In this column and the two following, I propose that Political Correctness rots the brain, and that brainrot in turn will rot the heart, which in turn will rot the soul. A corruption of thought and reason leads to the corruption of the poetic imagination and passions, and this in turn leads to the corruption of the philosophical and moral faculties.
In none of this is the Political Corrector a victim or a helpless waif: as deliberately as a drug addict puts a needle to his arm, as deliberately as an aficionado of Russian Roulette puts a revolver to his temple, he rots his own brain deliberately, and his heart, and his soul.
And what is the source and origin of all this rottenness? Ah, it all starts with a very small thing.
This is no surprise. The greatest things often turn on the smallest things.
We know from history that the Hessian Colonel at Trenton on the fateful Christmas Eve was found dead after the battle, with the courier’s message warning him that Washington was crossing the Delaware that night unopened in his pocket. We know from proverbs about the lost nail that loses a horseshoe, a rider, a battle, and a kingdom. We know from fables and ancient lore how Psyche lighting a small lamp, or Pandora opening a small box, or Eve plucking a small apple, have consequences too large for words.
Likewise, in the practical and pragmatic field of political economics, the mightiest branches of misery and holocaust, gulag and mass-death, grow from the mustard seed of questions interesting only to pedants.
In this case, the smallest thing from which these great issues of social misery spread is the pedantic question of whether words have meaning.
Let us begin with a quote from the Analects of Confucius:
“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a gentleman considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the gentleman requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”
In other words, without honest speech, enterprises fail, customs fade, justice languishes, and the people are paralyzed by anarchy.
Euclid the geometer (who started the custom of defining his terms at the outset) and Socrates the philosopher (who perished when he inquired too closely of those who did not define their terms at the outset) agree with the Chinese sage, as does the science fiction writer and journalist who wrote under the pen-name of George Orwell in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.”
He makes three points worth repeating:
- In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.
- Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
- Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
In this spirit, let me define my terms at the outset.
Political Correctness is the sacrifice of the truth of words to the utility of words, specifically, the utility of political propaganda as a tool to halt rational debate and rational thought. This is why it is called ‘political’ correctness rather than, say ‘factual’ correctness or ‘truthful’ correctness or even ‘correct’ correctness.
Political Correctness is dishonest by definition.
Political Correctness has nothing to do with being polite. No one is more viciously and maliciously impolite than a Leftist, because Leftist thinking requires all foes to be demonized and all friends be threatened with demonization, so that no questions, no discussion, no debate can ever take place. The accusations must be not only frequent, but strident, shrill and insane.
The accusations need not be real or even realistic. Indeed, a real accusation might be refuted with facts, and Political Correctness must avoid facts as Superman avoids kryptonite. No, for their purposes, an unrealistic, stupid, and incredible accusation is better than a credible one.
More to the point, a Political Corrector is someone who, to achieve a more perfect society, seeks to alter the behavior of men unable to resist his ministrations, in effect treating all men as jailers treat prisoners, or doctors treat patients, or horse breeders treat livestock. The clearest metaphor most often used is that of ‘social engineering’. The reason why this metaphor is apt is that the Corrector treats subject populations as a clockmaker treats wheels or cogs, filing and shaping and forcing each man into his place in the machine.
The beauty of this definition is that it alike fits those Correctors who seek to build the society into a machine that corrects in favor of sexual liberation or a machine that deters the objectification or women, or a machine that increases wealth or a machine that decreases the industry, or that corrects in favor of freedom or in favor of unfreedom. All the different and chaotic and comically self-contradictory corrections of the Correctors, this definition sets aside. We notice only the means employed: treating men like parts of the machine.
Now, the only possible result of treating men like children, slaves, mental patients and criminals is a tyranny of ghastly proportions. In lands where the Correctors are impatient and violent, as in China or the late, unlamented Soviet Empire, genocides (note the plural) were commonplace. In lands were the Correctors are patient and peaceful, as in England and France, the disintegration of the body politic is slower, and the self destruction largely voluntary.
The one concept that Correctors must abolish before men can be treated like cogs is the concept of Natural Law. Natural Law is a term of art used by philosophers and theologians to refer to those objective moral standards by which Positive Law, that is, manmade law, is to be judged as fair or unfair.
If no Natural Law existed, all discussions of the fairness of Positive Law would be silenced. There would be no yardstick by which any law could be called fair or unfair, civilized or tyrannical. A man might say he preferred one statute or court ruling to another, but this would be a mere psychological report of his arbitrary and subjective tastes, like saying he preferred pie to cake. But, lacking objective standards, no rational debate would take place neither in parliaments nor in the consciences of kings, nor when contemplating amendments to law.
Political Correctness is treating men like cogs. Natural Law is treating men like men. The two are always and everywhere mutually exclusive. A man can say “No.” A man can say “Take your business elsewhere.” A man can say “I quit.” A particularly manly man can even say “Take this job and shove it.” A man’s home is his castle and even the king cannot enter without leave. But a cog merely turns when pushed. The more obedience to Natural Law expands, the more powerlust of Political Correctness must shrink.
The default assumption of the modern Dark Age which Political Correction has ushered in is this: Words have no innate meaning. Ergo men have no duty to be truthful in speech or rigorous in thinking. This assumption rests on the grounds that all language is manipulative propaganda, and all thought is self deception of class interest or self interest.
I call this a “philosophical” posture only out of courtesy. In truth it is antiphilosophy, a dagger of hatred aimed at the roots of what makes rational thought possible. What makes reasoning possible is (1) a metaphysical conviction that truth exists, and that (2) a rational conviction that logic is valid, and that (3) an epistemological conviction that truth is discoverable and coherent, and (4) an ontological conviction that the meanings of words exist and can, when used honestly, point to reality, and (6) an ethical imperative which convinces us to use words honestly. Take away one of these six convictions, and reasoning fails.
Political Correction is primarily concerned with correcting speech to serve political goals, that is, to render men unwilling or unable to think true and sound thoughts, but instead to recite words they know to be meaningless, lies they know to be lies.
The intermediate goal is alleged to be an increase of the justice and courtesy of society, such that the downtrodden and dispossessed are treated better. This is an outrageous lie, unlikely to deceive and very likely to provoke hoots of wild laughter. But, as said above, outrageous lies and stupid lies are better than credible or smart lies. The point of a stupid lie is not to deceive. The point is to break the spirit by forcing someone to repeat it. The long-term goal is the erosion of manliness and pride. Men forced every day and hour to tell stupid lies have insufficient pride and grit to rebel. The stupider the things forced from their mouth, the most deeply branded they are with their own weak subservience to irrational and arbitrary masters.
The brain on a diet of lies simply starves. Like physical starvation, a side effect of mental starvation is a loss of appetite. Curiosity, independence of thought, idealism, perspicacity, persistence, and joy in the exercise of the intellect all starve: men turn into dullards and chumps, hysterics, whiners and serfs. The rotted brain cannot think, only emote.
This inability to understand a definition, no matter how clearly explained, in turn is due to the habituation of the rotted brain to think by free association rather than by ratiocination. And, as before, I use the word “mind” only out of courtesy. Political Correctors have assiduously developed a faculty of antimind, which they use to promote a process that can only be called antithought, the ability to string nonsense and rubbish syllables together in a pleasing diapason.
It is like a mind found in rational beings, but inverted of its purpose and nature.
The main objection in the Politically Corrected mind (I use the term out of courtesy) to the idea that Natural Law exists, or that words have meanings proper to them, is the axiom that nothing exists other than (1) facts of the physical sciences which can be expressed as magnitudes, and (2) utterly arbitrary personal preferences as expressions of the unhindered willpower.
By this dichotomy, Natural Law cannot be in the immaterial realm of the will, since the dogma of the modern mind is that nothing can or should hinder the willpower. Nor can Natural Law be in the realm of matter, because matter has no innate willpower, no ability to move on its own, no mind, no purpose, and no moral nature. Nothing is naturally good or evil: what the will says is good is good only for so long as the will so says, and matter is a raw material without moral character, and any use to which any material object is put is licit. Only these two categories exist; all else is puffs of words.
This division into the unhindered will and the blind willessness of matter is the default ontology of Political Correctness.
It is unfortunately an ontological stance very much in keeping with the philosophy of Madison Avenue, which seeks to encourage the desire for instant gratification in a consumer population of subjects, and which operates most freely when images, especially images of sex and power, can be tied to any commercial product or political candidate arbitrarily and freely.
A populous of citizens animated by a sense of decency and shame would not be as easy to manipulate, because that sense of decency would automatically reject as absurd the arbitrary attempt to associate images with goods offered for sale: a virile cowboy with a cigarette, a nubile lingerie model draped over the hood of a car, the juxtaposition of cola bottles with polar bears — a healthy people would laugh. A sober people would want facts, comparisons, and arguments in their advertisements, something much more common in older ads than today.
Political Correctness albeit animated by a spirit that hates commerce and capitalism, ironically thrives and is aided by the impulse toward arbitrary and inappropriate and illogical free-association of images of sex and power.
Such arbitrary mixing of images, cowboys and cigarettes, models and motorcars, bears and bottles, can only be taken seriously by populations whose poetic imaginations are utterly corrupt. Once the faculty of reason is gelded, the faculty of poetic imagination, the storehouse of a man’s passions and ideals, which poets call the heart, is free to darken and rot away.
But a discussion of the rotting away of the heart must wait for our next episode.
Don’t miss last week’s column: The Perfect World: Where Would You Want to Live?
John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program“). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.