In an old Monty Python sketch, a character (played by Michael Palin, I believe) says something along the lines of,"an argument is a connected series of statements intending to establish a proposition not the automatic gainsaying of what the other person says". On several discussion threads that I have participated in recently, I have noticed a tendency to automatically gainsay the proposition without examining the argument or the assumptions. Instead of showing that the assumptions are invalid or the logic of the argument is unsound, people prefer attack the motives of the writer or even defame his or her character. This is called the ad hominem attack.
My good friend, Dr Terry, teaches at a Higher Education establishment at the undergraduate and post graduate level. She has noticed that many of her students have great difficulty in reasoning, many preferring to appeal to emotions rather than logic. She drew my attention to a pamphlet by Anthony Browne called, "The Retreat of Reason - Political Correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain". I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in the quality of public debate.
While I do not agree with everything in the pamphlet, Browne has highlighted something extremely important; the innate contradiction at the heart of PC. While starting off as a means of addressing unfairness and championing the cause of the powerless against the Establishment, it has become the New Orthodoxy and those who espouse it have become the new Establishment. Insidiously, PC is establishing a straight-jacket on thinking every bit as dangerous as Stalinism or Fascism.
This, using Browne's phrase, retreat from reason is extremely dangerous. It is the greatest threat to human society because it undermines our ability to arrive at a reasonable consensus. It must be opposed vigorously where possible. It is only through dialogue and the application of reason that we can learn. It is through open conversations with those who disagree with us that we can begin to create the possibilities for us to live together. Anything else will inevitably lead to conflict which, given the weapons of mass destruction at our disposal, could lead to the end of human civilisation.
Those who have read my comments and articles will know that I believe the overwhelming majority of people are tolerant and want nothing more than to live their lives in peace. They will also know that I have identified the real enemy to peaceful coexistence; the ideologues or totalitarians.
Totalitarians do not want dialogue. Other people's opinions are irrelevant to them because they KNOW they are in the right. They would impose their version of the TRUTH on us all whether we like it or not. To totalitarians, dialogue and discussions are not open exchanges. They are opportunities to impose their views on the rest of us. Or, more dangerously, they see these as negotiation opportunities where they can leverage the greatest advantage for their cause.
If we do want to build a future based on tolerance and coexistence, then we must make a stand for reason and rational argument. We must be prepared to expose our thinking about beliefs and our conclusions to others for critical debate. PC stops us from doing this. Certain areas, ideas and topics are deemed 'no go'. This must stop. We must accept that argument based on facts and reasoning needs to be exposed and debated so that people can draw their own conclusions.
I was listening to the BBC on radio today when the ruling over the case of Aisha Azmi was reported. The industrial tribunal threw out her claims of religious discrimination but found that the school had been guilty of harassment and therefore awarded her compensation of just over £1,000. Ms Azmi said that she was going to appeal against the tribunal's decision and said she was prepared to go as far the the European Court of Human Rights. They later interviewed a lady from the Muslim Council of Great Britain who criticised her for taking such a high profile action when the Muslim community was under so much pressure. This is an example of the ad hominem attack and the lady is being politicaly correct rather than arguing rationally.
Whether you agree with Ms Azmi or not, she had every right to make a stand for her religious beliefs. If she feels she has grounds for appeal, then it is her right to continue the process and pursue it as far she is able. Ms Azmi is also convinced that her wearing a full veil does not detract from her teaching. The least we can do is to listen to her argument and look at any evidence she can put forward. If she, by making her stand, can persuade us that a full veil does not detract from her job, then we have extended the bounds of what we deem is acceptable.
PC stops us from asking questions in certain areas. When conclusions from facts are drawn that disagree with the PC agenda, the conclusions are withdrawn or 'spun'. This is nothing but totalitarian thinking. You can't say that. You can't even think that because it disagrees with the PC agenda. Is this any different from the Inquisition getting Galileo to withdraw his heliocentric theory through threats and torture? I think not.
So if you think that you are progressive because you believe you are helping the powerless, the victims or the weak by being politically correct, then think again. If you find yourself using the ad hominem attack you are probably being PC rather than using reason. If you shout down dissenting voices, even when they are using rational arguments, are you any better than the Nazis or the Stalinists? It is better to have contention in rational debate. The other alternative is not having conversations and play on the emotions. This will inevitably lead to conflict and to war.
The PC agenda is based on the premise that the world can be improved by forbidding discussions and preventing the promulgation of certain ideas. At the heart of this thinking is the view that those who decide what is politically correct has a better idea of what is good for us than we do.
I leave you with this quote from Terry Pratchett's novel Masquerade where Granny Weatherwax says,
"You can't build a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Anything else is just a cage".