Political Correctness vs. Civility

Rust belt philosopher (Eli Horowitz) doesn’t care for Stella Morabito’s “Dissecting Political Correctness” (Public Discourse, August 13, 2013). Here’s Horowitz’s commentary, in full:

Stella Morabito may be on the wrong side, but she’s not wrong just because she’s on the wrong side. So to speak.

“Victory in the war of ideas often hinges more on the conditions of battle than on the quality of arguments. You know this instinctively if you’ve ever been shouted down, smeared, or ignored when you were simply trying to state a point. Truly civil public discourse becomes much harder when our dialogue is hijacked by thought policing—euphemistically referred to as ‘political correctness,’ or PC.Political correctness has cultivated an illusion of support for laws that undermine fundamental institutions of society, including marriage and family. The only way to dispel this illusion, and to reverse the damage these laws will do, is to revive true civil discourse.”

Morabito’s tiresome bigotry aside, she describes in this article the idea of “an opinion cascade,” which (loosely) is the thing that happens when an idea achieves such memetic dominance that it is protected and promoted within a given group by the sorts of mechanisms that she describes (i.e., stigma, media endorsements, etc.); in short, a cascade is a thing that shifts “the conditions of battle.” You might think, given that description and the paragraphs above, that she was opposed to such cascades altogether. After all, she says that these cascades are at least sometimes incompatible with “truly civil public discourse,” which she takes to be a good and even a necessary thing. Yet the fact of the matter is quite the opposite: she likes cascades, just so long as they benefit her side.

“If enough people come out of isolation and shed the fear of speaking their minds, a genuine cascade of truth will ensue. Then civil society can be rebuilt, and real public discourse based on reason and logic can flourish.”

Clearly, this is unforgivably stupid. She begins by claiming that civil discourse cannot happen when people are “shouted down, smeared, or ignored,” and that’s absolutely correct. She also says that opinion cascades establish those forms of stigma, and that’s also correct. Put these two facts together and you’ll easily conclude that no cascade can be compatible with civil discourse, because every cascade will include the construction of new conversational stigmas. Pretty straightforward, right? Except then, at the end, Morabito fucks it up: her cascades, she says, allow civil discourse to flourish. Alas, that’s bullshit: the right cascades are the ones that establish the proper stigmas (among other criteria), and the proper stigmas do not stop being stigmas just because they’re proper.

Morabito’s main point seems to elude Horowitz. Morabito — perhaps not clearly enough — equates “opinion cascades” with “manufactured cascades,” and these are not the same as the social norms that manufactured cascades are meant to overturn. Long-standing norms are not manufactured cascades. As Edward Feser explains in “Hayek and Tradition,”

[t]radition, being nothing other than the distillation of centuries of human experience, itself provides the surest guide to determining the most rational course of action. Far from being opposed to reason, reason is inseparable from tradition, and blind without it. The so-called enlightened mind thrusts tradition aside, hoping to find something more solid on which to make its stand, but there is nothing else, no alternative to the hard earth of human experience….

Liberty and happiness cannot be found in the abstract; they must be found in the real world, among real people. There is no escaping the fact that the attainment of something like liberty and happiness requires the acceptance of — and compliance with — some social norms that one may find personally distasteful if not oppressive.

The knee-jerk libertarian and “liberal” will say, for example, that abortion and same-sex marriage are consistent with and required by liberty. But they are not. They are steps down a slippery slope toward the further loss of liberty, just as the “progressivism” of the Roosevelts nudged and pushed us down a slippery slope toward the regulatory-welfare state in which we are now mired.

Libertarians and “liberals” seem willing to credit is the possibility that abortion is of a piece with selective breeding and involuntary euthanasia, wherein the state fosters eugenic practices that aren’t far removed from those of the Third Reich. And when those practices become the norm, what and who will be next? Libertarians, of all people, should be alert to such possibilities. Instead of reflexively embracing “choice” they should be asking whether “choice” will end with fetuses.

The same principle applies to same-sex marriage; it will have consequences that most libertarians are unwilling to consider. Although it’s true that traditional, heterosexual unions have their problems, those problems have been made worse, not better, by the intercession of the state. (The loosening of divorce laws, for example, signaled that marriage was to be taken less seriously, and so it has been.) Nevertheless, the state — in its usual perverse wisdom — may create new problems for society by legitimating same-sex marriage, thus signaling that traditional marriage is just another contractual arrangement in which any combination of persons may participate. Heterosexual marriage — as Jennifer Roback Morse explains — is a primary and irreplicable civilizing force. The recognition of homosexual marriage by the state will undermine that civilizing force. The state will be saying, in effect, “Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer — above all — will “pick up the pieces.” And so it will go.

In sum, Morabito doesn’t f*** it up. She defends civilizing social norms against organized and virulent campaigns to overthrow them. (For a closer look at those campaigns and their essential dishonesty, see this and the third item in this post.)

Moreover, Horowitz’s language underscores Morabito’s point about the incivility of politically correct discourse. Morabito makes a polite case against the strident language of political correctness. Horowitz not only attacks Morabito’s argument (and gets it wrong), but also resorts to “tiresome bigotry,” “unforgivably stupid,” “fucks it up,” and “bullshit.” As if to prove Morabito’s charge, Horowitz commits a written version of “shouting down” and “smearing.”

Related posts:
I Missed This One
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The Marriage Contract
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Consider the Children
Marriage and Children
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Social Norms and Liberty
A Footnote about Liberty and the Social Compact
Finding Liberty
The Harm Principle
Footnotes to “The Harm Principle”
The Harm Principle, Again
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
On Liberty
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
In Defense of Marriage
Not-So-Random Thoughts (IV) (third item)
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?