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By Jason Michael
Political Correctness is not a simple case of being polite and inoffensive. It is a weapon of power that acts to silence dissent from the ideas and ideologies of those in power. Right now it is being deployed within the independence movement.
This one I’ve saved for a Friday night, to be released into the wild of social media Saturday morning in the hope it doesn’t get as much traction as a primetime publication might. The toxic fallout in the aftermath of the slew of criticism of Yes East Kilbride’s recent all-male panel fired up in me a desire to say something that has been boiling up for a while; something I have been self-censoring for a good long while. I am, of course, talking here of political correctness and, more broadly, the uncritically accepted and almost unassailable narrative of the new left. Seeing as this already reads like the preamble to a right-wing rant, I need to make something clear.
By no means would I describe myself as being on the political right. While my politico-philosophical thinking often tends towards some form of anarchism, I self-identify as a leftist; not a “leftie” and not a “radical” – a leftist. In terms of my left positioning my leanings are informed primarily by thinkers like Antonio Gramsci and Slavoj Žižek, and with them I am deeply suspicious of hegemony and the effort on the part of anyone in any sort of power to control the narrative; the discourse and its content.
"Political correctness is just a form of verbal gentrification." -Zizek-—
Weaponized Nerd Rage (@WeaponizedRage) August 17, 2017
When I find myself holding my tongue, especially on a subject as important as I believe this to be, alarm bells start to ring in my head. Self-censorship in this case comes from the anxiety produced by the fear of upsetting the leaders and of being seen to contradict the dominant ideology of the independence movement. This is hegemony in action, the self-policing we are all subject to as a result of the various power relationships of the movement. This is the same in any social or political movement. This is also how the discourse is effectively controlled. So this troubles me. This structure, more at home in authoritarian or fascistic movements, has shown that it can be oppressive, and I have decided to speak out.
Last week the organisers of Yes East Kilbride came under some harsh criticism for breaking an unwritten rule, a rule only known – apparently – to those people widely accepted to be the leaders and thought-leaders of the independence movement. David Hooks (@PoliticsScot on Twitter), who participated in the event, took it upon himself to publically defend Yes East Kilbride from its critics and quickly found himself at the sharp edge of this ruling opinion.
Whether or not it is right and acceptable for panel’s to be constituted only of men is not a question that interests me here. What I am interested in, however, is the unwillingness on the part of those defending the ruling opinion – which at times can even be the minority opinion – to tolerate any form of dissent. This is the essence of what we mean when we use the term political correctness. Dissent or opinion deviating from the prevailing ideology is politically incorrect, and therefore subject to censure and attack. Whatever this is, it is not – and not that I like the term – “progressive.” Censure and intolerance are anything but progressive.
Some will argue that political correctness is merely politeness, not unnecessarily antagonising others or causing offense. They are wrong. Sure, common courtesy is part of it and of course a good thing. No one deserves to be subjected to any kind of prejudiced abuse, but to limit our definition of political correctness to this is reductionist and harmful.
On the surface, according to what we might describe – for lack of a better term – as the Edinburgh consensus, the independence movement in Scotland is left-to-radical-left of centre, progressive, and inclusive. Any opinion diverging from this is unorthodox. It is politically incorrect. This would explain why, for example, some of the leading voices of the movement – Stuart Campbell, GA Ponsonby, and Peter Bell – have been excluded from the workings of the Scottish Independence Convention. They are heterodox and therefore politically incorrect.
An example of this ruling opinion, given the ruckus over the Yes East Kilbride event, is the predominant school of feminism quite actually being imposed on the whole movement. We must remember that feminism itself is a broad movement and set of ideas. Even within the Third Wave there are widely differing positions. On the one hand there are feminists who argue the point that the purchase of sex is always rape, and on the other there is the case now supported by Amnesty International that women have a right to prostitute themselves as a means of escaping poverty. To accept both of these feminist stances is to defend the notion that women have a right to choose to be raped. This is inconsistent as these positions are mutually exclusive. Both can be wrong, but it is not possible for them both to be correct.
Guys – how many of you are afraid to walk home alone at night because of women? twitter.com/jjashton17/sta…—
Vonny Leclerc (@vonny_bravo) November 30, 2017
Likewise, an equally inconsistent feminism has become part of the ruling ideology of the Yes movement. In fact Vonny Leclerc (formerly Moyes) provided us with an example of this yesterday on social media. I don’t know Vonny, and I am certainly not pulling out this particular example as an attack. This is simply one of many such examples we can find online. Vonny asked on Twitter, “how many of you [guys] are afraid to walk home alone at night because of women?”
Her premise was of course the assumption that “male violence” is a threat to women, and – by extension – that men are not subject to this same violence. It is true, and we can agree with Linda Bellos that:
For hundreds of years, gender has functioned as a hierarchy that puts men at the top and women at the bottom. Gender is the reason one in three women in this world will experience male violence within her lifetime. Gender roles are the pillars of patriarchy.
But Bellos here exposes the contradiction of Leclerc’s rhetorical question qua statement. If it is true that “gender roles are the pillars of patriarchy” – which I believe to be the case – then Leclerc’s ascription to men a set masculine gender role – as the one not afraid to walk home at night because of women – is deeply problematic and contradictory. While I assume she means sexual violence here; in which case it is true the overwhelming majority of random sexual attacks are perpetrated by men on women, it remains categorically untrue that women cannot pose a threat to men.
Having been myself a victim of a random physical attack by a female on the street at night, I know this to be the case. Okay, I survived. I was not seriously hurt. The young woman in question was no match for me, and she was easily overpowered and escaped. But we also know this is not always the outcome. News reports and social media are littered with examples of girls and women assaulting men and causing serious harm, and some of these men are traumatised to the point of being afraid to leave their homes for fear of women.
Leclerc’s implied assumption that this is not the case is no different from the “man up” school of thought, ascribing to men a clearly defined gender role. Men can be and are often the victims of violence perpetrated by both men and women. Some men are even afraid to go home at night “because of women.”
What this leads me to conclude is that the woman-as-victim and man-as- aggressor/fearless is a false dichotomy, and yet to challenge it has become heresy. In challenging it, however, we quickly perceive the weakness in the very notion of a patriarchy. This construct of a patriarchy, as I will happy concede to Bellos and Leclerc, is a reality. “For hundreds of years,” it is true, “gender has functioned as a hierarchy that puts men at the top and women at the bottom.” But when we add to this the seemingly contradictory fluidity of gender and the individual experiences of women and men, we are forced to accept at least the possibility that patriarchy is not so much the cause as it is itself a symptom or a facet of a greater problem – hegemony.
Something of this same hegemony is then in operation when I and others are pressured to self-censor and remain quiet rather than voice our concerns, for fear of being politically incorrect. Here I have been most politically incorrect in questioning the right of some to define the politics of our movement and more so in criticising the idea of patriarchy as the priority of struggle. I may be entirely misguided and wrong, and I am more than willing to accept that possibility, but I must also have the freedom to be intellectually honest. That is precisely what I am doing, and I would welcome discussion on this – for this is my point: We must not acquiesce to any pressure from outwith or from within our movement to supress our thoughts and opinions. That would be the supreme contraction of the idea of independence.
Our movement is not a leftist movement. It is a national movement embracing people and ideas from the entirety of the political and social spectra of Scotland. Our failure to realise this – and become truly inclusive – will be the death of the movement and indeed our dream of independence. Whatever shape the politics of Scotland takes after independence is a matter for then. Right now we must be authentically revolutionary and mobilise the nation – the whole nation – to the ends of the revolution. Without independence all other agendas and causes are stuck right where they are; under London rule.
Slavoj Žižek: Political Correctness is a Dangerous Form of Totalitarianism