The Spark 11 November 2005
For the first time since the 1940s National have lost their third election in a row. These losers needed to pull something out of the bag. Party leader Don Brash’s answer was to appoint National MP Wayne Mapp as party spokesperson for ‘Political Correctness Eradication’. National however are unlikely to get much political mileage out of their new ‘eradicator’.
When asked about the new position on National Radio Brash claimed Mapp had made a speech about political correctness four months earlier and he liked what he heard. On further questioning however Dr Brash couldn’t remember what Wayne Mapp had actually said in his speech. The closest Wayne Mapp has come to a definition of political correctness is “a set of attitudes and beliefs that are divorced from mainstream values”. This vague waffle goes nowhere towards defining what PC is, and clearly is nothing more than empty rhetoric.
Today political correctness is basically a term given to forms of social control used by modern liberals. According to Phil Ferguson “It’s one which is relevant to the kind of fragmented society produced by the neo-liberal reforms and the breakdown of old class solidarities and their replacement by atomised individuals and identities.”
While political correctness was initially employed to mean avoidance of racist sexist language and replacement with of that language with neutral terminology, and sensitivity to different cultural practices, and insistence on correct pronunciation of te reo Maori, this agenda was sometimes imposed officiously. What sometimes happened was replacement expressions resulted in clumsy sounding formulations, though the intent was progressive.
As identity politics developed several dynamics came into play. For example, some Maori were accorded a large amount of ceremonial room in official institutions. This was welcomed by the minority of Maori careerists who benefited from it. It was encouraged by enlightened bureaucrats, who had co-opted a handy layer of allies and at the same time had cheaply disposed of the real problems of Maori oppression by empty tokenism.
One consequence of that is the ossification of ‘The Treaty’ into a sort of password required to enter various official doors. That sort of thing is undeniably social control, and described by some, although not the controllers, as political correctness.
Another different shade of meaning to political correctness can be seen in a particularly censorious current of the international publishing business. US publishers of children’s literature purchase a certain amount of material from freelance New Zealand writers. These publishers will not accept copy with any reference to race, religion, alcohol, crime, drugs, magic, social or economic clashes - and yet expect us to provide them with interesting stories!
This whiteout of almost all the contradictions that make up human life is described by some of the contributors as political correctness. It is a form of social control, but could hardly be described as a modern liberal outlook.
The most prevalent use of the term PC these days is in the context of a sort of self granted licence for chauvinism. I refer to the situation where an amateur or professional comedian makes his entrance with something like: “Well, if there’s any PC wankers here tonight they won’t like this one! Ok, let’s get going - these two fat Jewish lesbians went into a bar….”
The earlier form of social control was the old conservative type. This is the social controls which use to force women out of men-only spaces, forces school students into uniforms, enforcing conservative gender roles and claiming homosexuality is immoral. When ACA member Paul Hopkinson burnt the New Zealand flag at a political protest the old guard conservatives called the police. By contrast liberal PC is more often control by social pressure, and is suitably vague so making it hard to define and oppose.
Whereas in the past conservative control was overtly racist, today’s liberal PC policies towards Maori gives the appearance of being more tolerant and inclusive. In reality the majority of Maori have got nothing out of 20 years of Treaty settlements and have become poorer as a result of Rogernomic’s economic policies. Whilst this modern PC towards Maori is what National has openly attacked, it was National in government the 1990s that set up much of today’s race-based funding programmes.
What has tended to annoy conservative politicians in National is that their old style social control of old school ties and boys clubs is losing out to the more modern liberal PC. Modern PC has adapted to the various social changes of the last few decades and has found new ways to introduce social control. Conservatives can then play on resentment and opposition to liberal PC that many workers have; resentment that has grown as PC has been used as a form of control in the workforce. Whilst this often comes in the guise of positive things such as stopping sexual harassment in the workforce, in practice it often means giving management and supervisors more power. By contrast the ACA see sexual harassment as something that is better resolved by the union and fellow workers and not involving management.
Political correctness also involves a considerable religious aspect. It is common these days for government departments and even for union bureaucrats to insist on saying prayers or grace in Maori. Wayne Mapp has used this as one of the things he wants to attack. When asked if he opposed the speaker saying the Lords Prayer in parliament he said he supported it being said. This shows the hypocrisy of National and the old right, who oppose religion in Maori but not in English. Whereas liberal PCers would probably object to prayers or grace being said in English, they find it acceptable if it’s said in Maori or a Pacific language. This shows the hypocrisy of both types of social control. By contrast the ACA believes the bourgeois state should be secular, so too public meetings. Religion should not be imposed upon others – whatever language its spoken in.
There is differing opinion within the ACA as to whether Political Correctness is a useful term. Some members believe the term is flawed and its meaning has altered several times. Furthermore PC is now a term used as a political weapon by the right. Others believe the term is useful, as it is a description of something that actually has been created by the modern right (though it often attacks its own creation for political gain).
However it is clear that National’s attempt to appear anti-PC is nothing more than a cheap political stunt. In all likelihood National in government would use liberal PC just as much as Labour does, as National did in the 1990s. In trying to gain support and relevance after 6 years in opposition, this latest move has made National look pretty silly.