Goldberg Gets Sucker-Punched

Friday, April 20, 2007

At Jewish World Review is a fascinating example of someone falling for a sucker punch even though he clearly knows that something is amiss. Jonah Goldberg, discussing the sequelae of Don Imus's now-famous two-and-a-half word description of a women's basketball team, considers a serious question about multiculturalism (aka, "political correctness"):

[I]f PC is the Orwellian imposition so many conservatives claim it is, Americans would reject it the way they resisted other alien impositions, such as the metric system, bidets or David Hasselhoff's Germanic personality cult. [i.e., "Why haven't we rejected multiculturalism." --ed]

The reality is that much of political correctness -- the successful part -- is a necessary attempt to redefine good manners in a sexually and racially integrated society. Good manners are simply those things you do to demonstrate respect to others and contribute to social decorum. Aren't conservatives the natural defenders of proper manners?


PC's problems become even more acute when the left insists on smuggling larger agendas into what should be a polite conversation about what constitutes politeness. [bold added]
The paragraph I left out is perhaps the most interesting, but it would be distracting to bring it in without a proper introduction.

After the above excerpt, if the whole notion of "political correctness" did not already strike someone familiar with the philosophy of Ayn Rand as an example of what she called a "package deal", such a person would likely find the possibility that it is worth some serious thought.

Since I've blogged about "package deals" before, I'll quote from that previous entry (but follow the link for another example):
From a footnote by Leonard Peikoff to Ayn Rand's essay "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made", in Philosophy: Who Needs It:
"Package-dealing" is the fallacy of failing to discriminate crucial differences. It consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or "package," elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance, or value.
Ayn Rand elaborates further in "How to Read (and Not to Write)" in The Ayn Rand Letter (I,26,3). "[Package-dealing employs] the shabby old gimmick of equating opposites by substituting nonessentials for their essential characteristics."
With this in mind, it is clear that a package deal causes confusion between or among its disparate constituents. Furthermore, it is fairly straightforward that Goldberg's description of political correctness is, in fact, a description of a package deal combining etiquette with an egalitarian political agenda. From the larger context, it is also clear that "discrimination against white males" is also often included in the package.

Armed with the knowledge of what constitutes a package deal, it becomes very easy to explain why America has not rejected multiculturalism outright as it has other (more obviously) bad ideas. First, there is a real need to consider the questions of etiquette that Goldberg brings up. Second, given America's unfortunate past mistake of enforcing the brutality of racism by rule of law (and need to correct the error by changing such laws) and its mistaken acceptance of the premise that the law has purposes other than simply protecting individual rights, most Americans have a hard time putting their finger on why we should not forbid certain kinds of rude behavior by law. Our culture provided ample opportunity for someone to come along and capitalize on the latter confusion during a national conversation about the former valid concern.

But it is probably safe to say that Goldberg does not know what a package deal is, so he falls right into the tar-pit right in between considering the two halves of the 'deal. Here's what I left out from the above:
Remember that D.C. bureaucrat who lost his job for using the word "niggardly" correctly in a sentence? That was outrageous overkill, but I don't know that many well-mannered white people who would use "niggardly" in a room full of black people either, for fear of offending. The problem with political correctness resides in the demand that new manners be created from scratch, which is bound to turn people off. I mean, did we really need to replace "old" with "senior" or purge "Dutch treat" from the vernacular? [bold added]
First off, to claim that creating new manners from scratch is "the problem" is grasping at straws. Otherwise, where did all our old conventions of etiquette come from? (Having said this, we don't have to start completely from scratch, either.) More importantly, though, note that Goldberg's confusion leads him to call an outrageous injustice -- depriving a man of his livelihood in order to serve him up as an example, and pandering to the ignorant in the process -- "overkill".

I have no problem with the idea of an employer terminating someone for rudeness, but a fundamental principle of etiquette is that context be taken into account. Using a single word out of context as an excuse to fire someone is not proper etiquette. It is, however, unarguably an example of "political correctness". This man was unjustly treated like a racist, and etiquette, of all things, was used as the excuse to do so.

Goldberg ends his column saying that America needs to "talk about how we should talk". I fully agree with him there. Not to scold Goldberg, but obviously, the first place we need to start is by becoming much more clear about the meanings of the words we use. Without doing this, even an honest effort, such as his can suffer.

Had Goldberg been aware of the fallacy of the package deal, his own conception of political correctness would have been more accurate, he would have been in a better position to finger those who willfully perpetuate that fraud, and he would have been better able to clarify things for the legions of PC's well-intentioned but hoodwinked supporters.

-- CAV

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