Friday, September 26, 2008

PC taboos

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) was a New York politician who became an influential bureaucrat in the Democratic administration of President Lyndon Johnson. In that capacity he prepared a controversial study “The Negro Family: A Case for National Action,” also known as the “Moynihan Report” (1965). The report’s main thesis was that the ongoing erosion of the black nuclear-family structure stood in the way of further progress towards economic and political equality. The report concluded that the structure of family life in the black community constituted a '”pathology ... capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the white world,” and that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.'” In addition, the report argued that the matriarchal structure of black culture prevented black men from functioning as authority figures.

Although Moynihan contended that his intentions were honorable, the report unleashed a firestorm of criticism from African Americans. Eventually he recovered and became a respected senator from New York State. Noneless, the incident ushered in a long period in which white people were wary of saying anything unfavorable--even obvious truths--about black people. Instead, one had to wait for one of their own, such as the actor Bill Cosby, to state that black family members were failing in the task of encouraging their children to do well in school. Even so, some African American commentators, such as Shelby Steele, had to face derision as “Uncle Toms.”

Before long, the principle became firmly established: only members of minorities were allowed to utter any criticism of their group. Outsiders, no matter how well intended, were barred from doing so. When heterosexuals, even those who were careful not to seem homophobic, pointed out that gay men’s practice of frequent, anonymous, unprotected sex was spreading AIDS, they were slapped down. Fortunately, eloquent gay spokespeople like Larry Kramer began forcefully to address the issue.

Many Muslim authorities make plain their view that no criticism of Islam by non-Muslims may be allowed. This principle is taken as a matter of course in the Middle East, and (as the Danish cartoon episode showed) it is creeping into Western society as well. Even now, most accredited scholars of Islam in the West, even those who are not Muslim, cling to the official line about the origins of Muhammad and the Koran. Questions from specialist scholars, which have been quite searching, are cordoned off, so that the general public hears nothing of them.

From the beginning of its existence sixty years ago, the state of Israel has invoked the Holocaust as a heat shield to prevent any criticism of its harsh policies regarding the Palestinians. Fortunately, in the last few years scholars such as Walt, Mearsheimer, and Judt have begun to ask searching questions about the Israel Lobby, and the way it has, to all intents and purposes, hijacked American foreign policy. And yet we are told that there is no such thing as the Israel Lobby. Sure, sure--and Mario Cuomo was so right in saying that the Mafia doesn't exist.

Repeatedly, we hear that any criticism of Israel is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. This approach is short-sighted, because it is creating billions of “anti-Semites” throughout the world.

I myself have sought to break another taboo by questioning the claims of Normative Judaism--the innovative phenomenon introduced by the Mishnah and the two Talmuds--to be a faithful reflection of the religion recorded in the Hebrew Bible. No dialogue has ensued. I have been privately told that such investigations by a gentile are simply not allowed.

During the last sixty years, there have been thousands of studies examining anti-Semitism. Except for a few pathetic replications of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, these studies have uniformly excoriated any criticism of Judaism and Jews. As far as I know, there are no significant studies condemning anti-Christianity. Indeed, secularists, following well worn paths hewn by Voltaire, Diderot, Bertrand Russell and others, have engaged in a veritable orgy of mockery of Christianity and Christians. Some, it is true, seek to distinguish between “Christianist” extremism and authentic Christianity, but the distinction is often lost. And why could one not, in similar fashion, distinguish between “Judianists” and authentic Jews? Of course, no word like the one just placed in quotes exists.

Traditional Catholics are still trying to stifle any criticism of the Vatican and the Church hierarchy. A silver lining that is the offshoot of the clerical pedophile scandals has made that strategy largely unviable, except among some sectors of the faithful. And in fact serious historians have for a long time exposed the horrors of the Crusades, the Albigensian massacres, the Inquisition and the subjection of the Amerindians in the New World. That is as it should be. No group should have the right to censor legitimate criticism of its historical record.

There is much that is objectionable, appalling in fact, in the historical record of Christianity. Yet we rarely hear any analysis that documents the origin of most of this negativity. It is the Hebrew Bible that is the source of Christian intolerance and arrogance, the division of the world into "us" and "them," the misogyny and homophobia. Clearly a double standard prevails. Can the heat shield of the Holocaust extend so far? Apparently it does.

All that being said, there is a paradox. In some realms we see a situation that is the very opposite of the one outlined at the beginning of this essay. In this contrary situation, members of the group are FORBIDDEN from commenting on it. A good example is drug use. Once we listened attentively to Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, public figures who had used drugs and were qualified to comment on their experience. But now only DEA officials and other law-enforcement types, not to mention the moronic Joseph Califano, are permitted to do so.

Of course times change. When I was young only homophobic psychiatrists were permitted to comment on homosexuality. Without exception they pronounced that it was a "sickness"--one that they could cure for a substantial fee. By contrast, those who were the real experts, gay people like myself, were abnormal “injustice collectors” whose views had no objective validity.

I could go on and on. There are plenty of other examples of all kinds: of the groups that have managed to mao-mao their critics so that only group members can define their collectivity; of those who are, conversely, forbidden to define themselves; and of switches from one category to another. There is no need for further elaboration.

Resolved: every person in every group should have the right to criticize every group. Wait a minute! What planet am I living on? I spent forty years laboring in academia. Thank goodness I was confined to a marginal enclave in the art field, because if I had been in almost any other I would be called upon to censor myself. That is the way “freedom of inquiry and expression” works. So I learned, and so it is almost always today. Oh, yes, the guardians of the conventional wisdom can allow a few expressions of heresy to slip through now and then, providing that they are properly marginalized. That way the honchos give the appearance of fairness. I seem to recall that a while back a man named Marcuse spoke about “repressive tolerance.” Indeed.


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