Within living memory, a normal person could have a civil conversation about politics with someone identifying as liberal. It was not that everyone got along. It was that everyone seemed to agree on the value of civil debate. Only far out wackos thought you were evil for voting for Reagan or favoring tax cuts. Liberals did not like conservatives, but they did not hate them and they did not treat them like lepers. It was still possible for people to disagree without despising one another.
In the 1990’s that began to change. The vulgarity of the Clinton crowd made civility difficult. The culture gap became a chasm in the 1990’s. If you voted Republican it was not just because you happened to like their positions or the candidate. Party affiliation became tribal identification and the debates, therefore, were not about facts and reason. They were about which side you were on in the culture war. The roots of the great divide between use them started in the 1990’s.
On television, the public affairs shows turned into shouting matches. The liberal would talk over everyone, ignore the questions and just chant the slogans the Left was embracing at the moment. They called it spin, but it infected everything. This filtered into daily life and it became impossible to maintain a friendship with a lefty, because who they were was now defined by their hatred of normal people. The Left became an identity cult based on hatred of normal white people.
These days, the only way to maintain a civil relationship with a lefty is to avoid anything but sports and weather. Anything that bumps up against the tenets of the faith, even tangentially, has to be avoided. Everywhere you turn a lunatic is preaching at you about gay marriage, the war on women, racism, white privilege and on and on. It often feels like the book I am Legend. Instead of raging vampires, we’re surrounded by lunatic liberals shaking their piety bracelets at us.
This post over at The Spectator does a good job analyzing the ratcheting lunacy we see around us.
It has long been clear that expressing certain views has been a form of social signaling, although social media has made this far more explicit. Holding what might be loosely called politically correct opinions on a range of issues suggests that the holder is more likely to be well-educated, wealthy, young, probably attractive, and possessing social nous (ie in touch with social trends).
But Kristian’s theory also explains one aspect of political correctness: the speed at which the accepted and acceptable view moves, heading in an ever-more extreme direction.
It goes further. Ever notice the speed with which buzzwords and catchphrases get popular among the Left? Obama used the word “shellacked” after the 2010 election and every lefty in America was littering their language with it. Another example was “gravitas” after that idiot Biden was picked to be Obama’s running mate. Language no longer has the same meaning for them as the rest of us. instead, it works like incantations signifying membership in the faith.
He uses the analogy of the music fan who, once the band he’s into has been discovered by everyone else, must find some other obscure outfit as a positional good. Once a wacky idea becomes accepted, the high-status politically correct brigadier must stand out with some new area of concern; this he or she does with one of those articles or blogs in which it is argued that, while progress has been made in one particular battle against prejudice or bigotry, the real war is now against racism in food labeling or the lack of transgender dolls for my children. It doesn’t matter if the issue at hand is inconsequential or, more likely, impossible to overcome; in fact the more so, the better.
Unlike with music, however, the trend is always in one direction and there is no re-centering; it would be as if the mainstream of elite taste in music went from Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath to Metallica to Slayer and onto Napalm Death. Politically that’s what much of the commentary in places like Slate sounds like to me – just some guy atonally screaming in my ear about some micro-injustice.
Not a bad example. Thatcher called it the ratchet effect.
Another aspect of this mindset is the desire to punish people who have insufficiently correct views on doctrine, even if the beliefs they hold were orthodoxy ten or five years ago. I’d really like to conduct a Stanford Prison-style experiment in which people were rewarded (perhaps with a dopamine hit) for punishing those with heretical views, and to see where it led. To make it more interesting, only people with unorthodox views on only one side of the political spectrum would be punished, to see how extreme a group would become towards the other direction in a short space of time. Soon they’d be sacking people for disagreeing with an idea that didn’t exist anywhere in the world before 2001 – oh whoops, sorry, that was real life.
There are examples of the public simply going mad. Athens leading up to the Sicilian expedition is an example. The Athenians appear to have lost their minds and threw away their advantage on a crazy idea cooked up by a conman. The Abolitionist Movement is something closer to home. Large numbers of whites in the north wanted to murder the whites in the South and would not be deterred. Prohibition is another example from the American past. Maybe there is something wrong with our grain.