Political Correctness: A Response

We received this message earlier on Twitter:

“Best to avoid political tweets. At least half your audience doesn’t share this PC dogma, remember.”

How dare you? Brushing aside the epistemological question of how one reader could speak for half of the audience, it is necessarily true that large portions of any audience will disagree with something which is presented to it. Is it our responsibility simply to provide a comforting echo to each reader’s full collection of thoughts, opinions, and feelings? Impossible. Almost all of the internet is resolutely indifferent to Classics, yet we do not on that account feel compelled to shut down the operation for fear of boring people with ancient quotations. I could easily start a heated debate and earn the disapproval of more than half of the audience with the claim that I think the Odyssey superior to the Iliad, yet I would not on that account be afraid to say so. In such matters, one may resort to the old principle de gustibus non disputandum, but politics affects our lives in far more tangible ways than aesthetic preferences. It would be base cowardice to refrain from even commenting upon injustice, and I would sooner lose all of our audience than appear to condone reactionary barbarism.

“Political correctness” is a vacuous and insipid term, but it is a potent ideological weapon, used in an attempt to denigrate any potentially civilizing viewpoints. Not infrequently, expressions of support for human rights, cosmopolitanism, and cultural sensitivity are dismissed as politically correct. Yet, it also seems that the time for this phrase has long since past; it is not clear that any form of sensitivity is politically correct in a time when Trumpian disregard for civilization itself has managed not only to clutch all of the levers of political power in this country, but also to obtrude itself upon our consciousness so forcibly that we now run the risk of normalizing puerile hatred and pettiness as accepted modes of civic discourse.

The main purpose of this site is not political, but there is no denying that Classics has become one of many battlefields in a heated and horrifying ideological war. I would not flatter myself into thinking that it is central to the political debate, but when I see that a field of study which I care about is being weaponized against the civic values which I believe in, I will not silently refrain from comment in a vain hope to retain an audience. Just as many cities in antiquity claimed Homer as their own, so too many cultures, and even many ideologies, claim the study of ancient Greece and Rome as a part of their personal heritage. I will not pretend to be surprised that unregenerate reactionaries find something to admire in the Classics, which, for all of their civilization, are yet saturated with barbarism throughout. But one could easily impose any political ideology from far left to far right onto the template which the ancient world provides. The power of selective citation is that it can be used to lend a grave authority to any viewpoint. Yet, as I have written before, the ancient world should be an object for study, not revivification. I have spent more than a decade of my modern life thinking about antiquity, but I’ll be damned if I have ever felt a desire to experience it first hand and “live with the Romans.” We must learn from history, but only the most vile reactionary would take pleasure in a recrudescence of the “ancient ways”, and modeling one’s behavior on some dimly-understood precedent from thousands of years ago is craven in the extreme.

In the opening of his Politics, Aristotle claims that “all people do everything which they do for the sake of what they think is good.” (τοῦ γὰρ εἶναι δοκοῦντος ἀγαθοῦ χάριν πάντα πράττουσι πάντες.) This site does not exist for the purpose of promoting good or social justice, but it should be understood that we believe in universal human rights, free expression, and multiculturalism. (Anyone who studies Classics is necessarily committed to this last, in that they find themselves at the intersection of a bare minimum of three distinct cultures.) We will not refrain from commenting on politics at the behest of one or even thousands of idle charges of “political correctness,” which will be received with all the lip-curling exertion of a contemptuous sneer.

The Parthenon

Frederic Edwin Church, The Parthenon

24 responses

  1. Oops – in previous comment I realize I had my written yet the last line..

    Musings LXII from 99’s (draft)

    “I’m a human: I don’t consider any human’s affairs as not concerning me.”
    Terence, trans. by Sententiae Antiquae

    I

    An ultra sound, a heart beat on the screen,
    her rhythm first, before her form was seen.
    Her face turned down, we only see her head,
    a vivid spine suspends her in her sea.
    She will not turn, the bone around her mind,
    the rounded shape, an ancient memory.
    We look and laugh, amazed, and saying “Yes”,
    and then we see, below her head, a hand,
    the leg bone, straight and white, and tiny feet,
    the child that makes the child in us complete-
    her perfect sleep our joy- our happiness.

    II

    I’m not a man of god, but I hear prophets,
    and Greeks who paid their homage with a gift.
    They entered through the civilizing gates
    with swords and shields, spears and brazen hearts.
    Death spared Aeneas, father of Rome’s fates,
    for when a culture dies, another starts.
    Our vision, that remains a dream, now sleeps
    in craven hands, and gerrymandered states.
    Their votives burn our apathetic shrines,
    forge a golden calf, with their mad-cow minds,
    an unrepentant god, who rapes and reaps.

    III

    Into this world a child of light is freed,
    this lightless world, crazed with lies and greed.
    The Stars begin to sing, the skies to chant,
    the seas reverse their tides, and mountains sink,
    the glaciers melt, the sane begin to rant,
    the universe contracts, the witless think,
    the humane heartless, lost in vanities,
    the mermaids walk, and the snakes enchant,
    the verities are twisted on the tongue,
    Pandora’s pundits preach, the good are hung,
    this deadly climate, heated by decrees.

    IV

    The traitors are the news, their minions sing,
    “lock her up”, empowered by their king,
    inspiring hatred; though the good that was,
    played a lesser role, it too was corrupted,
    by the self-same motives- lived above the laws,
    and raided countries, killed, bilked, disrupted;
    the military mandate, geared up, oiled,
    would drink the blood of earth, the holy ‘cause’;
    “entitlements”, once raided, not repaid,
    the very word the ruling class’s shade,
    the mind control, the atmosphere despoiled.

    V

    The court that sold the law defiled the country.
    The “loophole” was agape- a sea of money
    poured through levies, the “picket fence” destroyed.
    Our General President foretold this war.
    We jailed the blacks for pot, the new slave trade
    imprisoned hope- we festered at the core.
    We let white rapists go- they mock and lie,
    deliver us to evil, while they raid
    our decency, if ever it was ours-
    eugenics haunt our genicidal hours-
    the good that still remains remains to die.

    VI

    Our “intellects” exist in schools of thought;
    exclusive cliques, they too have been bought.
    They pander to nothing of significance-
    a furrow in a field, a death by dust;
    they propagate minutia, self- indulgence;
    these “legislators” of the broken trust
    imply a tribalism, and divide-
    a pseudo-fascist state, a sharpened pretense,
    that through true hearts of poets’ drives a stake;
    with trivial pursuits, they desecrate-
    ephemeral arrogance dies deified.

    VII

    Last night the Nazi chants razed Pensacola,
    a morality play, adjacent Alabama;
    “IT” travels to a home of Civil Rights-
    vain hypocrite, “IT” stokes the KKK.
    O interracial child, those hooded knights,
    who murdered, lynched, are on display today.
    They brutalize the Bible, holier than none.
    Their wizard grants them sacrificial rites,
    to burn the children, rape them, and defile
    the freedoms gained, this Mesmer of the vile;
    seditious fools, “IT’s” anthem is “the gun”.

    VIII

    The humanists, sequestered in high towers,
    write in candlelight of humane powers,
    endure the hail of rocks, and trifling “things”.
    They leave their ports, to walk beneath the birds,
    to listen to the musings that they sing,
    to transcribe ‘truth’, and other selfless words,
    that wake the heartfelt music back to being,
    consider everyone and everything.
    The children, who renew this tainted world,
    don’t paint bright watercolors with a sword,
    but animate it, skipping, twirling, dancing.

    IX

    Aysha lies beside me while you dream,
    and I dream too, that love will be your theme.
    Our hope beats in your heart, but you will know,
    O darling child, that ignorance breeds hate,
    that you will stand, and walk, no status quo
    will keep you servile in a slaver’s state,
    that you will bare your arms, to offer peace,
    but fight the currents that impede your flow,
    nor turn your cheek, but strike back- blow for blow-
    that there are worlds you can not tolerate,
    and if you die, let death be your release.

    December 9, 2017
    Miami

  2. Oops – in previous comment I realize I had my written yet the last line..

    Musings LXII from 99’s (draft)

    “I’m a human: I don’t consider any human’s affairs as not concerning me.”
    Terence, trans. by Sententiae Antiquae

    I

    An ultra sound, a heart beat on the screen,
    her rhythm first, before her form was seen.
    Her face turned down, we only see her head,
    a vivid spine suspends her in her sea.
    She will not turn, the bone around her mind,
    the rounded shape, an ancient memory.
    We look and laugh, amazed, and saying “Yes”,
    and then we see, below her head, a hand,
    the leg bone, straight and white, and tiny feet,
    the child that makes the child in us complete-
    her perfect sleep our joy- our happiness.

    II

    I’m not a man of god, but I hear prophets,
    and Greeks who paid their homage with a gift.
    They entered through the civilizing gates
    with swords and shields, spears and brazen hearts.
    Death spared Aeneas, father of Rome’s fates,
    for when a culture dies, another starts.
    Our vision, that remains a dream, now sleeps
    in craven hands, and gerrymandered states.
    Their votives burn our apathetic shrines,
    forge a golden calf, with their mad-cow minds,
    an unrepentant god, who rapes and reaps.

    III

    Into this world a child of light is freed,
    this lightless world, crazed with lies and greed.
    The Stars begin to sing, the skies to chant,
    the seas reverse their tides, and mountains sink,
    the glaciers melt, the sane begin to rant,
    the universe contracts, the witless think,
    the humane heartless, lost in vanities,
    the mermaids walk, and the snakes enchant,
    the verities are twisted on the tongue,
    Pandora’s pundits preach, the good are hung,
    this deadly climate, heated by decrees.

    IV

    The traitors are the news, their minions sing,
    “lock her up”, empowered by their king,
    inspiring hatred; though the good that was,
    played a lesser role, it too was corrupted,
    by the self-same motives- lived above the laws,
    and raided countries, killed, bilked, disrupted;
    the military mandate, geared up, oiled,
    would drink the blood of earth, the holy ‘cause’;
    “entitlements”, once raided, not repaid,
    the very word the ruling class’s shade,
    the mind control, the atmosphere despoiled.

    V

    The court that sold the law defiled the country.
    The “loophole” was agape- a sea of money
    poured through levies, the “picket fence” destroyed.
    Our General President foretold this war.
    We jailed the blacks for pot, the new slave trade
    imprisoned hope- we festered at the core.
    We let white rapists go- they mock and lie,
    deliver us to evil, while they raid
    our decency, if ever it was ours-
    eugenics haunt our genicidal hours-
    the good that still remains remains to die.

    VI

    Our “intellects” exist in schools of thought;
    exclusive cliques, they too have been bought.
    They pander to nothing of significance-
    a furrow in a field, a death by dust;
    they propagate minutia, self- indulgence;
    these “legislators” of the broken trust
    imply a tribalism, and divide-
    a pseudo-fascist state, a sharpened pretense,
    that through true hearts of poets’ drives a stake;
    with trivial pursuits, they desecrate-
    ephemeral arrogance dies deified.

    VII

    Last night the Nazi chants razed Pensacola,
    a morality play, adjacent Alabama;
    “IT” travels to a home of Civil Rights-
    vain hypocrite, “IT” stokes the KKK.
    O interracial child, those hooded knights,
    who murdered, lynched, are on display today.
    They brutalize the Bible, holier than none.
    Their wizard grants them sacrificial rites,
    to burn the children, rape them, and defile
    the freedoms gained, this Mesmer of the vile;
    seditious fools, “IT’s” anthem is “the gun”.

    VIII

    The humanists, sequestered in high towers,
    write in candlelight of humane powers,
    endure the hail of rocks, and trifling “things”.
    They leave their ports, to walk beneath the birds,
    to listen to the musings that they sing,
    to transcribe ‘truth’, and other selfless words,
    that wake the heartfelt music back to being,
    consider everyone and everything.
    The children, who renew this tainted world,
    don’t paint bright watercolors with a sword,
    but animate it, skipping, twirling, dancing.

    IX

    Aysha lies beside me while you dream,
    and I dream too, that love will be your theme.
    Our hope beats in your heart, but you will know,
    O darling child, that ignorance breeds hate,
    that you will stand, and walk, no status quo
    will keep you servile in a slaver’s state,
    that you will bare your arms, to offer peace,
    but fight the currents that impede your flow,
    nor turn your cheek, but strike back- blow for blow-
    that there are worlds you can not tolerate,
    and if you die, let death be your release.

    December 9, 2017
    Miami

  3. (1) It is amazing to have such a brother in arms for any streetfight. (2) Your rhetorical prowess is a frightening beast when roused. (3) the final sentence is brilliant, but I especially like:

    “Just as many cities in antiquity claimed Homer as their own, so too many cultures, and even many ideologies, claim the study of ancient Greece and Rome as a part of their personal heritage.”

    Not only is this filled with many of my favorite words, but it is also true to my heart.

  4. > I could easily start a heated debate and earn the disapproval of more than half of the audience with the claim that I think the Odyssey superior to the Iliad..
    But if you do believe that I suspect we are kindred spirits!

  5. >Almost all of the internet is resolutely indifferent to Classics
    Yet if they enter a bank or handle a coin or appear on a court charge there is a good chance some semblance of it is affecting them..

  6. Excellent response. The attack of “political correctness” is part of the campaign against facts and thinking that is infecting our society. On the other hand, but not equally, caving in to students’ sensitivities and claims of micro-aggressions harms the value of Classical, history, literature, and thinking. I left teaching the Classics at the university level a long time ago, but have always used the insights available to enlighten or comment on the present. I only discovered Sententiae Antiquae recently. It is a delightful offset to most of what our current news has to offer.

    • Thanks for this. We appreciate your reading. On ‘micro-agressions’, I prefer to listen to people when they say something hurts them. From my experience in teaching in diverse communities, once you gain student trust, you can be honest and direct about the ancient world.

  7. Your goals are a non sequitur. I can get behind Universal human rights and free expression, but multiculturalism simply cannot fit into this equation. What we are trying to do is create a new culture with universal human rights and free expression and that culture can’t actually include other cultures which don’t include those as basic tenets. It is not possible to respect a culture that doesn’t include the prime goals of universal human rights and free expression there for multiculturalism cannot be one of those goals.

  8. Your post brings to my mind the actual mentality beneath book burning in Farenheit 451 ( “Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Bum the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. “). In that sense, isn’t developing tolerance and reasoning the exact opposite of political correctness? Isn’t political correctness lethal to free thinking? So keep going with commenting politics, especially by referencing the classics! The audience here has the background to listen, think and comment on.

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  10. Well done! When I was a teenager, university rag-mags were absolutely chock-full of the most racist, homophobic and sexist material. People should remember the bad old days and what was regarded as acceptable back then the next time they’re tempted to say “It’s political correctness gone mad …”

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  14. I’ve always thought of the term in terms of blatant censorship and newspeak for issues that are unpleasant but need to be spoken of frankly even if they ruffle some feathers. Many feel issues involving minority groups now and SJWs are treaded upon too lightly in order to not give honest critiques that may sound harsh or uncomfortable. In the context of studying history, any issues involving minority groups historically now are being addressed only through the perspective of the groups and what they want people to hear about their past, versus an unflattering past if there was one. “Political correctness” is not trying to solve genuine social injustices and speaking out about them. It’s about censorship of ideas and what one can say in order to benefit someone to the detriment of others, a blatant denial of what is true and putting propaganda in its place. Knee-jerk reactions to honest critiques on issues brought up with ad hominem accusations of being racist, misogynist, etc… would be an example of mine. Students in college ought to be challenged to expand their minds, even into “dangerous” ideas that provoke and challenge what you believe is “the truth” you take for granted through your own worldview. Crying “microaggression” and being “triggered” just keeps you in your own little bubble since you’re refusing to listen to anything that might upset you.
    https://historyisfascinating.wordpress.com/

  15. Addendum:
    Yes, we should speak out on issues we feel are important, and complete neutrality is not always best. However, in studying our past, we ought to be more objective, even when we do connect our past to our present. Many feel that all this politicization is getting tedious and tiring, and would rather have an escape from it, than having everyone having to choose sides like “Civil War part II”. There’s enough politics FROM history, why impose our own politics ON history 😉

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