A wealth of ideas rushed through my mind the other day as I was watching the production of Nineteen Eighty Four starring Richard Burton and John Hurt, which was released, by no coincidence, in 1984. Like Orwell’s novel, the film emphasizes the use of factual distortions to strengthen political domination, in this case that of Big Brother. In order to keep his subjects behind him in a shifting alliance system characterized by constant warfare all over the Earth, Big Brother empowers propaganda squads to remove “unwords” from conversation and to make the public believe that their current allies were always their friends.
The most interesting part of this plot for me is Orwell’s depiction of the steady purging of “politically incorrect” terms and beliefs. This process is now going on throughout the Western world—with a fury. What we live in today has got to be one of the most servile and crassly hypocritical cultures in the history of Western civilization. As my friend John Frary, who used to publish a satirical magazine mocking PC, pointed out to me about 20 years ago, one could not parody what is even more grotesque than what the satirist is mocking. And John said that well before there were such yap-yap terms as “African-Americans,” “servers” and “gay communities.”
PC is a political religion, to be sure, but the film adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four made me aware of one critical difference between traditional Christian theology, be it Catholic or Protestant, and the gibberish-laden belief system that now characterizes the Western world. Believing, for example, in the Trinity or the Incarnation does not require someone to deny perceived reality as soon as social or managerial pressure is brought to bear. Accepting the existence of a triune Deity or the idea that a supreme intelligence formed the world is not the same as denying empirical reality for the sake of an evolving (or devolving) party line.
About two years ago, I learned while listening to CNN that sex and race are social constructs and that black women are at particular risk for certain diseases. There is no way I could accept both of these statements without having to embrace a total contradiction. I have also learned from reading papers and speaking to academically successful intellectuals that black males are no more prone than white ones to commit violent acts. We simply imagine the opposite because black crimes are supposedly more widely reported than white ones. In a televised discussion I took part in one time, the dean of “minority affairs” at my college (who later went on to hold the same position at an Ivy League institution) informed me that whites actually commit a higher proportion of violent crime, even relative to their numbers, than blacks or Hispanics. Our beloved dean insisted that the U.S. Bureau of Statistics had cooked up figures to put the “black community” in a bad light. I have also learned from my colleagues that only white, Western Christian societies are to be condemned for slavery, the maintenance of gender roles, and homophobia. Other societies only appear to be engaging in these practices—or else they had these practices inflicted on them by Western imperialists. One or the other.
I’ve also learned from watching television and listening to academics that genes play no role in the success or failure of societies. Such best-selling authorities on this subject as the anthropologist Jared Diamond assure us that only racists would bring up the matter of differential intelligence among various groups. It just so happens that those ethnic groups that seem to exhibit the highest intelligence were fortunate enough to settle in nice geographically advantageous regions (except when they didn’t), while those who score low on intelligence tests were stuck for millennia in cruddy areas (except when they weren’t). Unfortunately for those who deny the obvious, genetics is a science (as opposed to a pseudo-science riddled with ideological presumptions); and the science of genetics (as opposed to Lysenkoist agitprop) reveals significant inherited differences among ethnic groups. Cognitive and motor abilities are among them.
The other aspect of this proclamation of untruth and the listing of “unwords” is that most people accept public orthodoxies out of timidity or lack of reflection. Outside of journalistic and academic elites, adherents of PC don’t seem to show much conviction or consistency of belief. Some of our college students, who are mostly studying social work and primary education, deplore the paucity of inner-city blacks at our institution, even they and their parents selected our lily-white college precisely for its lily-white learning environment. The academics I speak to understand that certain neighborhoods are to be avoided for safety reasons, although the explanation for the high incidence of crime in these places is that “poor people live there.” I like to remind my interlocutors that those of us who grew up in the 1950s had fewer material amenities than those “poor people” whose violence and messiness intellectuals are excusing.
I also suspect that those of a certain age have at least some memory of a list of heroes and victims that is different from the one now in vogue. Until fairly recently Columbus was a genuine hero, and particularly among Italian Americans, buffs of the age of exploration, and collectors of model boats. Now Columbus is known as a crazed Catholic bigot who helped wipe out Amerindian civilization, a civilization that, according to journalists and historians, was far more humane and evolved than the Western world that took its place.
Recently on a visit to Monticello, I discovered that our polymath third president begat entire “communities” with his black concubine Sally Hemings. Jefferson, it also seems, depended on other members of the Hemings family for guidance and instruction. What I had mistaken for over sixty years as Jefferson’s residence turned out to be the home that Jefferson merely occupied. The maintenance of that residence, including its architectural innovations and French cuisine, required the superior intelligence of the resident blacks, and especially of Sally’s spectacularly brilliant family.
Perhaps next week the Powers That Be will discover that our living Constitution came from black revolutionaries or sensitive gays who had fled German or Russian anti-Semitism. If that narrative does become the approved Truth, I’ve no doubt that most people will say exactly what they are told. (After all, this is a democracy!) By the way, the only people during my recent visit to Monticello who seemed skeptical about the revisionist history were my wife, the Congdons, who brought us there, and I. The other visitors of all ages seemed to be gulping down the new party line without the slightest indigestion.