Political Correctness And The Extreme Fragmentation Of Society In Modernity

One of the defining cultural events of the 2016 election season so far has been the overwhelming rejection of the notion of political correctness expressed in the Republican selection of Donald Trump as presidential nominee. Here is Trump expounding his view on political correctness:

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What is the political correctness that the Trump supporters are rejecting?

Trump-supporting website Infowars.com gives the following definition:

In his novel 1984, George Orwell imagined a future world where speech was greatly restricted.

He called that the language that the totalitarian state in his novel created “Newspeak”, and it bears a striking resemblance to the political correctness that we see in America right now.

According to Wikipedia, Newspeak is “a reduced language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit free thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, peace, etc. Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as ‘thoughtcrime.’”

Infowars then lists 19 examples, from “The Missouri State Fair… permanently bann[ing] a rodeo clown from performing because he wore an Obama mask” to “a Florida police officer” losing his job for calling Trayvon Martin a “thug”, to “the governor of California signing a bill to allow transgendered students to use whatever bathroom and gym facilities they would like”.

The overriding concern expressed by the Trumpians appears to be that liberals are trying to enforce their worldview through the use of language. They are trying, in other words, to promote their own worldview through making it difficult to dissent from the “politically correct” version of reality.

I disagree that political correctness is an entirely or even largely liberal phenomenon. To be blunt and upfront with my thesis, this is because what is politically correct is a matter of subjective opinion. We each — as human beings — have our own notion of what is the politically correct way to frame an argument or think about a situation or system. So that which is “politically correct” for one person or group of people is absolutely politically incorrect for another person or group of people. In other words, every side of the argument has its own “politically correct” version of reality.

For example, advocates of transgender rights and particularly the notion that it is possible for a person to be born transgender would likely be outraged at the notion that Caitlyn Jenner was born as a male, and so is still a man in spite of transitioning to living as a woman. The notion that Caitlyn Jenner is a man is politically (and factually) incorrect to this first group. And by contrast, advocates of rigid and unchangeable gender roles would likely be outraged by the notion that Caitlyn Jenner is now a woman, and can use the women’s bathroom. The notion that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman is politically (and factually) incorrect to this second group.

I even disagree that political correctness is a new phenomenon. What was McCarthyism, if not a hardcore form of right-wing political correctness? What was the Bush Administration renaming French Fries as Freedom Fries as protest over the French government’s refusal to participate in the Iraq war if not trying to use language to police reality?

Of course, it is completely possible for someone to believe that X is true and respectfully disagree with the opposing view that X is not true, and vice versa.

But that is hardly the direction that the country is headed. Many metrics show that Americans are becoming more and more politically polarized, as this chart via Pew illustrates:

FT_Polarization.Politically.Engaged.png

Perhaps what people really mean when they say they are frustrated with political correctness is that they are frustrated with just how disengaged they are from the other side.

With that in mind, what the selection of Donald Trump represents is not so much a rejection of political correctness as a scorched-earth rejection of the other side’s version of reality. In other words, the polarization is becoming more extreme and both sides’ versions of what is “politically correct” are becoming more distinct and noticeable.

This all, of course, is an outgrowth of the pluralism of modernity. American society has become increasingly pluralistic as it has become increasingly diverse and tolerant of alternative lifestyles.

This is entirely unsurprising. With more freedom and liberty comes divergence. People are variable and heterogeneous. They are not all motivated by the same things and in pursuit of the same goals. Giving people freedom to pursue their own goals and interests inevitably leads to pluralism, if not to full-blown polarization.

This is why Trump’s policies are necessarily authoritarian. In order to beat back the pluralism of modernity, Trump advocates authoritarian policies that reduce liberty with the design of building a more cohesive society. Banning Muslims from entering the U.S. decreases diversity and pluralism. Deporting undocumented migrants decreases diversity and pluralism. Building a wall at the border is an instrument of reducing diversity and pluralism. And the show of naked authoritarianism itself makes society fearful. The most successful totalitarian states are the ones — such as North Korea — where a sheepish public polices itself.

Trump, of course, would point out that these measures were the norm throughout most of American history and that the status quo is some kind of freakish digression. But to boil it down to its core essence, “Making American Great Again” is about turning back multiculturalism toward monoculture. It is, ultimately, about enforcing an idea — that a more cohesive and less diverse society is a good thing — on everyone else.

Of course, when you have two groups whose understanding of the world fundamentally disagrees, it is very hard to achieve unity and stability. Lots of wars have been fought over this very kind of thing. The notion of a culture war is actually quite prescient as cultural warfare is exactly what is occurring between the Trumpians and the liberals.

I doubt that either side will be victorious. The fragmentation of the world that has led to these divergences is probably not the result of a liberal conspiracy or liberal control of government. It is much more likely to be a result of technology. Why? Well, consider the way that technology is fragmenting the media. It is much easier to live in a local monoculture when your main source of global news is a town notice board, or two radio channels, or four TV channels, or even fifty cable channels, than it is when your main source of global news is the huge and varied and exponentiating internet. As technology continues to fragment communication and the spread of ideas, people will continue to pursue their own individual interests with the effect of further cultural divergence. Virtual reality will be a very important technology in developing this, as it will begin to let us not only listen to our own FOX News/MSNBC echo chambers, but live in virtual worlds to suit our own tastes. We are heading toward a world where we can build our own echo chambers and shut off anything we find offensive or unpleasant.

In other words, if you think that cultural fragmentation is bad now — or that the Trump supporters are suggesting extreme measures in order to reimpose a degree of cultural hegemony — you ain’t seen nothing yet. The decentralization of warfare through the adaptation of drone technology and things like 3-D printed guns and bullets means that many skirmishes will likely be fought over this stuff again.

15 thoughts on “Political Correctness And The Extreme Fragmentation Of Society In Modernity

  1. A global economy combined with universal communication via the Internet makes multi-culturalism inevitable. Human nature makes resistance to it equally inevitable.

    But gender identity is a different animal.

    I recently read an article by Denise Shick, the author of “My Daddy’s Secret”, “When Hope Seems Lost” and “Understanding Gender Confusion”. In the article, she discusses her father’s journey from identifying as male to identifying as female and how this affected her, her mother and her father. It is an interesting perspective.

    My own interest in this subject comes not from an identity crisis but a different type of philosophical crisis. I have spent most of my life walking the thin line between libertarianism and anarchy. I believe strongly in the rights of the individual to live as he/she sees fit, but also recognize the need for individuals to compromise their own self-interest at times, for the sake of a functioning society.

    The smallest, most intimate form of society is the family unit. Ms. Shick’s works demonstrate how disruptive one person’s search for self-satisfaction can be on all the other individuals in that family. But is it fair to ask anyone to live a life of quiet desperation for the sake of others? The answer lies in the individual’s level of commitment to the family that will be affected.

    Societal norms change. We of a certain age – members of the “Boomer Generation” – have witnessed quite a bit of change. Many of us are shocked by the recent demands for acceptance of untraditional lifestyles. We shouldn’t be. It was our generation that started the movement for individualism. Just because we didn’t predict where it would lead doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible. This is the natural progression of our own acts. We need to own it.

    Nor should we be surprised by the breakdown of the family unit. We broke the barriers that had prevented us from living together without marriage. We considered commitment as an unnecessary obstacle to “free love”. If we didn’t need to commit to marriage, it follows that we wouldn’t need to feel any obligation to the well-being of the families we create.

    When an individual’s happiness is seen as more important than the happiness of our spouses or our children, the society formally known as “family” is irrelevant. And if we can ignore the well-being of our own families, it is easy to care less about the effect our actions have on the larger society.

    We are the original “Me Generation”. This is on us.

  2. Individualism is implicit in liberalism. (By liberalism I mean all of the ideological descendants of John Locke, not just American social democrats.) Liberalism has been around for centuries; it wasn’t invented by the Boomers.

    • No, not invented but modified. The individualism espoused by Locke and early Americans like Jefferson or Paine had a social conscience combined with a sense of personal responsibility. Starting in the ’60s, the new liberals demonstrated an ego-centric version of individualism. Hence the moniker “Me Generation”.

      Please don’t equate Democrats with classical liberalism. Don’t be fooled by their use of the term ‘liberal’. They are statists – the polar opposite of individualism.

  3. An interesting question and a thoughtful if not obvious snapshot of social-political upheaval legitimized by Sanders and Trump. Linear left right straight line politics has come full circle for this election cycle.

    Like the face of a analog clock the establishments operate between 5 and 7 and the insurgents between 11 and 1.

    Sanders is at 10 and Trump is at 2. In circular politics that’s 120 degrees of separation confined within the circle.

    In straight line line politics they (Sanders/Trump supporters) would be on opposite ends with 180 degrees of separation defined by distance.

    If one were to plot the needs, wants and hopes of the voters within a circle there is room for individualism and a mosaic would emerge.

    If one were to plot the same on a straight line, individualism would not be recognized unless the line could be endless in length, hence adding distance.

    In reality the Sanders/Trump supporters are closer and have more in common than the establishment can tolerate. It would be likely that the insurgents in large part would be fighting the same foe. Assault weapons and printed plastic guns all pointed in the same direction… This is how revolutions are won without firing a shot.

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  9. The tribal/in-group – out-group polarization is so extreme as to have overtaken financial postings on Zero Hedge – formerly a site dedicated to exploring and exposing financial realities, corruptions and ineptitudes. It is no longer permitted to be objective by the swarms of Trumpians and Anti-“Liberal” attackers. Being objective is the same as being FOR “Hitlery”.

    Point? We are there, Mr. Aziz. If we move too much farther the result may be the self-fulfilling prophecy I read so much about.

    Great article.

  10. Pingback: Welcome to the Culture War, Newbs | Tempest in a Teardrop

  11. Countries set up by Europeans are prosperous, stable and democratic. Countries run by Muslims tend to be poor (unless they happen to be sitting on loads of oil (which Europeans found for them)), unstable and undemocratic. That’s why many Trump supporters, quite reasonably, don’t want Muslims in the US.

  12. Excellent analysis of what’s going on right now. I just discovered your blog while searching for new voices to add to my reading list. I’ll be coming back to read more of your posts.

  13. Pingback: Understanding Silence – Straight to The Core

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