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Jun 9, 2016

The Oz is right, political correctness has gone mad (as has apolitical correctness)

The Australian is right about the left, and I hate saying that.

Helen Razer — Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and Broadcaster

David Morrison, Australian of the Year
David Morrison, Australian of the Year

Political correctness, as you may have heard, has gone mad. Schools are shaping our children into Marxists of indeterminate gender, the Aborigines are living the life of a subsidised Riley in their luxury ditches, and Australians of the Year are dishonouring the accolade by going on with a lot of redacting rot.

Actually, just that last bit is true. When David Morrison suggested that his fellows desist in using “gender-based language” he was not led at all by good sense, or, indeed, tolerance for the grammar of many of le monde’s major tongues. When he said that “guys” was an exclusive and inappropriate term to be avoided in the workplace, he did that thing that some of us on the left rather wish well-meaning folk wouldn’t. Which is to say, he conflated the best and most progressive intentions with the worst and most pointless bosh. He gave The Australian another opportunity to say that the left had no ambition greater or less irritating than policing the language.

To be fair, political correctness was formed from the best intentions. As an internal leftist strategy adopted to quash what are now called micro-aggressions, such as a bloke calling a female comrade “Jiggles” and asking her to bend over and get him some coffee, it worked fine. It was a sort of behavioural Mao suit that erased class distinctions within the struggle. Now, it blinds us to class distinctions in the broader society. It says “we’re all equal” and negates discussion of the fact that we are ruddy not. This “politics of meaning” was never meant for general use, so it can’t be blamed entirely for the left’s broad unconcern for material reality.

Political correctness is not, in itself, an ill. It’s just a painful symptom of post-material sickness, such as G. Rundle diagnoses and Morrison suffers.

Oh, David. If you have real interest in workplace fairness, there are about 500 things to shove in the civic suggestion box before the injunction not to call me a “guy”. I’d gladly be called Tits McTickle if it meant holiday pay, fewer government assaults on unions and the sorts of conditions that would permit me to safely say, “Don’t call me Tits” without the reasonable expectation I’d be sacked.

The Australian is right about the left, and I hate saying that. Prominent putative leftists have given up on seizing the means of production in favour of seizing their wangs. I’m sick of it, and so is Tits. And don’t give me, “we can care about the use of sensitive language and fair labour at the same time, Tits.” No you can’t. First, who has that kind of time? You really think a ground-up rebuild of the economy leaves you hours to fart about worrying whether you have harmed your daughter by calling her “her”? Just pipe a Valerie Solanos audiobook into her crib and go stir some shit in your union. Second, the “a fair world starts with you” moralising advanced by Morrison and others is not only authoritarian, it has its roots in the very form of liberalism that has forged a world where any boss can call me “Tits” and I just have to cop it.

Which is to say, if we believe that individual behaviour is the pivot on which justice depends, we believe the same thing as the right. It doesn’t start with “me” and the way I express myself in the free market or the marketplace of cultural exchange. It starts with social organisation. It’s not all about the economy, stupid. But a very good deal of it is.

The urging for the apt representation rather than the apt real thing means, for example, that Aboriginal Australians are living in worse shit than they were 40 years ago. This is in part because, and not in spite, of a progressive white class who are so eager to “celebrate diversity” they don’t celebrate housing, education or health. These post-material language-minders might mean very well, but they achieve little beyond self-satisfaction when they “acknowledge” traditional owners. PC people believe “a fair world starts with me” and therefore can’t believe that good homes and schools are not built by their language sensitivity.

The examples of PC are endless and embarrassing and really only useful for copy in The Australian. Recently, for example, at Oberlin College in the US, students protested “cultural appropriation” in the canteen. It’s all very nice that they felt an inauthentic taco “misrepresented” Hispanic cuisine or whatever, but their objections are, even if unwittingly, a form of self-mythologising. I am so sensitive. My sensitive good will flow from my true taco-eating self and improve the world. It all starts with me.

All of which to say is that, yes, political correctness has gone mad. It didn’t start out that way, but now it is completely barking. It is also completely expected in most public conversation outside of hip hop or the columns of Andrew Bolt. So there’s not much we can do about it.

Perhaps there are a few strategies, however, to liberate the left from its representational prison. One obvious and applied tactic is to point to the right’s own partiality to “correctness”. There are few cultural nit-pickers more obsessive than Cory Bernardi, who is always spitting out his halal toast spreads.

But a powerful smoothie like Turnbull knows how to talk the fine line between free and sensitive speech. Perhaps the way to undo the complexity of such representation is to charge Turnbull and his fellows with Apolitical Correctness Gone Mad.

Just as political correctness, now naively and hopelessly, strives to bind the personal exchange to the broader political context, Malcolm often seeks to do the opposite. He tries to free policy from its context.

To uphold “innovation” as the economic future while downgrading the NBN and insisting, as he does, that the two things are unrelated is one such example. Apolitical Correctness Gone Mad! See, also, his lazy descriptions of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions as natural and apolitical market justice, his insistence that there are sufficient controls on the finance sector but controls so insufficient on labour organisations that he had to call an election or his despicable failure to act meaningfully on climate change. Gone Mad!

Nowhere was this madness more starkly illustrated than in Turnbull’s interview with Melbourne broadcaster Jon Faine. When Faine asked the Prime Minister about the housing affordability crisis faced by younger Australians, he was answered with the very personal, profoundly apolitical advice to “shell out” and buy his own kids a house.

This recalls Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement to Woman’s Own magazine that there was “no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

But, as David Cameron said, we are all Thatcherites now. The individual is seen by both left and right as the site from which all organisation stems, and not a product or a beneficiary of those complexes. Political correctness, now mutated from its practical leftist origins, serves the dream of individual morality. There is no such thing as society.

It is all, in my view, Apolitical Correctness Gone Mad. Nonetheless, I will spend the next few campaigning weeks yelling this phrase — which, I know, is unlikely to catch on — exclusively at Malcolm Turnbull.

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9 comments

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9 thoughts on “The Oz is right, political correctness has gone mad (as has apolitical correctness)

  1. reddog

    Helen please don’t ever consider doing a ‘big issue’ move on us Crikey readers
    we love reading your insightful pieces. mgb

  2. Seamus Barker

    Helen Razer, you restore my faith in the capacity for intelligent social analysis in Australia.

  3. Draco Houston

    The right use PC all the time. High profile government examples would be the poor bastard that got canned from SBS for bagging anzac day in language too Woke for the waffler in chief. Brandis wringing his hands about the term Occupied Territories. Occupied as a pejorative, lol.

    Soon enough when a toff from parliament like the waffler in chief goes to an exclusive men’s only club for an event the right will defend the right to Safe Spaces 😉

  4. Robert Beverley

    Thanks Helen. Articles like this are the reason you are my favorite writer.

  5. Gavin Moodie

    This is either unclear or wrong. If Indigenous Australians object to being called Abos or darkies it is not political correctness but decency and respect for peoples’ wishes to avoid those terms. Likewise one doesn’t call gay men poofters. I saw but did not record some research which found that people are more sympathetic to people called ‘people with disabilities’ than they are to people called ‘the disabled’. The effects are real, not confected sympathising.

    1. Helen Razer

      Of course people are entirely justified in objecting to foul or diminishing language directed at their identity categories or at others . I think you’re being a little cheeky suggesting that I’m advancing “the right to be a bigot” when I did nothing of the sort.
      I am suggesting that the adherence to political correctness has the unintended outcome of letting its proponents believe that they have done something. As you believe that they have done something. As you believe that “sympathy” for PwD is materially useful. I am medically blind. People feel some sympathy for me because of that and they try to use language that is sensitive. This is okay. It doesn’t translate to a functioning NDIS. Actually, it lets policy makers off the hook. If, the reasoning goes, I object to cruel expression (and I do personally) then the world will be better .
      How? By what process? While more non indigenous Australians have learned to culturally respect indigenous Australians, has there been a single measure in thsr, say, 50 year period (starting with the result of the ’67 referendum) that we can say had not been failed or worsened?

  6. nathan rogers

    Seems somewhat ironic that a ‘journalist’ is diminishing the impact that language has on our collective psyche and moral framework.

  7. Alison Caldwell

    Helen Razer is why I’m likely to buy a subscription to Crikey after my 21 day trial. Thank s!

  8. Bill Bartlett

    “To be fair, political correctness was formed from the best intentions. As an internal leftist strategy adopted to quash what are now called micro-aggressions, such as a bloke calling a female comrade “Jiggles” and asking her to bend over and get him some coffee, it worked fine. It was a sort of behavioural Mao suit that erased class distinctions within the struggle. Now, it blinds us to class distinctions in the broader society. It says “we’re all equal” and negates discussion of the fact that we are ruddy not. This “politics of meaning” was never meant for general use, so it can’t be blamed entirely for the left’s broad unconcern for material reality.”

    I was a bit surprised by this perspicacious comment from Helen Razer. The truth is she doesn’t look old enough to remember those times in the left?

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