Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Why Ben Carson is Obsessed with Political Correctness

Neurosurgeon and presidential candidate Ben Carson loves to talk about political correctness; it may be his main campaign theme. Now Kevin Drum has finally explained it to me. This was Carson last Wednesday:
At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Carson noted that many people believe a situation like what took place in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's could never happen in America. "I beg to differ," Carson said. "If you go back and look at the history of the world, tyranny and despotism and how it starts, it has a lot to do with control of thought and control of speech."
When Donald Trump talks about political correctness, he's using it in the usual throwaway sense we're all familiar with. He wants to be able to talk about immigrants being rapists or women being shrill and ugly without everyone getting on his case. Others have in mind trigger warnings and other campus fads. But when Ben Carson talks about it, he means much, much more. It is the core of his worldview, so it's worth understanding what he means by it. [To Carson] the agents working against this country’s greatness include the political-correctness police, who use “faux hypersensitivity” to take power away from the majority of Americans....Political correctness, Carson says, is used to keep conservatives from invoking slavery or Nazism, both of which he cites freely.
More Ben Carson:
Political correctness is antithetical to our founding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Its most powerful tool is intimidation. If it is not vigorously opposed, its proponents win by default, because the victims adopt a “go along to get along” attitude. Major allies in the imposition of PC are members of the media, some of whom thrive on controversy and others who are true ideologues.

....The American people must learn to identify and ignore political correctness if we are to escape the bitter ideological grenades that are destroying our unity and strength. Political correctness is impotent if we the people are fearless. Let us emphasize intelligent discussion of issues and leave the smear campaigns to those with no constructive ideas.
To Carson, the main reason liberals are succeeding in getting the country to accept radical ideas like gay marriage is that we bully people so much they are afraid to say what they think:
In fact, Carson believes that liberals are deliberately making it impossible for conservatives to talk about the truly important issues that are destroying America. Keeping everyone cowed and silent is the first step to tyranny, which is why he thinks incipient Hitlerism is something to be taken seriously.
Gay people who have been mercilessly taunted for their identities are not likely to be sympathetic to Carson's arguments.

I am also struck by the way he, like so many other conservatives, continues to believe that the majority agrees with him but has been somehow thwarted. Thus we have imaginary scares about voter fraud and constant complaints that the lamestream media are brainwashing the sheeple. That most Americans might have reasoned for themselves and ended up at a position opposite his own seems inconceivable to him.


I discussed this with my two older sons, and they both agreed that pressure to conform in speech is a big problem in America, and that it is impossible to discuss topics like homosexuality, trans identities, and whether and how men and women are different without being attacked. One of them also offered that Americans have been brainwashed to hate "socialism."

How community standards are established is a hard question, and we have talked here before about the issues surrounding "micro-aggressions" and so on. I think the appeal of Ben Carson's campaign shows that millions of Americans share the sense that they can't say what they really think without being shouted down. Which is something to ponder.


Thomas said...

I think trying to ascribe a deep logic to Carson's use of the term falls apart on inspection.

All people who bemoan political correctness start with the idea of Nazi's, or Newspeak, or other totalitarian attempts to control thought.

But then these people use the term is ways that are just amorphous. Carson said the calls for Americans to take ie, wn Syrian refugees, for example, were political correctness. That's neither a rational nor reasonable usage of the term if it is actually about controlling thought, but it is the meaning that pretty much every loudmouth uses the term: It describes any call for treating other people decently.

Finally, when Trump uses the term, he is not trying to silence the complaints. He wants his audience to know he is a tough guy standing up to those horrible liberals.

G. Verloren said...

"I think the appeal of Ben Carson's campaign shows that millions of Americans share the sense that they can't say what they really think without being shouted down. Which is something to ponder."

It used to be you could get away with thinking and saying terrible things. You could be a bigot openly, not just without fear of reprisal, but with an expectation of general support from an overwhelming majority. You could degrade, abuse, exploit, and attack minorities all day long and you'd be praised for doing so. There was an expectation that the victims would silently accept their status as lesser beings, quietly submitting to their "betters".

When a man abused or beat his wife, everyone treated that as normal and expected. If the battered woman spoke out against such barbarity, she was villified and demonized, twisted into the guilty party in the eyes of society, with the man deemed blameless, innocent of all wrongdoing.

When a white man abused or beat a black man, people paid it no mind. It was seen as putting the blacks in their rightful place, reminding them of their inferior nature and their status as second class citizens. Nothing was seen as more distasteful and unnatural than an African American who believed they deserved the same basic human rights and freedoms that whites enjoyed.

When a heterosexual abused or beat a homosexual, society at large smugly nodded their assent. A good thrashing would help sort them out, teaching them to respect "the natural order" and "the will of God". There was nothing wrong with a homosexual that couldn't be fixed by violence, degredation, coercion, and contempt. Even if they couldn't be "straightened out" by force, they could at least be taught to hide their sexualities for the rest of their lives by making a show of marrying and keeping up at least the appearance of "normal" sexuality.

My, how times change.

It's absolutely true - these days it's very difficult to say what you really think, provided what you really think is horrible, amoral, self-entitled, bigoted stuff. You can't get away with abominable behavior scot-free anymore. And it's scaring the daylights out of a lot of people, because they didn't used to get called out on their attrocities. They don't know how to respond to the fact that they're facing willful defiance now instead of repressed submission.

It used to be that serious outrage only ever came from the disenfranchised minorities, and as they lacked the power to seriously challenge the bigots, no one cared. But today, outrage comes from all corners of society - most notably from within the majority itself, with huge segments of the population who have developed sympathies for the oppressed minorities.

The silent majority has decided, at long last, to start speaking up instead of turning a blind eye. And the resultant uproar has been deafening and terrifying. Now the bigots are suddenly afraid that they're losing their place in the sun. And the great irony is that they feel unjustly attacked and victimized by others who, in their minds, have an utterly inexplicable loathing for them. They're finally getting a well deserved taste of their own medicine, and they're outraged to learn it is such a bitter brew.

Now, to be fair, there is an element of confusion and overreaction in play. Having spent so long without using their voice, the once-silent majority lacks a sense of proportion in terms of volume and clarity, particularly given the unprecendented nature of modern communications. Like a chronic mute suddenly prodded into speaking through a bullhorn, the result is painfully loud and discordant.

Additionally, there is a degree of collective guilt and shame for having been, through silence, complicit with these abuses in the past. This leads to an anxiety that leaves people both overly defensive and overly aggresive, with the end result of counter productive behaviors in confronting those truly guilty of the greater crimes.

Unknown said...

I haven't paid much attention to Carson's campaign, but if that's really what he's basing it on, that's a thin reed indeed.

I can't help but feel also that there's a certain amount of hypocrisy in complaints about political correctness. If a person feels they can't say what they really think because they're afraid of being shouted down, that implies that that person feels wounded by the hostile reaction. And yet, typically, what they want to express are feelings more or less hostile and wounding. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

And surely there's room for shouting someone down simply because they're making YET ANOTHER ignorant, self-indulgent, mind-clouding analogy between some contemporary semi-problem and the Nazis.

Unknown said...

How's that for a little political incorrectness?

leif said...

G. Verloren, wow you hit it. that was a good read. (no, i'm not being snide...i couldn't have said it better, and i think it's spot-on.)