Sunday, September 06, 2015
Diana West weighs in on PC
In a recent essay titled Question: What is PC? (and perhaps even more so in a subsequent essay, First Communism, then Islam) Diana West explores a dimension of our current Problem of the Problem that deserves far more thought & analysis than it has received in the Counter-Jihad.
West is one of my favorite writers; and yes, there's a big but coming... I think in this essay she misses a chance to really tackle her titular question. Instead of probing the broader context and source of this phenomenon, she lapses into a focus on one (major) symptom of it -- namely, Communism; or rather, the successful, albeit amorphous campaign, ever since the 1960s, to make anti-Communism bristle with radioactive cooties throughout our culture. She's right about that aspect of the problem, of course (she's produced a wealth of useful research and analysis on it), but demonstrates a less sure grasp of the deeper reason why such a campaign turned out to be so effective.
One may disagree with my assessment, if one thinks that Soviet saboteurs and their useful fellow travelers by themselves could effect such a drastic and comprehensive paradigm shift. While it's possible they did, and while it's certainly documentable and reasonably inferred that they undertook this subversion earnestly and assiduously, it seems unlikely their success was due wholly to their efforts, as though America was some kind of hapless sheep, willing over time to submit to -- to the point of practically aiding and abetting (if not positively cheering on) -- an ideological invasion this profoundly contrary to her core values. This would indicate not merely a sheeplike passivity (already questionable on such a mass scale throughout all levels of popular culture), but even some strange species of cultural and psychological zombification. I.e., a more reasonable inference would factor in an already existing cultural predisposition that has nothing to do with Communism per se (at least not directly) and that widens the historical scope considerably. (Indeed, Communism would be a symptom of that broader historico-cultural process, rather than an agent or cause of it, as West's formulation seems to imply.)
I think one major motivating factor for West's position on this is reasonably defensive: after her years of research on the subject of Communist infiltration and anti-Communism, she became increasingly dismayed, then disturbed at the "court history" which has monstrously minimized the problem of that infiltration (including, in no small part, enabling the cultural paradigm that has decreed that anti-Communism should be demonized), and in many ways has aided and abetted the propaganda that whitewashes the massively pernicious career of Communism in the 20th century. So West, I think, has been caught up in righting the wrong of that revisionist history, and the sheer magnitude of the complex lie of that "court history" has consumed her attention, even to the point, apparently, of magnifying the role of this revisionism such that it becomes transformed from a massive symptom, which would have a history so long it precedes even the advent of the idea of Communism in the 19th century, into the cause.
Which brings me to what I believe is the second factor explaining West's perspective on this: she may not have a full enough appreciation & appraisal of the long history of a mélange of attitudes & axioms that prepare & predispose a society to so readily swallow the romanticization of Communism coupled with the demonization of anti-Communism -- and then, fast forward to our post-911 world, to so readily swallow the romanticization of Islam coupled with the demonization of the anti-Islam movement. One indication of West's intense focus on the former problem is a parenthetical comment she made in her above-linked article which may breeze by the attention of many readers. Alluding first to the former problem, her parenthesis merges into the latter problem:
What is most breathtaking here, though, is the obdurate endurance of the glaring lie. In fact, a greater intellectual hoax than the Saleming of the Red hunters is beyond imagination. (Islam-is-peace is as great, but no greater.) [bold emphasis added]
It's certainly West's right to think the Problem of the Problem with regard to Islam as no greater than the Problem of the Problem with regard to Communism, but after all her research and astute analysis on Islam over the years, I can only conclude that she hasn't fully digested and absorbed the mountain of data about it that indicates it is a far greater danger, and its whitewashing a far greater problem. She wouldn't be alone in this by any stretch; my assessment of the Counter-Jihad indicates that, alas, perhaps a slim majority minimize the problem in one way or another.
The pertinent question in this regard, I suppose, would be: If I'm correct that West is not adequately appreciating the longer history of the process of PC MC moving from one idea among many over centuries, to becoming the dominant, fashionable worldview of the entire West by the mid-20th century; how would her thesis change if she did in fact appreciate this longer history? One way to answer that question is to probe her words and see what it is she is inferring in the absence of this longer history, when the protracted spectacle of Communist infiltration and the subsequent dominance of the fashion of anti-Communism comes to her analytical attention.
In a recent email correspondence I had with West, I briefly discussed the broader problem, and mentioned the 16th century statesman and philosopher Montaigne as one example clearly showing that PC MC antecedes Marxism not only by years or decades, but literally by centuries (I also gave her a link to my essay -- Montaigne: Godfather of PC MC? -- which in lengthy and meticulous detail presents an argument backing this up). West implied that she knew about this; and yet her essay seems not to factor this in at all in its tight focus on Communist subversion from without (U.S.S.R.) and from within (Soviet proxies, agents and fellow travelers inside America). My counter-thesis, to repeat, is that the whitewashing of Communism -- and the corollary demonization of Anti-Communism -- would not have enjoyed the mainstream traction it has in fact enjoyed, had there not already been a pre-existing predisposition to think this way which, for want of a better term, I call "PC MC". But West's rhetoric heavily implies that PC MC is a construct and a plot machinated by Marxists, and she conflates three terms that have nuanced distinctions -- "Leftism", "Marxism", and "PC". By implying an indiscriminate equivalence among all three sociopolitical forces, it becomes easier for her to concentrate on her focus -- and thereby to make the error of ascribing too much evil volition and direction to the problem in its, let us say, domestic dimension. A similar dynamic occurs with those I term the "Real Problemers" of the Counter-Jihad when they blame the Problem of the Problem of Islam (that is, the Problem of Western Myopia to the Problem of Islam and consequent whitewashing & enablement of Islam) on a Dastardly Cabal of "Leftist" "Elites" -- as though there were not millions of pleasantly & sincerely confused, unwitting enablers of Islam abounding throughout the West, precisely making possible the myopia that constitutes the Problem of the Problem!