As a longtime libertarian and an avowed egalitarian socialist, I've struggled with the concept of "political correctness" for as long as I've had a political awareness. I went through a neoliberal democrat phase in the 90's where what many denounced as PC simply looked like good manners to me. Don't get me wrong; some of it was just that: the attempts of well-meaning people to navigate a culture permeated with deep-seated privilege and oppressive features. And yet, just as much polite talk is not exceedingly honest, I always had a nagging suspicion that politically correct habits were something more than mere social graces.
So this essay has been a long time coming for me, as I try to figure out where I fit in on the Left. My heart is in the struggle for an egalitarian, enlightened, peaceful world. But I don't consider leftism a religion, and the impulse of many to treat it as such -- to codify and regulate the behavior of people according to its tenets -- too often looks like a movement going through the motions instead of genuinely challenging the human condition. Indeed, my argument is that political correctness, far from being an expression of genuine compassion and anti-bigotry, has transformed into a cosmetic substitute for authentic radicalism legitimating authority and privilege while hampering our efforts to change our condition. The goal of this essay is to start a conversation within the Left about our means, not our ends.
Many on the right assert that elitism is an approach to social problems that recognizes inherent differences in individuals. Elites belong in leadership positions where their natural talents can be used to best benefit society. Most people are not cut out for responsible positions within the social apparatus, according to their argument.
Understood in this narrow sense, I do not find elitism dangerous as an abstract analysis. Indeed, there are a vast variety of competencies inherent in people, whether through their choosing to develop them or whether they come "naturally" (whatever you think that means). That some should gravitate to a place where their talents are best used is not a problem; it is a core purpose around which we associate.
The problems enter in when a mere measurement of talent distribution is expanded into an individual or group identity. Without elitist pretensions, there is no need for a purposeful elevation of the more competent over the less. There is no need for institutional structures that maintain elite predominance. Why go to great lengths to stress differentiation between non-elite and elite if those differences are obvious?
(This article was originally written for ALLiance: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.)
"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal," declared Emma Goldman in a ringing indictment of the feeble mechanism by which the state claims to be restrained and directed. Of course, in invoking this quote anarchists argue against counting upon elections to change the status quo. We aren't going to bring about the voluntary society by listening to politicians, casting votes for them, and pressuring them to abolish their own offices. The statist means and the anarchist ends are clearly opposed.
But there's another argument against voting: that by casting a ballot, one registers endorsement of the state and its violence. Advocates of this argument do not hold that you must have chosen the politician who wields power. They disregard personal intent, interests, and any issues at hand. The argument is quite simple: by participating in the election, one is bound to its results. Given the anarchist view of those results - violence, fraud, and lies - one can only conclude that voting makes one an accessory to the crime.