Polling the Nanny State
October 29, 2004 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Political Correctness: It's not just for Liberals anymore! To some people, it's scary. To others it's jokable. But all the stuff under the umbrella term "P.C.", makes some people think that American Liberals are more "puritanical and moralistic" than American Conservatives (especially if you're looking at it from outside).
But the Bush Administration has been seriously criticised for "pursuing a "Big-Gov Nanny State" (and by Fox!) and the White House Chief of Staff (a high-ranking position, you furriners) admits President Bush views America as a ''10-year-old child" in need of the sort of protection provided by a parent..
Elsewhere, there's that UK poll saying that most Brits support a 'nanny state'.
And Czech police 'registering' prostitutes are accused of moving from "nanny state" to "pimp state". Hmmm... Pimp State. At least the politicians would be better dressed.
posted by wendell (5 comments total)
Hmmm... Pimp State. At least the politicians would be better dressed.

posted by oaf at 3:31 PM on October 29, 2004

The Great Political Correctness Panic: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Thought Police

Charles McCay did not make an idle choice, in titling his classic study, by explicitly mentioning "popular delusions" and "the madness of crowds." Panics and hysterias are always associated with screaming, frenzied mobs. But-- in the same way that policemen are more forgiving of cops who break the law-- the hysterias of a culture's thinkers, opinion-makers and educators aren't examined nearly as often. After all, the intelligentsia are the people who do the cultural studies. But such panics do happen, and we're going to take a long look at a real doozy.

Within the space of one year, "political correctness," a phrase of self-mockery and irreverence among the American left, had turned into a post-Communism threat to our national freedoms. That's the amount of time that elapsed between the New York Times's October 1990 article, and President George Bush's denunciation of PC at the University of Michigan. Within the first half of 1991, cover stories in New York, Newsweek, The New Republic, and the Atlantic's excerpt of Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education, as well as innumerable secondary sources, reported the now-canonical tales of political correctness to hundreds of thousands of readers, and these were circulated even more widely through hundreds of newsletters, magazines, conservative college newspapers, radio talk-show hosts, and time-surfeited Usenet cranks. In his book The Myth of Political Correctness, John K. Wilson refers to a search of the NEXIS database listed 15 incidences of the phrase in 1990, 1,570 in 1991, and 6,985 in 1994. "Politically correct" and its variants even became marketing catchwords, turning up in Gap ads, frat-boy movies (P.C.U.), and Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect. There are hundreds of newsletters, magazines, conservative college newspapers, radio talk-show hosts, and time-surfeited Usenet cranks all too happy to circulate the PC scare...

Denouncing "Political Correctness" doesn't require much effort: find some incident of academic stupidity, wax poetic about the imminent apocalypse, and you're done. But doing the opposite-- which no more constitutes "defending political correctness," any more than debunking Satan-cult myths constitutes "defending ritual murder"-- takes work. One has to present academic controversies fairly, talk about each incident on its own issues (which requires bringing in political discussion) and above all, get the facts right

The little evils of cant, phrase-mongering and reaction incubate everywhere, and academics and the political left are less resistant than they believe themselves to be. But consider the hypocrisies we've seen. Efforts to open higher education to minorities are denounced as a subversion of educational standards-- but were those standards ever so sturdy and ironclad? Study programs devoted to women, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans are denounced as victimology and self-help mythmaking-- yet the "Western Canon" must be preserved to ensure the cultural and moral fiber of our citizens. Excesses and mistakes by feminists, corporate critics, black studies professors and others are trumpeted to the heavens as unforgivable transgressions. Yet the PC mythmakers, with their substantial record of sloppiness and excess, are rewarded with oceans of Olindollars, book contracts, jobs at think tanks and journals to publish their future efforts, while presenting themselves as a besieged and persecuted minority.

People have always had good reason to be concerned about the state of higher education. But we won't find reasoned debate in the chicken-little, stop-the-new-dark-age hysteria of the PC myth-mongers, and I hope Skeptic readers will be warier of their claims. After all, if there really are barbarians at the gates, it helps to know whether we're keeping them out... or if they're inside, cursed with visions of enemies, and ordering the rest of us to the battlements.

Ethics, Education, and Political Correctness

To encourage more conscious, self-reflective, sensitive language and behavior is not to tyrannize. To advocate conscientiously constructed codes that address rare and egregious infractions of common decency and civility is not to call for a thought police. Universities already regulate behavior and speech (e.g., plagiarism, residency, alcohol use). In the wider community, zoning laws acknowledge that some locales are inappropriate for some forms of speech and conduct. Defamation and obscenity among other forms of speech are already regulated. Societies perennially weigh the rights of individuals against the needs of the community.

If we are entering a period when conservatives fear the tyranny of the left, does that mean that the left is taking power or that the right is afraid of losing power? I am more certain of the latter. The debate over political correctness is obviously political as well as academic. But it is important for self-professed advocates of free speech who decry political correctness not to inhibit that right by calling speech they detest "tyrannical." Labeling speech "politically correct" may be an attempt to silence that speech through ridicule. It is important to recast these important educational and cultural debates in less-loaded terms. We can begin by agreeing that concern for diversity, justice, and open inquiry is not merely politically correct but humanly decent.

posted by y2karl at 3:42 PM on October 29, 2004

ok, wendell, but you still haven't sold more books than fucking Jose Saramago
posted by matteo at 4:23 PM on October 29, 2004

i liked that first article, y2karl, and i'll print out the second for my commute home ...

i went to Stanford. believe me, CIV = Western Culture. it's not like the curriculum was based around Olaudah Equiano (though i certainly wish it could have been).

Bill Bennett's rantings shouldn't fool anyone (intelligent). we used to joke about the term "politically correct," because it really is an imaginary construct used to subjugate the views of the underclass (imo, of course).

We can begin by agreeing that concern for diversity, justice, and open inquiry is not merely politically correct but humanly decent.


here's another good (socialist) analysis of the anti-PC tempest in a teapot.

i don't understand the connection between the loaded terms "politically correct" and "nanny state." WTF? somebody help me out here.

oh, now i get it. not.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:28 PM on October 29, 2004

I think Stanley Fish would point out that American liberalism and American Conservativism are equally intolerant. It's just the substantive matters of their intolerant faith that differs.
posted by gd779 at 4:51 PM on October 29, 2004

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