Posts Tagged ‘Dissent’

Why I am not “politically incorrect”

April 12, 2011

The first time I ever heard the phrase “politically correct,” it was used by people on the left to kid each other about going overboard on their ideology.  Then it came to be used a derogatory term for people – but only on the left – who tried to win political arguments by defining the other side as racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever, rather than making a case that their own view was factual and moral.

Now the phrase “politically correct” is used to preemptively silence people who object to bigotry, cruelty, injustice, vulgarity or bad manners.  In fact calling people “politically correct” is a way to enforce a form of political correctness, and it seems to me that it is much more widespread and effective than the left-wing kind.

These thoughts were promoted reading about how President Obama’s outreach to the democracy movement in Egypt was denounced for being politically correct since, it is assumed, the only reason not to help murderous corrupt tyrant stay in power is a kind of weakness.

Glenn Beck (whom I don’t think we’ve seen the last of) once objected to Braille signs next to doorways as being “politically correct.”  Rush Limbaugh is famous for making inflammatory statements and then. when people get angry, claiming to be a victim of political correctness.  Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle said during the campaign last year that autism is “a politically correct special interest.”  Many white racist web sites boast of their political incorrectness, but I’ll just link to one.  All these people seem to think they’re doing something brave.

Some years back I learned the phrase “the language of murder.”  This refers to the language of lynch mobs as they hung black people, of Cossacks who burned Jewish villages and murdered Jews in pogroms, of homophobes as they beat gay people to death.  If I use their vocabulary, I am aligning myself with them..

What is so hard about refraining from using language that I know that people consider insulting?  If someone confined to a wheelchair prefers to be called “physically challenged” rather than “crippled,” it costs me nothing to respect the person’s wishes.  Yet tens of books have been written ridiculing this idea.

“Political correctness” is a prejorative term for taking offense where none is intended.  “Political incorrectness” is a boastful term for deliberately being as offensive as you possibly can, and then acting as if you were being persecuted when the other side reacts.

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The Internet will not save us

January 10, 2011

Democratic and populist movements rely on the ability to communicate.  When the Thirteen Colonies began to resist the authority of the British crown, the first thing they did was to set up Committees of Correspondence.  When General Jarulzelski proclaimed martial law and suppressed the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, the first thing he did was to shut down the telephone system.

Clay Shirky in his presentation to TED said the Internet has empowered people in an unprecedented way because of the multiple ways it enables people to communicate.  What he said is true and important, but, as he himself might agree, it is not the whole truth.

He gives three examples of the Internet’s potential: (1) how Americans picked up from Nigerians an idea of how to use electronic media to monitor elections and prevent voter suppression, (2) how Chinese used electronic media to disseminate news of an earthquake and call corrupt officials to account and (3) how President Obama’s supporters engaged in dialogue with him through the Organizing for America web site.

All good things.  But the Internet also facilitates international scam artists operating out of Nigeria and other countries.  It does not threaten the power of the rulers of China and other authoritarian countries. In fact, they turn the social media to their own purposes.  And Organizing for America has not made President Obama accountable for his original campaign promises.  Rather he tries to use it as a vehicle for his own purposes, such as his call to members to support a federal pay freeze.  I don’t think many Organizing for America members signed up with the idea of preventing pay raises for letter carriers, VA hospital nurses and FBI agents.

The Internet enables people to communicate in ways they couldn’t before, but it also enables government to monitor citizens in ways they couldn’t before.  Every e-mail communication is subject to being monitored.  Every Google search is on record.  The two-way television set in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a technical possibility; Winston Smith could send information down the Memory Hole with the click of a mouse.

During the 2009 protests in Iran, government supporters took pictures of protesters on cell phones, then posted the pictures on public web sites and used “crowd sourcing” to identify them.  As Evgeny Mazarov says, secret police no longer have to torture people to find out their networks of friends; all they have to do is network on Facebook.  The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed Twitter accounts of people connected with Julian Assange – another example of how a means of communication can be a means of surveillance.

The anonymity of the Internet does not just protect dissidents and whistleblowers.  It allows secret government agencies to circulate disinformation and inflammatory propaganda, without individuals have any way to distinguish the genuine from the bogus.

Then there is the distracting nature of the Internet.  Few people accustomed to communicating by Twitter would sit down to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.

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