The 'new McCarthyism.' (Maclean's magazine, political correctness)
In fact the week before Maclean's tackled the topic I received the latest issue of Extra!, the newsletter of the leftish Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. The cover story was titled White Male PhD's: The Media's Favorite Oppressed Minority. The article by Laura Fraser surveyed the media's treatment of "political correctness" in the United States. She summed the various stories up quite neatly: "All the articles are by none-too-liberal men, usually white, defending the traditional academy. In these articles, the PC point of view is described only in caricature, without the kind of depth that might count as 'objectivity' (highly valued among the anti-PCs) or honest intellectual inquiry."
Maclean's must have received its issue of Extra! that same week -- but unfortunately it appears the editors mistook a vigourous critique of lazy journalism for a story proposal. The cover May 27 issue of Canada's weekly newsmagazine bore the frightening headline "THE SILENCERS: 'Politically Correct' Crusaders are Stifling Expression and Behaviour." The cover photograph was of two white academics -- one male, female -- with gags in their mouths.
The series of articles started off with a description of the treatment University of Toronto anthropologist Jeanne Cannizzo was subjected to after charges of racism and insensitivity were levelled against an exhibit on Africa which she had curated at the Royal Ontario Museum. According to the article her classes were disrupted by students who denounced her as a racist and at one point she was chased down the hall by a large male.
The personal persecution of Cannizzo was a disturbing event -- but it says at least as much about the continuing vulnerability of women on campuses and Canadian society in general as it does about "political correctness." Maclean's chose to transform the Cannizzo story, several months old at that point, into a springboard from which to attack a variety of hithertofore unrelated social reform and action movements under the rubric of "political correctness."
As described by Maclean's reporter Tom Fennell "political correctness embraces a number of liberal causes -- from feminism to homosexual and native rights. Their critics say that many of these groups believe that male-dominated Western civilization is the source of almost every evil in society, from violence against women to environmental pollution."
It is a sign of the high-mindedness of Maclean's treatment of this topic that it has to turn to critics of "political correctness" to find out what PC people really believe. Through the course of three articles Maclean's is never able to find anyone who articulates the extreme set of views the magazine attributes to the movement -- despite the fact that "political correctness" is allegedly sweeping the academic world -- a world where every idea is written down and published.
This style of attack has a long and honourable tradition in right-wing circles; take all the people you don't like and even if they have nothing to do with each other accuse them of engaging in a conspiracy. The Canadian government did this when it charged a group of feuding socialist leaders who would not have given each other the time of day with conspiring to organize the 1919 General Strike. The American government pulled the same stunt when it charged the Chicago Eight for plotting the disruption of the 1968 Democratic Convention despite the fact that some of the conspirators had not met.
Before going any further I should note that the Left, and the other social movements lumped in to the PC category, has its own history of sectarian lunacy. There are those associated with these movements who have decidedly situational attitudes towards civil liberties and free speech questions and progressive organizations have indeed self-destructed over questions of "political correctness." But these do not represent the dominant tendencies in any of these movements singled out by Maclean's.
And aside from the treatment of Jeanne Cannizzo Maclean's has been unable to come up with any examples of the advocates of "political correctness" have a serious negative impact on Canadian intellectual life.
Instead the article demonstrates the magazine's underlying conservative bias, blatant disregard and disinterest in facts, and the derivative nature of its reporting -- if this is a story in the US it has to be a story here even in the absence of facts.
It may also serve as a sign of the intellectual shape of things to come -- and if so, the 90s are not going to be pretty. "Political correctness" will in coming years be a convenient phrase for those who wish to dismiss the complaints of women, minorities, environmentalists or radicals. It is a convenient phrase because it allows the right to simultaneously appear to favour free speech while narrowing the range of debate. It is not a backlash but a part of the forward march of the Right from the 80s into the 90s. For these reasons it is worthwhile to examine the duplicitous nature of the Maclean's coverage in detail. (Besides which it makes for jolly good fun.)
In its search for examples of "political correct" activities Maclean's describes how feminists have objected to an Alex Colville painting that was used on a university calendar, how feminists at a Shakespearian conference described Shakespeare as being sexist and racist, and how a variety of people have sought to have Philippe Rushton fired for his racist theorizing. Protesting, criticizing and advocating, that's all these people were doing -- pretty scary stuff, eh.
What are the other signs of growing social fascism? According to Fennell some colleges are introducing courses in "so-called social justice" to replace traditional courses on Western civilization. This brings to mind Gandhi's comment when asked for his views on Western Civilization -- he said he thought it would be a good idea.
Again and again the articles makes generalizations as to what feminists think -- yet only one person, Ottawa academic Greta Hofmann Nemiroff, is given an opportunity to defend the liberalization of the university. She rather germanely pointed out that the balance of power in Canadian society still rests with white males, but this is a point that is never returned to. Elsewhere Michael Bliss, a white male academic whose history of Canadian business was underwritten by Manufacturer's Life Insurance Company, gets away with saying "You are not allowed to sin against ethnic equality. You are not allowed to sin against gender equality." One can only wonder about which planet he lives on. While racist speech is politely disapproved of, Canadian society commits daily sins against women and ethnic minorities. One need only look to the fact that on average women still get 66 cents for every dollar that men earn or to look at the array of hideous statistics that demonstrate the ongoing discrimination that aboriginal people face in our society.
As the article progresses it appears that one of the biggest concerns that opponents of "political correctness" have is with employment equity. University of Alberta philosophy professor Cameron MacKenzie bemoans the fact hiring quotas will tribalize the university -- presumably along gender lines. This once again ignores the existing realities on campus -- the religion deparment of U of A has, according to Maclean's 13 male staff and no women. In reporting this, Maclean's suggests readers should feel sorry for the male academics who will not be hired in this department until gender parity is reached.
At another point Fennell writes that while men still dominate the profession "the sexual balance among university teachers is rapidly changing." Fennell, like Ronald Reagan, must believe that facts are "stupid things," and avoids using them to back up his case. For good reason. In 1969-70, according a study published by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, women accounted for 13 per cent of full-time teachers at Canadian universities. According to a Statistics Canada study this figure had risen to a dizzying 17 per cent by 1985. This, indeed, is rapid change sweeping over the campus.
And while much is made of the Cannizzo case, there is no mention of the existence of on-campus racism and sexism. Here in Winnipeg, for example, the offices of the international and aboriginal student organizations receive racist phone calls and mail.
Playing in the Bush leagues
One of the articles was titled A War of Words and dealt largely with the question of "political correctness" on American campuses. The article suggests that "to praise Western civilization ... is to challenge the informal, unstructured but powerful 'political correctness' movement that has swept over US university campuses."
The first question to ask of course is what evidence is there that this movement has "swept" over university campuses. What sorts of facts, numbers or surveys are cited?
The answer is precious few. The reader is informed that some universities now have affirmative-action hiring programs and that some have codes of conduct for on-campus behaviour. Neither of these is particularly new and they raise a couple of interesting questions -- does Maclean's believe that affirmative action hiring programs represent the "new intolerance"?
The article then quotes American president George Bush, who in a May 4 Commencement Day speech attacked the "political correctness" movement as a threat to free speech. This speech was also approvingly quoted by Maclean's editor Kevin Doyle in his front-of-the-magazine editorial.
It is indeed interesting to see George Bush, a man whose presidential campaign was built around a television ad that incited race hatred, attacking others for intolerance. It is edifying to see the man whose Supreme Court barred the employees of federally funded clinics from mentioning abortion to their patients and prohibited public sector unions from using membership dues to fund political activities, attacking others for trying to place limits on freedom of speech in the US.
During the Gulf War, the US government imposed the strictest press censorship guidelines since the Second World War. The purpose of this censorship was not to protect the lives of US service people but the image of the war: for example when a Detroit Free Press reporter described a jubilant bomber pilot as "giddy" the censor changed the word to "proud" before compromising on "pumped up."
Bush is right on one point however. There is a threat to freedom of speech in the United States these days, but for the most part it does not come from those who Bush is targetting. To return to the question of the Gulf War once more it is useful to remember:
* that Warren Hinkle was banished from the San Francisco Examiner for writing an anti-war column,
* that Dr. Orlando Garcia was fired from his New York City radio talk show for being critical of the American war effort,
* that Jim Bleikamp was suspended from his job as a television talk show host in Columbus, Ohio after he gave a Congress member a rough ride for switching his position on the war, and
* that the editor of the Round Rock, Texas Leader was fired for publishing a Palestinian-American's comments that Bush was the "biggest liar in the United States." To make up for this indiscretion the publisher wrote, "we hope that flag flying from our office and the yellow ribbon on our tree will remove any doubt about our loyalty to the President."
Needless to say there was no discussion of these examples of "political correctness" being enforced on the American people in the Maclean's article. Which is interesting since these all involve the actions of large and powerful corporations -- as opposed to some mythical movement towards "political correctness," and they involve the actual loss of employment.
Maclean's reporter D'arcy Jenish was unable to uncover any central organization of "politically correct" activists and strategists, but he was able to find a body of academics who he says have banded together to fight the movement. The National Association of Scholars claims to have 2,000 members -- a fact which suggests that it is the Right, not the Left, which is becoming organized on American campuses. The association's research director Glenn Ricketts told Maclean's "The politically correct people want to change the entire curriculum. Race and gender have to be integral to every subject. The movement is sinister because of its flat-out totalitarianism."
This is a serious accusation, and one for which Maclean's was not able to discover any substantial evidence. These are the examples of "political correctness" that Maclean's reveals:
* that the office of student affairs at Smith College has distributed a list of "Specific Manifestations of Oppression" that includes "agism" and "lookism." There is no indication in the article that the College imposes any sanctions against people who are judged to be guilty of "agism" or "lookism." One wonders, however, if Maclean's thinks that fighting discrimination on the basis of age is something to be opposed.
* that "critics of the campaign for political correctness say that they have been harassed, intimidated and picketed by blacks, feminists and homosexual activists on some campuses merely for expressing their views." Again no numbers are given. It would have been tonic if Maclean's had mentioned in the same paragraph that a growing number of blacks, women and homosexuals have come under physical attack on American campuses.
* that Thomas Pangle, now a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto was denied tenure at Princeton in the late 1970s for being "too conservative." Unfortunately the article provides no other information to allow the reader to determine if this is true or not. No mention is made in any of the articles of the treatment that David Mandel was subjected to at McGill University, where, in the opinion of the Quebec Human Rights Commission investigator, he was denied a tenure-track appointment because of his left-wing political views.
* that Reynolds Farley withdrew a course in race relations at the University of Michigan after the content of the course was criticized in the student newspaper. The article never examines the question of whether or not the criticisms were valid. Surely Maclean's is not suggesting that student newspapers be forbidden the right to criticize professors -- or do they think student journalists should restrict themselves to writing about the quality of on-campus food services.
* that students studying political theory at Stanford must now read I, Rigoberta Menchu along with The Republic and The Prince. The question that arises here is 'just who is being intolerant?' Aren't those who say that there is a core canon of great works that must be studied -- and Maclean's describes The Prince and The Republic as examples of "great theories on government" -- determining what is correct and what is not? What is so intolerant about making student read a book by, as Maclean's sneeringly puts it, "a Guatemalan peasant woman who became a supporter of socialism and feminism." One could as easily, and glibly, describe Plato and Machiavelli as intellectual hirelings whose works are for the most part apologetics for authoritarianism.
Double standards -- Hilliard
The article also suggests says some of the "new activists" denounce the intellectual and historical foundations of Western thought. The cited example of this is the work of Asa Hilliard, a professor at Georgia State University who contends that -- and I am quoting Maclean's here because I do not know if this is a proper summary of professor Hilliard's work -- "many of the philosophical and scientific advances attributed to the ancient Greeks were actually stolen from the Egyptians." Maclean's then reports that "Egyptologists generally believe that although there were blacks in ancient Egypt, the majority of the population consisted of indigenous Hamitic and Semitic people who eventually mixed with migrants of Arab stock."
This little paragraph is fascinating for a number of reasons. First of all it is the only point in the entire series of articles where an assertion is examined in the light of either available facts or the opinions of others who are considered expert in the field. It is especially interesting to compare the treatment of Hilliard's theories with Maclean's treatment of the theories of Philippe Rushton in the same series of articles.
The University of Western Ontario professor is first referred to in the magazine's editorial, where Kevin Doyle describes Rushton as a professor "who claims to have evidence of links between race, intelligence and sexual behavious." In the lead article it is noted that "Rushton, who has suggested that blacks are inferior in intelligence to other races, is the target of student protestors who want him suspended. Even though many of Rushton's academic colleagues regard his views as objectionable, some defend his right to be heard."
Later in the same article we are told "Rushton has claimed that there is a link between race, intelligence and sexual behavior, and many students and faculty members say he should be removed from the university.... Rushton, who is still conducting his research at Western, claims that on average, Orientals rank highest in intelligence, while whites comes second and blacks last. Although there have been strong demands to dismiss Rushton, Western's [psychology professor Douglas] Jackson said that some staff members have defended Rushton's right to state his views, no matter how objectionable they might be to some people."
In this one issue of the magazine Rushton's case is cited at three different points in the issue. At each point his racist views were recapitulated, and, while it was acknowledged that some people found them offensive, Maclean's made no attempt to dig up any experts to point out that Rushton's work is not only morally objectionable, but academically questionable. Such critics are not that hard to find. In the September 1989 issue of the Canadian Forum, for example, four psychology professors from York University pointed out that "a strong case for investigating Rushton's competence as a scholar could be based on the numerous public claims by his peers that his work is incompetent, that he has misunderstood or misrepresented the studies he uses to support his theory, that he is highly selective in his use of evidence, largely ignoring counter-evidence, and that he violates the standards of scientific investigation. Academic freedom does not protect such incompetence."
In short, when a black scholar suggests that blacks are responsible for "many of the philosophical and scientific advances attributed to the ancient Greeks" (whatever they are) Maclean's makes an effort to debunk his theories and suggest that these views are part of some plot to undermine Western Civilization in the name of political correctness. (Although it escapes me as to how such revelations would undermine a civilization, unless that civilization were based on the principle that black people could never had made such discoveries--which may well be the Maclean's worldview.)
Rushton on the other hand is presented as a disinterested researcher slaving away at the social science beakers and test-tubes who, in the name of disinterested science, has come up to the conclusion that blacks are inferior to whites. And of course like any other disinterested researcher who seeks a rational examination of his opinions he immediately arranges to appear on the Geraldo show.
There are words to describe this sort of double standard.
The new McCarthyism
The critics of "political correctness" appear to be particularly eager to dress themselves up as the victims of "the new McCarthyism." Consider the case of Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom. (In an effort to add prestige to his complaints Maclean's identifies him as "respected author and historian.") In 1987 students made anonymous complaints to the Harvard student newspaper about remarks Thernstrom made during his class on the "Peopling of America."
As a result he decided to stop teaching the course. This makes him, in his mind, a victim of the new McCarthyism, one that he feels "is more frightening that the old McCarthyism, which had no support in the academy."
If Thernstrom's comments on the history of McCarthyism are indicative of his general knowledge of American history, it would be for the best if he simply quit teaching completely. It is a shame Maclean's did not put its famous team of fact checkers onto the case. During the 1950s left-wing professors did not decide to stop teaching courses because students made a few unpleasant comments in the student newspaper. They were fired.
It appears that Thernstrom knows little about the history of his own university during the McCarthy period. In 1953 Harvard president James Conant said that members of the Communist Party were "out of bounds as members of the teaching profession." In October 1957 his successor Dr. Nathan Pusey said that Communists had no right to belong to any university faculty. At the other end of the country in 1961 Thomas Parkinson, a poet and Yeats scholar at Berkeley University was shot in the face at point blank range and his teaching assistant Stephen Thomas was murdered by a man who had read in a right-wing pamphlet that Parkinson was a Communist and a homosexual. Ten years before this grisly incident the University of California dismissed 26 scholars for refusing to sign a loyalty oath.
And these events took place at two of America's most liberal universities. To pretend that McCarthyism had no support in the academy, particularly amongst its most powerful members is to willfully disregard the facts.
The new Puritans
Those who do not see themselves as victims of the "New McCarthyism" however are apparently the targets of the "New Puritans." A separate article is devoted to how "personal habits are under attack." It is perhaps the least coherent and understandable in the series, which is not surprising. The poor reporter was given the task of trying to meld several dozen groups -- anti-smokers, animal rights activists and exercise freaks into one movement.
In a virtually fact-free story, we are told that the "personal habits, beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles of millions of North Americans have come under attack from an expanding legion of special interest groups." The proof -- well there really isn't any, just a lot of opinion, largely from people who don't sound like a barrel of laughs to begin with. George Bain authoritatively tells us, "We really are all messed up in this sort of puritanism and we sure as hell are not having a lot of fun." Desmond Morton says that he senses "a kind of edginess about everybody that is not patient or tolerant anymore of a whole range of things." Dr. Harvey Moldofsky (he's a psychiatrist so he ought to know) informs us that there "has been a polarization in our society."
Martin Laba of Simon Fraser University's Communications Department assures us that moderate people "don't take part in debates that are strident" -- we certainly needed a social scientist to let us in on that shining bit of insight. Dartmouth mayor John Savage warns that "We have lost a sense of tolerance and that disturbs me." And of course national grouch Mordecai Richler, who in the days when he had anything on the ball would have been saying things that would have offended all of the above cited farts, mumbles "Some of the people involved in these movements seem to be humourless and rather dangerous." Just as some people on the Left label everyone they dislike as being fascists, these whiners regularly tag people who they dislike as humourless.
There is some unintentional humour in the article -- in his efforts to try and build up a substantial bogeyman reporter Rae Corelli says, apparently with a straight face, that the American National Boycott News has managed to stir up "broad support among [its] 7,000 readers." Seven thousand out of a population over over 200 million? We all best shake and quiver. Corelli then tells of how the National Institute of Health had to fight a ten year court battle with animal rights groups before it could kill two terminally ill animals. And just how did the animals live for ten years if they were terminally ill?
In the three page article on the new puritanism Maclean's was unable to find a single puritan to be interviewed -- a phenomenal accomplishment give that there are supposed to thousands of these "social fascists" wandering the streets spraying fur coats and boycotting anything advertised on television (actually that is my personal code).
Most of the article championed the case of University of Toronto political scientist Jack McLeod who is running afoul of the campus anti-smoking laws. McLeod wants to know why he does not have any rights when it comes to using "a perfectly legal and advertised substance."
This sentence brought to mind a Maclean's cover story from the fall of 1986. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had just announced that he was going to lead a campaign against Canada's drug "epidemic." Maclean's hurriedly threw itself on the bandwagon and produced "A Crusade: The battle to end the spread of killer drugs in Canada." This cover story was a predictable mixture -- the story of a man whose life had been ruined by drugs, a Miami Viceish feature on police efforts to keep drugs out of the country and a look at the New York crack phenomenon.
Kevin Doyle must have donned his most puritanical garb to write that week's editorial. After setting up the stocks he took his feathered quill in hand and noted that some people argue that "when there is no victim, there cannot be a crime." He disagreed and lauded Mulroney's decision to crackdown on illegal drugs (a crackdown which was largely rhetorical). Doyle said that there were victims to drug use. "They are the families and friends who suffer the often violent abuse of addicted users. They are also the unsuspecting victims of the random and sickening violence so often inspired by drugs."
Doyle and Maclean's were not being completely puritanical. For example, only one paragraph in the entire cover package was devoted to the most deadly and dangerous drug on the Canadian market -- alcohol. Which is not surprising -- the issue of Maclean's which announced the crackdown on killer drugs contained four full page booze ads. One assumes that those people who are beat up and murdered by drunks, those people who are run down by drunks, and those people whose lives are ruined by drunks are not victims and therefore there need be no crackdown on alcohol since that in fact would be a humourless assault on people's personal habits.
Welcome to the Old Hypocrisy. It is still in fine shape.
Winnipeg writer-broadcaster Doug Smith contributes regularly to Canadian Dimension.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 1991|
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