Monday, August 27, 2018

I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

Written as communism, in its national form, was collapsing with the Soviet Union, this piece by Doris Lessing from more than a quarter of a century ago was an alarm bell that was ignored by media and academia. Language and the Lunatic Fringe by Doris Lessing. The whole thing is worth reading. Some excerpts with my emphasis added.
While we have seen the apparent death of Communism, ways of thinking that were either born under Communism or strengthened by Communism still govern our lives. Not all of them are as immediately evident as a legacy of Communism as Political Correctness.

The first point -- language. It is not a new thought that Communism debased language and, with language, thought. There is a Communist jargon recognizable after a single sentence. Few people in Europe have not joked in their time about concrete steps, contradictions, the interpenetration of opposites -- and the rest.

The first time I saw that mind-deadening slogans had the power to take wing and fly far from their origins was in the 1950's when I read an article in The Times of London and saw them in use. 'The demo last Saturday was irrefutable proof that the concrete situation . . . .' Words confined to the left as corralled animals had passed into general use and, with them, ideas. One might read whole articles in the conservative and liberal press that were Marxist, but the writers did not know it. But there is an aspect of this heritage that is much harder to see.

Even five, six years ago, Izvestia, Pravda and a thousand other Communist papers were written in a language that seemed designed to fill up as much space as possible without actually saying anything. Because, of course, it was dangerous to take up positions that might have to be defended. Now all these newspapers have rediscovered the use of language. But the heritage of dead and empty language these days is to be found in academia, and particularly in some areas of sociology and psychology.

A young friend of mine from North Yemen saved up every bit of money he could to travel to Britain to study that branch of sociology that teaches how to spread Western expertise to benighted natives. I asked to see his study material and he showed me a thick tome, written so badly and in such ugly, empty jargon it was hard to follow. There were several hundred pages, and the ideas in it could easily have been put in 10 pages. Yes, I know the obfuscations of academia did not begin with Communism -- as Swift, for one, tells us -- but the pedantries and verbosity of Communism had its root in German academia. And now it has become a kind of mildew blighting the whole world.


A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of Communism, but it is. Every writer has the experience of being told that a novel, a story, is 'about' something or other. I wrote a story, 'The Fifth Child,' which was at once pigeonholed as being about the Palestinian problem, genetic research, feminism, anti-Semitism and so on.

A journalist from France walked into my living room and before she had even sat down said, 'Of course 'The Fifth Child' is about AIDS.'

An effective conversation stopper, I assure you. But what is interesting is the habit of mind that has to analyze a literary work like this. If you say, 'Had I wanted to write about AIDS or the Palestinian problem I would have written a pamphlet,' you tend to get baffled stares. That a work of the imagination has to be 'really' about some problem is, again, an heir of Socialist Realism. To write a story for the sake of story telling is frivolous, not to say reactionary.


The phrase Political Correctness was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the Political Correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what do do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art -- the arts generally -- are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but at worst persecution. It troubles me that Political Correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.


Again and again in Britain we see in town councils or in schools councillors or headmistresses or headmasters or teachers being hounded by groups and cabals of witch hunters, using the most dirty and often cruel tactics. They claim their victims are racist or in some way reactionary. Again and again an appeal to higher authorities has proved the campaign was unfair.

I am sure that millions of people, the rug of Communism pulled out from under them, are searching frantically, and perhaps not even knowing it, for another dogma.
Here we are 26 years later, witnessing the fruits of this unconscious absorption of the Soviet utopian habits of mind by the second tier intelligentsia, squirreled away where they can do the most damage in media, academia and departments of government bureaucracy. Rotherham and its shamefully many counterparts across Britain, hidden by bureaucrats and the media for fear of transgressing sacred beliefs about multiculturalism and power structures and racism, etc. The revolt of the masses with Brexit. The decline of the media. The fever pitched screaming of academics, media and government bureaucrats as their power and sinecures are threatened by ordinary citizens.

None of them are communists but all of them, as Lessing artfully observed, absorbed the habits of totalitarian communist thinking where the vanguard know better than the populace, where eggs must be broken to make an omelette, where the ends justify the means, and where hate is a perfectly rational political tool as long as it is controlled and used against the correct enemies, i.e. the public.

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