You know things are bad when even a hardcore liberal ideologue like Bill Maher can not only see but publicly admit it.
In a recent installment of the infamous “New Rules” segment of the HBO show titled after himself, Maher tackled the trendy topic of the release of Donald Sterling’s recorded remarks. Only instead of falling in line with the mainstream liberal media’s inexorable march for political correctness in this as in all cases—instead of focusing on the “racist” dimension of Sterling’s comments, that is — Maher decided to buck the well-worn mantle of his ideology and, instead, focus on the real story. That is: instead of playing into the fabricated narrative predictably constructed by the pervasively liberal media, Maher saw what is really at stake in a case like this — namely free speech, privacy, and our Fourth Amendment rights.
The terrifying reality is that we are on the verge of, and moving ever closer to, a liberal dystopia in which speech is directly policed, and thought thereby indirectly policed; one in which principles of political correctness replace moral standards as the ultimate criteria of normative evaluation; one in which the chilling effects on discourse has become a deep freeze. Maher himself made the perfect historical analogy during the May 9 show, which is somewhat ironic:
Who wants to live in a world where the only place you can speak your mind is in your head? That’s what East Germany was like. That’s why we fought the Cold War, remember? So we’d never have to live in some awful limbo where you never knew who, even among your friends, was an informer. And now we’re doing it to ourselves.
Donald Sterling is being publicly and even ritually sacrificed upon the altar of political correctness by the speech police before our very eyes today. Why is what he said in private a matter of public concern — why does it constitute legitimate “news”? First of all, he may be a public figure, but he’s not a public political figure like the president; but secondly, and much more importantly, he wasn’t speaking “in the public square” when he made those comments. They were made in the privacy of his home during a private conversation.
Yesterday I was chatting with a friend over a few beers. We enjoyed — innocently, I would argue — some racially-based humor. Had my friend recorded those remarks, I wouldn’t want them made public — not because they expose me as a racist, but because they would provide all the fodder the cultural machine of political correctness would need to excoriate me as a racist (given that this machine essentially runs on its own fumes, all it needs is a trigger to start the process).
The truth is that there is no legitimate public interest in Donald Sterling’s private comments. There is an illegitimate one, however, as made abundantly clear by the liberal media’s relentless witch hunt for people who think wrong things (racists, sexists, homophobes, etc.): it is to extend and reinforce the policing of speech, and ultimately thought, according to the values of political correctness. When I hear System of a Down’s “Prison Song” on the radio these days, I don’t think of our massive, for-profit system of private prisons — I think of the cultural, intellectual, and psychological prison state being constructed by the constant policing of language and discourse by the media and academic establishments.
To see how deep the problem goes, and how far its potential ramifications extend, you need only consider a recent phenomenon — another liberal fabrication out of thin or rather hot air — namely, so-called “microaggressions.” While the term was coined in 1970 by a run-of-the-mill liberal Harvard elitist, it has only recently found its insidious way into the vernacular of contemporary liberalism. It basically refers to the supposed expression of an intolerance or prejudice (such as racism) in a non-physical act (such as communication) which does not overtly express or display that intolerance or prejudice.
Here’s a real-world example that a friend forwarded to me. In a Yale Law School email list, a rather personal and ad hominem dispute broke out between several of the students. After one student hyperbolically compared the law school’s administration to the institution of slavery, another responded that to make this analogy with regard to an elite law school that they all chose to attend was either inappropriate or, if meant as a joke, in bad taste. Then comes the accusation: this (as it happens) white person telling this (as it happens) black person that they shouldn’t make the slavery analogy in this case, where it is patently hyperbolic at best, is “a classic microaggression”. I will quote this particular cadet of the political correctness cabal verbatim:
I can already guess what your response to the above might be. “But that’s absurd! I’m not racist! I was just expressing a difference of opinion!” But you, [Name redacted — ed], are a white man, [Name redacted — ed] is a black woman, and we are situated in a white supremacist institution… I realize I may be stating the obvious here, but since it appears that these basic facts did not inform your thought process or your response, they merit some emphasis. You, a white man, felt that it was appropriate to tell a black woman that she was not allowed to make an analogy about slavery. You did this while situated in a white supremacist institution.
Do you see the move here? The liberal speech gestapo holds that Adam should not be allowed to make a perfectly legitimate and rational argument in response to another student’s almost absurdly hyperbolic claim — why? Simply because he is a white man and his interlocutor a “black woman, and because they are in the context of the “white supremacist institution” that is… Yale Law School?
Really? When I think of — or Google — “white supremacy”, I think of the Aryan Brotherhood or David Duke, not the number one-ranked United States law school. But in the fantasy world that the contemporary liberal inhabits, Yale Law School is indeed a “white supremacist institution,” just as Adam’s apparently non-racist response is a “classic microaggression” by an oppressive white male against a marginalized black female. And in this fantasy world, we all should police each other’s speech — after all, don’t you want to enlighten and elevate your racist or homophobic friend? And you don’t want to be complicit in his racism by passing over it in silence, do you?
Unfortunately for such deluded liberals, their vision leads to a dystopia in practice, not the utopia they imagine in theory — one in which it is our ethical duty to turn the powerful lens of microanalysis upon our own everyday interpersonal interactions, ferreting out and triumphantly exposing any and all possible expressions of prejudices, even unconscious ones. That is the much more troubling complicity — those who stand idly and silently by while our rights of free speech are eroded, while the chill on discourse becomes a hard freeze, which once interiorized will freeze free thought. And make no mistake: Winter is coming.
Applied consistently, this normative approach to linguistic communication would result in the breakdown of the very activity. One can see this by reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Because language itself is so pervasively vague, ambiguous, and context-dependent, if you turn a sufficiently high-powered mental microscope upon its actual use, you will no longer be able to communicate or be communicated with. If you look closely enough, any statement can be interpreted to mean almost anything, and the result of being confronted with such a multitude of possibilities is paralysis — or for the liberal speech Nazi, an opportunity to exploit.
If you look closely enough at most ordinary, everyday conversations — especially if you fix the parameters right, e.g. make it a white man talking to a black woman at work — the possibilities for attributing “microaggressions” are literally endless. But if we were to treat our ordinary, everyday interactions like this — always applying the high-powered analytic microscope that judgmentally measures political (in)correctness — we really would freeze discourse, we really would create an intellectually fascist culture in which the only statements you are allowed to speak and think are those licensed by the Authority. We would have to give up humor and authentic, unmediated expression—all our words and thoughts would have to be much more guarded, screened by the superego of self-censorship before being let loose.
That’s the world that we are drifting into, carried narcotically by the current of contemporary liberal culture and media.
That’s a world not even Bill Maher wants to live in, yet it’s one we creep further into every day, thanks precisely to the liberal persons, positions, and institutions that he otherwise aligns himself with. It’s time for liberals to wake up with Bill Maher, and stop this mad march before it’s too late.