The Correct at War with the True | Jake Scott
There has, in the last five years predominantly, crept into our vernacular a strange inability to say the truth, and a comparable absurdity in being unable to deny its opponents. Only recently was a young intellectual in America by the name of Bo Winegard fired – for what, exactly, is unknown, but Mr. Winegard himself believes the issue can be traced back to a lecture he gave on “human population variation, the hypothesis that human biological differences are at least partially produced by different environments”. His accusers swiftly took this, and other writings of his in Quillette, to mean he was a racist, a promoter of eugenics, and white supremacist. Anyone with any knowledge of Darwin would find this ridiculous – but therein lies the problem.
As anyone reading this site will know, Professor Sir Roger Scruton fell foul of the exact same heresy just last year – for speaking the truth. Among his claims, all valid and verifiable, was that the Chinese Communist government was attempting the most radical, 21st-century form of totalitarianism possible, which would reduce their inhabitants to automata and strip away not merely their freedom, but even their very capacity for freedom. As someone who has made this argument before, as a very Western-liberal objection to totalitarianism, I was outraged and shocked to see this being twisted against him as an accusation of racism (which, for anyone who knows, has read, or has had the pleasure of speaking to Sir Roger knows, is absurd).
What makes matters worse, is neither of these intellectuals – one in the midst of his (extraordinarily promising) career, the other at the end of a long, distinguished, if controversial one – are the exception. Instead, they are becoming the norm: intelligent men who, in another age, would likely have been accused of subversive liberalism, are accused of the most fashionably heinous crimes. David French catalogues the true extent of this phenomena better than I do. Yet, the question is never asked, what is their crime against? Certainly not the law – science is not illegal, yet – but the problem lies outside of the academy (though that is certainly where it began), and indeed increasingly so, and their crimes are usually that of a new distinction we need to make. Their truthful statements are no longer accepted as correct.
When I say truthful, I mean that vast bank of experience and proven facts – what Edmund Burke called the ‘bank of nations and ages’ – that has developed through time. I have little time for the critical metaphysics of unprovable academics who ask if ‘what we experience is ever really the truth of reality’ – Christopher Snowdon has remarked of similar phenomena (specifically that of austerity being ‘responsible for’ the death of 120,000) that such a claim ‘cannot be called a lie because it is impossible to disprove, but it would be a lie to call it a fact because it cannot be proven’. Again, this is something of the point: the distinct separation between what is truthful and what is correct comes from a reversal of that traditional philosophising, of deriving from experience philosophical experience, to a practice of attempting to shape experience by philosophical principles. This is not new – it is the undercurrent of political philosophy that grew out of the Enlightenment, and found its maddest expression in Marx.
What I call ‘correct’ is that modern orthodoxy of forcing people to give undue recognition to those things everyone knows are untrue, but to point that out might prove to be ‘offensive’, and therefore become ‘common knowledge’. The most absurd insistence we see is the mantra that ‘trans women are women’, a counter-factual lie that you must, if you want any career in the media, academia, or similar worlds, never say is so. What makes this lie worse is the ‘correctness’ it is endowed with; and that is the other part of the war that ‘correctness’ is waging on truth, it is supported by institutions of power. On International Women’s Day 2020, the United Nations twitter account tweeted a long list of words I at first thought were all foreign, until I recognised the twisted English of ‘non-binary persons’ – and curiously absent was the word, ‘woman’.
I am not pretending here to coin a new term. We know of political correctness. What I am hoping to do, is show why it is so divorced from the truth. The litany of egregious offences of this modern orthodoxy of correctness is long, but the consequences are remarkably short, due to their destructiveness. There are two clearly identifiable: first, it divorces those who rule from those who are ruled; and second, it creates a mental state of anguish, that we call cognitive dissonance.
The first problem with the shift in knowledge from practical to abstract is the concept of responsibility. This is a problem identified by Burke as far back as 1790, but one that he did not follow through with the logical consequence of. When Burke remarked that each man had his ‘own private stock of reason’, and the dangers of allowing men to live on that limited reason alone, he spoke prophetically of the danger of philosophising from that limited reason into abstract knowledge, which will always be an incomplete vision of the world by virtue of being based on incomplete knowledge. To take this abstracted philosophising into the realm of government is even more terrifying, because the rules of governance are decided then by knowledge derived, not from tangible, experienced facts – the truth – but from a philosophical view of the world as it ought to be – the correct.
As a result, governance becomes responsible to the dictates of capricious whims disguised as universally reasoned truths from either a single individual, or a conspiracy of individuals, rather than the aggregate knowledge built over time, and the originators of this knowledge: the people. And if the people are not the originators of the knowledge required for governance, then government ceases to be responsible to them, and asks instead that the people be responsible to government. The roles become reversed entirely, and the state becomes a monolith of power capable of deciding, without recourse to the people, what are the accepted ways of thinking – what is correct.
This feeds into the second problem. When people are forced to live by knowledge that they do not feel, in themselves, to be true, they enter into a state of cognitive dissonance with the world, where 2+2=5 is possible, and the state of being of responsibility to government becomes one of reliance as well. The mental anguish this forces onto people cannot be understated; and never mind the impact on those of us in full possession of our faculties, but what about the poor young man with autism who was arrested for calling a police officer the ‘wrong pronoun’?
The correct is waging its war with the truth, and it is sadly winning. The bitter truth to this, is because it is supported by institutions that have no loyalty to anyone but themselves, and can get away with the lies they tell.
Photo by Non-Snap Visuals on Unsplash.