Media information: Embargo: 00.01 am TUESDAY 3 JANUARY 2006
Freedom of speech is being suppressed by political correctness
For centuries Britain has been a beacon of liberty of thought, belief and speech, but now the freedom of its intellectual and political life is being subjected to a subtle form of 'censorship', according to a new study of political correctness published by the independent think-tank Civitas.
Anthony Browne argues in The Retreat of Reason that political correctness, which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and allows no dissent to be expressed, is poisoning the wells of debate in modern Britain.
'Members of the public, academics, journalists and politicians are afraid of thinking certain thoughts' (p.xii). Political correctness started in academia, but it now dominates schools, hospitals, local authorities, the civil service, the media, companies, the police and the army. Since 1997 Britain has been ruled by political correctness for the first time. 'The Labour government was the first UK government not to stand up to political correctness, but to try and enact its dictates when they are not too electorally unpopular or seriously mugged by reality, and even sometimes when they are' (p.34).
Anthony Browne describes political correctness as a 'heresy of liberalism' (p.2) under which 'a reliance on reason has been replaced with a reliance on the emotional appeal of an argument' (p.6). Adopting certain positions makes the politically correct feel virtuous, even more so when they are preventing the expression of an opinion that conflicts with their own: 'political correctness is the dictatorship of virtue'.
Whether an argument is true or not is a secondary consideration to whether it fits with the PC view of the world:
'In the topsy-turvy politically correct world, truth comes in two forms: the politically correct, and the factually correct. The politically correct truth is publicly proclaimed correct by politicians, celebrities and the BBC even if it is wrong, while the factually correct truth is publicly condemned as wrong even when it is right. Factually correct truths suffer the disadvantage that they don't have to be shown to be wrong, merely stated that they are politically incorrect. To the politically correct, truth is no defence; to the politically incorrect, truth is the ultimate defence. (p.7)'
Anthony Browne gives some examples (p.8) of factually incorrect arguments that trump factually correct ones, because they are PC:
He argues that PC is much more than just a dispute about words, or the hope of avoiding hurtful expressions: it leads to an incorrect analysis of real problems, which means that the wrong solutions are attempted. People suffer as a result:
'Black communities are encouraged to blame racist teachers for the failings of their boys at school, rather than re-examine their own culture and attitudes to education that may be the prime reasons. The poor sick have ended up having worse healthcare in Britain than they would in mainland Europe because PC for long closed down debate on fundamental NHS reform. Women's employment opportunities can be harmed by giving them ever more rights that are not given to men. The unemployed are encouraged to languish on benefits blaming others for their fate. Poor Africans are condemned to live in poverty so long as they and their governments are encouraged to blame the West for all their problems, rather than confronting the real causes of poor governance, corruption and poor education'. (p.xiv) The end of political correctness?
Political correctness is the invention of Western intellectuals who feel guilty about the universal triumph of Western values and economic prosperity. However, threats to the influence of the West may bring political correctness to an end:
'Political correctness is essentially the product of a powerful but decadent civilisation which feels secure enough to forego reasoning for emoting, and to subjugate truth to goodness. However, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, and those that followed in Bali, Madrid and Beslan, have led to a sense of vulnerability that have made people far more hard-headed about the real benefits and drawbacks of Western civilisation'. (p.84)
Even the long-unrivalled economic dominance of the West will come under challenge from the newly flourishing economies of India and China. Westerners will stop feeling guilty about their position when it has to be defended against rival cultures and ideologies. Anthony Browne lists several steps that could be taken to limit the malign influence of political correctness before it does further damage:
'In the long run of history, political correctness will be seen as an aberration in Western thought. The product of the uniquely unchallenged position of the West and unrivalled affluence, the comparative decline of the West compared to the East is likely to spell its demise. Finally, Western minds may be free again to reason rather than just emote, to pursue objective truth rather than subjective virtue'. (p.87)
'The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain' by Anthony Browne is published by Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ, tel 020 7799 6677, www.civitas.org.uk, £9.50 plus £2.75 P&P.
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