The term "political correctness" first came to prominence in the 1980s as a term associated primarily with an aggressive enforced intellectual conformity that had spread and metastasized within American academe since the sixties but had achieved dominance in the humanities and social sciences across a broad swath of American higher education by at least the middle of that decade. While a small subset of this mentality had manifest itself on the Right, indeed virtually in its entirety among the fundamentalist Christian subset of evangelical Protestantism, this had been extremely limited, primarily to K-12 public school battles over certain books and the more visible debate over the teaching of evolution within the public schools. The vast majority of such cases, and the deep pervasiveness of this mind set within contemporary academia, have and continue to proceed forth from the Left. Indeed, the term “political correctness” entered public consciousness as a term designating a stifling intellectual regimentation within academia associated with a tenured Left that had come to dominate disciplines and departments such as history, sociology, cultural anthropology, literature, English and sub-specialties of these core subjects.
Also associated with the term were the now infamous campus speech codes, coerced sensitivity and diversity training for students displaying the politically “incorrect” attitudes and beliefs, and the use of punitive grading by leftist professors to enforce philosophical conformity to the professor’s views, including his/her views on very controversial subjects open to multiple interpretations. The process of “the long march through the institutions”, a term originally used by Antonio Gramsci and which could be used synonymously with the term Kulturkampf, or culture war, as describing a socio-cultural war against western, classical liberal values and concepts, but with a particular leaning toward the eradication of Christianity and its associated values and concepts of morality, individual responsibility and free will (or as Latter Day Saints would normally say, free agency), family, and individual self determination, was, for all practical intents, complete.
Also during this period, it became ever clearer that most of the key institutions of society, those who’s core relation to society were as institutions involved in the creation, interpretation and dissemination of knowledge and information, had been progressively colonized and ultimately, come to be dominated by the cultural Left, a process that was hardly conspiratorial, in the normative sense of the term, but which was a key aspect of the culture of the post sixties Left and important as a unifying cultural and psychological theme among its activists and intellectuals, who gravitated in large numbers after the sixties and early seventies into academia, the public schools, the foundations, book and magazine publishing, government and the news media.
This drive to colonize and remake the core institutions of society from within, as opposed to confrontation from without (a fundamental theme of many leading sixties radicals) was not then so much systematic, as if most or all of these people were following, in some sense, marching orders from some central source, but systemic; the idea of the long march through the institutions being a core concept of the culture and ideology that unified the Left even when its various movements and causes were moving along idiosyncratic, if parallel paths.
Whether some form of Marxist social analysis, feminism, environmentalism, ideological racialism, the Gay rights movement (and its associated academic props such as “queer theory”), ethnic liberation ideologies, sexual liberationism, or any number of a multitude of political ideologies masquerading as academic disciplines that usually have the rather ambiguous term “studies” appended to their descriptive titles, all of these have come to have a decisively dominant presence in American (and western) intellectual, political and educational life thorough their overarching presence and influence within the key institutions mentioned, but with special reference to pubic education, higher education, the traditional mainstream print and electronic news media, and the entertainment industry.
“Political correctness” is the pivotal technique or intellectual instrument by which the Left gradually subverts, delegitimizes, sabotages and destroys both understanding of and faith in western, and most especially, American civilization’s fundamental premises, concepts, values, qualities and form of political and economic structure. It is a war whose primary focus is control of history and language.
Political correctness, which we may also understand, especially in the educational and news media realm as a kind of intellectual cleansing process, is at its base a war for the control of language and its meaning. Indeed, one of its major successes has been the polluting and corrupting of the language with a plethora of terms that, while they appear simply descriptive, are actually loaded, sometimes in a very covert manner, with ideological meaning and implication. We are surrounded by such terms today, and many of them have become, over time, and as new generations have risen in their presence, terms of common usage whose ideological origins and weight have been lost to consciousness – and hence, unwittingly accepted – by large numbers of people who, apprised of their cultural origins, would recoil from them and then begin to question their origin and provenance.
Terms such as progressive, participatory democracy, liberation, reactionary, social justice, fairness, rights, alternative lifestyle, Gay, African American (and all forms of hyphenated American sub-groups), people of color, undocumented immigrant, animal companion (we could go on an on here, encompassing much of the present cultural, social and political landscape) are all terms which appear descriptive, but have been reframed by the cultural and political Left as prescriptive terms that carry ideological assumptions as if they were symbolic hosts carrying linguistic parasites. For example, the term “progressive” means to move forward, or advance, and has an inherently positive psychological connotation. It is to move forward and advance toward something better, higher and greater. “Progressive”, however, is a code term for what we otherwise would simply understand to be “leftism”, a category of movements, causes and ideologies that, despite various schools of thought and emphasis, coalesce around hostility to any form of classical liberalism, property rights, free market economics, and Judeo-Christian social/moral principles.
Are any of these movements, causes and ideologies positive, in the sense in which the term “progressive” implies as a psychological reference for most people? The problem here, of course, is that many people would disagree strongly with this connotation, seeing leftism as a uniquely retrograde force in the world wherever it has had its ideas actually applied, and seeing it as primarily digressive in effect. As with terms such as social justice (socialism), reactionary (anti, or against leftist beliefs, and hence “reacting” in a knee jerk or self serving fashion), Gay (homosexual), African American (a black American who is understood as part of an African Diaspora in North America and who should think of him/herself as a permanent outsider with regard to the American experience and American values), alternative lifestyle (antinomian personal behavior, especially in the sexual realm), partner (a married or cohabiting couple - blurring the distinction between the two), and a plethora of other terms, language is co-opted, politicized, and redeployed as a tool of cultural warfare in which, over time, people, and especially new generations who grow up with only the politicized meaning of the terms, find themselves, even when consciously dissenting from the arguments of the Left on various issues, nonetheless using the terminology, catchphrases, slogans and linguistic forms of the Left; in essence, find themselves enveloped within the semantic frame of reference of the Left before any debate has even begun.
Once one has accepted the terms and definitions of the enemies of one’s own ideas, one has tacitly accepted his fundamental premises to the extent that the terms being used carry, even if masked by the normative meaning of the term itself, those very premises. Words used in political and cultural warfare become ideological weapons, and become vectors for concepts and understandings that may be quite different from their normative connotations, and may, as Orwell pointed out in his classic dystopian novel 1984, be indeed the opposite of their traditionally accepted meanings.
What does all of this have to do with the gospel, and the living of the gospel? Well we might ask. As difficult as it is to attempt a separation of the core concerns and questions of politics from the gospel, this must be utterly abandoned at the point in which honest and limited political differences become open cultural warfare aimed at society's foundational principles, and virtually everything becomes a target for politicization and an ideologically based struggle for control over the meaning and form our civilization will take. At this point, many aspects of politics which could, to some realistic degree, have at one time been relegated to a secondary status outside the perimeters of gospel application, now invade and try to annex the most fundamental aspects of the human condition to which the gospel speaks and has its most intimate concerns: who we are, why we are here, the nature of our human experience, the structure of human nature, our fundamental relations to property, the nature and meaning of morality and its relation to societal integrity on a larger scale, and one of the central antagonisms that rose to the surface in the preexistence, the tension between equality and freedom, and the proper boundaries between the individual and the collective.
Political correctness presents us with a unique challenge in that what we think about ourselves and our relations to others, as well as regarding the legitimacy of the underlying premises of our civilization, depend to a great extent, as does much else, upon the way we use language. Just as those who control perception of the past control both the present and the future, in the same sense as our language is corrupted, manipulated, neutered, sterilized and altered to reflect the philosophies and attitudes of the World, in time we find ourselves confronting the secular world more upon its own terms than within the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We may still consciously hold differing views, but as we adopt the secular world’s language, we inevitably begin, little by little, to adopt, even if ever so subconsciously, the assumptions carried by that language as twigs and leaves are carried downstream by a river. To adopt, for example, the term “social justice”, we accept, if only tacitly (and is tacitness really ultimately acceptable in a gospel in which we are to abstain from even “the appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5: 22)), the fundamental assumption inherent in this term that justice is a principle that inheres in and applies to groups and collectives, and not to individuals on a case by case basis against a rule of law that applies to all equally irrespective of group membership (whatever that may be conceived to be). The one is at the base of collectivism, and the other at the center of liberal democracy and representative, constitutional government.
As I’ve written elsewhere:
Imagine for a moment a war in which one's soul — one's moral, intellectual, and spiritual destiny — were at stake, and that, battle by battle, the war progressed either to one's own benefit, or to the benefit of one's adversary. There are skirmishes, ambushes, harassment and intimidation, and sometimes, pitched battles.
The weapons in this war are the signs and symbols through which we understand, describe, and negotiate our experience. The major weapon here is language, and the battle is for the hearts and minds of our Father's children. In some cases, the weapons are also imagery, as with pornography, but in every case, even the images must be justified or defended with words.
Our adversary, in this case, has created a situation over a very long period of time (indeed, generations), in which, even when we engage the adversary or his supporters in a vigorous defense of righteousness and truth, we may find ourselves using the very same terms, and unwittingly making some of the very same assumptions as our adversary. We find ourselves, even if quite unconscious of it, fighting against the enemy even while allowing him to control the terms of the debate and limit the degree to which our own defense can deviate from boundaries he has set.
Our problem here is that even as we object vehemently to what the world is teaching, we yet find ourselves objecting within the linguistic boundaries the world has set. We describe our objections even as we use the world's accepted terminology to do it.
Political correctness then, seeks to alter perception by altering the meaning of language. An “alternative lifestyle” is no longer immoral, only an alternate to the normative (and what good Foucaultian could object to that?). “Liberation” from liberal or “bourgeoisie” negative unalienable rights to socialist positive “human” rights may look at all events like little more than a form of serfdom or slavery, but in a world in which the meaning of words has no fixed anchors and definitions need not be rational, logical or conceptually coherent, but only need be ideologically consistent, freedom, as Orwell mentioned, can simply be redefined as slavery, and slavery (in actuality) redefined as freedom (within a theoretical ideological structure).
We will approach and grapple with these questions as we move further along in our explorations.