Political Correctness, Conservative-Style
One of the dangers of the mass forgetfulness endemic to late modernity is that it fosters simplistic, one-sided thinking — tribal thinking, as people like to say these days — in which the members of either faction in any of our ubiquitous “binary choices” refuse, as a matter of principle, to assess or reassess their own premises, preferring instead to regard their sheer membership in a faction as self-vindicating. This tribalism effectively makes the party line a door slammed forever on self-development.
In the case of progressives, the convenient blinders furnished for the soul by willful obliviousness to life’s nuances and complexities are not only understandable, but actually essential to the survival of their superfluously self-refuting ideology. Today’s progressives, in particular, heirs to a century of damning evidence, are in the inescapable predicament of having to look one another in the eye and say, without blinking, “When I read Huxley’s depiction of the World State in Brave New World, I don’t see why anyone would object to any of that. I mean, what’s the problem?”
But so-called conservatives, for their part, should be careful not to lapse into the easy smugness born of knowing one’s overall position is inherently more reasonable and historically justified than one’s opponent’s. For tribal thinking from any point of view carries within it the inclination intrinsic to the collectivizing instinct of all factions, i.e., crowds, to simplistically adopt the views of the perceived leaders of the faction without so much as a glimmer of circumspection, ironic distance, or healthy skepticism.
The extreme version of this inclination may be found in cult behavior, of course. Consider, to use the most obvious current example, the millions of self-declared conservatives (not to mention the dozens of radio hosts and political pundits) who for years decried the idea of using tariffs as an economic weapon, would have attacked as a lily-livered liberal any Democrat who proposed direct negotiations with a despot like Kim Jong Un (and cried “Traitor!” if that Democrat went around praising said despot’s character on the world stage), and despised the trend toward rogue presidents taking action by executive fiat at the expense of proper constitutional limits — but who now shake the rafters cheering for all these things, for no reason beyond a simple-minded “Because Trump.”
Even short of the extremes of cultish self-abasement, however, the least bit of honest self-examination reveals a similar tendency within the normal attitude-formation and opining of most individuals belonging to any political faction.
We all know how Democrats adapt their norms of belief to accommodate each new era’s crazed demands from progressive academia, where the rules of language are rewritten each year to impress the latest moral certainties onto the ever-evolving tablet of political correctness — racism, sexism, lookism, Eurocentrism, systemic oppression, white privilege, homophobia, transphobia, gender identity, safe spaces, intersectionality, and the rest of the mumbo jumbo.
But how many Republican voters, for their part, were not only on board with George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, but enthusiastically so — and yet now confidently damn the Bush foreign policy as a disaster of irresponsibility and a stark example of progressive globalism gone wild?
How many American conservatives hated the slogan “Repeal and Replace” when Mitch McConnell and John Boehner coined it as part of their plan to hoodwink Tea Party voters into accepting some form of government-controlled health care as the GOP norm — but now hope Trump (and McConnell) will follow through on the promise to make a “great” Republican health care plan to replace ObamaCare, thus accepting the very premise they rejected back when rebelling against the GOP establishment was the factionally correct position?
It is the simplest thing in the world to recognize the unreflective and ever-malleable dogma of progressives, partly because it forms the dominant propaganda of our age, and has therefore become the living definition of the concept “political correctness”; but also because it is always easier — not to mention infinitely more pleasant — to see the intellectual weaknesses and truths-of-convenience adhered to by one’s adversaries, than to see, let alone admit, one’s own.
In the name of cleansing the intellectual palate, then, which is to say scrubbing away the layers of tribal presupposition that prevent clear thinking, let us take a moment to review one prominent example of the American conservative’s version of political correctness, i.e., ideas regarded as sacrosanct and unassailable, in defiance of careful reasoning, the sincere desire for understanding, and in some cases common sense.
Headline from Right Scoop: “Ted Cruz rips into ‘anti-Semitic left’ and liberals are really angry about it.”
Here, to be precise, is what Cruz tweeted:
The anti-Semitic Left—whether @IlhanMN repeated anti-Israel slurs or @nytimes apologizing for Hamas terrorists (eg, on 3/14/18) & running racist cartoons—is getting worse. And the House can’t even pass an anti-Semitism resolution. Responsible Dems need to say Enough is Enough. https://t.co/ca99Mcq9Ij
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) April 28, 2019
How brave of him to come out the day after a synagogue shooting and accuse the Democrats of anti-Semitism. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Cruz was just playing for donor cash — as one might, for that matter, start to think regarding all his other seemingly endless public attempts to make Israel’s cause his own. I mean, you might think that of him if you didn’t know better. Texas Ted!
As for the Democrats, they are, almost as a matter of party platform, anti-Israel — although this is always a sticking point and a bit hush-hush, in light of the prominence of Jewish socialists within the party elite. Having said that, I would note that the “angry liberals” attacking Cruz for his suspiciously political, ill-timed, and self-serving remarks, are “angry” about exactly the right issue: Ted Cruz has done nothing for two-plus years but lick the boots of Donald Trump, who has cynically played to the white nationalist fringe — yes he has; why do Trump supporters need to lie to themselves about this? — so who is he to preach tolerance to Democrats?
More and more, Ted Cruz, “Mr. Constitution,” the Tea Party hero, is looking like an Edsel. More and more, the Republican establishment, and all its diehard supporters, are trapped in an inescapable moral box of their own making. A big orange box, marked “MAGA.” Who are they to talk, indeed?
Cruz’s supremely sincere, and sincerely calculated, tweet — is a “sincere tweet” even a possibility? — ends with criticizing the House Democrats for not even being able to “pass an anti-Semitism resolution.”
Question: Is an anti-Semitism resolution something the House of Representatives in a nation allegedly grounded in principles such as limited government and freedom of conscience should be passing? Is it the U.S. Federal Government’s job to pass resolutions condemning this or that vaguely-defined attitude that is deemed politically incorrect today? Isn’t this what the hip linguists of the day call “virtue signaling”? And isn’t Cruz’s mentioning this issue publicly in this context, at this particular moment — when sympathy with victims of anti-Jewish violence is the news cycle’s main theme — merely a cheap shot form of virtue signaling? A very cheap shot.
Electoral politics in America, like just about everywhere else, has been reduced to a childish game of soundbite one-upmanship. And the sheep bleat (and vote) on.
One problem with passing government resolutions “opposing” or “condemning” points of view, such as anti-Semitism, is that, as Cruz’s comment makes clear, no one even knows what anti-Semitism means anymore. Like all politically loaded expressions, this one has become little more, in practical use, than a willowy catchphrase for smearing anyone who happens to disagree with you in the relevant arena. It is merely one of the “conservative” tribe’s equivalents for homophobia, Islamophobia, and the like.
Notice that Cruz’s evidence of “anti-Semitism” among leftists focuses heavily on their criticisms of Israel and Israeli policy. But Judaism is not the state of Israel. Israel is a geopolitical entity, and therefore as open to critique as any other geopolitical entity. Whether one finds any such critique fair or reasonable is a different question; that’s why modern liberty favored open political debate, remember? But if Republicans, for example, want to condemn Iran without opening themselves to charges of being anti-Islam per se, then they have to allow that one may disapprove of Israel’s policies or strategic goals without being anti-Semitic per se. That they cannot see this is evidence of the kind of “tribal blinders” thinking that I noted at the outset. Conservatives, in other words, are very good at attacking progressivism’s exploitation of mock sensitivity as a means of stifling honest political debate in favor of their preferred “narratives,” but they are more than willing, when convenient, to revert to the very same mock sensitivity in defense of their own views.
The language of hypersensitivity — “Oh my goodness, can you believe anyone would say such a horrible thing about (insert name of ideologically-untouchable subject here)?” — is the death of moral and philosophical discourse, honest political debate, genuine education, and societal self-development. It ought to be our goal to combat and crush this fake-flower syndrome in all its forms, not just the ones that happen not to suit our agenda today. The blanket accusation of anti-Semitism thrown over any criticism of Israel or Israeli policy is just as inappropriate as the accusations of racism thrown at anyone who criticized Barack Obama, or the accusations of homophobia thrown at Christians who refuse to bake wedding cakes for homosexual couples, or the accusations of Islamophobia thrown at anyone who tries to combat Muslim Brotherhood influence in Washington lobbying.
Hypersensitivity is a political disease, and one with which late modernity has been deliberately infected by cynical pseudo-theorists with nothing but subversion, illiberalism, and tyranny in their hearts. To join this game of competing hypersensitivities, regardless of your political perspective or the presumed nobility of your aims, is to help spread the infection.
What, then, while we’re here, is anti-Semitism? Obviously, on its face, it means “anti-Jew.” But is this “anti” attitude directed primarily at Judaism as a religion or at Jews as a (quasi-)race?
If as a religion (which was presumably the original sense of the term), then consider this:
To conflate the state of Israel with Judaism is to make Judaism a multi-party democracy currently headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. To say, as Ted Cruz is saying, that criticizing the policies of the elected government of Israel is by definition anti-Semitism is to say that (1) the current government of Israel is the core of the Jewish faith, and (2) disagreeing with the current government of Israel is by definition an act of irrational religious hatred, which amounts to saying that the government of Israel is beyond reproach, beyond rational judgment, beyond man, divine.
If, on the other hand, anti-Semitism relates primarily to Jews as a race, rather than as a faith, then analogous implications follow. In this case it becomes racism to dislike the politics of Israel, presumably due to the (theoretically inconsequential) fact that Israel is a somewhat racially homogeneous nation.
But is it racism to dislike the policies of China? Of Japan? Of Korea? Of Vietnam? In other words, what about all the other countries that happen to be racially homogeneous, or primarily identified with a particular racial group?
Am I a “Nazi” or anti-Semite for asking these uncomfortable questions of clarification? Or for asking why alleged conservatives have chosen to play the politically correct game of rendering certain questions uncomfortable, or rather forbidden? Senator Cruz would definitely say so. Or may I say “Lyin’ Ted”?
More to the point, why are such questions regarded as “uncomfortable” in the first place? The answer is obvious: This is one of the conservative tribe’s areas of “politically correct” sensitivity. If we are going to oppose political correctness — a progressive propaganda technique at heart — and its inherent encouragement of public shaming and “virtue signaling” as means of suffocating, and even delegitimizing, rational thought and freedom of speech, then we have to oppose it in all its guises.