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.
I am a long-time and enthusiastic supporter of the Center for a Stateless Society. Its steadfast advocacy for a society free of privilege has been both heroic and unique. One of the aspects I find most compelling is the sense in which it has popularized left libertarian ideas in the wider leftist movement, including all kinds of anarchists, socialists, communists, anarcho-syndicalists, greens, and other radicals. Indeed, many of us have become involved with a wider circle of friends, comrades and collaborators than we ever could by clinging to more conventional libertarianism.
So the revelation that C4SS staff member Stacy Litz served as a police informant for months comes as quite a shock to all of us. She is responsible for snitching on several of her fellow libertarians to escape jail time. The extent to which she attempted to mitigate the harm of her actions is unclear. None of us know for certain what we would do in her situation, and we can all have compassion for the horrible dilemna in which this person was placed -- even as we regret and condemn what she chose to do.
The Center released a statement reflecting the decision to non-judgmentally but resolutely remove Stacy from her position. The debate that brought about that decision was very contentious. Some members pushed to keep her, arguing that cutting anybody the state flips sends two messages: (A) if you make a mistake, you cannot rehabilitate yourself, and (B) the state has only to flip people to break our movement. Theories were advanced that we somehow throw this back in the government's face and turn it into some kind of PR coup. We're not going to let the state tell us who we can and can't work with!
Hey, anarchists, or really any reader who believes passionately in your political ideals for changing this world: depart with me on a thought experiment.
Your revolution succeeds. Through whatever means you think it possible, your fellow ________s have defeated the authoritarian/fascist/totalitarian forces and are ascendant. You, of course, know that your side will not rule in the same ruthless manner your enemy did.
Now what do you do with all these enemies whom you haven't killed or converted yet? The same beliefs that motivated them to oppose you in the past are likely not to be simply cast aside. After all, you didn't cast yours aside when you were out of power. As somebody experienced with dissidence, you know all too well that such people can take a long term view of their agenda and undermine the society you want to build in countless subtle ways.
You know, when FOX reports that a majority of Americans oppose Obama's health care reform, liberals complain that the numbers are being manipulated. FOX is lying.
When FOX reports on the Tea Party protests, liberals complain that they are manufacturing a movement. FOX is lying.
But when FOX shows footage of these protesters as stupid, inarticulate, crude, violent, white trash rednecks, suddenly FOX news is totally credible.