October 18, 2005
The evolution of political correctness
I think it's fair to say that as the term is ordinarily used by leftists, I'm very far from being "politically correct." (Most people who know me -- especially liberals -- considered me to be a rather extreme and irreverent specimen of politically incorrectness.)
But I am starting to see clear evidence that even these terms are losing their meaning.
Bear in mind that the term "politically correct" once referred to left wing party line thinking, and more recently as a backlash against it.
Here's a brief history of the term:
Use of the term became popular in the early 1990s as part of a conservative challenge to curriculum and teaching methods on college campuses in the United States (D'Souza 1991; Berman 1992; Schultz 1993; Messer Davidow 1993, 1994; Scatamburlo 1998.) The word was taken from Marxist-Leninist vocabulary following the Russian revolution, when it was used to describe the Party Line.But now I see "political correctness" being used to describe evolution -- with political incorrectness being used to describe opposition to evolution. A new book by evolution opponent Tom Bethell -- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science -- does just that. Among the book's points highlighted in the ad:
I don't doubt that many advocates of evolution use tactics bordering on out and out Stalinism, but that doesn't make evolution a form of political correctness. Nor does the theory of life arising from primordial soup -- regardless of whether it's called a "philosophy" (something I don't think it is, regardless of its truth). As to Darwin's beliefs, Bethell makes much of a letter he wrote expressing horror over the supposedly Christian doctrine that non-believers would be punished eternally. What that has to do with evolutionary theory or how it renders it politically correct escapes me.
Elsewhere, Bethell has elucidated his views on evolution, but without devoting much time to refuting Darwinian theory itself. Instead, he sets forth arguments against what he deems the harmful social consequences of Darwinian theory:
If the Neo-Darwinian claim is true and all creatures great and small are here on earth as a result of a long chain of improbable accidents, then we have little reason to believe that God exists or that life has any meaning whatever.He sounds frightened not so much by evolution as by what it represents to his own way of thinking:
Our reasons for believing in God in the first place are derived from our own consciousness and being, from our powers of reason and our appreciation of the beauty, design and purpose that are so evidently built into the world around us. But if all of these things arose by blind chance, as so many scientists in the last hundred years have claimed that they did, what reason was there for believing in God in the first place? Very little, as far as I can see. If the blind interplay of forces (as it was sometimes called) could account for everything, what need was there for any heavenly or spiritual hypothesis?These are not arguments against evolution at all, but Bethell's own assertions that evolution is fatal to any belief in God. I disagree with him, although I'd note (quite ironically) that many atheists would agree with him, and many do misuse evolution to their own ends. Many don't, however. And regarding morality, the following remark would preclude atheists from having any at all:
If God does not exist - and most Darwinians believe that He does not - then anything that is mechanically possible becomes morally permissible.By his view, all moral restraint comes from a belief in God -- a logical fallacy too absurd to require extensive comment. (Except to those believing in the circular argument that all non-believers are evil because all non-belief is evil.) And again, an argument having nothing to do with the validity of a scientific theory.
None of this is to suggest that there aren't things like major gaps in the fossil record, and a number of particular instances where scientists got it wrong. Nor do I suggest that there isn't such a thing as politically correct science. But calling evolution itself politically correct would seem to torture the whole idea of political correctness.
You want genuine politically correct science? Try Stalinist genetics!
At the risk of sounding like a flaming liberal, there's something about a claim which places H.L. Mencken into the politically correct camp which doesn't pass my smell test -- any more than it would to label William Jennings Bryan (or Savonarola, for that matter) "politically incorrect" .
And if Mencken is to be PC, what about Galileo? Is the Inquisition, then, "politically incorrect"?
Parenthetically, in the Intelligent Design debate, the irony has (according to liberal William Saletan) been compounded by the fact that the ID crowd had already committed the politically correct sin of conceding geologic time (presumably an evolutionary domino which will lead to the anti-evolutionists' undoing):
Essentially, ID proponents are gambling that they can concede evolutionist earth science without conceding evolutionist life science. But they can't. They already acknowledge microevolution—mutation and natural selection within a species. Once you accept conventional fossil dating and four billion years of life, the sequential kinship of species loses its implausibility. You can't fall back on the Bible; you've already admitted it can't always be taken literally. All you're left with is an assortment of gaps in evolutionary theory—how did DNA emerge, what happened between this and that fossil—and the vague default assumption that an "intelligence" might fill in those gaps. Calvert and Harris call this assumption a big tent. But guess what happens to a tent without poles.I guess we'll see.
But the point here is not whether evolutionary theory is right, or how right it is in all its particulars. Any arguments which can be made against evolution should be made, because it's the nature of scientific theory to be tested. That is how knowledge itself, um, evolves.
What I don't like is seeing labels like "politically incorrect" being used to describe moralistic arguments being used where they don't belong. Whatever the flaws of conventional Darwinian theory, calling it "PC" makes about as much sense as saying it's wrong because it undermines "authority." (And that the need for latter justifies belief in God.)
Pretty soon, "politically correct" will have no meaning.
And that's a paradox. That's because it's already "politically correct" for words and expressions to have no meaning (which means it has no meaning to have no meaning).
Political incorrectness is thus politically correct.
Evolution is Creation!
God has evolved!
posted by Eric on 10.18.05 at 08:08 PM
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» "Politically Correct" a now meaningless term? from The Radical Centrist
Wonderful post from Eric Scheie at Classical Values. Ostensibly its about the how the term :Politically Correct: has been tossed about so as to become meaningless. In truth the post is also much about Intelligent Design which I would normally [Read More] Tracked on October 19, 2005 3:00 AM
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