the dark energy of PCishness (and anti-Trumpism)
For better or worse, I’ve been congratulating myself for waiting a couple of months to write this. Waiting has felt necessary in the same way that some of us have learned that it’s better to wait overnight before hitting send on that email response to something emotional.
As someone who cares a great deal about social justice, I feel strongly the temptation to be a part of those who are “politically correct” (PC). The fact that my studies have sensitized me to recognize the importance of language and the role of public conversations in creating “realities” in society means that I also respect a lot of the particular issues and battles that have been labelled as part of a PC agenda. So why do I consider the lure of being a part of the PC community to be a temptation that I need to resist?
In a nutshell, it is because “dark energy” seems to drive PCishness, at least as much as healthier, compassionate energy. By dark energy, I mean the energy that comes from unhealthy motivations (conscious or unconscious) or the kind of irrational thinking that is distorted by hidden emotions.
The result of this dark energy behind PCishness, I suggest, significantly undermines the intended compassion and solidarity of PC efforts. It also tends to create a societal backlash with real and devastating results (as seen in a recent election – pardon the oversimplification).
Complicated issues “steal energy,” parasitically, from clearer issues.
I’ll attempt to name some of the dynamics behind the dark energy of PCishness:
1. One of the strongest dynamics is creating an “in-group” that justifies itself because of how superior it is to the ignorance of outsiders. The pull to belong to and identify with this in-group is so strong that it weakens the ability to reason well and fairly about the issues. The intense need to remain visibly within this in-group creates a fear that makes it very difficult to take a stand on any aspect opposed to PCishness.
2. Much more of the energy is focused on criticizing outsiders than celebrating progress made or providing the kind of education and conversation that helps people move forward. Or else any celebration looks and feels a lot more like “gloating” that somehow is a dig against the primitives who have lost. Helpful educational efforts are respectful of those who disagree and invite an open mind or at least create a measure of doubt about formerly rigid certainties (on all sides), but this attitude is often as hard to find in PC circles as it is in fundamentalist ones. (I would suggest that when this helpful attitude is there, the effort isn’t labelled PC at all.)
3. A result of #1 is that instead of rational clarity, issues “clump” together. If I believe that gay partners should have the right to be married obviously I should believe that the notion of gender binaries should be tossed out the window. If I believe in equality for women, obviously I should believe that individual womenshould have the right to decide whatever they like about taxpayer-funded abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Complicated issues “steal energy,” parasitically, from clearer issues. Rationally discerning the differences at stake in some of these different issues is crucial but often “not permitted” in some social circles (or social media cliques).
4. There is a smug surface solidarity that often looks more like posing than something genuine, demonstrated by sincere compassion and sacrificial choices. It’s easy to brand oneself as being an edgy revolutionary on social media; it’s difficult to give money to the extent that you can’t go out for drinks on Friday night. It’s easy to look for the energizing, popular protest to join; it’s hard work to see where you can be a part of a slow and determined effort to build community and educate broadly and effectively.
There is a hierarchy of concerns that is often based on social branding value
5. Somewhat related to #4, there is a hierarchy of concerns that is often based on social branding value rather than on the deepest human needs. There is a lot of passion out there for issues surrounding sexual and gender identity or xenophobia, and there are some important reasons for these that I certainly am not knocking. But is there as much conversation on university campuses about poverty and the isolation and loneliness caused by the breakdown of community (regardless of whether identity issues are compounding the problem)? Sometimes my paranoid self wonders whether the immigration issues that are capturing a lot of attention these days are partly orchestrated in order to distract from the criticism of rampantly exploitive capitalism that seems to me like a huge, urgent and more foundational problem.
So that’s a sample of reasons that I think there is too much dark energy that is part of PCishness today. I think the tone of anti-Trumpism is helping to reveal this dark energy. Think of how much anti-Trump effort has been as distasteful and without class as Trump is criticized to be. I confess to giving into this temptation too often, but I think it’s fruitless. Real fruit is found in determined, organized efforts to emphasize, for example, respect for women and overcoming racism through respectful conversations with those who disagree and patient education of anyone who will listen. Let’s help each other to resist the dark energy.