Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Politicially Correctness (started on Sunday)

Aue. The problem for a mediaphile like me at this time of the year is the number of programmes that start late or the number of show hosts who take an extended holiday. One of them was MediaWatch on National Radio, with hosts Colin Peacock and Russell Brown. Russell Brown, in particular, also features on the Listener and has his own blog, Hard News.

The best aspect about MediaWatch is that the writers are massive consumers of all sorts of media and find the contradictions, the slanted reporting and the curiosities of the New Zealand media. What annoys me is that I may have missed the first one of the year today!

Anyway, I went to Hard News (which is usually more of a disconnected but interesting rant) and it discussed a theme that I think about a lot: The obsession with Political Correctness as an issue within New Zealand politics, the media and, if you listen to 1ZB, talkback callers.

But this flows back to what exactly Political Correctness is. When Russell Brown asked National MP Murray McCully (who also tends to go overboard on the anti-PC rants) what it was Murray didn't even try, or he couldn't.

Political correctness for me is: "Is the state, achieved by social engineering, where perceived or real inequalities are removed."

Social engineering is: "An effort to socially engineer the current perception or situation to effect intended changes that seem to removed perceive or real inequalities. This can be from the government or the people. It is always an artificial technique because it is an active attempt to change the status quo."

Social engineering is often seen as some form of evil indoctrination but there is no reason to say that it is necessarily negative or necessarily left-wing. Not many people would consider that giving women the vote as a negative move (from a modern perspective). And although it is pandering to women, it fits in either ideology (but not male chauvinism!).

So let's have a look at the examples of political correctness of New Zealand that is often raised:

The $700,000 woman-of-the-moment Judy Bailey welcomes everyone at 6pm saying "Kia Ora, New Zealand", a point often raised in the Herald letters to the editor. Many people are also starting to think that referring to New Zealand as Aotearoa is equally silly. The corollary of this is the perception that anything Maaori is by nature "politically correct" which is to say it is not on. Te reo Maaori is one of our countries national languages and has been for quite some time, so how can it be seen as PC? The only thing it challenges is the existing tradition of not using or accepting Maaori language.

And that is where it really stands, it is is attempting to change a tradition.

Raised by Muriel Newman (an ACT MP) on the ACT website, there was the point that political correctness as against the Kiwi way. I think this is an interesting statement, just because comparatively speaking, we would seem to be more suited here to Political Correctness than many other countries. Our history displays many moments to be proud of that would be considered Politically Correct at the time, yet are now accepted as "the right thing to do". The movements at many times in our history were attempts to change the status quo, which was seen as unfair. It is the Australians or the Americans whom you could safely say are not culturally suited to being 'politically correct'.

On the ACT website too is the essay The origins of PC by Bill Linds. One good thing about the article though is that it stops appealing to the movement of political correctness but breaks it down into political forces. A comical point of arrogance eventually broke through that reduced the whole essay to a joke, e.g. "I would note that conservatism correctly understood is not an ideology." It then goes rapidly downhill when the authors anti-communist zeal goes into full tilt. One interesting analogy though was that he labelled political correctness as 'cultural marxism', which fits in with my interpretation too.

In some ways, I wish I had the patience to read "1984", which is the fate that anti-PCers would consider the final destination of the current 'trend'. I believe what marked the discourse of that story was a totalitarian regime that controlled language, altered history (to suit its ends), acted as thought-police, watched the citizenship and generally controlled all aspects of life. This is definitely a fate we don't wish, and one that we need to be aware of although it would seem underrated.

To be sure, there ARE abuses of liberal political correctness. I would consider anything breaking freedom of speech and expression (including racial slurs) to be an abuse as it, but that is what our government and indeed the British government would like to do regarding hate speech and inciting racial disharmony etc. But conservatism also has abuses too, which result in the same poor results.

Conservatism, by definition, retains its own interpretations regardless of the reality (just as Bill Linds suggests ideological political correctness can be different to reality). In a way, non-political correctness or retaining the unfair status quo is the norm. America is a wonderful case-study for this. How they sustained overt racism in the southern states without any institutional attempt to change things and hold their constitution dear, I will never know.

Conservatism also has moments that seem to resemble 'political correctness' too. The fury of McCarthyism exhibited all the worst aspects of Political Correctness that conservatives give to liberalism. It created a situation similar to "thought police" etc. and prevented freedom of expression.

Bill Linds would insist that Political Correctness is an inaccurate view of reality. But if we look at topics in New Zealand one by one, we can see a different appearance. The recent anti-smoking legislation was viewed as a PC-caused change. But the reality of this was that negative externalities were being forced upon non-smokers. Bar workers worked in a hazardous work place. The ONLY thing in favour of retaining smoking in bars was that it was the existing traditional way.

There were some unreasonable aspects of the legislation to be sure, that you might say were guided by ideology, after all, many of its proponents were more inclined to do create the law to make it more difficult for people smoke, rather than just to protect the health of non-smokers and bar workers (in which case you can see they were not seeking to redress the health problem, but to influence smokers). The insistance that all bars and RSAs (but not prisons) do so, with no exception, also strikes one as being a bit excessive.

So I think when the words 'political correctness' are raised, it usually just hides the insecurity with change, regardless of the rectitude of the change.

But going back to the idea of mandate raised in other posts. It is clear that regardless of the rectitude of these 'politically correct' decisions, the actual implementation of these changes is not ethical or politically wise.

If I were to take a libertarian point of view (as I enjoy doing), I would say that the freedom to raise ideas must always be free, from there the battle for the truth of these ideas should be decided by the people. Once there is a consistent groundswell of opinion, to constitute a majority, only then should a government be able to actively change the situation. This way social engineering is an organic procedure where the ideas are in public debate produces changes; rather than impending change creating desperate debate.

Our current government has a strong ideological system of fairness, which I mostly agree with. But it is not wise to institute your own ideology when the people are not supportive of each part of that ideology. Regardless of the rectitude of civil unions, legalised prostitution, anti-smoking legislation and the demolition of links to the Privy Council, the reforms that have been done are not necessarily in favour with a majority of New Zealanders. Since they have attempted to radically change the traditional structure of New Zealand to an ideology, it has been labelled 'politically correct'.

I would just think that it is politically unwise... Either way, I don't think that labelling things politically correct can help anyone but rather understanding what the essential things that are happening, and changing and why is the most important.

1 comment:

Crypticity said...

Here is the quote I was talking about:

"Political correctness gone mad" is the distress call of the thwarted bigot.

(said by author Christopher Brookmyre)