,” when newspapers, magazines, and even President Bush, in his commencement address at the University of Michigan that year, began to utilize “the political correctness mythology” (8) in order “to condemn anyone with vaguely liberal views” (14). Unsurprisingly, Feldstein is of the same opinion; he maintains that the expression “has been recycled by neoconservatives intent upon confuting multiculturalist critics who foreground issues of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation in their analyses. Members of right-wing political and religious factions have created the myth of PC by appropriating the term as they drone on about the parade of robotic professors who mindlessly move in lockstep, adhering to a program of monotonic indoctrination” (6). It is important to note that both Feldstein and Wilson talk about the myth of PC (in fact, the latter uses this phrase as the title of his book), which has supposedly been cultivated by the Right. In more or less the same vein, Stanley Fish calls PC “a specter largely fabricated by those who urge us to take up arms against it” (11). Zimmerman may not be calling PC a myth yet he, too, opines that the PC stereotype is simplistic, if not utterly false, since although “university faculties are dominated by people on the left side of the political spectrum,” these are “hardly the wild-eyed Marxists that right-wingers often imagine,” so they do not “routinely impose their ideological preferences on unsuspecting youngsters, as conservatives also charge” (2–3). Lea mentions that “an important historical shift seems have [sic] occurred in the 1980s when the term increasingly came to be used by the political right,


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particularly in the United States, to refer to those who were seen to be challenging the fundamental tenets of the American Dream – individual rights, freedom of speech, equality of opportunity, and, for some at least, the idea of Universal Truths” (11). Lea also hints at the possibility that the ideas PC connotes, even if not the phrase itself, originated in the United Kingdom earlier than they did in the United States; he maintains that in the 1983 and 1987 UK general elections “the anti-Labour Party campaign orchestrated by politically right-leaning news media in both election campaigns contained many of the ideas seen subsequently in the conservative anti-PC campaign in the United States. Popularly referred to as Loony Leftism at the time, the campaign ran by many newspapers [. . .] contained much of the invective that was seen in the popular US-based Time and Newsweek a few years later” (158). Contrariwise, Geoffrey Hughes affirms that “the debate over political correctness in the United Kingdom developed later than in the United States, in the mid-1990s” (64), and he states that the term’s “modern American manifestation emerges in quotations dating from 1970, in the contexts of left-wing politics and feminism” (61); his account coincides with that of the previously mentioned authors as to when and where the term was revived, however it includes no reference to right-wingers appropriating the phrase in order to assign a new meaning to it as part of their political agenda: “Political correctness became part of the modern lexicon and, many would say, part of the modern mind-set, as a consequence of the wide-ranging public debate which started on campuses in the United States from the late 1980s” (3); moreover, he sees PC as being weaponized – and mythicized – by both of the opposing ends of the political continuum: “The moral dimension of political correctness is tied up with a major feature of the modern American debate, the attribution of blame by both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ (or ‘liberal’ and ‘neoconservative,’ to use the more current labels) to the ‘other side’ for what each regarded as illegitimate political interference in academic and cultural matters. [. . .] There even developed a side debate as to whether political correctness really existed or was the invention of its opponents” (61). Finally, Zimmerman presents the recent history of this expression, which resurfaced in the 1980s as the focal point of the culture wars that broke out within American academia, in the form of a fairy-tale: Once upon a time, in the mid-1980s, a left-leaning cabal of social engineers captured the American university. And not just the classrooms and faculty lounges, mind you; they took over minds, by reshaping the words that we use to communicate with each other. Racial minorities became “people of color,” the handicapped were renamed “differently abled,” older students were “nontraditional learners,” and so on. And even as they imposed the new idioms, ironically, these humorless apparatchiks were busily undermining our traditional faith in language itself. Spouting newfangled theories imported from France, they insisted that all truths were products of the time and especially of the culture that produced them. They even put “truths” in quotation marks! So out with Shakespeare and the other Dead White Men of the traditional humanities, whose allegedly universal verities were exposed as mere

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vanities. And in with the local, the cultural, and especially the “subaltern,” which referred to anyone who was colonized, oppressed, or marginalized by the totalizing discourse of the West. That’s the bleak winter’s tale that conservatives told about the academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and they gave the story a new name: political correctness. (23–24) As far as a precise and commonly agreed upon definition of PC goes, things start to become immensely more complicated. In order to ease my way into a discussion of the more polemical arguments concerning PC, I begin with two impartial – in theory at least – ones, the first being an encyclopedia entry and the second a dictionary entry: Political correctness [. . .] has been used in the culture wars since the 1980s as a pejorative epithet to characterize what critics deem a destructive political ethos in American society. While accusations of PC have often focused on university practices, they are by no means limited to this venue. Since the early 1980s, the PC debate has attracted a national audience, framing much of the discussion of, among other things, race relations, public education, and citizenship. Most often, the ethos that is attacked as politically correct is understood to be “liberal,” while those who do the attacking tend to be identified as “conservatives”—even though some PC developed as a critique of liberalism as much as an extension of it, and liberals frequently join with conservatives in making accusations of PC. While the types of practices decried as instances of PC are familiar enough, it is often difficult to discern their commonality. Thus, some have claimed that it is simply an all-purpose pejorative epithet used by conservatives to attack any and all liberal practices of which they disapprove. (Charney 512) It is not clear whether the idea of “politically correct” speech and thought as a standard increasingly imposed by public opinion in Western societies is real, or a journalistic exaggeration of a very minor tendency. Furthermore, if there is a real pressure for people to be politically correct, it is unclear that this is particularly new. Political correctness as it is understood in the USA refers to a set of attitudes about discrimination, mainly in the fields of race and sex. It is politically incorrect to speak in any way that can be seen as differentiating between people in a way that could conceivably be detrimental to them. It is even more incorrect to give credence to any empirical data, however scientific, that might support a comparative judgment about any group vis-à-vis another. [. . .] It must be noted immediately that if political correctness is an issue, it is an issue only for the minority of the population in universities or the educated professions. One is not going to find anyone attacked for politically incorrect thinking in a diner on Main Street, Hicksville, though one


The Story Thus Far would in a bistro on Broadway, New York. This last sentence is an example of politically incorrect writing, committing several sins involving social classism and metropolitanism. Though on the whole the politically correct are somewhat of a joke, the tendency to intolerance of incorrectness found in some US intellectual establishments has meant that great injustice can be, and perhaps has been, done to unfashionable thinkers. An even greater problem is the insidious effect of promoting blandness in language, and requiring enormous circumlocution to express many views safely. (Robertson 391–392)

Neither of these two definitions seems fully satisfactory, yet Robertson’s covertly sarcastic piece is written with panache and it carries a more powerful political punch, leaning lightly against PC. Sykes analogizes PC to a “Big Nanny” whose focus is on “sensitivity,” which is “not a political term at all” but simply “a transplant from the world of culture and psychology, in which taste, feelings, and emotions are paramount. Political correctness turns out to be a subunit of the larger transformation of society reflected in the ascendancy of psychological over political terminology,” which in turn leads to a “therapeutic culture” and to the “politics of victimization” (163–164). Robert Hughes uses an almost identical metaphor, “Big Daddy,” to refer to the PCers’ fictitious target of blame within their “infantilized culture of complaint,” where “the expansion of rights goes on without the other half of citizenship—attachment to duties and obligations” (10). Another critic who examines PC from a psychological perspective is Schwartz, according to whom the anti-Oedipal “dynamic underlying political correctness is an attack upon the father, and specifically the paternal function” (34). Michael William mentions a few randomly selected approaches to PC in passing, and then he cuts to the chase and offers his own unequivocal definition: There are those who deny it exists, who say that it is just a term of abuse used by right-wing people. There are those who define the concept very broadly to include health and safety legislation, for example, or who use the term to apply to any intolerance by authority of views disapproved of. Much of this denial is mischief-making to cover up the true politically-correct agenda. William Lind fastens upon “the victim feminism, the gay rights movement, the invented statistics, the rewritten history, the lies, the demands, all the rest of it” and describes it as “cultural Marxism” and “Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms”. For the purposes of this book, political correctness will be defined as “the mechanism for the enforcement of neoMarxist ideology.” (19) In the preceding chapter I presented the arguments in defense of my disagreement with those who either observe or seek to establish a clear correlation between PC and some strain of Marxism, an issue to which I return later, and I also discussed why I consider the term “cultural Marxism” to be not that well-grounded.

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Geoffrey Hughes recognizes the difficulty in arriving at a definitive answer to the question “what is PC?”, and he claims that most people would reply in this manner: “‘It means not using words like nigger, queer, or cripple,’ or ‘It means showing respect to all,’ or ‘It means accepting and promoting diversity.’ These answers are adequate, but cover only the main issues, by means of proscription (the first) or prescription (the second and third). The emphases on offensive language, prejudiced attitudes, and insulting behavior towards the marginalized are central” (8). Geoffrey Hughes focuses on the semantic aspect of PC, so he later offers this relevant definition: “Political correctness can be seen as the establishment of new agendas by the introduction of new terms and the redefinition of established words” (87); in addition, he quotes three diverse definitions of PC: one in favor of it, by Clare Short (a British Labor Party politician), one against it, by Doris Lessing, and one “neutral,” from the Oxford Dictionary of New Words, and then he deconstructs them (13–14). Similarly, Lea, who first states that the term PC “is never neutral in its usage,” as it may “refer to many aspects of thought and behavior” but “below the surface of all its uses lurks deeper ideological commitments,” also deconstructs a few definitions of PC (12–14), the only differences being that Lea does not choose the same ones that Hughes did, and that he views them through a pro-PC lens. Kitrosser places emphasis on the implications of PC regarding the question of academic freedom of expression. Her perspective on what it means to be politically correct is as follows: At minimum, the term tends to denote a devotion to recognizing and alleviating the burdens of historically marginalized groups. Yet the term’s disparaging nature—and the sense of anger and frustration that it reflects—stem from [. . .] the sense that the politically correct are determined to force their agenda on others and that, worse still, they refuse to countenance expressions of dissent. This is why political correctness so often is equated with “censorship,” even “totalitarianism.” What I call the “PC narrative”—that is, the drumbeat of concerns to the effect that PC stifles speech—frames political correctness as a threat to First Amendment ideals. (1990) Later in her article Kitrosser tackles the issue of defining PC once again: From the outset, the discussions reflected the malleability of the terms political correctness, politically correct, and PC. Some reports used them as synecdoche to reference some concrete manifestation of PC, such as speech codes. Others used them more amorphously, to signify any number of practices or attitudes ranging from speech codes to multicultural programs to left-wing views. Despite this ambiguity, two aspects of the terms’ uses were consistent. First, they were overwhelmingly wielded and understood as terms of disparagement. Certainly, political correctness had its defenders. But they, too,


The Story Thus Far understood that the phrase typically was employed mockingly. Second, PC’s detractors – whether characterizing PC as a force that operated through formal sanctions, through informal pressures, or in the form of pervasive liberalism – depicted PC as a threat to free speech. (2000–2001)

Loury looks at PC precisely from this angle, i.e., “as a threat to free speech on the campuses (and this is indeed the case when it results in legal restrictions on open expression, as with formal speech codes),” but he adds a new spin to it by arguing that “the more subtle threat is the voluntary limitation on speech that a climate of social conformity encourages. It is not the iron fist of repression, but the velvet glove of seduction that is the real problem. Accordingly, I treat the PC phenomenon as an implicit social convention of restraint on public expression, operating within a given community,” a phenomenon which is “neither new nor unusual” [on this he concurs with Robertson, as quoted above], since “pressuring speakers and writers to affirm acceptable beliefs and to suppress unacceptable views is one of the constants of political experience” (430). Kate Bartlett, though, attempts to turn the tables on those who would agree with Loury by claiming that the “pejorative label ‘political correctness’ represents an effort by PC critics to seize the moral high ground of the First Amendment,” and she brushes aside the whole issue with this brusque proclamation: “the PC rap is a bum one” (1). Peter Klotz explores the interaction between ideology, politeness, and PC; he opines that the last two “govern communal life” by dint of ideology, which Klotz, following Foucault, sees as “a system of constraining perspectives” that emphasizes “a particular aspect of the ‘world’”; PC and its “newspeak” try “to create a new order for the world and stabilise it”; the ideology underpinning PC “is that of moral improvement, socio-economic emancipation and the founding of conceptual euphemisms,” and PC exponents attempt “to gain power over social discourse” in order to alter “the way of looking at race, women, minorities and problem groups by means of ruling or steering language use” because they mistakenly “believe in language determinism,” without realizing that “they are not dealing with the system of language but with the ever changing system of language use! Language can only determine thought for a short period of time, after which the thinking process again becomes independent possibly with backlash effect” (156). Conversely, Zimmerman – who, in Klotz’s terms, would fall into the category of those who “believe in language determinism” – is of the opinion that although most definitions of PC “focus on language, emphasizing efforts to replace unkind or offensive terms with more neutral ones” (24), “other formulations of PC go beyond language and into ideology: it’s an effort to inscribe new ways of thinking, not just of talking. And surely the words we choose affect the thoughts we communicate” (25; emphasis added). Well, in my view it is the other way around, that is, the thoughts PCers communicate try to affect what phraseology all the rest choose to employ. One of the propositions I am advancing throughout this book is that PC betokens a culture of duplicity and hypocrisy; PC censors either succeed in inoculating others with their worldview and their type of discourse, or they do their best to inculcate a sense of moral guilt in them.

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Friedman gives meticulous attention to most of the aspects of PC that . . . trigger me as well, and particularly to its communicative function. His major premises are as follows: PC expresses an emergent “culture of shame,” which is “rooted in the assumption that there exist certain self-evident moral truths about the world,” and those who transgress them become “objects of ridicule” or they are placed “under suspicion of pursuing evil agendas and connections to dangerous characters and categories of people”; what enabled all this was “the withering away of reflexivity,” which allowed PCers to resort to “extreme forms of righteousness that elude serious debate” and to become “personally offended” each time their ideas, which “are an extension of themselves,” are criticized (14). Friedman’s assertion that “PC is a form of communication in which the sign value, that is, the category value of utterances and texts, is considerably more significant than their semantic content. PC identifies political positions rather than propositional content” (34) is predicated on the distinction he makes between two intellectual practices that may be coexistent “in the larger communicative processes of social life,” yet they are also incompatible with one another: associationism, which is based “on properties that can be used to classify statements or the subjects of statements into pre-existing categories,” and rational argument or critique, which “focuses on the content of statements, their semantic and logical properties, and their intentionality” (37). In Friedman’s original and informed view, today’s Western subject has been de-ontologized owing to the recent “decline of modernism,” it has become insecure and narcissistic, dependent “on other’s people recognition” of itself (37), and, in such periods of crisis, “when individual identities are threatened,” a logic akin to “witch-hunting” predominates, and instead of one asking “what X says, one asks who X is and how X can be identified” (56); hence, PC “is a form of essentialism that links numerous categories by means of spatial or semantic association into a complex whole that enables a moral order to be maintained” (60), and its discourse lays emphasis on “language as a political mechanism,” reduced to “acts of naming that are seen as creating realities rather than referring to them” (61). All of the abovementioned hark back to what I discussed in the introduction: PC is considered sacrosanct, it is not to be studied through a critical lens, and anyone who attempts it treads on dangerous ground and is likely to be categorized as “evil” due to this fact alone, irrespective of the content of his arguments. We will come across the ramifications of PC associationism again later, in several of my meta-critical comments. As already mentioned, for Feldstein PC is merely a “bogeyman created by neoconservative imagemakers,” who managed to link “the phrase to a ‘repressive agenda’ set forth by ‘tenured radicals’ on college campuses today” (1). Along similar lines, Fish avers that the manner in which this expression is employed by right-wingers constitutes “a wonderfully concise indictment that says that a group of unscrupulous persons is trying to impose its views on our campus populations rather than upholding views that reflect the biases of no group because they are common to everyone. It is these commonly shared views, we are told, that are really correct, while the views of feminists, multiculturalists, Afrocentrists, and the like are merely politically correct, correct only from the perspective of those


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who espouse them” (8). Nonetheless, Fish goes on to clarify that, in his view, we are all practitioners of PC (in the sense it “should” be understood), despite the fact that conservatives use the term disparagingly for their own purposes: “Political correctness, the practice of making judgments from the vantage point of challengeable convictions, is not the name of a deviant behavior but of the behavior that everyone necessarily practices. Debates between opposing parties can never be characterized as debates between political correctness and something else, but between competing versions of political correctness” (9). Later in his book, Fish offers a summation, of sorts, of all the aforementioned arguments: “Politically correct” is a dismissive accusation that only makes sense if it is opposed to a superior alternative. Presumably, what is deficient about “political correctness” is that its judgments of right and wrong are made from an angle, from a site of interest, from a position colored by partisan desires. Really correct correctness, on the other hand, would proceed from no angle, no interest, no partisan desire, but from the perspective of truth. The trouble with this requirement, however, is that no human being could meet it because no human being sees truth directly, stands to the side of interest, sees by more than partisan lights. There is no really correct correctness, at least not any we can validate by standards that are themselves not political. “Political correctness” is simply a pejorative term for the condition of operating on the basis of a partial vision, and since that is the condition of all of us, we are all politically correct. To be sure, we are not all politically correct in the same way; the products of different histories, we are all committed to truths, but to truths perpetually in dispute. That is what it means to be partial, or, in an older and preferable vocabulary, fallen. It is with that same vocabulary in mind that I would propose an emendation, the substitution for “politically correct” of the more accurate phrase “faithfully correct,” correct from the vantage point of the different faiths we involuntarily inhabit. We are all faithfully correct, true to the convictions that now grasp us and open to the possibility that in the fullness of time we may be grasped by better convictions. (78–79) It has been argued that Fish is in a world of his own, meaning that he is difficult to pin down ideologically, although less so epistemologically. For instance, Wilson gives an example in which Fish personified “the intolerant side of leftists,” because he called the members of the National Association of Scholars “racist, sexist, and homophobic” and wrote a letter to the provost of Duke University arguing that they “should not be appointed to key university committees,” yet Wilson immediately qualifies this by stating that Fish “obviously has his own political categories and holds certain methodologies in ‘deep suspicion,’ so it is implausible for him to accuse conservatives of being ‘political’” (54). Likewise, Lea maintains that although Fish has been called the “Godfather of PC” due to “his attacks on the foundations of most of the right’s arguments,” he “does not represent the left or the right, but simply applies forms of poststructural theory to political ideologies” (65). For Lea, Fish is epistemologically opposed to the

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kind of “foundational thinking” that might lead to the support of either side of the political spectrum, and since “political radicals can often be epistemological conservatives” and vice versa, this is precisely where we should look “if we want to question the validity of the traditional left–right dichotomy, and not at the ideologies themselves” (66). Neither this dichotomy nor the ideologies that inform it interest me as much as the fact that Lea then argues that if the basis of a political allegiance proves worthy of support, this can forestall the “hopeless skepticism and pessimism about political debate” that may result from Fish’s reasoning (66). In the next chapter I enlarge upon my views on the possibility of people entering into a dialogue with the open-mindedness required so that they “may be grasped by better convictions” than the ones to which they are “faithfully” committed. For now, I shall just comment that virtually nobody is really after “correct correctness,” regardless of whether it exists or not, whereas everyone trumpets that their partisan position is morally and intellectually superior to all the rest; and PCers, in particular, do this more often and more stridently than anyone. I will illustrate my argument with a quotation from Nietzsche: “‘Perspectivism.’ It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm” (The Will to Power 267). In no way could I venture to suggest that I have even scratched the surface of the pertinent literature, and I am still at the stage of summing up – and not extensively commenting on – the when, where, and why the term was popularized, and what it means according to various critics. The areas yet to be covered spread from what has been written about how, why, and by whom PC is put into practice, to what both the detractors and the proponents of PC have claimed about the multilayered ramifications of this phenomenon. The fewer-than-a-hundredpages goal is obviously unattainable, but I will at least try and hit the under-twohundred-pages mark, so I will not be attempting to give my own definition of PC; after all, I fail to see the epistemological appeal of such an enterprise. Suffice to say that PC has interpretative flexibility (if I may borrow a concept from the theory of social construction of technology), to wit, its meaning may be interpreted or constructed in radically different ways by various partisan apparatuses, advocacy groups, social movements, or individuals, with a combination of determining – yet indeterminate – factors coming into play: the intellectual and moral climate of a particular culture at a specific point in history, a person’s psychological makeup, maybe even a haphazard concatenation of micropolitical considerations, exceptional circumstances, and ill-conceived ideas. Further, as to why and how precisely the modern PC culture emerged, I am in no position to either verify or refute the theories advanced by other authors. In any event, I hold the view that the hic et nunc situation with PC, i.e., how best to grapple with it in the here and now, is an issue of much greater import. Hereafter I will focus on discussing a few key ideas, in no particular order, of each critic separately; by this I do not mean all the people who have ever written either an article or a book on PC, as this would be a task of Herculean proportions, and a fruitless one at that. Moreover, given the broad range of their perspectives and the multitude of different issues raised


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by the critics I do discuss, it was virtually impossible to weave their approaches thematically (hence my decision to examine them individually), except in cases where there are specific points of contention between them.

Points in Favor of and Against PC Although the term PC is used only once in D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, it is only fitting that I start with the book widely credited with, or blamed for, sparking the heated debate on this issue. D’Souza’s ideas will serve as an indispensable – in view of how convoluted the subject matter is – point of reference for the discussion of both the pro- and anti-PC viewpoints presented by other theorists. D’Souza offers a litany of disturbing anecdotes that can be used as blatant illustrations of PC extremism, i.e., egregious abuse of power, cases of unfair affirmative action [would it be . . . fair to dub it . . . “unfairmative” action?], double standards, and so forth. Admittedly, dwelling on specific excesses of (what is perhaps) a minority of ideological zealots is far from a rewarding avenue of academic inquiry, yet some of the tragicomic examples reported by D’Souza constitute a paradigmatic encapsulation of how “mad” PC had already gone by the late 1980s: “In December 1989 Linda Wilson, the new president of Radcliffe, Harvard’s sister school, was denounced by feminists who charged that, by not calling herself a feminist, she was ‘doing violence to herself’” (217). Why stop at denouncements and not call the police on the person who, in these feminists’ opinion, inflicted violence on Wilson? No doubt Wilson would appreciate this act of sisterly love. Duke University recruited Fish in 1985, and appointed him chairman of the English department; the dean of arts and sciences at the time, a botanist – and an expert on ferns – by the name of Richard White [a cornucopia of risqué puns spring to mind, but I shall take the high road and ignore them], was so inspired by the feminists hired by Fish that he started teaching seminars on “feminism and botany” (161). So, is ferninist theory, pardon me, I meant feminist theory, something like the Coke of academia, in the sense that “everything goes better with it,” even botany? D’Souza mentions that according to Leonard Jeffries, a prominent African American scholar, “whites are biologically inferior to blacks” due to the fact that “the Ice Ages caused the deformation of white genes, while black genes were enhanced by ‘the value system of the sun’” (7). While Jeffries is by all means entitled to his beliefs, it is an entirely different matter when such absurd notions are supported by the chairman of an academic field (Black Studies), which, though institutionalized, already had a questionable status as a discipline. Feldstein opines that D’Souza overplays his case when he associates “his critique of Jeffries to the denigration of all Afrocentric programs across the country,” and although Feldstein also cites a few “very controversial statements” Jeffries had made against the Jews in Hollywood, he assesses that “the furor” they caused “has since died down,” so the “Jeffries affair” should not be used to speak ill of every Women’s Studies or Black Studies program in the United States (121–122). This line of reasoning cuts both ways, though: a poem by Rudyard Kipling or a student

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who takes umbrage at a professor’s “microaggression” should not be regularly viewed by PCers as sufficient indications that the Western Canon is racist and that colleges are not “safe spaces,” respectively. In any case, the onus probandi that Oriental Studies, or LGBT Studies, or Native American Studies, and so forth deserve to be part of a college’s core curriculum lies upon the ones who called for their creation; the issue of whether the faults identified in such courses are serious, minor, or nonexistent should perhaps not even be on the agenda. Last but not least, D’Souza derides the Newspeak-like linguistic concoctions invented by professors of Women’s Studies, like “(her)story and malestream thought,” “wimmin or wombyn” instead of “women” [because it includes the . . . execrable word “men”], “ovular” replacing “seminar,” or “ad feminem” [sic] as the female equivalent of “ad hominem” (212). As far as the last one is concerned, it should be noted that the Latin word “hominem” is the accusative singular of “homo,” which means “one of the human species, a person” and not “man” (“vir”) in contradistinction to “woman” (“femina”). Lea cites many of D’Souza’s examples along with other similar euphemisms that “are exploited for maximum comic effect,” yet, according to him, there is sound logic in asking for more “her-stories,” for instance, “to counter the contention that the discipline of history was largely one of documenting events which had affected men” (5). [To his credit, though, Lea acknowledges that many of these new labels – for instance, “young female persons” instead of “girls” – “are clearly produced with a large measure of insincerity” (5).] Along with the examples quoted above, Geoffrey Hughes cites a few even more radical ones, taken from Cheris Kramarae and Paula A. Treichler’s A Feminist Dictionary, “On Love Potions: ‘The celebrated love potions of ancient texts may actually have been poisons: women’s last defense against patriarchal power’” being perhaps the most characteristic, and he argues that such definitions are “more in the realm of semantic engineering based on ideological wish fulfillment than fact, designed as consciousness-raising strategies rather than descriptions” (90); in sharp contrast to Lea, and in a tone even more disapproving than D’Souza’s, Hughes argues that such “feminist interventions,” which are part and parcel of PC, are “anachronistic and regressive,” because they assume “that meanings could be commandeered by pressure groups, and that verbal substitutions could be prescribed,” and also they reveal “the generally dogmatic attitude and acrimonious tone of the [PC] debate, in many ways a reflection of the hostility aroused by attempts at linguistic manipulation” (91). D’Souza does not focus solely on notorious cases of PC zealotry; he also makes some valid points about the major PC-related issues discussed in academia. On affirmative action: “Advocates of affirmative action realize that, in practice, it means giving some preference to minorities, especially blacks, in admissions and job hiring, at the expense of equally qualified or better-qualified whites,” yet this is justified by PCers “on the grounds that whites, as a group, have imposed grave and painful burdens on blacks over a period of two hundred years,” and this has to be balanced out by some sacrifices on the part of the former, even though “the specific minority beneficiaries need never establish any injury inflicted on them by the specific white victims”; this already problematic notion gets further


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complicated by the fact that “affirmative action gains by some minorities seem to require affirmative action losses for others,” as evidenced by the case of Berkeley, where Jewish and Asian American students were – at the time D’Souza wrote his book – “overrepresented,” hence, as far as admissions go, it made no difference that they fared a lot better than blacks and Hispanics, who were “underrepresented” (31). Furthermore, affirmative action students find it incredibly difficult “to compete effectively with other, better-prepared students” (39); instituting quota systems in favor of “victimized” or historically excluded groups “directly violates the democratic principle of equal opportunity for individuals, and the underlying concept of group justice is hostile both to individual equality and to excellence” (55), so it might be plausibly argued that affirmative action is a kind of racism (129). On the same topic, but referring particularly to her field of expertise, Satel writes: “Not only are black and Hispanic applicants favored in medical school admissions, but they are overrepresented among students who encounter trouble in medical school. [. . .] The problems encountered by black and Hispanic students result from having been underqualified when admitted to medical school” (185). It is also worth quoting Loury’s apposite, and exquisitely caustic, remark on the hypocrisy that underlies the PC rhetoric with respect to affirmative action: “Imagine the uproar were a foundation to candidly announce a scholarship program intended to help ‘non-White persons belonging to groups that perform poorly on standardized tests.’ So the strategic speaker sacrifices honesty and accuracy by declaring instead that the program is aimed at ‘disadvantaged minorities.’ A variation on this theme is the ‘underrepresented minority’ – though in current times talk of any minority group being ‘overrepresented’ is clearly taboo!” (447). Lea, who in this case represents the cultural leftists’ side of the equation, retorts that the “nature” of standardized college admissions tests is unfair, because it is not “wide” enough and it reproduces “a particular type of intelligentsia” (121). This is a common countercharge leveled by PCers, but it is not easy to grasp what it means in practical terms. I am not being flippant, but should the tests of Latinx, LGBT persons, or African Americans include different kinds of questions than those of white people? What percentage of the total number of questions ought to be “tailor-made”? Who would select them, and by what criteria? What happens if a member of a minority group finds this process to be racist? Should a highly qualified black LGBT person answer three tests, or just the one s/he feels more comfortable with? Or, to borrow a question posed by Satel, “if noncognitive criteria have merit, must they be limited to minority students? Why should some students be judged on grades and test scores and others on more subjective abilities—solely on the basis of race?” (188). All in all, perhaps Carlin was right: “Intelligence tests are biased toward the literate” (96). Yet the issue is far too serious to be sidestepped via a humorous remark; especially when it comes to a vocation like medicine, the stakes are too high. Thus, we should heed Satel’s warning: “While the medical schools’ goal of recruiting more minority doctors is admirable, group-based preferences that debase standards of excellence are bad medicine for patients and physicians alike” (232), and some minority students’ needs should not outrank the patients’ needs (186). The same line of argument could be said to

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extend to virtually every other profession. As Robert Hughes pointedly argues, “the idea keeps lurking in the American higher-education system that black or other minority students can somehow be ‘empowered’ and brought onto the ‘level playing-field,’ by rigging entrance standards. But all a university can reasonably hope to do, in this disputed area, is to help the intelligent disadvantaged over hurdles more easily cleared by the intelligent advantaged. A more equitable policy, as Dinesh D’Souza and others have argued, would be to link preferential college admission to a student’s poverty, not to his or her race.” (63). It is beyond my comprehension how any sensible leftish person could find even the slightest fault with what Hughes referred to, i.e., D’Souza’s first of three “modest proposals,” as he calls them [an allusion to Jonathan Swift?], for nonracial affirmative action: Universities should retain their policies of preferential treatment, but alter their criteria of application from race to socioeconomic disadvantage. This means that, in admissions decisions, universities would take into account such factors as the applicant’s family background, financial condition, and primary and secondary school environment, giving preference to disadvantaged students as long as it is clear that these students can be reasonably expected to meet the academic challenges of the selective college. Race or ethnicity, however, would cease to count either for or against any applicant. [. . .] The greatest virtue of preferences based on socioeconomic factors is that such an approach restores to the admissions process the principle of treating people as individuals and not simply as members of ethnic groups. [. . .] Skin color no longer makes a dubious claim to be an index of merit, or an automatic justification for compensation. No longer will a black or Hispanic doctor’s son, who has enjoyed the advantages of comfort and affluence, receive preference over the daughter of an Appalachian coal miner or a Vietnamese street vendor. Regardless of pigment, any student who can make a genuine case that his grades or scores do not reflect his true potential has a chance to substantiate this claim in a tangible and measurable way. (251–252) Regarding multicultural curricula and minority studies programs, D’Souza avers that professors who either teach Women’s Studies or Afro-American Studies or support the inclusion of such courses in a university’s core curriculum are regarded as “the champions of minority interests—they are permitted overtly ideological scholarship, and are immune from criticism even when they make excessive or outlandish claims,” whereas the rest of the faculty are strongly advised by the administrators to avoid “presenting factual material that may provoke or irritate minority students” (5). D’Souza writes about what the situation was like in America in the late 1980s, yet he could just as well be describing what is happening in Greek academia today, as I indicated in the second chapter. D’Souza then quotes from a manual for race and gender education in which “Women’s Studies professor Becky Thompson acknowledges the ideological presuppositions of her basic teaching methodology: ‘I begin the course with the basic feminist principle


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that in a racist, classist and sexist society we have all swallowed oppressive ways of being, whether intentionally or not. Specifically, this means that it is not open to debate whether a white student is racist or a male student is sexist. He/She simply is’” (8). My chimerical dream is that one day there will be a course – if not a whole field of study – on misanthropic pessimism, which underlies my approach to all academic subjects, and to life in general; nonetheless, supposing that I taught such a class, under no circumstances would I dare suggest that my favorite ideological postulates are beyond dispute, otherwise this course would be no more than either a case of forcible indoctrination or a . . . cult gathering. D’Souza also raises a series of reasonable, pertinent questions: “Why are universities expelling Homer, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and other ‘white males’ from their required reading list? Is it true that a study of non-Western and minority cultures will liberate students from ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, and homophobia? [. . .] What totems and taboos attend the teaching of sensitive material in race and gender scholarship? What do students learn from the new curriculum that prepares them for life after college?” (20–21). Well, at least as regards the last question, pro-PC students will be fine as long as they keep living in their cultural and political echo chamber. With reference to the highly-publicized incidents that occurred at Stanford University in 1988, during the debate about whether to replace the traditional “Western Culture” required class with a new course titled “Cultures, Ideas, and Values” [CIV], D’Souza maintains that the students in favor of this change behaved as if they were attending a political march or a workers’ strike, so “the curriculum seemed not an academic issue to be resolved by the faculty, or even the university community, but a political question to be publicly adjudicated in the press” (60). My views on this subject were put forward in detail in Chapter 3, and they start with the assumption that the overall educational goals of a college’s curriculum outweigh the caprices, the hypersensitivities, or the petty political power plays of any minority group. Further, I strongly concur with D’Souza’s anti-racist idea that a multicultural curriculum “manipulates and amputates the Third World” in exactly the same manner Western scholars had invented a nonexistent “Orient” (as first theorized about by Edward Said), because it “subordinates the understanding of Asia, Africa, and Latin America to Western ideological prejudices,” thus reflecting “a new cultural imperialism no less narrow and bigoted than that of the colonialist researchers in safari outfits and pith helmets” (80–81). In the same vein, Bruckner states: “All the ambiguity of multiculturalism proceeds from the fact that with the best intentions, it imprisons men, women, and children in a way of life and in traditions from which they often aspire to free themselves. The politics of identity in fact reaffirm difference at the very moment when we are trying to establish equality, and lead, in the name of antiracism, back to the old commitments connected with race or ethnicity” (The Tyranny of Guilt 148). In addition, D’Souza correctly pinpoints another “major problem faced by those, at Stanford and elsewhere, who demand equal curricular ‘representation’ for ethnic groups,” and it is none other than “the extreme shortage of non-Western, black, and female figures of real eminence in a large number of fields,” therefore when a college attempts a “curricular accommodation based on race and gender,” this

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may “result in lesser works being taught simply because of the skin color or gender of their authors” (81–82). Same as with his proposal for nonracial affirmative action, it is virtually impossible, for an unbiased person, to disagree with D’Souza’s conclusions concerning minority studies courses: “To celebrate the works of the oppressed, apart from the standard of merit by which other art and literature and history is judged, is to romanticize their suffering, to pretend that it is naturally creative, and to give it an esthetic status that is not shared or appreciated by those who actually endure the oppression” (87), and while “there is typically a wide range of positions within departments, and universities usually go out of their way to assure that these differences are reflected in the curriculum,” this hardly ever happens “in Women’s Studies and Afro-American Studies” (210). “If women’s studies is ‘political’ in the sense that it speaks for women, where are non-feminist or anti-feminist women to be found? Where are their arguments to be heard, or are we to assume that they are bereft of arguments?” (213). Finally: “The monolithic ideological focus of the so-called ‘studies’ programs seems to have produced a relentless, even fanatical, conformity of thought in which ‘diversity’ loses its procedural meaning and assumes substantive content” (214). Here are a few of D’Souza’s considerations on diversity and pluralism. Most colleges want to promote both “by setting up and funding separate institutions for minority groups,” and “by imposing administrative sanctions, ranging from forced apologies to expulsion, for remarks that criticize individuals or policies based on race, gender, and sexual orientation stereotypes,” yet “blacks, feminists, and homosexuals are regarded as oppressed victims,” so “they are usually exempt from these restrictions and permitted considerable license in their conduct” (8). Three decades later, this is even more true, as is clearly shown, for instance, by what recently occurred at Evergreen State College, a case to which I devoted a section in the preceding chapter. Another 30-year-old example reported by D’Souza will undoubtedly resonate with many people today, in the age of “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”: when a member of the University of Pennsylvania Planning Committee voiced her concerns about the “mandatory ‘racism seminars’ for students” by expressing her “deep regard for the individual and [her] desire to protect the freedoms of all members of society,” an administrator replied to her saying that “individual” is a “red flag” word, since many people view it as “racist” (9–10). There are individualists – I am referring to either the classical liberal or the libertarian conservative variants – and essentialists (like me), and there are collectivists and progressivists (like the PCers), and both sides can deploy either valid or specious arguments; yet what warped line of reasoning could ever justify directly equating individualism with racism? Once more, D’Souza’s concluding comments appear pointed and fair: “It seems that the primary form of diversity which universities should try to foster is diversity of mind. Such diversity would enrich academic discourse, widen its parameters, multiply its objects of inquiry, and increase the probability of obscure and unlikely terrain being investigated” (230). Granted, this is no more than a Pollyannaish notion, and one characterized by a high level of abstraction at that,


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but one could hardly argue that, in principle, it is false. “‘Pluralism’ becomes a framework for racial browbeating and intimidation. When they discover resentment among students over preferential treatment and minority separatism, university administrators conclude that they have discovered the latent bigotry for which they have been searching” (238). It is an undeniable fact that many students (and people in general) abide by no other value than their own, so they act in bad faith whenever they come face to face with convictions or lifestyles which – to them – seem alien, and they may even be way too eager to cry “reverse sexism” or “reciprocal racism”; nonetheless, everyday experience shows that it is also true that not everyone who opposes the preferential treatment of “victimized” groups, or of anyone else for that matter, is a closeted bigot. Lastly, D’Souza cleverly exposes yet another node in the Strange Loop of PC: Since the racial and feminist agenda of the new advocates of diversity finds little support in other cultures, it seems reasonable to expect that these cultures be roundly denounced as even more backward and retrograde than the West. But, for political reasons, this is totally unacceptable, since the Third World is viewed by American minority activists as suffering the same kind of oppression that blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, women, and homosexuals suffer in this country. It is crucial for the activists to maintain victim solidarity. As a result, instead of being subjected to charges of misogyny and prejudice, these cultures are ransacked for “representative” figures who are congenial to the Western progressive agenda – then, [. . .] they are triumphantly presented as the “repressed voices” of diversity, fit for the solemn admiration of American undergraduates. (80) It is probably important to add here that this phenomenon also manifests itself within Western culture(s), as illustrated by the PCers’ characteristic lack of reaction to the sexist or homophobic lyrics in many Rap songs, a point I touched upon in Chapter 3. Robert Hughes’s quip about the matter discussed above by D’Souza is apropos: “Oppression is what we do in the West. What they do in the Middle East is ‘their culture’” (115). I will soon be entering upon the meta-metacriticism part, to wit, a critical inquiry into the theoretical assumptions that inform other authors’ critique of D’Souza’s criticism, but first I ought to clarify the following: the passages I excerpted from D’Souza’s book are some of the ones I am in agreement with, irrespective of where D’Souza is “coming from,” whether he truly meant what he wrote or not, or what else he has done in his life. “What matter who’s speaking, someone said, what matter who’s speaking” (Beckett, Texts for Nothing 16); the prescribed word limit precludes me from embarking upon an excursus on the intricate interrelations amongst the concepts of authority, originality, and truth, so it will have to suffice to point out that if there is theoretical disagreement about an argument which, however, is substantiated by empirical evidence and/or common sense, this will . . . have to suffice, no matter who made it and for what reason. [I beg to call the readers’ attention to what was discussed above in connection

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with Friedman’s pertinent views on PC categorization based on associationism.] Complete ethical, epistemological, or political impartiality is always-already elusive, yet theorists vigorously pursue it, or at least they claim they do, and if they are to stand a chance of achieving even a portion of it, they cannot afford the intellectual luxury of rejecting someone’s opinion out of hand simply on the grounds that this someone belongs to an “out-group.” Daniel Victor’s polemical article says that D’Souza, who received a pardon from Trump in 2018 “for a felony conviction of making illegal campaign contributions, has spent almost four decades in a cycle of provocation and controversy that has made him, at times, a hero of the right,” and although D’Souza’s anti-liberal books and documentaries have been commercially successful, “he has promoted conspiracy theories and his work has been criticized as inaccurate and excessively incendiary, sometimes by other conservatives”; for instance, D’Souza suggested that the infamous white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was staged, he made jokes in rather poor taste about the Holocaust and about the Parkland shooting survivors, and Victor also includes a sensational tidbit about D’Souza’s resignation “as president of the Christian-affiliated King’s College after he was spotted entering a hotel with a woman who was not his wife, from whom he had been separated.” Based on the above, are we – that is, those of us who live outside the United States – to infer that, all things considered, D’Souza is not the most aboveboard, tolerant, refined person alive? What difference does it make, as long as at least some of his arguments are well-grounded? Is every theory or ideology only as good as the character of all the people who espouse it? If so, should not the same criterion apply to PC as well? Are all the apostles of PC equally true to their cause? Can every single one of them rightfully claim the moral high ground? Is it always the case that their motives are irreproachable and their reasoning impeccable? Here is another question, inspired by Victor’s last piece of colorful info about D’Souza: is it not infinitely ironic that progressive PCers often speak ill of their adversaries for their inability or refusal to conform to traditional values, like not indulging in extramarital affairs? The same thing transpired a short while ago with the stand-up comic Kevin Hart, as I discussed in Chapter 3. Incidentally, it is doubly ironic that both D’Souza and Hart, who are attacked by PCers, are “persons of color.” It must be admitted, though, that it is equally ironic when right-wing anti-PCers denigrate their ideological opponents for being politically incorrect; I minutely examined an example of this sort, taken from the current political goings-on in Greece, in Chapter 2: New Democracy condemning the leftist Polakis for his comments against the “differently abled” conservative candidate, Kympouropoulos. It is not without significance that Feldstein asserts that the Right’s spin doctors are making use of “white-identified people of color like Dinesh D’Souza, because he privileges racial bigots who have traditionally oppressed African Americans; it’s in their name that he speaks when attacking progressive forces for change in this country. Satisfied with being a token person of color in a predominantly white male political group, D’Souza has been content to do the dirty work of denigrating African Americans who, one might think, would be his allies” (116). So, I wonder


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whether for Feldstein D’Souza is like a brown “Uncle Tom,” a “traitor” to the . . . darker hues of skin color, although he is quoted, by Feldstein himself, as saying that “America is becoming a multiracial society and the whole issue is transcending black and white” (150). Feldstein’s accusations appear somewhat politically incorrect; I suspect that some PCers might even call them outright racist. Why should anyone “identify” with the pigment of one’s skin, though, and why ought it to be “natural” for D’Souza to ally himself with African Americans? D’Souza also acted like an academic spy, pretending to be a student so as to attend a feminist class at Harvard and find material for his book (Feldstein 24–28); he received large sums of money from conservative foundations and institutions (Wilson 26; Feldstein 149); he does not bother himself with carrying out painstaking research but relies solely on right-wing newspaper articles, interviews, and citing other conservative authors’ citations of his own writings (Feldstein 42–43). The first is far from commendable, yet it is not the abominable crime Feldstein portrays it as, either. The second is merely part of “the game.” The third is by all means a grave academic faux pas, one that is committed by progressive intellectuals or journalists as well; the section on Peterson offers quite a few examples of this. By and large, some right-wingers who are enamored of some sort of populist antiintellectualism do sometimes appear to be averse to reading what they criticize; most left-wingers, though, avoid critiquing what they prefer to – or are told to – read . . . Which one is worse? This is a good point for me to indicate that attempting to whitewash any conservative’s propagandizing, prejudices, or glaring epistemological inaccuracies is the furthest thing from my mind; the sole focus of my attention is the “rough beast” – once again, I borrow a phrase from Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (1881) – of PC, in all its different guises and variations. Yet it just so happens that, during the last few years, it is mainly left-leaning PCers who have been going off the deep end, especially in situations where they were supposed to be advancing convincing counterarguments to the various conservative thinkers’ contentions instead of pigeonholing them as arch-reactionaries or resorting to ad hominem attacks against them. I shall presently be discussing some of the arguments put up by critics from the cultural left in opposition to D’Souza and in favor of PC; in lieu of a concluding remark for this part of the chapter, I cannot help but offer a maxim by La Rochefoucauld, dedicated to both conservatives and progressives: “We lack the courage to say as a general truth that we have no faults and our enemies have no good qualities; but in points of detail, we are not very far from believing it” (109). According to Wilson: “While sarcastically attacking ‘the victim’s revolution’ of minorities on campus, D’Souza and other critics have created their own victim’s revolution with a new victim: the oppressed conservative white male. Illiberal Education tells the stories of various conservatives victimized by tenured radicals and student activists, including the ultimate victims of PC: the Dead White European Males of Western Civilization” (16). So, what exactly is the problem here? Are right-wingers not permitted to make use of the political tools invented by the Left, does Wilson flatly deny that there have ever been any conservatives

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who felt tyrannized over by PC authoritarians, or is he against weaponized victimhood in general? Ironically, Robert Hughes employs almost the same expressions as those of Wilson’s to present the opposing point to the latter’s argument, asserting that in the PC era there are people who are obsessed with “the manufacture of victims, whose one common feature is that they have been denied parity with that Blond Beast of the sentimental imagination, the heterosexual, middle-class white male” (17). Part of the blame for the inaccurate depiction of higher education must be given to the academic Left itself, which allowed political correctness to become a public relations fiasco through its inability to tell the other side of the story to the general public, and its lack of interest in doing so. D’Souza notes that “a national debate raged about political correctness, with virtually no response from the leading advocates of racial preferences and multiculturalism and a kind of deafening silence from university administrators.” Because no powerful reply came back from academia, many people assumed that the conservative stories had a great deal of validity. (Wilson 24–25) Is not Wilson, as well as a cadre of other leftish critics quoted here, doing exactly that, “telling the other side of the story”? And why does he view PC specifically as a public relations “fiasco”? In the introduction I stated that PC is symptomatic of a widespread malaise, that is, of a brazenly hypocritical sociocultural framework wherein the only mantra being sung by all the various special interest groups and political sects is: “It is all about the optics.” Could it be that there is a (much longed-for) bipartisan agreement on this? Is Wilson implying that in the case of PC, or in any other matter, the Left ought to be employing the devious stratagems that – are said to – have been designed by the Right? Welcome to the emphatic triumph of appearance over substance? On D’Souza’s description of the Stanford incident – “Jesse Jackson led a group of protesting students who chanted, ‘Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western culture has got to go’” – Wilson remarks that “Jackson never chanted anything [. . .]. Like the myth of the chanting reverend, the attacks on Stanford’s curriculum reform and on multiculturalism across the country are based on imagined conspiracies and inaccurate information” (64), and he declares the following: “Plainly the purpose of the CIV proposal was not to destroy ‘Western Culture’ but to expand its horizons” (65). According to Zimmerman: “Critics fixated upon a brief chant that the Reverend Jesse Jackson had led during the student protests” (30). So, after all, did Jackson chant or not? This whole debate epitomizes the gist of the ancient Greeks’ idiomatic phrase “wrangling over an ass’s shadow,” which means “raising disputes about a trifle.” After an excessively protracted analysis of how D’Souza misrepresented one book [I, Rigoberta Menchú] and overemphasized its importance in the Stanford CIV course (69–72), Wilson refers to the reactions about Stanford’s multicultural curriculum as typical conservative “mythmaking” that tried to “invent” a crisis of PC (72), since, in contrast to right-wing “conspiracy theories,” multiculturalism simply proposes the study


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of non-Western and minority Western cultures, and urges a critical re-reading of traditional books, not the wholesale dismissal of the Western Canon (79). First of all, Wilson commits a non sequitur fallacy when he suggests that the ambiguity about whether Jackson took part in the chanting and D’Souza’s factual errors regarding the significance and the interpretation of one coursebook are causally related to a well-prepared right-wing scheme to create the direful PC myth; at best, one could argue that they may be spuriously associated with such an alleged agenda. Furthermore, Wilson avoids responding to D’Souza’s queries about whether multicultural studies can potentially free students from their racial and gender prejudices and help them for life after college; neither does Wilson present any counterarguments to D’Souza’s view that making sure that students are thoroughly familiarized with the Western philosophical and literary tradition, which is universal enough in scope to cover ideas from other cultures, should take precedence over having them exposed to texts that serve as a critique of Western culture – and not an “expansion of its horizons,” as Wilson maintains – through the lenses of racial, gender, ethnic, or sexual identity. Apropos, Paul A. Cantor is right to draw attention to the fact that not only was the Western Canon “never as narrowly defined or as firmly established as its detractors today claim,” but even if we grant that there was, indeed, “a uniformity of subject matter,” this “was counterbalanced by a diversity of approaches to it” (161). Yet another enormous leap in logic on Wilson’s part is when he mentions that D’Souza “complains that students are permitted to write papers about ‘latent bigotry in Jane Austen, or tabulate black underrepresentation in the university administration’,” and from that he surmises that D’Souza “apparently believes that any analysis of ‘race and gender victimization’ should be absolutely forbidden by all teachers” (81; emphasis added). The emphasized parts ought to be enough to show how tendentious Wilson’s conclusion is, but, aside from that, of course students should first study, try to understand, and most of all enjoy Plato, Descartes, Schopenhauer, Freud, Nietzsche, Beckett, Borges (as well as, pace many ultraconservative anti-PCers, Guy Debord, Baudrillard, or Kurt Vonnegut, for instance) before – if time permits – they attempt to sharpen their ideological teeth by engaging in intellectual, and quasi-revolutionary, gymnastics regarding identity politics. Robert Hughes’s penetrating remarks on the subject may be somewhat unconventional, but they are right on point: those who complain about the Canon because it supposedly prevents students from reading anything else should instead be honest and admit that most students, “left to their own devices, would not read at all” (103); the dispute about “the Canon reflects the sturdy assumption that works of art are or ought to be therapeutic” (104), yet “Literature isn’t a nice normalizing course of treatment whose purpose is to guide and cuff us into becoming better citizens of whatever republic we are reading in” (105), and “the list of notable democracy-haters fills quite a lot of any literary canon you care to invent” (106); finally, as regards the PCers’ mantra about “dead white males,” it is worth reflecting that “in writing, death is relative: Lord Rochester is as dead as Sappho, though by no means as moribund as Brett Easton Ellis or Andrea

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Dworkin. Statistically, most authors are dead, but some of them continue to speak to us with a vividness and moral urgency which few of the living can rival” (109). Wilson also excoriates those who oppose Women’s Studies programs: It’s the antifeminists, not the feminists, who want to eliminate certain classes and departments according to their own standards of “conservative correctness.” [. . .] As editor of the conservative Princeton alumni magazine Prospect, Dinesh D’Souza urged the university to abolish the women’s studies department “rather than let Women’s Studies fester and fall away in scabs.” D’Souza would allow some “worthwhile” women’s studies classes into the regular curriculum but warned professors that they would have to publish extensively and that “an account of their sexual experiences would not suffice.” (135) To begin with, by referring to “antifeminists” Wilson craftily frames the discussion in a context that gives him the upper hand right off the bat, but the fact of the matter is that the Western Canon long predates feminist theory; thus, in this scenario, there can only be feminists who are anti-Canon, not the other way around. And yes, there should be no doubt that an account of experiences that validate women’s sexuality, undermine the presumed patriarchal dominance over language, or serve as a castigation of those who practice gender discrimination does not suffice for a higher education course. At the risk of seeming as if I am endeavoring to go one better than D’Souza, which is definitely not my intention, I contend that diverse bodies of thought such as queer theory, feminist theory, and postcolonial theory, when viewed as specific analytical viewpoints or as critical theories in the broader sense (in other words, not necessarily as subfields of Critical Theory), might provide the conventional conceptual frameworks of academic investigations with a useful arsenal of novel perspectives, approaches, and/or constructs. Nonetheless, they are insufficient to vindicate the validity, or the scientific legitimacy, of such courses – let alone whole areas of study – as Queer Studies, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies, respectively. None of these prisms is enough on its own to steer students through the intricacies of this chaotic world. On the contrary, all of them might potentially give students a skewed perspective of what reality beyond their particular in-group’s echo chamber is like. As the establishment of new, “iconoclastic” disciplines is growing apace, should universities give consideration to any possible future calls to create fields such as “Incel Studies” or “Disaffected Video Gamers Studies”? [“Feminism and Botany” is already taken . . . ] In case some readers are eager to presume that my “over-the-top” examples were nothing more than a facile derision of a PC straw man, they might want to turn their attention to what Satel mentions about a push to establish “a separate medical school curriculum in women’s health” (107–108) ─ why not, given that Robert Hughes describes an actual incident in which feminists opined that women’s health is adversely affected merely by a man reading a Playboy magazine in their presence (15), – or about the already existent “feminist therapy and


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multicultural counseling, which are flourishing in public and university mental health clinics and enjoy a secure niche in graduate-level training programs” (208), or maybe about the equally very real program for LGBT counseling, which “risks ghettoizing the mental health needs of gay people” (223); in fact, only white male heterosexual patients seem not to have special medical teams dedicated exclusively to them (226). The PCers who came up with these somewhat cultish or “tribe-oriented” therapies were probably never taught that “the individual, with his unique emotions, cognitions, actions and spirituality, is the focus of counseling, not the group to which he belongs,” and that the “true purpose of therapy” is “to help patients [. . .] take responsibility for their choices” (Satel 217). David G. Green may have a convincing explanation why this is so: “A desire to sympathise with victims has also led us astray, particularly by encouraging a flight from personal responsibility” (23). Be that as it may, Satel’s assessment that “oppression-based therapies are enormously seductive because they tend to absolve the sufferer of responsibility” (229) seems accurate, and so does Robert Hughes’s observation that “the new orthodoxy of feminism is abandoning the image of the independent, existentially responsible woman in favor of woman as helpless victim of male oppression” (9); a striking illustration of this is a “New Age physician” and “women’s health” expert who claims to have been “emotionally and psychologically ‘raped’” during her phallocentric medical training (Satel 106–107). After all, within the PC culture, Robert Hughes’s jest paints a sad but true picture: “Everything is rape until proven otherwise” (10). In relation to affirmative action, Wilson writes: The truth ignored by D’Souza is that racist and sexist prejudices about the intellectual capabilities of women and minorities have been around much longer than affirmative action programs. While stigma is a very real and destructive phenomenon, the elimination of affirmative action will only harm minorities without rooting out the racist beliefs that are the true cause of stigmatization. Even if the “stigma” of affirmative action were removed by depriving women and minorities of these opportunities, they would still suffer the stigma of their race or gender. (153) While Wilson’s last sentence may be true, his premises are false; affirmative action was primarily seen as a form of restorative justice and not as a way of eradicating racism and sexism entirely. Only secondarily do quota systems invoke the benefits that students may derive from being exposed to a diverse set of ideas [i.e., intellectual diversity], which, however, is hampered by the PCers’ focus on diversity of identity. As Peter Wood aptly puts it: “Diversity is really two quite different ideas, one old and one quite recent, that have been muddled together in current usage. The older of these two ideas is the sense that we have been bundled into a world full of unforeseeable human differences. [. . .] The other idea of diversity [. . .] posits a world in which the important human differences are already specified and not just known but also morally calibrated with exactitude. [. . .] Diversity, in this newer sense, is to be celebrated, but that is to say,

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only those human differences that are symbolically invested with a history of oppression are to be celebrated” (122). Racism, which – unfortunately – exists either with or without quotas, does not account for all the cases in which a white male objects to affirmative action because he feels, and often is, victimized by it. Feldstein claims that “D’Souza’s version of the PC narrative” grossly exaggerates the amount of “neoconservative students” who felt threatened by radical professors’ political views, therefore D’Souza’s “premise of widespread student dissatisfaction” is false (146). For the sake of argument, let us grant that this is so. Should such a serious matter be ultimately reduced to a question of numbers? A college administration’s rule, a teacher’s conduct, or the content of an academic class either creates problems or it does not; the existence of even one conservative student who feels/is traumatized ought to be enough cause to re-evaluate one or all of the above, as it routinely happens in the case of just one . . . “triggeredhappy” PCer. Surprisingly, Wilson does not even give D’Souza credit for his class-based affirmative action proposal; instead, he argues that it “can be extended to justify continuing racial preferences for underrepresented minorities,” and adds the following: If overcoming disadvantage is our standard for bestowing preference, then surely we should include disadvantage caused by racial injustice as well as economic injustice. Not all minority students suffer racism directly, but then not all students from impoverished backgrounds are deprived of opportunities. On average, however, minority students are likely to have faced more barriers to getting an education (and therefore have more untapped potential) than white students. Ideally, colleges should more carefully examine their students. Instead of giving the same preference to all underrepresented minorities, admissions officers should be more selective in providing stronger preferences to minorities who have overcome poverty as well as advantages for underprivileged whites. [. . .] Because very few underrepresented minorities─whether they are “qualified” or “unqualified”─are admitted to top-notch universities, only a trivial number of white students are actually denied admission to an elite college because of affirmative action; highly qualified white students are far more likely to be squeezed out of a space by a white son or daughter of an alumnus. But there is no crusade against legacies, especially not among the educated elite of affirmative action critics who are its beneficiaries. Apparently preferences are objectionable only when they serve the goal of racial justice. No one cares about “unqualified” students who are musicians or athletes or children of alumni or connected to powerful politicians or who come from states like Montana. No one doubts the “meaning” of their college degrees or cries out against the injustice done to other applicants. (155–156)


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Wilson never sheds any light on how exactly this notion of preferential treatment based on social class could be “extended to justify continuing racial preferences for underrepresented minorities,” and the same applies to what evidence buttresses his conviction that “not all students from impoverished backgrounds are deprived of opportunities.” I suppose it all depends on the type of opportunities he has in mind; in any case, his idea that not all minority students suffer racism directly seems far more credible. In his entry for “racism,” Robertson explains that it “is a natural problem for Marxism, as racial groupings seldom fit neatly into the expected lines of class conflict, and the tendency is for Marxists to see racism as a false consciousness deliberately or otherwise implanted into the masses to divert them from seeing their common brotherhood as workers facing the true class enemy” (414). I shall discuss the Marxists’ approach to PC in general later on, but for now I note that cultural leftists appear to be more flexible as to how to redress racism, sexism, and social class inequalities all at one blow . . . Wilson states that if “so-called merit” was the sole criterion for college admissions, this would result in “de facto racial segregation” (156). First, why “so-called,” and, second, does Wilson mean he is certain that minority groups would score lower than whites? If this turned out to be true [Jews and Asians would vehemently disagree], so be it; the only right thing to do, then, would be to address the root of the problem, i.e., to attempt to rectify the deep-rooted socio-economic inequalities, provided these were proven to be the real cause of the disparity in academic performance, and not a difference in intelligence due to genetic factors. Wilson’s rhetoric about “legacies” and “elite” students sounds like a bland and tenuous generalization, and one that is not politically correct enough when compared to D’Souza’s extremely specific reference to the daughter of “an Appalachian coal miner or a Vietnamese street vendor” who should take the place of “a black or Hispanic doctor’s son.” Finally, Wilson outdoes himself in political incorrectness with his infelicitous remark about the lack of focus on athletes who, though “unqualified,” do not have their degrees questioned; maybe Wilson forgot about the disproportionate number of African Americans who attend college on athletic scholarships. Feldstein’s book is a psychological approach to McCarthyism and to “McReaganism,” defined by the author as a mixture of “moral McCarthyism; McDonald’s fast-food multinational capitalism, which has pervaded the American business community in the postmodern era; and the conversion of the president to a master of ceremonies who tries to control information placed on television and radio for public consumption” (69), rather than an exploration of PC, and it is not without its merits, particularly as regards its originality. Feldstein’s basic premise is as follows: D’Souza and other members of the far right intelligentsia pretend to hold moderate views. One of the ways they appear as “reasonable people” to the public at large is to adopt the narrative personae of that segment of the electorate whom they are targeting. They can also disguise their intentions by disavowing their aggressive impulses, as they project their persecutory

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agenda onto left-wing rivals. Look closely at left-wing McCarthyism, which is supposedly coextensive with political correctness, and you will find that both are really forms of projection that include psychoanalytic and cultural objects of reference. Projection has long been understood as a psychic defense. In the projective process, the subject places outside its purview ideas that are unacceptable to consciousness. If there are tension-generated excitations, psychical ideas inadmissible to consciousness are displaced onto the other, so that the subject sees its own ideas reflected back from that external position. According to this scenario, “unsuitable” ideas are first denied, then recognized as coming from another person. But when we examine cultural projection, which is central to an understanding of the so-called McCarthyism of the Left and its correlate, political correctness, it becomes apparent that the projective process can be adopted for political purposes. In this instance, neoconservative extremists consciously project moral attitudes concerned with right/wrong, good/bad, and correct/incorrect behavior onto those interested in ethics, not in morality. Theirs is a projected political correctness precisely because they attribute a moral discourse to those who reject such carrot-and-stick superegoistic dyads as naive. Unlike the psychological process of projection, where consciousness transfers onto the other what it cannot tolerate, ideological conservatives engaged in cultural projection intentionally transfer onto (postmodern and poststructuralist) multicultural critics the granitelike moral beliefs they themselves celebrate as the basis for consciousness. (66–67) It should go without saying that facilely invoking McCarthyism, the Shoah, the Gulag, or 9/11 as a foolproof way to vilify your political rivals by fraudulently associating them with atrocities as appalling as the aforementioned goes beyond any debate about PC, and ought not to be countenanced. This having been posited, Feldstein may be attacking a straw man here, because the phrase “left-wing McCarthyism” is not used that often anymore, and certainly not by informed antiPCers (who, lest it be forgotten, may just as well be supporters of the Left). The first time it was employed to characterize the advocates of PC was in 1990, in the subtitle of a Newsweek article by Jerry Adler: “Is this the new enlightenment on campus or the new McCarthyism?” (Feldstein 67; Wilson 13–14; Zimmerman 30). As Zimmerman clearly states, there is no new [leftist] McCarthyism on campuses (67); no self-respecting anti-PCer who wants to be taken seriously would claim otherwise. Young academics, according to Robert Hughes, call it “an overheated metaphor,” since, unlike “what the senator from Wisconsin and his cronies actually did to academe in the 50s,” there have been no “conservative academics fired by the lefty thought police,” though there is no shortage of “heckling and stupidity,” “baseless accusations of racism,” and “zealots, authoritarians and scramblers who view PC as a shrewd career move or as a vent for their own frustrations” (56). Nonetheless, this does not mean that there are not any radical PCers out there who would be ecstatic if there was a McCarthyism of the Left.


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Feldstein puts forward the hypothesis that the Right’s aspersions about the scary “myth” of PC could be attributed to the cultural version of the defense mechanism of projection. According to Freud, projection usually makes its appearance in paranoia, “but under other psychological conditions as well,” and when there is a case of delusions of persecution, in particular, then the content of an internal perception “enters consciousness in the form of an external perception” after it has undergone a distortion that consists “in a transformation of affect; what should have been felt internally as love is perceived externally as hate” (“On the Mechanism of Paranoia” 66); therefore, Freud argues, “the proposition ‘I hate him’ becomes transformed by projection into another one: ‘He hates (persecutes) me, which will justify me in hating him’” (63). It would require for me to take quite an extended digression if I were to assess all the possible implications of Feldstein’s admittedly interesting idea, so I will try to be brief. First, distrust (or even blind hatred) of other people, either due to repressed and subsequently externally projected self-reproach or for any other reason, is not peculiar to right-wingers. [What “other” reasons could there be for such obnoxious dispositions? This is one of the questions that Chapter 5 attempts to answer. Here is a small hint: because of the most fundamental constituent parts of the human spirit, i.e., egotism and fatuity, and the concomitants of these two: ruthlessness, greed, unmotivated acts of violence, deceitfulness, and so on. In a brilliant maxim – which parallels Freud’s much later thoughts on projection – about people’s unbridled conceit, La Rochefoucauld argues that “when somebody opposes and hates and persecutes us, our self-love judges his deeds with all the rigour of justice. It enlarges his faults until they are enormous, and casts such an unfavourable light on his good qualities that they become more distasteful than his faults. Yet when the same person has become favourable to us, or when one of our personal interests has reconciled us to him, the mere fact that we are satisfied restores to his merit the lustre that our aversion had just removed” (157).] “McCarthyism of the Left” may not be such a commonly employed phrase, but “PC gone mad” is, and, more often than not, it is the leftist PCers who – to quote Freud’s exact words from his examination of paranoia – adopt the process of projection for their micropolitical purposes: the anti-PCers hate (persecute) us, thus we are justified in hating them. Hence, if one wished to plunge headlong into an infinitely regressive chain of contingent causes, s/he might be disposed to argue that, in this case, it is actually Feldstein and other cultural leftists who “culturally project” their own proclivity either for “mythmaking” or for [reciprocally] persecuting their political foes onto right-wingers. All in all, it can be said of both sides that they always-already exist in a state of “do unto others before they do unto you,” incessantly moving back and forth between the roles of accuser and accused by exchanging tu quoque arguments, i.e., charging one another with hypocrisy. Second, a well-researched article by Roy F. Baumeister et al. reports that there are numerous findings that do not link “seeing the trait in others to denying it in oneself,” and, in fact, the psychologist David S. Holmes “concluded that defensive projection should be regarded as a myth” (1091), something which, ironically, is what Feldstein and Wilson claim must happen with PC; moreover, people do not

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necessarily defensively project their own bad traits onto others, they just see others possessing the same traits as they do, both good and bad (1092); so, projection is rather a cognitive bias (1090), which affects progressives and the far Left at least as often as it does conservatives and reactionaries. A good case in point is the following: Christopher Newfield, a self-described “pluralistic liberal humanist” (308), is of the opinion that putting all the blame on the Right for “the larger identity crisis in the humanities” is not only “inaccurate” and “self-destructive,” but it also “amounts to a form of projection that disavows the center’s and even the Left’s ambivalence about the role of social issues in the ongoing development of the humanistic disciplines” (310; emphasis added). Third, what is known as the “kernel-of-truth hypothesis” may hold true for cultural projection, be it of either the right-wing or the left-wing variety, just as much as it does for all types of stereotypes, which are often “based on some empirical reality, although they may exaggerate the extent to which a particular group can be characterized in a certain way” (Schneider 17). In fact, William O’Donohue and Richard E. Redding report that one of the aperçus to be gleaned from recent psychological investigations into the degree to which stereotypes may be accurate suggest that some of them are indeed so, “that they do not necessarily exaggerate group differences, and that relying in part on stereotypes does not necessarily produce inaccurate judgments about individuals” (118). Here are a few requisite clarifications with respect to how stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination relate to one another: “Prejudice has both cognitive and affective dimensions, the former including beliefs and stereotypes, the latter active dislike and aversion. Prejudice is an attitude that may or may not map on to its behavioural equivalent: discrimination. For example, where aversion leads to avoidance and bias, the line between attitude and behaviour is crossed and discrimination occurs. But, where dislike remains an attitude or outlook, it remains at the level of prejudice” (Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture 228). In other words, people often harbor the stereotype that . . . stereotypes are always bad and can be avoided (they are not and they cannot), and that they ineluctably lead to racial or gender discrimination, which is not always the case. Further, abhorrent acts may have no motive at all, or they may be due to erratic feelings. In addition, let us not forget that the socialist Walter Lippmann, the journalist and political commentator who established the figurative use of the word “stereotype,” averred that “we first define and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by culture” (81). Why? Mostly to save us time, as Lippmann explicates: “There is neither time nor opportunity for intimate acquaintances. Instead we notice a trait which marks a well known type, and fill in the rest of the picture by means of the stereotypes we carry about in our heads” (89). Hence, left-wing PC authoritarianism cannot be a complete fabrication, since it contains at least a soupçon of truth. This next hint of self-criticism on Feldstein’s part is germane to the point I am making here: “No doubt there is a grain of truth in right-wing exaggerations. Few academics would proclaim their views to be


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infallible; most are far too sophisticated to declare their description of events to be the one and only acceptable interpretation” (184). In the same spirit, Wilson, at some point in his book, makes a retraction – qualified though it is – of his comments about PC being a myth, stating that although he calls it so, he does not deny “the existence of leftists who censor conservative views” and “are intolerant of other viewpoints,” thus acknowledging that PC “does exist and should be condemned” (53). [Actually, Wilson goes many steps further than Feldstein, as he then discusses specific examples of left-wing PC intolerance, censorship, and other “serious violations of academic freedom” (54–57).] At any rate, to frame it more accurately, when conservatives see their own “granitelike moral beliefs” in leftists, as Feldstein claims, perhaps it is because they have always existed in them, to some degree, and not because they were “transferred onto” them. This brings me to Feldstein’s equivocal, bombastic declarations about morality versus ethics and “naïve carrot-and-stick superegoistic dyads,” whatever the latter may mean; also, I have not the faintest idea what Feldstein is trying to convey when he proclaims that “neoconservative extremists consciously project moral attitudes concerned with right/wrong, good/bad, and correct/incorrect behavior onto those interested in ethics, not in morality,” but I will perform a succinct metaethical analysis of his views. The dichotomy between ethics and morality is generally pointless, if not downright false, and even more so in the context Feldstein invokes it. Does he use them as layman’s terms in order to make the point that conservatives are focused on what is (customs, habits, and people’s individual moral codes) and hold a simplistic dualistic view (virtue/vice), whereas progressives are the “true” inheritors of Enlightenment, because they are concerned with what ought to be (normative ethics, i.e., rules and standards based on reason)? If only it were that simple . . . Simon Critchley certainly has a – Kantian – point when he argues that “ethics without politics is empty” and “politics without ethics is blind” (13), but so does Friedman when he explains that the problem with PC pertains to “the moralization of the political, which effaces debate in translating it into questions of good and evil” (67), that the “hidden agenda” of PC is to construct “moral interpretations of the world” as “reflexes of political identities,” instead of discussing “the political ideologies themselves” (12), and that, for PCers, “good and bad are predefined by a set of associations,” to such an extent that “a left-wing intellectual who critiques cultural studies for its jargon and superficiality is defined as conservative” (29). PCers are not moral philosophers by definition, and they cannot arrogate to themselves the power to choose which underlying principles ought to be used when a norm like “sexism is bad” is to be defended; at best, they are applied (or practical) ethicists, mere players in the game of ethics, like all of us, including “neoconservative extremists.” Ever since Socrates, the “father” of Western ethics, it has proven to be insurmountably difficult for people to arrive at a consensus on a myriad of pertinent issues. I shall presently be discussing a few of them. 1 The semantic function of moral language and its possible connection to either the phenomenal or the metaphysical realm. For instance, what do people who

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say “total equality is good” mean? Is it an empirical certainty, to wit, an actual truth that could be verified out there in the real world, of which it would still be a part even if there were no people to experience it? Is it a constative assertion, a normative claim, or just a speculative premise? Are they making a moral statement according to their emotions, to beliefs based on epistemic reasons, or to what the currently predominant sociocultural mores dictate they should say? Or are they, perhaps, merely “following God’s will”? If PCers propose that the dictum “total equality is good” emanates from their direct perceptual acquaintance with the external world, then the question that arises is this: is there some kind of natural property that is coextensive with what is the right path to choose, in this case that of “total equality”? In other words, do objective ethical facts or judgments really exist, and if so, how can we logically justify whether they are true or false, correct or incorrect? How significant is the psychological, mental, or emotional state of a PCer who is making an ethical judgment like “intellectual elitism is wrong,” and what is it that motivates that person to act? How is acquiring knowledge about what is intellectual elitism [cognition] combined with how one feels about it [affect] in order to turn into motivated ethical behavior [conation] against it? Does one construct one’s moral stance based on one’s falsifiable convictions, or on one’s desires and sentiments of approval/disapproval, neither of which are apt to be evaluated with respect to their truth or falsity? Is making a moral claim a necessary and sufficient condition of acting ethically thanks to some internal, necessary, conceptual connection between the two, or is the link between judgment and motivation external and contingent either on a person’s feelings, which fall outside the purview of rational criticism and may have more to do with matters of taste [like exclaiming “boo on Jordan Peterson and his fancy clothes” or “hooray for LGBT Pride Parades”] than with ethics, or on someone’s practical desires, which may not be proceeding from any moral principles whatsoever? Even worse, since neither emotions nor desires are able to be judged true or false, a moral assertion based on either of them may be resting on the assumption of an ethical value system that can seem heinous [for instance: “we should be kind, sincere, and helpful to all our fellow humans, on condition that they have an above average IQ, but we should exterminate all the rest”], yet it would not be feasible to employ reason in order to prove that it is objectively incorrect. When a PCer’s nonempirical ethical statement “there should be no discrimination against a group of people due to their race or gender” is juxtaposed with the empirical truth that “races” and sexes differ markedly in certain physical, cognitive, and social abilities, what type of principles or claims could, or should, one appeal to so that the former proposition might be evaluated as true? Is “good” definable? Can it be reduced to other known terms, notions, or properties like “socially beneficial,” “pleasurable,” or “God’s will”? Is it permissible to associate someone “with Evil via words that can be interpreted as originating in that Evil, or by having a friend or being socially, in time


The Story Thus Far and space, associated with someone or people who are accused of Evil” (Friedman 51)?

I will stop here, knowing full well that I have barely covered the tip of the iceberg of the legion of aporias regarding how the countless dissimilar ideas about morality may affect one’s coexistence with “the Other.” What I wanted to show is how problematic Feldstein’s divide is: on one side the reactionaries, with their unshakeable, antediluvian, black-versus-white moral codes, on the other the broad-minded progressives, concerned with moral imperatives which are purportedly “grounded in the nature of our being as free and rational creatures” (Kant, “Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion” 415). If ever there was a Manichean mentality, this is it; and the distinction implied by Feldstein (between the PCers’ and the anti-PCers’ ethics/morality) is crude, if not utterly erroneous. No group of people can lay claim to being the only ones who know what any kind of “correct correctness” is. Hence, when Feldstein writes that D’Souza is part of a large group of “neoconservative double-dealers calling for a more stringent moral standard, one they themselves break whenever the opportunity furthers their political goals” (98) perhaps he is right, but this does not absolve leftish PCers of playing fast and loose with their “code of ethics.” I used quotation marks because the PC police do not really have any other consistent moral imperatives apart from projecting a contrived holier-than-thou image, engaging in an intergroup competition – with several intragroup rivalries embedded in it – for the top spot on the “who-is-the-most-downtrodden” list (i.e., some sort of competitive victimhood), severely censuring outsiders (or, in many occasions, even people from their own camp) for not being anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-ableist enough, and ordaining that every member of their in-group should leave their individuality at the door. Undoubtedly, having a tit-for-tat mind-set and deliberating over who cast the first stone yield no useful results. Thus, am I saying here something to the effect that we are all “fallen,” to quote Fish again, so we should try and do better, and maybe we can find a way to get along? Far from it, as I shall expound in the next chapter. Rather, the point I am raising is closer to this: with the exception of a few extraordinary individuals, our species is evolution’s most grievous mistake, and no amount of sententious moralizing can serve as even a mere palliative for the trail of nefarious schemes, unrealizable dreams, and asinine acts we humans leave in our wake. Feldstein concludes his book with the answers the representatives of various progressive groups gave him when asked about their thoughts on PC. It redounds to Feldstein’s credit that he did not edit their responses. It is worth mentioning a couple of them: Myrna C. Adams, from “OpenMind, The Association for the Achievement of Cultural Diversity in Higher Education” (190), states the following, which I aver is indicative of the kernel of truth that exists in the Right’s stereotypes about leftwing PCers: “Though we successfully engaged Dinesh D’Souza in public debate in Philadelphia, we were chagrined to learn that he was being feted by the city’s corporate and governmental establishment at a breakfast the following morning, while we were dining at McDonald’s” (193); a blatant case of social injustice, indeed . . .

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Gerald Graff and Gregory Jay, from “Teachers for a Democratic Culture,” start off with a highly constructive comment: “In responding to your specific questions, we think it’s necessary first to raise the issue of whether the anti-PC campaign should be attributed entirely to ‘right-wing neocons,’ as your phrasing implies. We’re sure you’re aware that many traditional liberals have actively joined in recent attacks on political correctness, and we don’t think it’s sufficient to assume that these liberals are simply dupes” (204); then they add that “‘old left liberals’ are uncomfortable with a cultural politics that emphasizes race and gender” (205), and a couple of pages after that – I do wish I could quote their reply in its entirety – they posit this: The favorite tactic of the anti-PC critics is to locate examples of the silliest, most fatuous, and most doctrinaire manifestations of academic progressivism and then present these examples as typifying the mainstream of the new movements. Thus, multiculturalism becomes the view that “dead white males” should be expelled from the reading lists; feminism equals the belief that only women can understand writing by women; and so forth. We believe, however, that [. . .] this caricature is so patently absurd and offensive that there is a tendency among those who react to it on the Left to ignore the fact that it is sometimes accurate and justifiable. PC is a real problem even if Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney say it’s a menace. Many stupidities and follies have been committed in the name of cultural difference or sensitivity to the other, and some of these have been authoritarian and undemocratic. Not to call attention to folly and authoritarianism in our midst is only to give a good cause a bad name. (206–207) What in-depth critical comment am I supposed to make on this excerpt? Is it politically, academically, and . . . theologically correct simply to write “Amen to that!”? This quotation also acts as an ideal springboard for me to move on to what some Marxist intellectuals have asserted in opposition to PC. Lea directs some scathing metacriticism at his “comrades in arms,” Wilson and Feldstein, saying that their works endeavor to expose PC as a myth (58), but then arguing the following: Three scenarios now present themselves: the cultural left have produced strategies which will open up opportunities in the US – the right know this and feel that they can only counter it by smear; the cultural left does contain a Stalinist/McCarthyite political core – the right’s political campaign is therefore soundly based; the cultural left have produced ideas and strategies which contain contradictions, ironies, and unintended consequences – the right’s campaign is merely highlighting these as examples of sloppy thinking. Evidence presented throughout this book would indicate that all three scenarios have credibility. Feldstein and Wilson, however, concentrate their attention on the first of these. (60) Then Lea turns to Todd Gitlin and Valerie L. Scatamburlo, who are both proposing that “the left should restate a more traditional radical ideology,” because not


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only is PC “not left wing enough,” it is also the reason why “a once unified coalition of radical thought, centred on a ‘common goal’ of a future Socialist social order, has been torn asunder by infighting amongst the various disadvantaged social groups, who seem more concerned to attack each other than what used to be perceived as the common enemy” (62). The argument that identity politics has substituted for class struggle is regularly repeated by “orthodox” communists, although leftist PCers lightly dismiss it as “brocialism”, i.e., socialism infected by toxic masculinity. Lea’s meta-critical remark on Gitlin’s and Scatamburlo’s texts is as follows: In paradoxical fashion both authors appear to share many of the right’s concerns about PC. First, the way in which the US has produced a “victim’s charter” for various social groups to fight over, and, second, a belief in a form of “hyperreality” where anything and everything is able to have multiple meanings. This is troubling in radical political theory particularly if it is rooted in Marxism, for, in the first instance, we lose our sense that exploitation and disadvantage have common roots and, in the second, political action aimed at producing a more humane social order gets lost in an amorphous and endless round of reinterpretations of meaning, and of a kind for which Marx originally castigated the “Young Hegelians”. Thus, although the diagnoses for the left and right are similar, the aetiologies and prognoses are entirely different. (63) Why is it “paradoxical” to agree with a political opponent on how a cultural phenomenon has evolved? Are Gitlin’s and Scatamburlo’s anti-PC conclusions not . . . PC in terms of an analysis through the “proper” Marxist prism? Lea mentions that in Gitlin’s opinion “the left are in crisis, and PC is just a hopeless example of shooting oneself in the foot,” while for Scatamburlo “‘progressives’ concern themselves too much with the affirmation of identity, and the power of words, as against the power of direct social action” (64). From my standpoint, both of these views seem not only factually correct but also as Socialist as they can be; they are “troubling” only from a cultural leftist’s perspective. Lea makes it clear that Marxists who remain faithful to the “realist epistemology” contained in historical materialism repudiate postmodernism, which is skeptical of all grand narratives, including Marxism of course (51–52), and he wraps up this part of his book with several interesting observations regarding how the more Marxist-oriented strand of the Left sees PC: The right were wrong to claim that PC was too political, because, in reality, it was not political enough. Or perhaps better it had replaced a concern for changing the material circumstances of people’s lives in favour of breeding a sensitivity towards the different circumstances in which people live their lives. And, in the process, it had replaced the traditional Socialist axis of universal conflict rooted in class inequality with a plethora of single issue and disparate social group concerns revolving around identity affirmation.

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This itself reignited a series of debates about whether social class conflict deserves its status as the most fundamental axis of conflict, or whether other axes deserve equal, or top, billing. This debate is an old one and can be traced back to Weber’s concerns about Marx’s overemphasis on economic class over social class, and the ways in which ‘modes of social closure’ might have many status axes. It was refuelled in the early 1970s in feminist circles with the publication of [Shulamith] Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex (1970) and the consequent charge that Marxists can be sexists quickly spilled over into claims that they can also be racists, or even species-ists. In PC debates it quickly became clear that this was also a concern about who has the authority to speak about what, and whether there is any such thing as detached, disinterested scholarship. (73) The Left’s factional contestations about “axes,” “-isms,” and who has the right to speak seem frivolous, at best. Permit me to reiterate: “What matter who’s speaking,” especially when the crux of the matter, according to several theorists who adhere to this or the other doctrine of the Left, is that PC is not political (or militant) enough, on the one hand, and there is no correct correctness anyway, on the other? Even if one of these propositions is true, what is the practical purpose of PC? Lea also mentions that British academics, too, have voiced a “more Marxist concern that PC debates are something of a distraction from ‘real’ political action” (171). I interpret Lea’s quotation marks to mean that he opines that PC battles amount to political actions that are just as real. By contrast, I argue that the positions of the traditional Left, or what is . . . left of it, are generally more tenable than those of the current cultural Left, and even more so when it comes to the PC debate. Kitrosser’s article, while illuminating in many respects, also puts forth several views with which I sharply disagree. For example, I find the author’s conclusion that there is “tremendous imprecision” in anti-PCers’ scoffing statements about phenomena like “safe spaces” or “microaggressions” (1992–1993) rather biased, as I am of the opinion that the burden of providing a precise definition of such recently popularized PC terms as “trigger warnings,” which according to Kitrosser’s incongruous and unsubstantiated claim “sometimes can enhance rather than silence speech” (2036), ought to be placed strictly on the PCers who choose to weaponize minor infractions and to use them, quite arbitrarily at times, as proxies for the ongoing culture wars; in colloquial terms, in this case (as in many other similar ones), the anti-PCers get the short end of the stick, not the wrong one . . . What makes Kitrosser’s assertion about trigger warnings even more bizarre is that she had previously cited incidents like the ones described by the syndicated columnist George Will, according to whom “[s]tudents on Columbia University’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board suggested trigger warnings for persons who might be traumatized by reading, say, Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’” and “a feminist blog warned that the phrase ‘trigger warning’ itself needs a warning attached to it because it might remind people of guns” (2018–2019). Moreover, Kitrosser, much like a real-life Pollyanna, declares that “a reciprocal and nuanced dialogue


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can lead participants who might typically be called pro-PC to reconsider their positions, just as it can cause anti-PC types to rethink theirs” (2050). Not only is this highly improbable, but even if it came true, then we would most likely still be left with the same two rival groups, the only difference being that the members of one would have traded places with those of the other . . . Loury sets the record straight on a number of PC-related issues. He rightly argues that there are two levels on which the PC debate takes place. At the firstorder level there are healthy and potentially constructive disagreements on substantive matters (such as black-on-black violence, date rape, what texts should be canonical, and so forth) due to different sets of values, factual judgments, or theoretical frameworks; at the second-order level the questions raised range from how honest people are in their arguments to whether the current climate in public forums still permits the fruitful clash of conflicting opinions, and Loury seriously doubts that it does (429). He correctly points out that in political arguments there is a great risk that cynicism, manipulation and hypocrisy will prevail (432), a subject I have already touched upon, but it is discussed at length in Chapter 5. He maintains that ad hominem reasoning lies at the core of PC [and we did see at least one example of this in the section on Jordan Peterson], thus if someone breaks its established rules, this “turns attention from the worth of his case toward an inquiry into his character,” whereas if we know in advance that the speaker is “one of us,” we may even easily accept “observations from him contrary to our initial sense of things” (436). To put it differently: PCers never say “what matter who’s speaking,” as to them the “identity” of the speaker is more important than the actual content of her/his propositions. Furthermore, Loury discusses the following characteristic example of censored public discourse. In 1988, Phillipp Jenninger was forced to resign from his position as President of the German Parliament after he was rebuked for speaking candidly about unpalatable truths from Germany’s history during his controversial speech that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the infamous “Crystal Night.” His violation of the PC discursive etiquette cost him his career, irrespective of the fact that he was a forthright supporter of Israel and a professed opponent of totalitarianism. This was one of the earliest instances that crystallized [no pun intended] the ascendancy of the rule to which I have frequently referred: it is all about the optics. Jenninger said nothing malicious or defamatory; he simply gave a brutally honest account of regnant attitudes amongst many Germans in the 1930s, but he did so in a manner that those early PCers were uncomfortable with (438–440). Hence, in stark contrast to Feldstein’s aforementioned remarks about the PCers’ ethics as opposed to the anti-PCers’ morality, Loury reaches the conclusion that “the effective examination of fundamental moral questions can be impeded by the superficial moralism of expressive conventions. If exploring an ethical problem requires expressing oneself in ways that raise doubts about one’s basic moral commitments, then people may opt for the mouthing of rightsounding but empty words over the risks of substantive moral analysis” (441). Loury presents yet another example of how hypocritical PC regularly is: “Blacks, but not Whites, can make movies or report news stories on the problem of skin

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color prejudice [. . .]. Women, but not men, can publicly question whether in a given case the crime of date rape has been manufactured on the morning after by a ‘victim’ who wishes she had made a different decision about sexual intimacy the previous night. The censorship in these cases is partial; those who have ‘cover’ express themselves freely; those who lack it must be silent” (449). With regard to the detrimental effects that PC may have on the scientific community, Loury writes: “Scientists looking into the genetic basis, if any, for gender or racial differences in behavior, have met with vocal opposition from ‘women and minorities’ who regard the very act of such speculation to be evidence of bigotry. The search for biological factors influencing violent behavior has been denounced as racist, although this plausible hypothesis has no evidently racial connotation. Yet ironically the speculation that sexual preference is not rooted in biology has been denounced as well, and by the very same people!” (452). The last subject raised by Loury is discussed – tentatively, though, since issues dealt with by natural sciences do not fall within my bailiwick – in the conclusion. Green informs his readers that “victim groups,” meaning all the officially protected categories (based on race, religion, disability, gender, age, and sexual orientation), “are no longer in the minority but add up to 73 per cent of the population” (vii), and if one takes into account both the inflationary increase in “identities” and intersectional discrimination, then “the total number of victims adds up to 109 per cent of the total population of the country” (7), and that those who “have been politically recognised as victims are starting to use their power to silence people who have had the cheek to criticise them” (viii). Therefore, the author wonders whether the victims have become the aggressors (ix). D’Souza brings the same line of thought to its logical conclusion: “By converting victimhood into a certificate of virtue, minorities acquire a powerful moral claim that renders their opponents defensive and apologetic, and immunizes themselves from criticism and sanction. Ultimately, victimhood becomes a truncheon with which minority activists may intimidate nonminorities—thus the victim becomes a victimizer while continuing to enjoy superior moral credentials” (243). To this, a leftish PCer would retort that of course right-wing “purveyors of racism, sexism and classism” attempt to “convince the public that their left-wing adversaries suffer from the very disease they themselves deny as their own. This is how victimizers protect themselves against the charge being leveled against them” (Feldstein 54–55). And this is how the Strange Loop of PC is perpetuated. For Green, placing group identity above an individual’s skills and qualities goes against the cardinal tenets of British [i.e., classical] liberalism (1–2). On “sectarian collectivism,” which is another name for identity politics, Green makes a valid point by arguing that “all members of ethnic minority groups that have successfully established their state-supported victimhood are taken to be victims and their oppressors are assumed to be whites. In reality, many successful and wealthy members of an ethnic minority can be much better off than many of the white people who are ‘oppressing’ them” (14–15). Green also pinpoints the four strategies implemented by PCers in order to achieve or maintain victim status: “highlighting historic grievances; falsely claiming to have been ‘insulted’;


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widening the definition of the group to increase political clout; and putting factual claims about their status beyond rational contradiction” (31). Furthermore, Green views affirmative action as reverse discrimination (56), and he opines that “when we consider the unequal distribution of personal characteristics within society as a whole, and within the ethnic groups that make it up, there are very good reasons to expect disparate outcomes. Disproportionate representation may be accounted for by many factors other than discrimination, including geographic distribution, personal choice, age, newcomer status, language, and cultural differences affecting the role of women and family structure” (62). In fine, both Loury and Green have properly investigated specific aspects of PC. As for Klotz’s article, a thorough analysis of it was intentionally left out from this chapter because some of the ideas expounded in it will be more useful in the conclusion. Now, it is time I enlarged upon my “dangerous ideas” about how PC could be best contextualized, both philosophically and with regard to its utilization in the new digital landscape.


Alceste . . . and the Rest: A Misanthropic Pessimist’s Outlook on PC

Introduction “There is, however, a misanthropy, (most improperly so called,) the tendency towards which is to be found with advancing years in many right-minded people, that, as far as good will goes, is, no doubt, philanthropic enough, but as the result of long and sad experience, is widely removed from delight in mankind.” (Kant, Critique of Judgement 106) “Tout homme qui à quarante ans n’est pas misanthrope, n’a jamais aimé les hommes.” [“Whoever is not a misanthrope at forty can never have loved mankind.”] (Chamfort, Maximes et Pensées xviii) “After his fortieth year, any man of merit, anyone who is not just one of five-sixths of humanity so grievously and miserably endowed by nature, will hardly be free from a certain touch of misanthropy.” (Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life” 482) “Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows.” (Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground 7) In no way am I trying to appeal to authority [argumentum ad verecundiam] by using the above extracts as epigraphs. Cogent though they are, they do not, by themselves, develop a line of reasoning that can be deductively validated. Nonetheless, they do provide the appropriate frame of reference for the concise presentation of the theoretical assumptions that undergird this study. Four preeminent thinkers, with not many things in common amongst them, set forth virtually the same hypothesis: noble and astute young persons, full of generous intentions toward their fellow humans, start to sink gradually into the depths of despondency when they realize they are surrounded by an overwhelming preponderance of people who suffer from a legion of insuperable intellectual and moral defects. Consequently, at the mature age of 40 (Kant makes mention of “advancing years,” that is, after one’s prime, which would indeed mean around 40), either they are metamorphosed into misanthropes or they perish. Propelled both by the utter socioeconomic and cultural shambles in which one subsists and by one’s burgeoning

120 Alceste . . . and the Rest disaffection with all the supposedly “emancipating” ideologies, one might be permitted to contend, with sinister derision, that our species has crossed the boundary of a figurative event horizon, thus entering the region of a sociocultural black hole marked by anti-intellectualism, saturnine cynicism, and/or ennui, and the available evidence demonstrates that it was doomed from the get-go. Misanthropic pessimism, in conjunction with a post-postmodern, revalidated, anti-humanistic strain of nihilism (these theories will be cautiously delineated later in this chapter), infused with the type of mordant humor that manifests itself as “an overflow that cannot be assimilated by Being” (Tsakalakis, “Beckett’s Film” 166), could serve as a “serum” for those existential prisoners who have found themselves on a compulsory intellectual and aesthetic “hunger strike.”

A Case for Misanthropic Pessimism As I discussed in the previous chapter, cultural leftists consider PC to be the current epitome of the amalgamation of critical reflection and political action – theory and praxis – that will serve the cause of social justice; here is where my unorthodox theoretical framework can prove to be not just relevant but also essential for a novel approach to the subject being investigated here. Misanthropy, viewed as an elaborate Weltanschauung and not as a psychopathological condition, and especially its interplay with political praxis, has generated meager academic interest. The predominant view is that the cornerstone of democratic ideals is an entrenched belief in the constitutive benevolence of humans. Ever since Morris Rosenberg’s seminal article on misanthropy indicated that an individual’s “low faith in human nature” is likely to lead said individual toward a reactionary, or perhaps even authoritarian, political stance (694–695), misanthropy has invariably been associated with die-hard right-wing ideologues. A type of misanthrope like Florence King appears to prove Rosenberg right. King was a rare case amongst public personas, in the sense that she had no qualms about describing herself as a misanthrope, and I concur with a lot of her views. I, too, would (tentatively and loosely) define a misanthrope in the following manner: “Someone who does not suffer fools and likes to see fools suffer” (3); further, I fully agree that “Make Nice” or “unthreatening” gestures like a “linked-arms march after a race riot” are largely hypocritical (12), that affirmative action “has become just another tortured euphemism” and that Jews, Asians, and women, all of whom do extremely well on college admissions tests, see it as an impediment (51), and that no matter how kindly you treat people “who hate themselves, they will hate you as well,” because their insecurities always breed treachery (158). Nonetheless, for reasons I explain in the next pages, I strongly disagree with her conviction that “misanthropes are born, not made” (6) – unless we are talking about genetically predisposed psychopaths – or that they have to hate “the entire human race” (8), as I am in complete accord with Swift: “I have ever hated all Nations professions and Communityes and all my love is towards individualls for instance I hate the tribe of Lawyers, but I love Councellor such a one, [. . .] but principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I hartily love John,

Alceste . . . and the Rest 121 Peter, Thomas and so forth” (676). In general, King was endeavoring to conflate a flood of disjointed, dogmatic notions regarding issues from disparate spheres: philosophy, everyday life, politics. In addition, some of her assertions were unsupportable. For instance, she claimed that “blacks as a group are becoming misanthropic,” as evidenced by “their testy readiness to regard as white anyone who is not black” (54). Here, King contradicts herself in a threefold manner. Did she not declare that misanthropes are born this way? Is not being a misanthrope a good thing? If blacks only hate non-black people, then they are not becoming genuine misanthropes, because the latter are supposed to hate all human beings. Be that as it may, one would be remiss to forget about the equally misanthropic Carlin, who, of course, was anything but an ultraconservative. Hence, before one hastens to surmise that misanthropy is ex definitio incompatible with, say, a spirit of goodwill, one ought to bear the following in mind: (i) misanthropy is a heretofore poorly explored topic; (ii) a thorough interdisciplinary study, or some sort of litmus test, would be required in order to clarify whether the political attitude described by Rosenberg derives from a person’s “innate” hatred for other people, or if that person’s real-life experiences led her/him to a worldview that might be called misanthropic; (iii) words often mean the obverse of what society says or thinks they mean, hence Kant’s and Chamfort’s ideas about a type of “philanthropic” misanthrope, a seeming antinomy upon which I elaborate below. Therefore, misanthropy, as it is understood here, is not an intrinsic attribute, peculiar to certain persons, and it is imperative that it be not mistaken for irascibility, rancor, and the like. Conversely, it characterizes those acute, delicate, and highly empathetic persons who had once invested lofty hopes in their fellow humans, but they eventually became misanthropes after life awakened them to the fact that the only immutable constituent elements of most people’s personalities are fatuousness, egotism, and everything that goes along with them: cruelty, avarice, opportunism, envy, absurdity, and so forth. Kant argues that there are two types of misanthropes: the “positive” one is an active enemy of mankind, he harbors animosity toward all people, he wishes harm upon them or actually tries to hurt them, and avoids them out of conviction, thinking they are beneath him; contrariwise, the “negative” misanthrope is of a peaceful temperament, and he becomes a recluse not because he hates people, in fact he wishes them well, but on account of his anthropophobia: he is afraid of them, and regards them as his evil enemies, having experienced only ungratefulness, deceit, and many other “undeserved sufferings” when in the company of other people (Lectures on Ethics 191; 404–405). Thus, this “sublime” misanthropy leads those who embrace it to a voluntary social isolation due to the fact that their fellow human beings did not live up to some preset ideals of virtue and rationality, although, supposedly, they were inherently capable of doing so, at least according to Kant’s normative metaphysical system. The “positive” misanthrope would be someone who, as Cioran so wittily puts it, has become a humanist “in reverse,” thinking that enmity toward the human race is “the highest dignity to which one might aspire” (The Temptation to Exist 123). Cioran, again, gives us an idea of a “negative” misanthrope’s line of reasoning: “I resign from humanity.

122 Alceste . . . and the Rest I no longer want to be, nor can still be, a man. What should I do? Work for a social and political system, make a girl miserable? Hunt for weaknesses in philosophical systems, fight for moral and esthetic ideals? It’s all too little. I renounce my humanity even though I may find myself alone. But am I not already alone in this world from which I no longer expect anything?” (On the Heights of Despair 43–44). Molière’s Alceste can be seen as a negative misanthrope: defined by the socio-historical factors of his time, and exasperated by his unrequited love for Célimène, Alceste is a somewhat unwholesomely hypersensitive moralist who inveighs against the shallowness, the depravity, and the hypocrisy of the aristocrats (and of their bourgeois imitators); he is not an enemy of all humanity, only of those unworthy members of his class who choose not to adhere to their “superior” moral code, so he declares that he would rather live as a hermit: “I plan to leave this world, this filthy den of vice, And find a place where I don’t need to socialize, Where I can be myself, don’t have to compromise” (273). There are obvious affinities between positive/negative misanthropy and “active”/“passive” nihilism, respectively. Nietzsche states that nihilism is “the most extreme form of pessimism” (The Will to Power 69), and “one of the uncanniest monsters: the ‘last will’ of man, his will to nothingness” (On the Genealogy of Morals 122); he differentiates passive nihilism, a sign that the strength of the spirit is weakened, worn out, “so that previous goals and values have become incommensurate and no longer are believed,” from its active form, “a violent force of destruction” (The Will to Power 18). Critchley broaches the same subject from an ethico-political perspective, in his endeavor to promulgate a performance-art based “neo-anarchist” cure for the widespread malaise in the current epoch of political disappointment, and he decries both the passive and the active nihilist; in the same spirit as Nietzsche, but in a significantly more sarcastic tone, he describes the former as one who occupies himself “with projects for perfecting himself, whether through discovering the inner child, manipulating pyramids, writing pessimistic-sounding literary essays, taking up yoga, birdwatching or botany, as was the case with the aged Rousseau,” shows contempt for “the pretensions of liberal humanism with its metaphysical faith in progress, improvement and the perfectibility of humankind,” and “concludes that we are simply animals, and rather nasty aggressive primates at that” (4); on the contrary, the active nihilist, who can be found in “utopian, radical political and even terrorist groups,” is not satisfied with navel-gazing but “tries to destroy this world and bring another into being” (5). The above merit a minor digression: it would take a Herculean effort to delineate the aforementioned schools of thought in a clear manner, and it is virtually impossible for one to situate one’s philosophical views within an explicitly defined theoretical model that integrates specific parts of these Weltanschauungen. To illustrate by means of just a few examples: Joshua Foa Dienstag makes a point of disassociating pessimism from “nihilism, cynicism, skepticism, and other like philosophies” (4), while King refuses to consider nihilists, existentialists, pessimists, and fatalists together with misanthropes (2–3); for Nietzsche, Schopenhauer was a nihilist (The Will to Power 15), according to King he was a misanthrope (116),

Alceste . . . and the Rest 123 and in Georges Palante’s view, which I shall analyze in detail later on, he was a romantic pessimist. In short, these theories and their concomitant concepts cannot be rigorously defined or sharply distinguished from one another. [In light of this, I dread to think how it will seem when I profess that I draw from the doctrine of misanthropic pessimism, while also embracing several of the cardinal principles of existential nihilism . . . ] To get back to the subject I was previously discussing, some form of elitism is present in both kinds of misanthropy, and if I still believed in the modernist ideals of progress and development, I would certainly support an aristocracy of the wise, as I already expounded in Chapters 1 and 3. Nevertheless, I am fully in accord with Nietzsche: “‘Mankind’ does not advance, it does not even exist. [. . .] Man represents no progress over the animal” (The Will to Power 55). In true Nietzschean fashion, Gray, one of the few contemporary philosophers who can proudly be called a negative misanthrope/passive nihilist, expands on the same idea thusly: “‘Humanity’ does not exist. There are only humans, driven by conflicting needs and illusions, and subject to every kind of infirmity of will and judgement” (12); humanism is primarily associated with the belief that progress will help humans “free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals” (4), so humanists hoped that Darwinism would buttress “their shaky modern faith in progress; but there is no progress in the world he revealed” (xii); yet one does not “need Darwin to see that we belong with other animals. A little observation of our lives soon leads to the same conclusion” (3), which is none other than this: “Humans are the most adventitious of creatures – a result of blind evolutionary drift” (5). Gray drives his message home with these words: “Tertullian, a theologian who lived in Carthage sometime around AD 200, wrote of Christianity: Certum est, quia impossible (it is certain because it is impossible). Humanists are less clear-minded, but their faith is just as irrational. They do not deny that history is a catalogue of unreason, but their remedy is simple: humankind must – and will – be reasonable. Without this absurd, Tertullian-like faith, the Enlightenment is a gospel of despair” (29). Lest my point be misconstrued: I am no thoroughgoing proponent of either passive or active nihilism. After all, I agree entirely with the major premise of Shane Weller’s book on modernism and nihilism, to wit: “there is no nihilism as such; there are only specific deployments of the term, each of which has to be considered in its specificity, which means in its discursive context, including its relation to earlier determinations” (10). However, I do adopt many of the core tenets of moral nihilism (or of meta-ethical relativism and ethical egoism, to be exact, for instance the notions that moral claims are not truth-apt and that any moral agent’s sole obligation tends to be toward his self-interest), of cosmic nihilism (the universe is not part of a comprehensible Grand Design and it is indifferent, if not inimical, to the whole host of humankind’s frivolous interests or concerns), and of existential nihilism (human life is irredeemably devoid of any meaning and utterly absurd). The philanthropist-turned-misanthrope I am interested in, and side with, is one who has discounted the messianic hope of replacing the present status quo with a better one, on the one hand, and does not afford the

124 Alceste . . . and the Rest luxury of leading the life of a hermitic solipsist (which would be unfeasible within the current framework of totalized and constant surveillance anyway), forging ahead unfettered to create himself as a work of art, on the other; he has simply come to espouse the viewpoint that our species has exhausted all moves and possibilities in every sphere, perhaps except that of barbarism. So, it is my contention that the notorious “human condition” is not an imbroglio to be unraveled by any ideological system or theory – from a macro-historical perspective, they all go out of fashion more quickly than pop songs or internet memes do anyhow – into which anger, the principal “political emotion” (Critchley 94), may be transmuted; it has always been merely a (figurative) black hole. At the same time, though, I am not oblivious to the fact that were I a bank manager in Switzerland, for instance, this book would probably be about how the chorus bungled Johannes Brahms’s German Requiem last Sunday at the Opera House . . . All in all, I am a pessimist, but of the misanthropic variety; some clarification is most likely required. According to an old Russian proverb, a pessimist is a well-informed optimist. However, the meaning of pessimism fluctuates. It can be viewed as simply a dejected state of mind, as an “ill-recognized” radical politico-philosophical theory begotten by modernity that asks us “to reflect on the nonprogressive, linear accounts of time” (Dienstag 16), as idealistic or as realistic, and so on. Thanks to the Marxists Internet Archive, the English-speaking world has access to (part of) the work of an unjustly obscure, underrated philosopher and sociologist, Palante, who, in a chapter titled “Misanthropic Pessimism” (from his book Pessimisme et Individualisme), explicates what this misanthropic strand of pessimism is about: This pessimism doesn’t proceed from an exasperated and suffering sensibility, but from a lucid intelligence exercising its critical clear-sightedness on the evil side of our species. Misanthropic pessimism appears in its grand lines as a theory of universal fraud and universal imbecility; of universal nanality and universal turpitude. [. . .] In Stirner we find frantic accents of revolt, while in Schopenhauer we find a tragic sentiment of the world’s pain and a despairing appeal to the void. As for the misanthropic pessimist, he makes no complaints. He doesn’t take the human condition as tragic, he doesn’t rise up against destiny. He observes his contemporaries with curiosity, pitilessly analyzes their sentiments and thoughts and is amused by their presumption, their vanity, their hypocrisy, or their unconscious villainy, by their intellectual and moral weakness. [. . .] One of the preferred leitmotivs of this pessimism could be this well-known verse: “The most foolish animal is man.” The foolishness that this pessimism particularly takes aim at is that presumptuous and pretentious foolishness that we can call dogmatic foolishness, that solemn and despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social dogmas and rites, across public opinion and mores, which makes itself divine and reveals in its views on eternity a hundred petty and ridiculous prejudices. While romantic pessimism proceeds from the ability to suffer and curse,

Alceste . . . and the Rest 125 misanthropic pessimism proceeds from the faculty to understand and to scorn. It is a pessimism of the intellectual, ironic, and disdainful observer. [. . .] In truth, this pessimism isn’t foreign to a few of the thinkers we have classed under the rubric of romantic pessimism, for the different types of pessimism have points of contact and penetration. A Schopenhauer, a Stirner have also exercised their ironic verve on human foolishness, presumption and credulity. But in them misanthropic pessimism can’t be found in its pure state. It remains subordinated to the pessimism of suffering, of despair or of revolt, to the sentimental pathos that is the characteristic trait of romantic pessimism. Misanthropic pessimism could perhaps be called realistic pessimism [. . .]. Does misanthropic pessimism confirm the thesis according to which pessimism tends to engender individualism? This is not certain. Among the thinkers we just cited there are certainly some who neither conceived, nor practiced, nor recommended the attitude of voluntary isolation that is individualism. Though they had no illusions about men they did not flee their society. [. . .] To take as the theme for one’s irony the common and average human stupidity means treating without respect a social value of the first order. Stupidity is the stuff of the prejudices without which no social life is possible. It is the cement of the social edifice. [. . .] This is why critical, ironic, and pessimistic intelligence is a social dissolvent. It is irreverent towards that which is socially respectable: mediocrity and stupidity. The prevalent perception of pessimism, nihilism, and misanthropy is that they constitute three “outlooks” on life, either distinct or interrelated, rather than philosophical stances in the conventional sense. It is not for nothing that all three of them have been relegated to the politically incorrect margins of theoretical discourse, as demonstrated by the fact that rarely does a scholar want to be openly identified with any of them. [So, might one speak of “closeted” pessimists, nihilists, or misanthropes?] The first has come to be regarded as philosophically outdated, and the other two as sociopolitically pernicious (or, in other terms, as afflictions to be overcome, negative phenomena to be countered, diseases to be cured, or threats to be thwarted), when all three of them could be usefully employed as critical and analytical tools. I opine that the reason these worldviews are repudiated is that they dispel our species’ self-aggrandizing delusions with regard to its purportedly intrinsic rationality and nobility. Palante’s ideas provide a solid basis for the discussion of some of humanity’s myriad failings, starting with foolishness, which wields so much social power that it proves to be an insurmountable obstacle to most of the ideals of the Enlightenment. According to Chamfort: “There are more fools than wise men, and even in the wise man himself there is more folly than wisdom” (The Cynic’s Breviary 20). Carlo M. Cipolla maintains that “the number of stupid individuals in circulation” at any given time is invariably underestimated (19), and adds the following: “The fact that the activity and movements of a stupid creature are absolutely erratic and irrational not only makes defence problematic but it

126 Alceste . . . and the Rest also makes any counterattack extremely difficult [. . .]. This is what both Dickens and Schiller had in mind when the former stated that ‘with stupidity and sound digestion man may front much’ and the latter wrote that ‘against stupidity the very Gods fight in vain’” (52). Freud held that the “inequality of men” is “innate and ineradicable” (“Why War?” 12), while one of his beloved moralists, Lichtenberg, wrote this: “We have no words for speaking about wisdom to idiots. Whoever understands the wise is wise already” (69). For Kant, “nothing entirely straight can be fashioned from the crooked wood of which humankind is made” (“Idea for a Universal History” 9), and one of my favorite thinkers, Douglas Adams, opined that “human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so” (109). Swift wished to prove “the falsity of that Definition animal rationale; and to show it should be only rationis capax” (676). In fine, one of the exorbitant prices that must be paid for democracy is that everyone is entitled to stupidity.

The PC Elephant in the Chat Room In view of the above, which I will now relate directly to PC, where is the “despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social dogmas and across public opinion” that Palante vehemently censured over a century ago to be found today? Well, this one is easy: mostly in the new media landscape, with its smart mobile phones for dumb immobile minds, its deframing of “dangerous ideas,” and its “trial by Twitter.” Nichols hits the nail on the head by explaining in detail how the fact that we now have access to massive amounts of data is actually “making us dumber,” since it “allows people to mimic intellectual accomplishment by indulging in an illusion of expertise provided by a limitless supply of facts” (105–106). I would add that this helps the ignorance-prone Generations Y and Z to swallow the “blue pill” of blithe anti-intellectualism a lot easier . . . By the way, what will the Generation that comes after Z be called? Z + 1? Meta-Z? Or maybe “baby doomers,” so that it rhymes with “baby boomers”? PC may have been around since the early 1990s, and perhaps even earlier in the United Kingdom (according to Lea), but it gained considerable momentum with the advent of the internet, which “let the cat out of the bag” in the sense that now, in this globalized digital environment, “the evil side of our species,” as well as its pompousness, its mendacity, and its imbecility, are all readily available for the viewing and listening “pleasure” of the misanthropic pessimist. The “dark energy” of social media pushes human civilization toward a sociocultural “event horizon.” The conception of an effective communication process whereby those who engage in a supposedly reasonable and honest debate are interested in discovering an actual truth, in creating meaning together, and in ultimately arriving at a consensus is a complete sham, at least in most cases. Here is how “conversation” is defined by the incomparable Ambrose Bierce: “A fair for the display of the minor mental commodities, each exhibitor being too intent upon the arrangement of his own wares to observe those of his neighbor” (19). Along a similar line of thought, La Rochefoucauld declares: “One of the reasons why so

Alceste . . . and the Rest 127 few people seem reasonable and attractive in conversation is that almost everyone thinks more about what he himself wants to say than about answering exactly what is said to him” (41). The internet is definitely not the modern equivalent of the ancient Agora of Athens, as some people would like to believe. It is the new Panopticon; it is where the maxim homo homini lupus is proven correct beyond any doubt, where a few social justice warriors appoint themselves as the sovereign arbiters of moral rectitude and choose who should be tried in the highly whimsical court of public opinion, and where one of the core principles of Civil Law, namely the presumption of innocence, is turned upside down. The PC mantra is “always believe the victim,” as if it were by no means possible for one to lie for self-serving reasons, due to one’s malevolent personality, or simply because of one’s imperfect memory. “There is also something called false internal narratives. An individual’s perception of his or her own ongoing motivation may be biased to conceal from others the true motivation” (Trivers 25). Hence, there are multiple reasons why one would fabricate victimhood, and just as many ways said one could mask one’s real motives. However, when people undergo a trial of intentions on social media, many careers and reputations are irrevocably lost no matter whether the parties accused by the PC police eventually turn out to be guilty or not. This is what often transpires with the Me Too movement and the moral panic caused by some feminist or LGBT+ activists: subtle distinctions are disregarded, awkward flirting can be equated with rape, Louis C.K. is adrift in the same boat as Bill Cosby or he is classified together with Jeffrey Epstein, and, as a result, the plight of the real victims is belittled. “Used carelessly, the rhetoric of the oppressed is like a person in good health who passes himself off as ill and hurts the true victims, those who need a suitable language and the right words to defend themselves” (Bruckner, The Temptation of Innocence 172). I cannot speak for Bruckner, but what I mean by real victims is not just the obvious, that is, persons who have been raped or, in other contexts, people who are disenfranchised, persecuted for their beliefs, or living below the poverty threshold; there are at least two extra groups of true victims, of PC in particular and of the widespread sociocultural malaise typified by PC, amongst many other similarly destructive phenomena, in general: (i) a hapless minority who are rarely recognized as such and who are invariably left undefended: I refer to the few remaining sensible and gentle individuals who stoically endure the all-pervasive hypocrisy and imbecility, as well as the progressive barbarization of everything; (ii) the public sphere, which loses its legitimacy, its credibility, perhaps even its raison d’être, since the dogmatic advocates of PC endeavor to enforce their “progressive orthodoxy” on everyone. Dialectic means a constructive dialogue about different validity claims whereby a truth may be revealed or an agreement may be reached; on the internet, though, there is no genuine dialogue, only a war of opinions, which are like anatomical orifices: each person has plenty of them . . . It might interest readers to learn that the Greek words for knowledge and opinion are near-homonyms (transliterated as gnosi/gnomi, respectively); nonetheless, a considered opinion

128 Alceste . . . and the Rest on whatever is in dispute presupposes sufficient knowledge of the matter at hand, and this is rarely the case with those extremist PCers who see epistemological facts as subservient to their precious feelings and convictions. Additionally, there are things that are not open for debate, like the speed of light, the law of gravity, innocent until proven guilty, or the maxim “no two people are exactly the same.” The misconception that PC allows the voices of “subaltern subjects” to be heard for the first time via social media ought to be dissipated. At no time in the past have humans proved so hateworthy as they do now, in the age of the alleged “direct democracy” of blogs, chat rooms, and online comments sections, all of which afford the average belligerent, “performatively woke,” stupid – “intellect intolerant” maybe? – person the opportunity to express her/his/their “opinion” on a contentious social issue by posting garbled nonsense, or simply by clicking on the like/dislike button and then anxiously waiting to be “affirmed” by the fact that more “users” agree with him/her/them than with the “Others.” Hooray for the Manichaean “aesthetics” of the Great Ape who is held spellbound by the applications of Boolean algebra: true/false, 0/1, thumb up/thumb down. We are way past “the medium is the message”; now, information technology is life itself, and the planet is a digital ledger revolving around metonymic hashtags . . . [Needless to point out that I have virtually no social media presence. My friends call it “a red flag,” while my colleagues insist that this is damaging to my “career”; so be it, it is worth it.] In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard devotes a separate section to his take on nihilism (159–164), which is closely akin to mine. Baudrillard opines that postmodern nihilism is commensurate with the “simulated transparency” of the non-analyzable contemporary “hyperreal” system itself, thus it is more radical – at least in theory – than its earlier forms, namely the aesthetic nihilism of the Romantics, who sought to destroy “the order of appearances,” and the political and metaphysical nihilism of Surrealism, dada, and the absurd, which set about to extinguish “the order of meaning”; unlike Critchley, Baudrillard sees today’s “aleatory” terrorism not as a genuine reflection of an active nihilism converted into political radicality, which would in any case be opposed by the system’s own “nihilism of neutralization,” but as one of the manifestations of what he calls the “mode of disappearance”: the media, wherein meaning implodes, as does the social in the increasingly indifferent and inert masses. In postmodernity’s “desert like” hyperreality, even the pathos and the disenchantment that characterize nihilism have been supplanted by the typical feature of the hegemonic system of simulation: melancholia, which is “incurable and beyond any dialectic”; the system can no longer be counteracted by “the hope of balancing good and evil, true and false,” but only by means of derision and “theoretical violence”; yet even so, the illusion of “mental or political solidarity,” as well as the hope for meaning, which was supposed to inaugurate “the reign of the Enlightenment,” have been “annihilated on the television screen”; and even more so on the tablet/computer screen, I should add. It can be argued that some sui generis strain of neo-Marxism underlay Baudrillard’s early texts, in which he denounced contemporary capitalism by

Alceste . . . and the Rest 129 means of a structuralist epistemological analysis that laid emphasis less on the economic mode of production and more on the cultural implications of an era of simulation that was being ushered in by the mass media’s excessive focus on the semiotic order of signs and replicated images [i.e., hyperreal copies without origin and far removed from reality], which were increasingly effacing authentic experience and starting to replace the values and the enchantment of the symbolic realm. Thus, it should occasion only little surprise that Baudrillard’s later work transitions toward a critique of Marxism and, more generally, “very clearly moves against the progressives─the socialists, ecologists, feminists, anti-racists, etc.─for these too have become part of the modern consensus against the symbolic order” (Gane 4). So, in this postmodern, apolitical, abstract, sign-infested environment of simulacra, even Baudrillard’s inspired inversion of Borges’s allegory about a map that ended up being coextensive with the slowly crumbling Empire – a “desert of the real itself” – it was initially intended to depict is useless, since “the distinction between the real and the imaginary” has been eradicated (1–3). Following Baudrillard’s paradigm, I aver that PCers, who are drawn toward (or create) the sociocultural black hole, carry out the task of living by sailing across the two-dimensional map of a disenchanted, fragmented digital universe without missing a chance to scuttle the ships of rationality and decency along the way, while also filling the ash heap of humankind’s future history with their online comments on how they “feel” about incontrovertible facts. [Supposing, for the sake of argument, that there will be a future for our species and, consequently, a historical record of it; I have no doubt about the ash heaps, though . . . ] Therefore, there is a compelling need for the “social dissolvent” of misanthropic pessimism, so that the inanity and the prejudices that act as “the cement of the social edifice” can be counteracted. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the following be made clear: I do not wish to push some nihilistic agenda – although, I repeat, there is no utterly valueless type of nihilism – any more than I would like to follow an affirmative one; I have no “wares” to sell, nor am I willing to buy any. Liberalism, socialism, pragmatism, utopianism, and so on: there is a lot to be said for any of them and, simultaneously, all of them leave a lot to be desired. At the end of the day, though, every important decision that affects the “big picture” boils down to the opportunism, the insecurities, the asininity (or, conversely, the much rarer high intelligence and integrity) of only a scatter of individuals, and occasionally of just one person. PC is part and parcel of how the system in First World countries works and, thus, it brings to light its limitations and its shortcomings. However, the blame does not lie either with the system or with some “rotten apples”; the real problem is the human race . . . To paraphrase an idea I first put forward elsewhere (Beckett’s Humotopia 7–13), and also to enlarge upon yet another of its possible applications, my presumptive, and hopefully not presumptuous, proposition is that, now more than ever, human beings exist in what I have coined “humotopia,” to wit, an immanent topos at one remove from immanence, with humor as its emergent property (hence the compounding), a stochastic locus of which the contingent flux reflects the differentiated multiplicity that is the resultant of the interactions between

130 Alceste . . . and the Rest concretely existent human beings. Where is this topos to be found? What type of humor inheres in it? Borrowing loosely from the terminology of non-Euclidean geometry, I contend that humotopia is a hyperbolic plane for which there is no equation, and whose shapes are not recognizable prima facie, but which also pervades the entire spatial extension as well as the temporal duration of all the Lilliputian opposed interests of humans. It is a destabilized and destabilizing territory – of which the topography is non-dialectizable, same as with the Empire in Borges’s fable mentioned above – and a structural disorder of the highest order, characterized by discontinuity, but potentially translatable across various sociocultural contexts and historical epochs. Its humor is the one referred to by Mark Twain: “Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven” (119). However, it may just as well be argued that humotopia is nothing if not the space occupied by the figurative elephant in the living room – in the boudoir, on the bedroom sofa, on the kitchen table, or wherever else this proverbial elephant might see fit to avail itself of the facilities. Humotopia is not an impenetrable equivoque, though not a rigidly demarcated category either; it is a hypothetical construct that cannot be operationalized, yet the elephant’s haecceity can be observed. It is not an alternate Universe to be explored, but a process set in motion during the process of human life. Humotopia is always-already humantopia. At one time or another, even when unbeknownst to them, all human beings inhabit the same space as the humotopian/humantopian elephant that is their progeny, illegitimate or not. In fact, there are six modes of being for this – metaepistemologically conceived – elephant, and one way of delineating them is by categorizing the types of subjects that may find themselves hurled into the aporias of a humotopian instance: A. They have caused the elephant’s existence “in the course of human events,” so to speak; probably inadvertently, definitely insouciantly. Two modes derive from this. (1) The elephant is not perceived at all. (2) The elephant is “seen” but not construed as such, thus becoming the cause of elephantine perturbation and elephantine humor on the part of these subjects. B. Not only do their actions – be they unconscionable, contemptible, or simply fatuous – constitute the elephant’s causa fiendi, what is more is that these people’s idiocy, combined with their conceit, makes them believe that these same actions are prudent, just, and of exceptional sociocultural import; misconceptions never fail to double the elephant’s size. One mode originates from this. (3) The elephant stands no chance of ever being noticed by them, let alone of being understood for what it is. Even if it were, this group of people, of whom PCers comprise a substantial majority, would rather gouge their own eyes out than acknowledge their elephant’s presence; paradoxically, the humotopian elephant exists mainly because of those who, willfully or not, ignore or doubt its existence. C. They became entangled in humotopia through no fault of their own, yet they are affected by the rumbling reverberations of the elephant’s pounding

Alceste . . . and the Rest 131 footsteps. This is a crucial nodal-modal point. The remaining three modes stem from this group as follows. (4) The elephant remains inconspicuous. This mode appears as analogous to A1, but it is far from equal to it; humotopia is informed and transformed by even the most infinitesimal variations in the schemata of the parties involved, so, although these subjects do not ever address the “invisible” elephant head-on, they do undergo minuscule cognitive and/or affective modifications due to a nebulous “there-is-something-w rong-with-this-picture” sensation. (5) The elephant is, in a sense, bifurcated. (i) There are those who feel only the tragic side of this humotopian state of flux they found themselves into. [“Alas, I had no part in initiating this entropic disorder, so why am I caught up in it”?] Discomposed though they are, some mysterious afflatus may stir them into action: they will try to kick the looming elephant out of whatever room it is in, even if the zeitgeist never forgives them for it. (ii) By contrast, others immerse themselves exclusively in the elephant’s comic aspect. They think of humotopia as an (ephemeral) conceptual locus amoenus, conducive to non-serious play. (6) The elephant is rendered fully apparent. Few possess the acute powers of discernment required in order for one to digest the full spectrum of the elephant’s oscillations and permutations, and only a few of those unhappy few may transfigure humotopia into art, or into an academic book that attempts to simulate humotopia as an act of “theoretical violence,” which is “the only resource left us” (Baudrillard 163), directed first and foremost against humotopia itself, but also toward those culpable of ceaselessly copying it and of subjecting everyone around them to it matter-of-factly. The dialectics between the abovementioned modes of being effectuate constant topological fluctuations in humotopia, which is interwoven within an intricate network of self-reflexive becomings, as it also extends to its own critique, thus leaving its would-be critics in a quandary and leading them into making elephantine blunders that further perpetuate its expansion in an eternal Strange Loop. One could rightfully assume that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the “five-sixths of humanity so grievously and miserably endowed by nature,” according to Schopenhauer’s (admittedly rather arbitrary) estimate and the five modes of being of this allegorical elephant, while the one-sixth who are “of merit” endeavor to oppose it. In the context of the PC debate, this tragicomic elephant manifests itself in the legion of risible theories and practices – many of which were painstakingly analyzed in the previous chapters – adopted by those radical leftists (or, less often, right-wingers) who exhibit “pretentious foolishness”; some allow the humotopian elephant to reproduce either by treating it nonchalantly (A1) or by mistaking it for something else (A2); others (C4) may suspect where things are headed with PC, but, in the scheme of things, they consider it too trifling a matter to require planning a defense against it, not realizing that while some of the “problems” PCers harp on about may be nonissues, the very fact that they are doing this when there are grave issues to worry about is a real problem; finally, there are the active or passive nihilists (C5), and the lucid,

132 Alceste . . . and the Rest ironic, misanthropic pessimists (C6). So, where do all the above lead? Nowhere special, really. As Gogo and Didi, from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, take turns saying: “Nothing to be done” (9; 11; 21). A utopian anti-PCer might declare that a revolution of rationality and decorum might be in order. However, a pessimistic anti-PCer would justifiably reply that if the euphemistically called “wise man” [homo sapiens] was truly capable of such a deed, he would have done it at some point during (at least) the last 50,000 years. This a rather cynical worldview, admittedly, but Bierce brilliantly defines a cynic as follows: “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be” (21). Similarly, for Nietzsche cynicism “is the only form in which base souls approach honesty” (Beyond Good and Evil 38). Freud was influenced by a host of Schopenhauer’s groundbreaking ideas; for instance, according to the latter: “Life is a task to be done. It is a fine thing to say defunctus est; it means that the man has done his task” (“On the Sufferings of the World” 7); likewise, the former wrote: “To tolerate life remains, after all, the first duty of all living beings” (“Our Attitude Towards Death” 299), and “the aim of all life is death” (Beyond the Pleasure Principle 32). In addition, one can readily detect the seeds of Freud’s theory of the – invariably concurrently activated – life (Eros) and death (Thanatos) drives in the next excerpt from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation: “Death is the great reprimand that the will-to-live, and more particularly the egoism essential thereto, receive through the course of nature; and it can be conceived as a punishment for our existence” (507). After World War I, Freud was certain that the aggressiveness of the death instinct, which “is at work in every living creature and is striving to bring it to ruin and to reduce life to its original condition of inanimate matter,” is either turned into the destructive instinct when directed outward or it becomes “conscience” when internalized (“Why War?” 211). For Freud, our sufferings originate from our own body, from the external world, but most of all from our relationships with other people (Civilization and its Discontents 24). Hence, it comes as no surprise that we see strangers as potential enemies, and we unconsciously want them dead; in fact, “if we are to be judged by our unconscious wishful impulses, we ourselves are, like primaeval man, a gang of murderers. It is fortunate that all these wishes do not possess the potency that was attributed to them in primaeval times; in the cross-fire of mutual curses mankind would long since have perished, the best and wisest of men and the loveliest and fairest of women with the rest” (Freud, “Our Attitude Towards Death” 297). Hence, mankind’s natural inclination is to reject the curious (if not utterly unreasonable) demand “love thy neighbor as yourself,” as the Other “has more claim to my hostility and even my hatred” (Civilization and its Discontents 56–57). Despite the fact that leftist PCers would beg to differ, unfeigned solidarity and nonreciprocal altruism are overidealized concepts, untenable notions, and nonstandard behaviors. Overall, they manifest themselves only if there is a feeling of security and ease among the general public. Friedman rightly claims that solidarity “is effectively dismantled” when “working-class people find themselves at odds with a new population of welfare-dependent immigrants” (260). On the

Alceste . . . and the Rest 133 same subject, and although it grieves me deeply that I have to touch upon this particular topical issue, the recent coronavirus pandemic clearly indicated, if not conclusively proved, that we are living in a Hobbesian world where it is every man for himself; or, in this case, every country or State for itself. As I am writing these lines, in early April 2020, articles pertaining to what I just mentioned keep appearing on various websites; here are the self-explanatory titles of only a few of them: “French Police to Confiscate 130,000 Face Masks Bound for UK NHS Doctors and Nurses Battling the Coronavirus” (Winterburn), “Coronavirus: Czech Republic Seizes More than 100,000 Face Masks Sent by China to Help Italy Tackle Spread” (Tidman), “US Accused of ‘Modern Piracy’ after Diversion of Masks Meant for Europe” (Willsher et al.), “‘We Are on Our Own:’ Alabama on Coronavirus Equipment” (Gattis), “Here’s Why Florida Got All the Emergency Medical Supplies it Requested While Other States Did Not” (Depillis). It is easy for one to decipher the pattern that emerges from the above. Not even during this unprecedented global health – and financial – crisis do the peoples of this world unite, is any kind of corruption curbed (quite the opposite), or are the rich and powerful willing to make any real sacrifice for “the commonweal.” Yes, there have been isolated instances of individuals or small groups of people exhibiting prosocial behaviors, and even committing heroic acts; as a rule, though, the war of all against all seems to outweigh the one against COVID-19. In Kant’s normative, and I dare say rather optimistic, view: “On the whole, the more civilized human beings are, the more they are actors. They adopt the illusion of affection, of respect for others, of modesty, and of unselfishness without deceiving anyone at all, because it is understood by everyone that nothing is meant sincerely by this. And it is also very good that this happens in the world. For when human beings play these roles, eventually the virtues, whose illusion they have merely affected for a considerable length of time, will gradually really be aroused and merge into the disposition” (Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View 42). I wonder, were he alive today, would the “Sage of Königsberg” opine that his claim has been vindicated? In contrast, Freud argues: “The existence of this inclination to aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbour and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure [of energy]. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests” (Civilization and its Discontents 59). Freud’s last phrase parallels what Schopenhauer had written about the will-to-live being converted into sexual impulse, whose concomitant intense (and often irrational) desires deceive consciousness and are superior to any other reasonable interests or moral intentions on the part of any given individual (The World as Will and Representation 531–560). The same applies in the case of PCers who are more concerned with getting their thrills from the parochial power games they engage in than they are with safeguarding the material interests of whichever disadvantaged group they are supposed to be supporting. The “cultural super-ego” commands us to be altruistic, even though “anyone who follows

134 Alceste . . . and the Rest such a precept in present-day civilization only puts himself at a disadvantage visà-vis the person who disregards it” (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents 90). In his thorough examination of political hypocrisy, Runciman convincingly argues that one can readily “make a utilitarian case for fake virtue over real virtue, because the individual who merely cultivates the outward appearance of truthfulness retains the capacity to lie and cheat when necessary, whereas the individual who is committed to being honest in all circumstances may sometimes find his honesty being used against him by those less scrupulous than himself” (84). The compulsion exercised on someone by civilized society may make him “choose to behave well in the cultural sense of the phrase, although no ennoblement of instinct, no transformation of egoistic into altruistic inclinations, has taken place in him,” hence it may be surmised that he is living, psychologically speaking, beyond his means, and may objectively be described as a hypocrite, whether he is clearly aware of the incongruity or not. It is undeniable that our contemporary civilization favours the production of this form of hypocrisy to an extraordinary extent. One might venture to say that it is built up on such hypocrisy, and that it would have to submit to far-reaching modifications if people were to undertake to live in accordance with psychological truth. Thus there are very many more cultural hypocrites than truly civilized men – indeed, it is a debatable point whether a certain degree of cultural hypocrisy is not indispensable for the maintenance of civilization, because the susceptibility to culture which has hitherto been organized in the minds of present-day men would perhaps not prove sufficient for the task. (Freud, “The Disillusionment of the War” 283–285) Runciman offers a systematic analysis of George Orwell’s “hatred of the hypocrisy of left-wing intellectuals, and of their readiness to hide behind platitudes, derived from his sense that those platitudes were also serving to conceal their attitude to power” (176); this excerpt could just as easily be describing modernday leftist PCers and their cultural hypocrisy, which, pace Freud, is anything but “indispensable for the maintenance of civilization.” PCers – mainly (but not exclusively, as we saw in the chapter on Greece) of the leftish variety – are what Runciman calls “second-order” hypocrites, which means that they are being hypocritical about their first-order hypocrisy, i.e., their fake moralizing, although they can actually be so self-deceived that they “believe they really are being virtuous” (53–54). As explained above, this study starts from the premise that human beings are foolish, rapacious, and highly hypocritical animals. According to Richard Dawkins, “all animal communication contains an element of deception right from the start, because all animal interactions involve at least some conflict of interest” (65). In fact, Trivers argues that dishonesty often sharpens “intellectual tools for truth” (5), and that deception “within species is expected in almost all relationships,” invariably taking “the lead in life, while detection of deception plays catch-up” (7); as for self-deception, it “occurs when the conscious mind is kept in

Alceste . . . and the Rest 135 the dark,” in the sense that “true information is preferentially excluded from consciousness and, if held at all, is held in varying degrees of unconsciousness” (9); also, in spite of social psychological theories to the contrary, self-deception is not defensive (68–70). As Michael S. Myslobodsky phrases it: “Deception is a perennial instrument of survival” (1); PC, in particular, could be said to fall into the category of a deceptive strategy that Myslobodsky dubs “prospective duplicity,” which “is directed at precluding future threats, fictitious, illusory, or real” (6). If one applied Joseph Agassi’s terms to PCers, the latter might be said to be “living in a fool’s paradise,” meaning that they constitute a social group who refuse to “consider corrections suggested by their environment,” and they are not open to a public discussion of alternative options suggested by others, because they claim that this might either prove helpful to these others or discourage their own people (24). In Hugo Strandberg’s view, “self-deception could be said to be there in all moral badness” (26). Taking all of the above into consideration, one can plausibly conclude that the moral rigorism that supposedly typifies the tribal ethos of PCers is aggressively (self-)deceptive, and that the self-righteousness of these secondorder hypocrites serves merely to perpetuate their self-aggrandizement and to cover their actual “moral badness”; at the same time, and inside the safe space of their cautiously demarcated filter bubble, PCers employ duplicity to bring the members of their in-group in line, while consciously keeping their consciousness in the dark with respect to what is truly just; or just true . . .


[In Lieu of a] Conclusion

To recapitulate, PC is a two-edged sword that cuts only in one direction: the wrong one. This is due to the fact that it usually amounts to nothing more than one – or a combination of more than one – of the following: an unwanted distraction from infinitely graver issues; a (genuinely or purportedly) “victimized” person’s jejune power trip; a set of risible First World problems that allow guiltridden, privileged, white liberals to seize the moral high ground; one of the manifold manifestations of human maliciousness and abject imbecility. At the same time, PC serves neither the Left, as it does nothing concrete to help the have-nots’ economic condition, while also verging upon an implementation of sociocultural despotism, nor the right-wingers, since not only does it expose them as hypocrites but it may also lend credence to the allegations made by many cultural leftists that PC is merely the neoconservatives’ endeavor to project their own paternalism onto progressives. If a theoretically well-intentioned social movement is transmogrified into an efficient tool for coercing mass obedience to irrational demands, this inexorably engenders a backlash effect. Whenever the figurative pendulum of a cultural or sociopolitical issue swings too far in one direction, it ultimately oscillates toward equally absurd extremes in the opposite direction, and PC does not seem to help achieve the desired equilibrium position. In fact, quite the opposite: it acts as a catalyst, continually giving fresh momentum to this pendulum. To stay within the realm of physics, according to Newton’s well-known Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; thus, for instance, asinine euphemisms such as “people with different abilities” or “vertically challenged” will ineluctably bring words like “cripple” and “midget” back into fashion. It is a textbook case of two wrongs do not make a right. However, can anything pertaining to PC ever be “made right”? Many readers will no doubt relate to this: no matter what else I may also be doing at any given time, and irrespective of where I happen to be, I never cease searching for empirical evidence that might prove useful for whatever project I am working on; potentially everything is data. Hence, while walking the streets of Vienna, before and after my public lecture (“Cultural and Sociopolitical Ramifications of Political Correctness”) at the Diplomatic Academy, I was constantly on the lookout for graffiti or posters that might be redolent of PC. I found two things: a sticker at a Kabelverzweiger [Serving Area Interface] near

[In Lieu of a] Conclusion


the Stadtpark [City Park] that read “Binary is for computers,” and an anarchist slogan, “Fight sexism,” written in small letters with a marker pen on a wall at Beatrixgasse street. No one could accuse Viennese PCers of not being either pithy or inconspicuous; brevity is an integral part of wit, if not its “soul,” and the first slogan was indeed witty, especially if one takes into account that they placed the sticker on a telecommunications cabinet, of all places. Nonetheless, no matter how strenuously many PCers try to refute it, biological sex in humans, outliers – i.e., rare intermediate cases of people with disorders of sex development – aside, is binary (or at least it definitely follows a bimodal distribution), and there are no two ways about it [pun intended]. Incidentally, most biologists do accept that gender, power, and socially constructed roles are interrelated to some degree; it is the social constructionists who contend that when biologists refer to the two sexes they automatically turn into “apologists for patriarchal tyranny.” [As regards the relationship between sexual orientation and biology, I concur with Satel: “Though the nature-nurture debate surrounding homosexuality is unresolved, it is fair to say that same-sex attraction and gay or lesbian identity exist along a continuum. At one pole are individuals with a strong biological predisposition; at the other are individuals who have deliberately chosen a gay or lesbian lifestyle. Many other men and women fall somewhere in between” (224).] Moreover, non-binary PCers make heavy use of the main implementation of the binary numeric system (computers) in order to deploy binary arguments – “you are either with us or against us” – instead of nuanced ones. As for the Viennese anarchists’ exhortation to fight sexism, it has been years since I realized that it is the modern-day Western anarchist’s favorite well-worn trope. After all, why not? It is not as if late-capitalist societies are facing any other problems that are significantly thornier than sexism, real or alleged, right? Before I commenced my speech, the Director of the Diplomatic Academy, his Excellency Ambassador Emil Brix, caught me somewhat off guard by asking me whether I would be suggesting a “solution.” I forthrightly replied that I am a misanthropic pessimist and an existential nihilist, so I think that there is no “all-out cure” for any of the current sociocultural ills or, more generally, for the resentments attendant on our having been thrown into existence without being asked. Nonetheless, I then went on to say that, although there are not many things all humans can agree on, maybe we can find a way to rise above the fray of armchair pseudo-ideological battles, restore a modicum of rationality, and collectively decide that PC, though often based on benevolent intentions, eventually does more harm than good. If that were to happen, what could we “replace” PC with? Politeness, or tactfulness, might be the answer. According to Schopenhauer: Politeness is a tacit agreement that we shall mutually ignore and refrain from reproaching one another’s miserable defects, both moral and intellectual. [. . .] Politeness is prudence and consequently rudeness is folly. To make enemies by being wantonly and unnecessarily rude is as crazy as setting one’s house on fire. For politeness is admittedly false coin, like a counter; to be


[In Lieu of a] Conclusion niggardly with it shows a want of intelligence, whereas to be generous with it is prudent. (“Councels and Maxims” 462–463)

One can imagine the troubles Schopenhauer would have with some illiterate PCers were he to use the skunked term “niggardly” today; after careful reconsideration, he would be in deep water with all PCers anyway. In any event, what Schopenhauer proposes is an amount of social hypocrisy that a misanthropic pessimist would indulge in without qualm, as it might help make interpersonal relationships a bit more tolerable. Here is where Klotz’s analysis of the dynamic between the concepts of PC and politeness comes in handy. In sum, Klotz argues the following: all terms and concepts have multiple, far-reaching ideological and cultural implications, and by using some of them and excluding others an order of discourse and, consequently, a worldview is created; he or she who exercises control over which ideologically-laden linguistic parameters are internalized by the people, assumes power over them. Yet this power is ephemeral, since languageuse is constantly changing, and it can determine thought only for short periods of time. Now, while PC is trying to institute a new, stable, and homogeneous way of thinking about race, gender, and so on, and the usually uncooperative PC authoritarians do not empathize with their interlocutors, politeness formulates temporary rules that do not constitute a social group, but simply allow communication to take place between its potentially aggressive members. Social relations, especially in a pluralist society, are governed by disagreements, value conflicts, antagonistic interests, even violence. Politeness is an attempt to reduce friction, but with the understanding that it is friction which brings forth change, novel thought, respectful relationships. However, politeness, in the sense of politic behavior (to wit, saving both the speaker’s and the listener’s face), may ultimately unite with PC and become distorted, instrumentalized; in contrast, displaying tact, both privately and in public, instantiates the principle “be cooperative” in the best possible way (155–161). In theory, this tactfulness could extend beyond the linguistic realm; it could also apply to all behaviors, dress codes, gestures, and so forth. Yet Friedman may well be right in arguing that if a sense of individuality is strong, politeness serves only to characterize an interlocutor as civil or not; when individuality weakens, then politeness becomes “a crucial form of social competence,” PC comes into play (or, as Klotz phrased it, politeness is “distorted” by PC), and an honest debate becomes hard to maintain; but if individuality is virtually absent, statements are “defined as part of the social relations themselves,” language transforms into “a material force,” and utterances are no longer “mere events susceptible to interpretation,” but “acts that are always already signifying” in accordance with the PCers’ associative mode (220–222). Another equally chimerical solution might be that, since PC is largely a result of the modern First World culture’s backward evolution (i.e., the regression to infantile grievances on the part of many of its privileged members), then if all the countries somehow became part of the First World, maybe the absurdities of PC would get jumbled together with all the rest of human life’s inanities and, thus, their sui generis corrosive power might dissipate, preferably along with the

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metaphorical pendulum’s momentum. It does not escape me that there is another side to this coin: railing against PC is also a First World luxury. Be that as it may, this text was not written with the intention of “putting an end to PC,” but I can at least hope that it will let right-minded people know that, while there may be only a few of them left, their voice is still heard. In case it turns out that my work can serve as a basis for future research projects, perhaps more extensive and pioneering than this one, these might include: (i) academics from other parts of the world writing about what PC is like in their countries right now, as Friedman recently did about Sweden; (ii) another Greek scholar focusing exclusively on PC in Greece, thus analyzing it in more detail than I did; (iii) a long overdue revalidation of pessimism, preferably by means of a completely Promethean approach, yet one that also takes PC into consideration. As I made clear at the beginning of the introductory chapter, I do not [wish to] have a dog in this fight; I do not believe in progress or in effecting positive changes, and certainly not by way of putting yet another theoretical book into circulation. Utopian “remedies” aside, what will likely occur is that the consecutive worldwide economic meltdowns, perhaps accompanied by novel coronavirus pandemics, will force even the citizens of First World countries to get back to basics, starting with a reexamination of whether they can ever coexist without invariably viewing life as a “war game” in which each agent (“fighter” or “player”) ought to devise a “strategy” – equivalent retaliation, reciprocal altruism, deception, and so on – in order to deal with all the “antagonists.” However, if the Western world continues to spiral downward toward shallowness, ennui, antiintellectualism, opportunism, and wholesale hypocrisy, then PC will become the prevalent modus vivendi throughout the globe, and this might herald a fitting end to the Enlightenment’s hope that humanity will one day reach the age of maturity, in the sense of spontaneously exhibiting rationality and virtuousness. It is time it was conceded that the humanities were born “astride of a grave,” to borrow Beckett’s well-turned phrase from Waiting for Godot (90), and that most universities have mutated into boot camps for the precariat; also, and in a much broader context, that the human species is way past the point of no return, as it no longer seems able to escape the gravitational pull of a sociocultural black hole of its own making. In such an academic and social milieu, any extreme manifestation of PC, either “reactionary” or “progressive,” cannot be construed as anything other than mere affectation, or perhaps as the compulsive repetition of yet another senseless and passive-aggressive ritualized behavior by people who choose to remain astonishingly oblivious to the impending violent collapse of human civilization. ∞ If all the objects of human endeavor, in every one of its fields and aspects, have been, are, and forever will be political in essence, but at the same time no general consensus is ever expected to emerge amongst the citizens of any given country on however minor or major an issue; if politics is the continuation of war by other


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means; if each and every person invariably presumes that his/her/their (and only his/her/their) Weltanschauung is the correct one; then, in what kind of locus horribilis does political correctness arise, and for what purpose? ∞ Yet again in the history of humankind our societies are pervaded by a disquieting feeling that the entire edifice of our current civilization is “hanging by a thread.” I wonder when we will finally get some answers to the following pertinent questions, and who will dare ask them. What material is this figurative thread made of? Why was this thread manufactured in the first place, and by whom? And where exactly is it tied to? ∞ A (hypothetical) sincere advertisement by a temporary employment agency: “We shall teach you a thousand and one insidious, undignified, but politically correct moves so that you may stand a chance of winning the game of musical chairs that used to be called ‘the business arena’.” ∞ Alas, those exceedingly rare everyday acts of selflessness, or those minuscule oases of social sensitivity, well-reasoned arguments, and integrity in the public sphere, what deleterious effects they all have! They throw budding misanthropes off the track and into the bottomless pit of forlorn hope and unjustified self-doubt! ∞ Is humanity only now living in “the age of monsters,” is it merely yet another interregnum that most (if not all) of our contemporary urban cultures will eventually pass through, or has it always been this way? Were we counting on Yeats to inform us that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity” (1880) or on social psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning to provide us with scientific evidence that not only do incompetent people quite often “overestimate themselves” but also that “their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it” (1131), or were we perhaps waiting for the advent of social media in order to ascertain – on our own, and many times each day – that the world is full of self-asserting fools and fanatics, while the real minority of courteous and intelligent people are full of doubts? Neither is the old world dying, nor is a new order of things struggling to be born; it has always been the same rough beasts that constantly keep metamorphosing into even scarier monsters, until there comes a time when there will be no more prey available to them . . . ∞

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How small a life it takes to fill a whole thought! ∞ The first thing he did when he woke up was to donate a healthy amount of money to the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, and another one to Greenpeace; the previous day it had been some other (nonprofit) NGO he cannot remember at the moment and the Me Too movement; tomorrow it would be Immigration Equality’s turn, and so forth. On his way to work, he managed to get into not one but two altercations, the first with a gang of teenagers who were browbeating a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, and the second with a barista whom he saw refusing to serve a non-binary transgender Asian American. While at his office, he delivered a severe verbal reprimand to one of his male employees for complimenting a female colleague (a married one, no less) on her new hairstyle, and fired another for addressing a remark that could feasibly be interpreted as somewhat sexually suggestive to a scantily clad and heavily made-up – both of which are, of course, entirely beside the point, right? – young female person that was passing by the company building. As usual, he worked until late, but this did not inhibit him from paying a visit to his alma mater’s “LGBT+ and Diversity Inclusion Taskforce” on his way home, just to remind the good folk over there that he was always at their disposal for any assistance. Late in the evening, he finally retired into his den, where he devoured a generous portion of foie gras, lit a hideously expensive contraband cigar, and had a meeting (via video conferencing) with his accountants, his advisors, and his goons about the three remaining items of business for the day. He wanted to be reassured that his massive estate was exempt from federal taxes. He asked what measures, legal or otherwise, could be taken against members of the environmental lobby that was trying to halt the fast-tracked fracking bid made by a company in which he was a major investor. Finally, he would like to make the union leaders at his own company “an offer they could not refuse.” Then, it was time for him to head to the basement, where he kept his adopted children/sexual slaves: a preadolescent African boy and a teenage Asian girl (at least he was not lying about being both race-blind and bisexual . . . ), both of them deaf, mute, and ravishingly pretty, just as he had requested from the human traffickers he was doing business with. Ah, well, nobody’s perfect; at least his public image remains untarnished, and his PC “friends” regard him as a paragon of virtue, since he always says and does the “right thing” – as long as this does not entail any negative consequences for him – whenever he is among people who do not know him that well. From a metaethical point of view, this means that he is an amoralist whose ethical convictions are simulated and conditioned by the surrounding culture, and that they motivate him to speak or act morally only when this is conducive to the fulfilment of his own desires. Nevertheless, his politically correct posturing will certainly come in handy should he ever decide to run for office; after all, what are a few personal peccadilloes compared to a whole life passionately devoted to PC (more correctly in this case: to a convenient ethico-political fiction, to moral attitudinizing, and to


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pedantic virtue signaling), given that PC is the current be-all and end-all of public discourse and the Holy Grail of social practices, right? Of course, this is just an imaginary character that I created on the fly for the purposes of this book, and one whom intractable PCers will no doubt rush to dub a straw man, even if some of them happen to know quite a few real-life persons that closely resemble him, and although in this case I am actually deploying a steel man argument. In any case, I wonder how this bogeyman – apropos, why has no PCer ever launched a crusade for replacing these two negatively connoted terms with straw woman and bogeywoman? – would rate in a typical social justice warrior’s estimation if he was, grosso modo, the opposite of what I previously portrayed him as. A blue-collar worker, unquestioningly heterosexual, and slightly prone to catcalling. He fiercely criticizes whatever shortcomings he may perceive in people of any color without demur, and finds that most stereotypes (which, he believes, always contain a “kernel of truth”) save him time and effort while he struggles to navigate through an inimical, volatile, and convoluted social environment. He does not trust non-governmental organizations any more than he does the government, and he definitely would not donate money to any of them because, first, he considers communitas to be a fraudulent conception and, second, he views philanthropic gestures as pharisaical, ostentatious displays of wealth (which also usually happen to be tax deductible . . . ). He appreciates the distinction between a person’s biological sex and said person’s psycho-socio-culturally constructed gender, which is not the same as defending this distinction, because he also understands that there are still unresolved empirical problems in relation to the complex feedback loops at play between biological mechanisms and the various types and agents of socialization (in other words, the jury is still out on what is the best way to unravel the perplexing convolutions concerning the reciprocal action between genotype and environment), and that no difference amongst groups or individuals is purely a product of their sociocultural milieu. By no means does he have any objections against anything that might serve as a preventive check on rampant population growth, and same-sex marriages is definitely one such thing. He complies with the ethical code that individuals should not be evaluated through the lens of common negative prejudices based on whichever group they belong to, so he is of the opinion that non-binary and/or trans people should by all means be given equal opportunities, and that they should be allowed to call themselves “Betty,” “Al,” or any other male, female, or gender-neutral name each of them prefers. At the same time, though, he experiences considerable difficulties with accepting that the persons who identify with a gender role that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth ought to be “celebrated,” or to enjoy preferential treatment (for example, some sort of reparation for harms inflicted on other LGBT+ people in the past), or that they may arrogate to themselves the prerogative to mandate what “alternate” pronouns of their choice be used when they are being addressed by heteronormative people. Notwithstanding the above, this “version” of my fictitious character is also, on principle, against race-based or gender-based wage or occupational disparity, although he is fully aware that he is . . . utterly unaware of all the contradictory

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exigencies associated with the precept of “equal pay for equal work.” [PCers, and especially the exponents of certain strains of feminism, are hell-bent on ascribing the gender pay gap or the low percentage of female engineers, high-ranking government officials, or elite business leaders to no other explanation than rampant discrimination against women. Thus, as Pinker explains: “The possibility that men and women might differ from each other in ways that affect what jobs they hold or how much they get paid may never be mentioned in public, because it will set back the cause of equity in the workplace and harm the interests of women” (The Blank Slate 353).] He has cultivated an ecological conscience, but without entertaining any illusions about how substantial a contribution to the protection of the environment his recycling or his electric car can actually make. He regularly pays his union dues, gets in fights with strikebreakers, attends anti-war rallies, and partakes in protests in favor of redressing flagrant socioeconomic inequalities. However, he has heeded Carlin’s pessimistic, yet truthful, warning to political activists: “All your chanting, marching, voting, picketing, boycotting and letterwriting will not change a thing; you will never right the wrongs of this world. The only thing your activity will accomplish is to make some of you feel better” (668), so he does all these things not because he looks forward to a new proletarian revolution or thinks that demonstrations can truly make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but as part and parcel of expressing his class consciousness, in the sense that he feels obliged to defend the objective interests of all those who occupy the same class position as he does, no matter how largely ineffective such actions may prove in the long run. By the way, he sides only with blue, green, and black collar workers; he is not interested in standing up for any other distinctive social identities or for any “tribes” based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on. From the arguments, the propositions, and the theories I have been expounding throughout this book, it can easily be inferred that I do not identify entirely with either of these two personae; nonetheless, I am unable to comprehend the criteria by which today’s leftist PCers would, presumably, not recognize the latter as at least “the lesser of two evils.” ∞ “Pound-for-Pound” The eternal return of these grisly faces, in metro stations, on TV, in classrooms, everywhere: clumped platelets in a dry white thrombus. ∞ So, if it is proven beyond any doubt that proactive aggression, either predatory or impulsive, is an ineliminable feature of human nature and an intrinsic part of human growth and development, externalizing behavior is negatively correlated with intelligence, and cognitively impaired people are both more numerous and immensely more experienced in violent and irrational confrontations than those


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with higher IQs, then the latter must certainly find themselves in a dismal plight each time they enter – willingly or not – into a destructive “dialogue” on PC! ∞ Consider the following scenario, which I think should not be regarded as arrantly preposterous; or, if you will, conduct the next thought experiment with me step by step. Let us assign the letter “A” to all of the “conservatives” and the letter “B” to all of the “liberals”; this, of course, could be extended to “C” for “right-libertarians,” “D” for “moderates,” “E” for “communists,” and so forth, but for now we shall stick to the “A”s and the “B”s. In order to be able to differentiate from one another all the various subdivisions that fall under these broad rubrics, we attach a number next to the letters “A” and “B” to denote a particular “layer” of conservatives or liberals. Now, assume that the “Α1”s are God-fearing people, “prolife,” against the death penalty, “casual racists” (to wit, they may harbor implicit biases against this race or that ethnic group, but they do not openly discriminate against them), tentatively supportive of affirmative action programs, and oscillating around the poverty line; in stark contrast to the “Α1”s, the “A2”s are not particularly religious, they are pro-choice, in favor of the death penalty for violent criminals, overtly racist, unabashedly dismissive of race-conscious and genderconscious admissions policies, and ranging from well-to-do to extremely wealthy; the “A3”s agree on most points with the “A1”s and they are heterosexuals, while the “A4”s share more ideological ground with the “A2”s and they are gender non-conforming; financial status, sexual preferences, and gender identity could be considered separate variables, and they might be provisionally represented by, say, colors, geometrical shapes, and currency symbols, respectively. This list can, by all means, go on and on, becoming increasingly more particularized. Now, in the context of this thought experiment, imagine that the “B1”s appear to have more in common with the “A5”s than they do with the “B2”s, while the “B3”s are more gender-biased than the “A4”s but exhibit less racial bias than both the “A2”s and the “B6”s. However, the last two sharply disagree on the correct definition of PC and, as a consequence, also on the symbolic or practical significance of either complying with it or denouncing it, always on a case-by-case basis. By applying this particular line of reasoning one could readily conjure up a plethora of analogous affinities and/or contrasts, both between intraparty factions and – obviously – between the “A”s and the “B”s in general, until a complex nexus of unanticipated interactions emerges; to be more exact, until an extremely intricate concatenation of bifurcate, or even trichotomous, interrelations amongst (theoretically) widely divergent political subgroups is revealed. Nonetheless, this ineluctably perpetual fragmentation into exponentially smaller subcategories cannot help but lead to myriads of “tribes of one,” regardless of how many viewpoints each of them happens to have in common with (some of) the rest. Taking all the above into consideration, what is one left with? Or, rather, what valid

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conclusion is to be drawn here? I postulate that every person considers that s/he, and s/he alone, is decisively elevated above letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and symbols . . . In figurative terms: human beings are, indeed, islands; as such, they tend to form “clusters” only if this is advantageous to them, a temporarily convenient option, or obligatory; just as the prickly porcupines in Schopenhauer’s parable would never move close to one another unless it was very, very cold . . .

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ableism 8, 19–23, 35, 62, 81, 112 affirmative action 4–5, 104–15, 118, 120, 144; in art 63–64; D’Souza on 93–95 altruism 13, 35, 132–134, 139 anti-intellectualism 6–8, 47, 80, 120, 126 Baudrillard, J. 6, 52, 102, 128–129, 131 Beckett, S. 8, 37, 48, 52, 98, 132, 139 Bierce, A. 14, 126, 132 blackface 64, 66–69 Black Lives Matter 97, 141 brocialism 114 Bruckner, P. 31, 39, 66; on minorities’ privileges 73; on multiculturalism 96; on Muslim slavers 71; on victimhood 49, 127 call-out culture 62 Carlin, G. 2, 53–54, 72, 94, 121, 143; and Stewart Lee 74, 77–78 catcalls 31, 142 causality dilemma 25–26, 38 censorship imposed by PC; 47, 62, 67, 88; D’Souza, G. Hughes, Schwartz, Zimmerman on 4–5; Kitrosser on 87; Loury on 116–117; Pinker on 80; Wilson on 110 Chamfort, N. 119, 121, 125 Chappelle, D. 74, 76–77, 79 C.K., Louis 79, 127 climate change see environmentalism colonialism 10, 67, 69, 78, 96; Arab 71–72; cultural 46 coronavirus 13, 133, 139; used as metaphor 4, 36, 80–81 COVID–19 see coronavirus cultural appropriation 8, 12, 46, 69

cultural leftism 94, 120, 136; in favor of PC 100–108; instead of cultural Marxism 11; versus orthodox Marxism 113–115 cultural Marxism 11, 51–52, 86 definitions of PC 85–91 diversity 5, 21, 38, 63–65, 87; Bruckner on 73; Cantor on 102; D’Souza on 97–98; Wood on 104–105 echo chamber 76, 96, 103 ecology see environmentalism elitism 7–8, 38, 76, 111, 123 environmental determinism 32, 72 environmentalism 2, 7, 47, 53–54, 60–62, 141, 143 epistocracy 66, 72 equity 7, 143; Charney on 8–9; D’Souza on 9 Feldstein, R. 4, 52, 82; on D’Souza 92, 99–100, 105; on PC as left-wing projection 11, 83, 89, 106–113, 117; on the Sixties 81 feminism 5, 39–40, 92–93, 103–104, 115, 143; anti-PC leftists on 113; D’Souza on 58, 95, 97–98; Greek 18; in art 65–66; and Peterson 55–59 filter bubble 135 First World problems 47, 62, 129, 136, 138–139 Fish, S. 83, 89–92, 112 Friedman, J. 9, 41, 59, 132, 139; on associationism 39, 48, 89, 99, 110–112; on individuality 138; on orthodoxy 15; on PC origins 82; on postmodernism 52 Freud, S. 14, 108, 126, 132–134

Index gender; and biological sex 10–11, 137, 142; and equality issues 7, 10, 18–19, 63–66, 72, 109, 142–143; and language 33, 39, 42 Gray, J. 54, 123 Green, D. G. 29, 50, 104, 117–118 harassment 29–31, 36, 50, 58, 79; cultural 51 Hart, K. 75, 99 hip-hop subculture 27, 46–47, 57, 98 Hughes, G. 4, 9, 82, 84, 87, 93 Hughes, R. 9, 48, 95, 98; on anti-elitism 8, 50, 64; on Arab colonialism 71–72; on leftist McCarthyism 107; on PC culture of complaint 75, 86, 101–104; on rightwing PC 16 humotopia 129–131 hypersensitivities of PC 47, 50, 63, 69, 105; D’Souza on 96 impartiality 1, 4, 85, 99 incels 2, 50, 103 individualism 7, 9, 60, 97, 125 in-group lack of self-criticism 22, 38, 81, 112, 135; D’ Souza on 29 Islamophobia 7, 9, 57, 78, 98, 141 Kant, I. 14, 112, 119, 121, 126, 133 kernel-of-truth hypothesis 109, 112, 142 Kitrosser, H. 5, 49, 69–71, 83, 87, 115–116 Klotz, P. 88, 138 language use and PC 2, 33, 39, 77–78, 86–89, 138 La Rochefoucauld, F. 14, 73–74, 100, 108, 126–127 Lea, J. 9, 11, 83–84, 87, 93–94, 113–115; on Fish 90–91 Lee, S. 74, 78–79 Lewis, H. see Peterson LGBT+ 2, 21, 72, 111, 127, 141–142; and college admissions tests 94; in Greece 38, 42; Hart and 75; representation in art 63–65; Satel on 104 Loury, G. C. 4–5, 29, 88, 94, 116–118 Maher, B. 5 Marxists; on PC 2, 52–53, 65, 106, 113–115; and origins of PC 82–83, 86 meta-ethics 3, 110–112, 123, 141 Me Too 31, 36, 59, 127, 141


microaggression 1, 48, 69, 93, 115 minority representation 6, 12, 18–19, 63, 68, 72, 118; in academe 96, 98, 102 minority studies 10, 92–97, 102–103; D’Souza on 97–98 misandry 29, 58, 65–66 misanthropic pessimism 13–14, 96, 120, 123–125, 129 motivated reasoning 3 multiculturalism 2, 8–9, 83, 89, 107, 113; in academia 5, 87, 95–96, 101–102, 104 Newman, C. see Peterson non-governmental organizations 61, 141, 142 nihilism 9, 120, 122–123, 125, 128–129 n-word 44, 47 Orientalism 12, 26, 96 origin of term PC 82–85 outrage; and moral panic 127; PC appeals to 17, 22, 68–69, 79 Overton window 22 PC and power plays 34, 38, 43, 47, 96, 136 Peterson, J. B. 12, 100, 111, 116; and Cathy Newman 55–56; critique of 51–55, 60; and Helen Lewis 55–59; on leftist identity politics 5–6 Pinker, S. 11, 57, 66, 80–81, 143 postmodernism 2, 8, 51–53, 107, 114, 128–129 prejudice; definitions of 51, 109 projection 11, 106–110, 136 quota systems 63, 94, 104–105 race; definition of 10–11 rap see hip-hop subculture right-wing PC: Greek examples of 16–17, 23, 28, 41 Runciman, D. 18, 134 safe spaces 12, 48, 50, 70–71, 93, 115, 135 Satel, S. 5, 42, 50–51, 72, 94, 103–104, 137 Schopenhauer, A. 8, 13–14, 119, 132–133, 137–138, 145 Schwartz, H. S. 4, 5, 46, 69–70, 86 self-deception 18, 134–135 sexual orientation 3, 7, 10, 83, 143; Carlin on 77; D’Souza on 97; Green on 117; Hart on 75; Satel on 137



Smollett, J. 31 social constructionism 7, 10, 14, 91, 137 social justice warriors 5, 35, 40, 46, 57, 69, 142; on the internet 127 social media 3–4, 13, 56, 75, 126–128, 140; Greek 20, 22, 26–31, 79 sociopolitical pendulum 136, 139 solidarity 13, 40–44, 98, 128, 132 stereotypes 37, 67–69, 83, 97, 112, 142; definition of 51, 109 Strange Loop 20, 62, 64, 74, 98, 117, 131; definition of 81 structural inequalities see systemic biases Sykes, C. J. 52, 80, 86 systemic biases 6–7, 35, 39–40, 66, 68, 78; cultural leftists on 106

utopianism 8, 48, 52, 81, 129, 132, 139

trial of intentions 43, 127 trigger warnings 12, 69, 115 Trivers, R. 18, 127, 134 Trump, D. 5, 22, 99

Yeats, W. B. 7, 100, 140

veganism 76 victim mentality 31, 44, 47–49, 71–72, 112, 127; Carlin on 77; D’Souza on 94, 117; Green on 29, 104, 117; Loury on 117; R. Hughes on 101, 104; William on 86 Weinstein, B. 60, 70–71 Weinstein, H. 36 Wilson, J. K. 11, 31, 82, 83, 103–104; on D’Souza 101–102; on Fish 90; on quotas 105–106; on right-wing victimhood 100; self-criticism 110 woke; female vigilantes 29; social justice warriors 42; on social media 128

zeitgeist 6, 22, 79, 131 Zimmerman, J. 4, 69, 82–84, 88, 101, 107