Amongst the – perhaps rather courageous – group of friends and acquaintances who do not subscribe to political correctness quite a few have expressed the opinion that this phenomenon must have peaked and that there will be a strong reaction against it. I regret to say, however, that they are wrong.
Let me give some recent examples. The Australian National University’s Gender Institute Handbook suggests that teaching staff stop using the word “mother” and replace it with “gestational parent” and substitute for “father” the term “non-birthing parent.” The Handbook goes on to say that, while many students will identify the old expressions, using those terms “excludes those who do not identify with gender-binaries.” It is true, when questioned about the handbook, that ANU responded that it was not an official prescription to staff and students but it is certainly a remarkable document to emerge from one of the nation’s leading universities.
Meanwhile, at the University of New South Wales, a handbook entitled the Gender Affirmation Guideline, instructed teaching staff not to call a roll for attendance in tutorials, seemingly on the basis that there may be discrepancies between the name a student uses and the official roll. Another handbook, produced by the Faculty of Science and entitled the Classroom Inclusivity Guidelines, urges the use of “inclusive” language such as humankind instead of mankind. When referring to what it describes as the “European colonisation of Australia”, it suggests that the terms “discovery” or “settlement” should be avoided in favour of “colonisation”, “occupation” or “invasion”.
Even these bizarre performances, however, pale before the recent directions by the University of Leicester to its English department. Texts long taught, such as, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, would be discontinued, medieval literature would be removed and early modern literature would be reduced. The new curriculum would comprise “a chronological literary history, a selection of modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum, and new employability modules.” While it is not easy to decode this nearly incomprehensible verbiage, the intention to destroy the teaching of English literature seems clear.
All these cases come from universities but similar exercises have been introduced in the many public and private institutions that have come under the control of the politically correct class – much of the media, almost all cultural institutions, legal professional bodies, schools, community welfare groups, the management of many large corporations and the administration of major sporting bodies. It may be that some of the persons who occupy positions of authority in these organisations are not apostles of political correctness but they are frightened of being accused of departing from the doctrines of this quasi-religious cause.
I have written before that, in my estimate, about ten per cent of the community do share these views and this means that they are far from being held by a majority of the community. As already noted, however, the ten per cent have largely assumed control of many of the bodies that exercise power and influence in Australian society.
Even within this ten per cent, of course, there are the high priests who inspire the other members of the cult. What is important to grasp is that these leaders cannot be placated. If organisations make concessions to them, whether universities or any other institutions, they do not say thanks very much. They simply move on to the next and steeper demand. There can be no end to this revolutionary process because there are always more concessions that can be extracted.
It would be easy to ridicule the examples already quoted but these kinds of exercises in thought control are no joke for many of the persons who work in organisations that subscribe to them. This is particularly true for young persons in the early stages of their careers who are highly vulnerable to adverse comments from those above them in the organisation. Any expressions of scepticism as to the conventional wisdom are likely to be very damaging to their future prospects. No doubt most of them are aware of this danger and carefully ration their opinions accordingly.
It is ironic that there is nowhere where this is more true than in universities. Once places where the challenging of established theories and doctrines was seen as an important role of academic members of staff, they are now in the forefront of political correctness. There can be little doubt that a young academic who announced in the common room that he or she was not entirely convinced by the conventional wisdom on subjects such as climate change or refugee policy would be casting a real shadow over any prospect of career advancement. As for the students, they would know that expressions of political incorrectness in class would receive a hostile response from many of their teachers and, quite naturally, they would not want to offend someone who will be grading their exams and assignments.
One problem for opponents of political correctness is that, although its tenets are not shared by a majority of the community, there is no countervailing group of similar size to the ten per cent who do hold those views. There are, of course, bastions of resistance, including the Spectator Australia, but those dissenters need to realise that this battle is not going to be won overnight.
Having said that, however, it is important to appreciate that the advocates of political correctness find it extremely frustrating that there is any opposition to their views. So it is always worth confronting them on these questions. And these confrontations can be effective. In the case of section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act, although the struggle for its repeal or amendment was lost in the Senate, some of its proponents have lamented the fact that constant attacks on this provision over a period of years have led to its no longer being widely used in complaints to the Human Rights Commission and to the Federal Court. It is not only the politically correct class that can engage in a long march.
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