Thursday, August 01, 2002

Atrios linked to a very good article by Richard Goldstein about red-baiting. One would think that such a thing would be seen as archaic at best, but a cursory glance at Horowitz's latest screeds (and the bizarre defense of McCarthyism that graced his blog a few weeks ago) show that no such thing is true- that people can still get mileage out of calling everybody left of Rush Limbaugh some variation of "Stalinist", or "Commie", or "Marxist". Although, now that I think about it, that last one doesn't work so well- I know it's always made me think of French academics, not Russian totalitarians, and it certainly doesn't excite the middle-American "reds under every bed" McCarthyite twinges that red-baiting depends on.

What really grabbed me was the last paragraph, because it precisely echoes something that I've mentioned several times in this own space and continue to try to hammer home.

There's a lesson here about the true meaning of labels. Political correctness ought to describe blind adherence to the dominant ideology—and these days, that means American nationalism. But you'll never hear a guy with an eagle tattoo called p.c. In practice, the term applies only to those who fight the power. It's an enforcer of the order, just like its synonyms, Stalinist and Commie. In the fall of Bill Maher, you can grasp the clear and present danger of Red-baiting, even in a world without Reds. It shuts down critical thinking, and in that sense, it's the most effective instrument of conformity we have.
Now, there's no question that such namecalling isn't exactly limited to the right- just a few days ago a fairly radical friend of mine was using the word "liberal" as a pejorative (to my endless exasperation, although he was using it more in the classical sense) and the zillion "isms" that the left had conjured up to describe and pigeonhole its opponents were part of the reason why the right was able to disarm left critiques with this "politically incorrect" nonsense. A greater reason, though, is that Goldstein is essentially right- that the dominant ideology has moved in their direction, and the perils of opposing that ideology are absolutely and resolutely non-partisan. At the moment, that dominant ideology is a right-wing one (with some exceptions), and definitely such a creature online.

See, there is an additional interpretation of Goldstein's critique. He was talking about dominant ideologies on a national or societal level. Such things are undoubtedly important, but society is made up of numerous sub-groups, and each sub-group (and I'm not quite sure what kind of label to use for such things, as each one carries with it its own baggage) has its own dominant ideologies and dominant beliefs. Of course, another word for dominant is, yes, hegemonic. (It really is a handy title, isn't it?)

Here on the Internet, the hegemonic belief system is definitely a mix of some conservatism and a lot of libertarianism, depending on the issue involved and which area (or sub-medium) on the Internet you're talking about. Ironically, perhaps, Goldstein's point about political correctness is just as true here as it is in American society, as there is no doubt that to be P.C. here is to be libertarian. That's why I don't and can't take whining about being "politically incorrect" seriously here, because by and large, the arguments being (inadequately) defended are the very ones that are already hegemonic. If anything, to be political incorrect on the Net is to be liberal.

In any case, it's nice to have someone make the point as well and as adroitly as Goldstein has, and the next time somebody whines about "political correctness" on the Internet, I'm pretty confident that Goldstein has showed why they can be cheerfully ignored. (Unless, of course, they happen to be liberal.)

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