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PC: conspiracy or illusion?

I had a discussion with a reader, in connection with a post on political correctness at Bruce Charlton’s blog, about whether our rulers actually believe what they say they believe. He was inclined to say that the whole current system is based on the denial of objective goods and essences, so it’s clear nothing can really better than anything else, and there must be some sort of clear-headed elite within the elite who recognize this whole PC liberalism thing as pure fiction inculcated as a sort of noble lie.

Here is my response (somewhat edited and rearranged):

I suppose the question is how elitish the elite gets. Not all that much, I’d say. “An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur?” (“Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”)

Certainly they aren’t as knowledgeable or self-aware as they used to be. There aren’t many Kojeves these days turning bureaucrat. The educated ruling class tends more and more to be narrow careerists who are sometimes extremely good in their specialty but lack general culture and so are childish outside it.

At a fundamental level they’re not all that reflective. The point of their theorizing—often quite explicitly—is to find reasons for holding and imposing the moral and social views they already view as patently correct.

So I think it’s a mistake to analyze the overall effect of what they stand for and say “well here’s what they must consciously believe since they’re smart people and must know what they’re really up to.” If smart people want to find ways to defer ultimate questions and avoid dealing with their own situation they’ll come up with something.

It seems to me that our secular elites actually do believe in PC and all the rest of it. Their faith is rather at odds with what they think reason tells them, which is one reason they’re inclined to hysteria about issues like genetic differences, but that’s their problem.

I attended Yale Law school, so I had opportunities for observation. It seemed clear that the professors there were genuine believers. They couldn’t help it. Everybody needs a religion, since in some way he has to believe in what he’s doing and in a justification for the position in the world that makes him who he is. And top law professors do believe in being top law professors.

I think it was Pascal who first pointed out that people can’t really be skeptics, because every action or choice not to act includes an understanding of the world in which we’re acting and a belief that the action makes sense in that world. As a result we inevitably believe that the world is thus and so and makes sense as such. People pose as relativists or nihilists to escape the need to explain and defend they beliefs. They don’t really believe there are no settled moral truths.

It’s true that on some level my professors and fellow students knew there was something incoherent about their position. That implicit consciousness tinged their outlook with a mixture of cynicism, fanaticism, and a general sense of “well this is what we do, and isn’t it wonderful that we’re us and we’re so much better than all those other people and what we do is right because we do it.” Cynicism is never absolute, though, at least not in the case of someone who has to stay focused and functional enough to be a successful careerist in the face of stiff competition. And the wonderfulness of the “us” plainly depended on the wonderfulness of their unquestionably-correct moral and social views.

One question would be who belongs to the clear-headed elite of the elite. I can’t think of anyone. Somebody like Samuel Beckett might have a clear idea what modernity meant but he wasn’t political. John Rawls struck me as a well-intentioned nerd who really did intend to do the right thing. Others like Ronald Dworkin basically seem to be self-centered ambitious men who want to be better than everyone else and wouldn’t ever give up whatever it is that supposedly makes them better and gives them the right to tell other people what to do.

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Comments

While I am certainly no member of the power-elite, I come from the class they draw from frequently (for instance, two of my sisters are Harvard graduates with advanced degrees). I absolutely agree that PC-true believers are just that — true believers — even probably within the upper echelons.

I’m a very smart person, from a purely functional point of view (profoundly stupid from many other points of view), and up until a few years ago, I too was a true believer. I did the most amazing mental acrobatics to avoid the contradictions in my own thought, all the while without noticing the absurdity. It’s a species of willfulness, really. I am reminded of the hell-beings on their day trip to heaven in CS Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” All around them is the truth, but they are too wedded to their demons and their theories to even contemplate an alternative. It doesn’t matter if you smack them right in the face with something better.

Of course, one of the lost souls is indeed saved in that story.

Excellent comparison.

What is fascinating about the current situation is that main sanction against seeing or expressing the obvious truth is the ‘sophomoric snigger’ - the disdainful ‘you don’t believe *that* (discredited rubbish) do you?’. This is the first line of defense - ridicule.

Only when the snigger fails to lead to a grovelling retraction comes the next, and irreversible, sanction of cold loathing and rejection from elite discourse.

*

The following is a very good example of how things work, at the highest level:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7vCDeKPRSo

This is an interchange at a high level public debate in London: Eric Kaufmann is an outstanding demographer who has written about religiousness, and whose talk emphasizes that demography - at the timescale he is discussing - is highly accurate in its predictions. It is not just a matter of opinion.

Then, just after 22 minutes, comes a very well known journalist and editor called Dominic Lawson (edited the main UK Conservative daily newspaper (Telegraph) and weekly intellectual magazine (Spectator)).

Lawson gives a short preamble, in a humorous mode, then after approx. a minute Lawson signals he is about to say something ‘serious’ and begins to talk about a ‘dangerous remark’ that he says Kaufmann has made; and that ‘remark’ becomes the focus of Lawson’s talk.

So on the one hand we have an international expert scientist who is telling the audience what _will_ happen over the next few decades, and wants to talk about the implications of what will happen; and on the other a journalist who - in effect - demolishes the whole thing by saying that it is ‘dangerous’ to talk about these matters except in the most carefully nuanced and sensitive manner.

At the end of the day Lawson makes clear that Kaufmann is at fault, he has transgressed a boundary. Kaufmann, in pursuing this topic, has not responded to the snigger, and is in danger of getting the cold loathing treatment. Lawson is giveng Kauffman a last chance to pull back.

Kaufmann is kindly and politely being warned, and so is the audience.

*

Has there ever been anything like this before? Where the public discourse cannot address important real world problems of what is happening or the implications of what will happen because it is ‘dangerous’ to discuss these topics (unless with the most elaborately coded and indirect allusions - which render the topics abstract and unreal).

This attitude of Lawson’s is related to the frequency with which (in writing and in conversation) I hear elite members say that they ‘do not understand’ phenomena which are the mainstream bread and butter of human existence: things such as ethnic and religious conflict, violence and rape, corruption and nepotism, predatory sexuality, overwheening pride, conspiracies and so on.

Indeed, *not* to understand such things is now a mark of moral goodness - and those who are not perenially surprised by such things are suspected of themselves being wicked.

The PC elites are therefore wearing compulsory blinkers, and receiving stunning blows that come from invisible areas concealed by their blinkers - they are continually reeling from such strikes, unable to understand from whence they come or what motivates them, and unable even to begin to understand what is happening without transgressing their moral code and risking exclusion from the charmed circle.

*

This self-blinding is so habitual and runs so deep and is so elaborately defended that it now can probably survive anything.

The elite are now, at the level of normal probability, beyond reach of reform (if Lawson, a leading Conservative, extremely clever and well informed, cannot be persuaded - then essentially nobody can).

Therefore the current elite must be replaced wholesale - both left and right; and if the current elite are not replaced then social collapse is inevitable - the only uncertainty is which of the many potentially lethal causes that are concealed by the blinkers will be the one that trigger the collapse.

Of course, even if the current elite *are* replaced, then the replacement would be much less intelligent and much less well informed than the likes of Dominic Lawson. It would be like replacing army officers with NCOs. But when the army are in a war yet the officers cannot acknowledge the fact; at that point leadership by only-modestly clever but commonsensical NCOs - although suboptimal - becomes preferable.

However, realistically, I cannot see this happening except after things have already substantially collapsed, and then only at a local level.

*

In other words, politics cannot save us - and we cannot save ourselves. This is why the secular right is a futile distraction and only the Christian right has any chance (albeit extraordinarily slim) for reversing the trend towards civilizational death.

I think it needs to be remembered that the “elites” have all assumed power with the approval of the body politic. i.e The average Joe. A hostile populace would easily rid themselves of these clowns if they wanted. Good men cannot rise to the top of our current system because they would be unelectable. The core problem is that people want agreeable politicians, not good ones. The current “elite” is more a product of our democratic process than a cause of our current mess. It’s the manners of the proles, in whom political power is vested, that you should be looking at.

I think you overestimate the democratic aspects of the current regime. Is it democracy that has brought us (e.g.) affirmative action, mass third-world immigration, and the EU?

It’s very difficult for the people to resist a settled tendency among their rulers. “If the wind sweeps across the grass, the grass will bend.” (Confucius)

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

The founding fathers of the U.S. republic knew that its fate was tied to the civic and moral virtue of its citizens. If the citizenry became corrupt, the country would fail. I honestly think that we are approaching the terminal phase.

The underlying premise of the democratic system is that the people have the power to vote out those whom they find objectionable. This is why millions of dollars are spent on courting their favour. The politicians know that their destiny is in the hands of the public. The proles can, through collective action, undo the apparatus of the liberal state. They do not wish to do so.

The average citizen looks at public policy from the vantage point of “what’s in it for me?”. If a candidate proposes a massive tax cut but the condition is gay marriage, many citizens would not object, in fact they would enthusiastically agitate for him. The sad fact is that the franchise has been extended to citizens who do not have the country’s best interest at heart. It is a tragedy of the commons situation. The fatal flaw in Western society was extending the franchise to the morally and prudentially unfit. Our system is democratic, the public has the power, it’s just that many citizens do not choose to exercise their critical faculties and the manipulative politicians realise this. The liberal kulturbund foist their policies on the population knowing full well that if given enough enticements, the proles will go along with it. Their power is dependent on the moral and prudential apathy of their voting base.

In a democracy, the role of the “elites” is to propose, the role of the public to accept. Sure, lots of people are unhappy with the state of affairs, but obviously not enough to ensure a majority opposition. The liberal project would be dead in the water if it were not for the support of these political “orks”. The democratic fallacy is that every man is worthy voter.

The men that propose bad social policy are not in the main conspiratorial, rather they are a product of the liberal-arts-media-education establishment who have been programmed along appropriate lines. The reality is most bureaucrats are technocrats, competent in their own field of specialisation but pretty dull otherwise. Their thinking is confined to their specialised field and they quite happy for the academy to give them the thoughts which qualify them as educated. They do not worry about the human condition, they do not worry about the future. They worry about the mortgage, the kids, how they look, what do people think of them etc. Thinking outside the box takes too much work and rocks the boat. They are educated by without moral fibre or intellectual curiosity. Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil captures the essence of these individuals. They don’t want to care, they don’t want to know, they go with the flow.

I do think however think that there is a mutual admiration clique that enforces liberal “orthodoxy” in the university. They have entrenched themselves in the faculty and actively conspire to neutralise oppositional thought. They ensure that young and upcoming technocrats are indoctrinated in their view, intellectual apathy keeps them in the liberal fold.

“The proles can, through collective action, undo the apparatus of the liberal state.”

How do 300 million people engage in collective action? How do they deliberate, make decisions, determine their position on grand issues, and enforce the fundamentals of policy through thick and thin? Especially, how do they do all that when everything’s very complicated and the people who run things full time and know much more about it want something else?

Populism never works that well. It gets distracted and loses momentum. That doesn’t show anything particularly bad about people in general. It’s just a consequence of what’s involved in formulating an overall view of things and acting on it in a consistent and effective way. It’s not the sort of thing a large number of people with other more pressing responsibilities can do apart from the leadership of stable and respected elites.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Populism never works that well

Unfortunately then, we have a problem, because democracy is a inherently a populist system. Our political system’s legitimacy is based on the belief the that the actions of the government are a reflection of the popular will, a popular will that finds its expression in the choice of political leaders. It is true that people moan about their limited political choices, however when given non-mainstream choices, people don’t vote for them; at least until recently. The recent successes of the “green movements” has only arisen because the green parties are proposing policies which the public wants. People have not been “manipulated” into voting Green. Anyone, of any basic intellectual curiosity, who spends five minutes on the internet will find the Green arguments riddled with holes. Yet people don’t care, they don’t want to do the basic research. The rise of the Green parties also shows that when presented with an alternative that they like, people will vote for them. The virtuous Right is not a vote winner.

Here’s an intellectual exercise. Suppose it’s 2005, and you, like the few perceptive individuals that are out there, noted that the whole sub-prime mortgage debacle was a time bomb waiting to go off. Suppose you wanted to save your country from the disaster and put yourself up as a candidate for office. Let’s say you wanted to put the brakes on lending to stop the speculative mania. Would you have been electable? We all know what the answer to that would be. You would have ridiculed and pilloried by the public as many of the economic prophets were.

That doesn’t show anything particularly bad about people in general

You are correct, most people are good willed but of limited intellect, they simply don’t have the brain power or character to analyse the political consequences of their choice. They are, as the Master said, sheep. The badness is not in the people, but in the political theory that assumes every man a noble and wise citizen. The whole Easter story is a refutation of universal suffrage; when asked between Christ and Barrabas, the people spoke with one voice. Vox populi, was this instance, not vox Dei.

One of the great tragedies of Menken’s life was that he was a good writer, and hence, he has been more praised for his literary skills than his political theory. Yet he was an astute observer of society and saw the consequences of extending the vote to those unqualified. He still retained in him a sense of the haute bourgeoisie when he wrote.

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental—men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… [A]ll the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

(My highlighting)George Bush? Or his replacement “hope and change”. Both presidents, a victory of emotion over reason. The left is going to proceed with it’s long march through the institutions because it is ultimately the “nice” party. The party of good feelings, the party that most easily “synchs” with democratic man. People want a “nice’ and agreeable world without too many demands placed on them. Virtue is hard and sometimes most disagreeable, the people will vote those in who promise them the most agreeable way out of their problems.

I commute into the world of these people on a daily basis, and see them close up but I am not a member of their world. From what I’ve seen they are so ‘embubblated’ - i.e. they live, work, and play in such a protected, ‘nice’ bubble that it is quite possible for them to ignore the obvious. Even the ‘Others’ of their world are nice, reasonable, educated ‘Others’. When reality pricks – which it occasionally does - they find expert ways to ignore, evade or rationalise. One charming lady I know reacted to stories of playground bullying of another colleagues (white) child in an inner-city, ‘culturally enriched’ school – as down to the fact that “some of them don’t get a proper breakfast and eat too many sweets, which make them hyperactive”. Do they believe the bs? Certainly they want to believe it because it confirms their image of themselves as ‘good people’. I think what’s happening here is close to what Orwell called Doublethink – meaning the facility to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them at the same time. The English seem to be particularly good at this, as they are at ‘ignore it and it will go away.’

Kalb is right and I wouldn’t take anything away from his article, but I think it is necessary to add the following:

What Kalb described is the situation under the highest elite. Our machine like society is designed and/or evolved to function according to monetary calculation and power, which are in large part overlapping concepts. Although the highest money and power elite has as narrow knowledge as other elites, their viewpoint towards the system is special; they observe, analyze, regulate and steer those factors that trump everything else in society, including it highest public principles, if they in any way contradict, disturb or prevent the streams of power and money.

Let’s say that an uncivilized barbarian with good economic calculation abilities is given the highest management position in the biggest bank. How long does it take, only by observing “Who? Whom?”, who gives orders to whom, what is decisive, according to what arrangements are made, before the barbarian realizes that money and power trumps democracy; law; the politically correct worship of the Other, e.g in the third world or in cheap labor importation and exploitation in home country; etc., in short, everything else? How long does it take before he sees permanent queue of fawning politicians coming to get their thirty pieces of silver, which orders them to do dirty deeds? Because the public space is already arranged according to the interface requirements between money and power (and the consequent abstract machine structure of society), and the public with it’s requirements of guiding, ordering, illusions, delusions and distractions, there must be continuity to make this utterly fake structure to have “credibility” (Continuity and commitment -psychological principle). So the highest powers change public space only if it is really necessary, and then they do it as invisibly as possible, e.g gradually, with suitable subterfuges. This means that the real functions and the real face of the system is mostly behind the scenes. The people operating the highest powers see the contradiction between behind the scenes and the public space more concretely, clearly and accurately than anybody else.

Because of this the barbarian soon understands how the system works, even if he is quite stupid outside his mathematical abilities. In rare cases where this disturbs his conscience, he probably invents soothing rationalizations, lullabys to his conscience. The percentage of sociopaths, psychopaths and other callous personalities is considerably higher among power elites than among the general population.

One additional factor helping the barbarian to understand the real nature of the system and function of power, is that behind the scenes public space “rivalvies”, “hostilities”, “contradictions” and “incompatibilities” disappear, and there is only one, fairly harmonious system, where everything is decided, settled, arranged and reconciled beforehand between ostensible “enemies” or opponents. In matter of fact, if the public space oppositions were really real, our machine society could not function properly; it would break into smaller separate parts or it’s incompatible parts would cause serious dysfunctions. We in Finland are in this respect with our small “everybody knows everybody and everything” -liberal system “privileged”, because we now and then can see what happens behind the scenes. The same what is in Finland, is in worse form in Britain and Usa. I can read their systems’ surfaces.

It’s true that if you have a stable position somewhere at the top you’ll end up with a better grip on how things work. I also agree that public principles bend before the needs of powerful institutions, and that people at the top cooperate to maintain overall credibility.

I’m not sure how far the point should be pushed though. There’s a whole network of institutions with power of various kinds, so there’s no one who’s really the guy on top who’s in a position to see everything. And even the guys who are closest to the top are going to have something other than belief in promoting their own interests that works as a religion and justifies themselves and their position.

That religion isn’t going to be particularly inventive and in the present environment it’s going to be PC. The Gates Millennium Scholars program (no whites need apply) is an example. And it’s going to affect policy in ways that don’t really advance ruling class interests. An educational system that doesn’t pay much attention to the most talented people, because all people care about is “closing the gap,” is an example. A position at the top sometimes makes people smart but sometimes it makes them stupid.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.