Rummaging through my store of old documents the other day, I came across a letter that I had written to the Department Head (or Dean of Arts, I forget which) after I had graduated with an MA in International Affairs in 1992. The subject was political correctness (yes, even then) and its baleful influence on learning. Needless to say, I received no reply. As I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to my opinion, I reproduce it below as a public service. Names have been removed to protect the innocent. Things have only gotten worse….
THE TYRANNY OF CONFORMITY
The most important observation I feel I can make about university life in general concerns the poisonous, stifling atmosphere of political correctness that permeates academia. It is not yet as serious as at some American universities (where it is truly hysterical) but the trends are definitely here.
The University is an institution that must preserve freedom of thought and speech, promote clarity and excellence, and encourage students to grapple with the philosophical and moral issues that have been addressed by all the great writers and thinkers of civilization. All sides of the issues should be open to students as an inalienable right. Freedom means the freedom to be different, to be unpopular, to be eccentric, else it becomes a sham, an ideological facade for the politically correct commissars that seem to be in control of so much of university life.
The idea that people should have equal opportunity to excel is, I believe, the root of freedom in a liberal democratic society. The politically correct insist that equality of result is the necessary end of our education system. Because Mankind is such a diverse species, naturally an equality of opportunity will give rise to an enormous inequality of results. Some will succeed, others fail. That is Life. But to insist that every difference and distinction in society is the result of some “ism” or other, or that every dissident view is the product of a concealed conspiracy, or that everything that some minority group wants is a right, is nothing less than cultural Bolshevism. For example, to say that the term “Mankind” is sexist (whatever that means) and should be replaced by “Humanity”, on pain of academic penalty, is thought control of crassest kind. It is now actually impossible to discuss any issues of race and its political importance in the world, other than by parroting the slogans of the ethnically-approved. If students are to come to grips with spiritual and moral problems that confront them, they will not be able to do so without being able to discuss the issues without fear of intimidation or reprisal. That security of feeling does not exist on campuses today.
The assault on the cultural traditions of universities is nothing new. The revolt against civilization in all ages has been directed at study, learning, art and science. Bolshevism attacked learning in much the same way as the modern PC movement. Its evil results are plain for all to see. In English literature, they were exposed in almost prescient fashion by George Orwell fifty years ago in “1984” and various essays such as “The Prevention of Literature” and “Inside the Whale”.
It is essential in a free society that our actions be governed by law. The continual claims of the politically correct of being perpetually “aggrieved” and “offended” by their political opponents is simply a device to attempt to suppress the opposing view. In the 1990s, this is not done by secret police with rubber truncheons, but by lies, character assassination, slander and intimidation in the workplace. The result of this is that all open discussion of complex and controversial issues, such as race relations, is driven underground and the persona of the university becomes a mask of slogans tailored to suit all the self-appointed victims of real and imaginary ills.
What we are faced with today is the idea that intellectual honesty is somehow demeaning and the expression of unpopular points of view is generating discord on our campuses. It is, in fact, the attack on intellectual integrity by leftist intellectuals that is the cause of discord. Most students who think about it can see this, but in their position, where they can be easily intimidated by unscrupulous professors and university authorities, they know their futures can be readily jeopardized. Even those in positions of authority who can see what is happening crumble before vitriolic attacks from the PC storm troops. George Orwell pointed to the same paralysis of intellectuals in the 1940s. When discussing the question of liberty, he once said:
Here I am not trying to deal with the familiar claim that freedom is an illusion, or with the claim that there is more freedom in totalitarian countries than in democratic ones, but with the much more tenable and dangerous proposition that freedom is undesirable and that intellectual honesty is a form of anti-social selfishness.
In fact, to be free, we must state our views and feelings as they are. Free individuals can not be forced into molds and stamped out with all the politically correct views injected into them. Peaceful and civilized resolutions of social problems can only come about if everyone thinks he has had his fair say. And that includes saying many things that others do not like. Inventing lies to make certain groups feel good about themselves (as, for instance, did Alex Haley’s “Roots”) is the bed rock on which this atrocious conformity is built.
Again, allow me to refer to Orwell who saw exactly the same problem with the Communist-dominated English intelligentsia of the 1940s:
Freedom of the intellect means the freedom to report what one has seen, heard, and felt, and not to be obliged to fabricate imaginary facts and feelings. The familiar tirades against ‘escapism’, and ‘individualism’, ‘romanticism’ and so forth, are merely a forensic device, the aim of which is to make the perversion of history seem respectable.
To return to the university today, the continual demand in lectures to use “non-racist” or “gender-neutral” terminology is another case in point. Who makes these decisions as to what is “inappropriate” or not? Clearly, our commissars. And there is no recourse against this. Why? In his critique of Swift, Orwell said that:
…[i]n a Society in which there is no law, and in theory no compulsion, the only arbiter of behaviour is public opinion. But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. When human beings are governed by ‘thou shalt not’, the individual can practice a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by ‘love’ or ‘reason’, he is under continuous pressure to make him behave and think in exactly the same way as everyone else. The Houyhnhnms, we are told, were unanimous on almost all subjects. The only question they ever discussed was how to deal with the Yahoos.
Our politically correct commissars today should study their ancestors– the Houyhnhnms– whence they might discover their true totalitarian nature. So, Swift and Orwell certainly understood the repressive results of pandering to the sensitivities, and, invariably, the insatiable demands of legions of the permanently aggrieved. What has happened to our universities of late has best been described by Allan Bloom in “The Closing of the American Mind”:
Universities came to be where men were inspired by the philosophers’ teachings and examples. Philosophy and its demonstration of the rational contemplative life, made possible and, more or less consciously, animated scholarship and the individual sciences. When those examples lost their vitality or where overwhelmed by men who had no experience of them, the universities decayed or were destroyed. This, strictly, is barbarism and darkness. To sum up, there is one simple rule for the university’s activity: it need not concern itself with providing its students with experiences that are available in democratic society. They will have them in any event. It must provide them with experiences they cannot have there. Tocqueville did not believe that the old writers were perfect, but he believed that they could best make us aware of our imperfections, which is what counts for us…. The universities never performed this function very well. Now they have practically ceased trying.
Now, the contemplative life, that brief moment when young people may be exposed to the jewels of our civilization, is being assaulted by the mob, screaming for orthodoxy, servility and conformity. The arrogance of the PC movement is surpassed only by its effrontery. I wish the University and our society luck in throwing off this dreadful incubus.
Rebel Yell M.A. (1992)
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Rebel Yell 2016