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By Michael J. Smith on Monday July 25, 2011 04:19 PM

Shown above is an auntie of mine, a hard case. She was anti-everything. Of course we used to call her Auntie Anti.

But in spite of her nickname, I think she had more mother-wit than to be anti-anti-anything; she probably graped the elementary fact that to be anti-anti-X is within a hair's breadth of being pro-X; and of course, she wasn't pro-anything.

In this respect she was a good deal more intelligent than some of my comrades, who have been stampeded by the Norwegian Templar's recent fusillade -- and lengthy manifesto -- into some anti-anti corrals they'd be better off outside of. Examples, from the invaluable mailing lists:

> (More venom from Anders Breivik, this time directed against 
> post-structuralism. I rue the day when I bought into the 
> "socialist" crusade against Gayatri Spivak et al. There was 
> something deeply reactionary about it that I did not recognize at 
> the time.)  
Me too. Glad I got over that one.
So these two comrades have signed up for anti-anti-post-structuralism. But it gets worse. Breivik was (of course) 'anti-PC', so the comrades are also rushing to nail their colors to the very shaky mast of anti-anti-PC:
... the most obscene phrase in the English language .... is, "I know it's not pc, but..." It doesn't matter what follows it. Anyone who writes or speaks this phrase is an enemy of left activity in the U.S.

... My response on this matter is visceral, and has been that way since I first ran up against the expression in the early '90s. My toes clench, my skin crawls, my flesh creeps, my stomach lurches, my fingernails curl, another few neurons die. . . .

I never listen to debates on it.

Another comrade -- and bear in mind, please, that these are people whose stuff I usually like:
To me, the phrase [sc. 'PC] represents the following argument:
1. I have a strong opinion based on personal taste
2. I realise that there is reason to suspect that this opinion is unfounded
3. I choose not to defend it using argument
4. Instead I will offer a backhanded apology by calling your view “PC”

This is of particular significance to left positions (or activity) because, almost by definition, [reactionary] conservatism is the pig-headed adherence to positions that are no longer tenable and only made presentable through appeal to emotion and use of ridicule (“pc”).

Terence, this is stupid stuff. Campus 'PC', that hothouse bloom -- a form of sanctimonious militant liberalism -- is not worth defending by anybody who's any kind of a real Lefty. Nor is that other academic fad, post-structuralism; in fact, post-anything is even worse than anti-anti-anything. But in their anti-Breivik enthusiasm, some of the comrades even dug up Alan Sokal's famous practical joke on the academic humanities journal Social Text, and used it as an occasion to heap renewed execration on Sokal.

Now this really seems deeply wrong-headed. No matter what one thinks of Sokal or Social Text or post-whateverism, this incident was a massive punk'd experience for the post-whatevers; you'd think they'd be as eager to call attention to it as a post-Confederate would be to remember the Battle of Vicksburg. Don't mention rope when you're talking to a hanged man's widow.

Similarly, if you want to battle the Breiviks of the world, try to pick some ground where you actually have an advantage. Defending campus identity politics and diction-policing, or the vapid gobbledegook of contemporary academic lit-crit, show a very poor tactical sense.

Comments (45)


"very poor" is generous!


Hard to understand why anyone would go apeshit at some post-structuralism:

I believe always in the necessity of being attentive first of all to this phenomenon of language, naming, and dating, to this repetition compulsion (at once rhetorical, magical, and poetic). To what this compulsion signifies, translates, or betrays. Not in order to isolate ourselves in language, as people in too much of a rush would like us to believe, but on the contrary, in order to try to understand what is going on precisely beyond language and what is pushing us to repeat endlessly and without knowing what we are talking about, precisely there where language and the concept come up against their limits: "September 11, September 11, le 11 septembre, 9/11."


Either all human experiences are beyond the "limits" of human language, or none is. This idea that there are within-bounds experiences and special out-of-bounds experiences seems like a newspaper vulgarism to me -- the response of a journalist who looks into his bag of cliches and discovers he's used them all up.


I — and the linked article — "do but jest, poison in jest". "Hume's advice" still applies when it comes to the works of Derrida, Lacan and other founders of an Academy (of Lagado) of their own: "to the flames." A point well made in humbler medium here.


Word, Michael. I was part of the college-campus PC scene as a lad, and let me tell you, it's really just a bunch of bitter, neurotic losers playing political Halloween dress-up. It would have done me a world of good if someone would have told me when I was a freshman that such bitter, neurotic losers turn their coats on one another at the drop of a hat. *ANY* hat!

Al Schumann:

The strongest, most aggressive proponents of sanctimonious PC are the corporate behemoths, who also push hollow multiculturalism. They're perfect tools for disciplining employees and a cheap way of claiming a regard for the customers.


It seems to me that at least ninety percent of undergraduate political activity could be described in exactly those terms, Loveandlight.


I'm going to disagree on the anti-anti-PC angle.

To the extent "political correctness" operates at all today, it operates as a ban on questioning the virtue of Our Troops, questioning the virtues of the Free Market, and so on.

The campus-multi-culti "PC" invoked by conservatives as a preface to their racist or sexist screeds is a straw man. And it should be called out for what it is.

Maybe you've been on a college campus more recently than I have, and you think that this form of "PC" still exists. I'm skeptical. It is, in any case, orders of magnitude less widespread and influential than the military-industrial "PC" I mentioned above. Accordingly, I agree with the lefty quoted above: "I know this isn't PC, but..." is the equivalent of saying "I know that the feminazi communists who run our government will probably put me in a re-education camp for saying this, but...". It's based on a laughably false conservative persecution fantasy, and ought to be called out as such.


Attack, don't defend.


Attack, don't defend.

Re-read the two anti-anti-PC quotes above. Both of them are making the same argument I did. Neither of them is defending "campus PC" -- they're just attacking people who use it as a straw man.


I like Al's take on the best uses of pc
And calling it militant corporate liberalism
Gets to store
Lots of significance in a few words

I like the notion these jargon adjustments are like putting new handles on old luggage

Often the new handles are on the bottom so you end up turning the content upside down before you can pick it up


Why defend a liberal position
Sure don't attack it if you think that makes sense
As well it might when it's already under a reactionary counter attack pig pile

But save you forces for attack
We are the maquis we concentrate only on targets we can lick
liquidate the target and then dissolve back into the wood work again

Liberating a space in the meme-o-sphere is only a momentary operation
To suggest the resistance is still operating

The tet offensive shows both the strength and cost of these moves
They need to be conducted sparingly
And without the pseudo heroics of the typical beautiful loser alamo mania
stubborn Bravery and willingness to self sacrifice
Are both part of the unaffordable luxury equipment
the maquis ought pass by
Should be avoided at all costs


btw, speaking of campuses lorded over by the PC thought police, here's a recent account of life at a hotbed of student activism:

"Political silence, total silence," said Chris Hebdon, a Berkeley undergraduate. He went on to describe how various student groups gather at Sproul Plaza, the center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students, a practice know as "tabling."

"Students table for Darfur, no one tables for Iraq. Tables on Sproul Plaza are ethnically fragmented, explicitly pre-professional (The Asian American Pre-Law or Business or Pre-Medicine Association). Never have I seen a table on globalization or corporatization. Students are as distracted and specialized and atomized as most of their professors. It's vertical integration gone cultural. And never, never is it cutting-edge. Berkeley loves the slogan 'excellence through diversity,' which is a farce of course if one checks our admissions stats (most years we have only one or two entering Native Americans), but few recognize multiculturalism's silent partner — fragmentation into little markets. Our Sproul Plaza shows that so well — the same place Mario Savio once stood on top a police car is filled with tens of tables for the pre-corporate, the ethnic, the useless cynics, the recreational groups, etc."


Seems to me that reacting in any way to the "non-PC" trope, when right-wingers deploy it, constitutes following a red herring. And what does it amount to, really? "No! YOU'RE the one who's PC!" This seems very feeble to me.

If you have to talk to right-wingers at all, seems to me one would want to go more directly for the jugular than this. But admittedly, I think that arguing at all with convinced right-wingers is a waste of time in the first place.

Talking to rightwingers is instructive, if you're as willing to or capable of navigating their coded speech as with gliberals.

Jane Hamsher cuts a troublesome figure, but she's spot on in calling it "veal penning."

Christopher M:

"Either all human experiences are beyond the 'limits' of human language, or none is."

This is a remarkably absurd statement; I'll assume, for your sake, you made it in a flight of unthinking contrarianism. Do you really believe that human language - this mishmash of tongueflapping we've learned to make over just the last million years or so, so contingent in its present forms on cultural, social, and biological limitations, has the capacity to perfectly describe everything that happens to us? Human language can no more encapsulate human experience than ape language can encapsulate ape experience, or bird language bird experience.


A favor, and a slight digression: Can one of the site's hosts please define "beautiful losing"? I am almost certain I understand what it means, and equally certain that it's a concept I need burned into my consciousness. But I'd like to know exactly what it means.

Another thing I need burned into my consciousness, and in my subsequent behavior, from MJS:
"I think that arguing at all with convinced right-wingers is a waste of time in the first place."

Jack, I used to find it instructive. I guess I still do. But I am moving very rapidly to the point of diminishing returns. I find these arguments tend always to be the same argument, over and over and over and over and over again, over different "issues."

I just yesterday had an argument with a conservative chap who runs a fairly large business that includes a good % of govt contracts. He was rooting for the debt ceiling NOT to be raised. Evidently, he hates govt spending so much he hadn't even considered that a decent % of his own revenues comes from Uncle.

Of course, as this argument, over email, proceeded, the SMBIVAn in me started thinking, 'DO NOTHING TO DISCOURAGE THIS! THIS IS HOW CAPITALISM WILL SOMEDAY BE BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES!!!'


Most political conversation consists of two possibilities, both utter wastes of time:

1. Arguments with right-wingers.
2. Commiserating handwringing over the "state of things" with left-wingers.

I have found SMBIVA to be a deliverance from both.

Do you really believe that human language ... has the capacity to perfectly describe everything that happens to us?
Kinda smuggled in a 'perfectly' there, dintcha? Concealed in shoes or underwear, perhaps. You sly dog.

But ask the obverse question: does human language have the capacity to describe -- 'perfectly', if you will -- anything that happens to us? If so, why some things and not others? What makes the difference?


I think "beautiful losing" is Al's term. Or Owen's? I forget.


"Instructive" might have been a bad word. It carries allegations of edification. I was just trying to avoid the sort of word which harbored pejorative secondary meanings.

Honestly, there's no reason to defend this crap:

"This 'PC' stuff is getting out of hand. It's a darn shame that we can't honor our own men and women in uniform while serving their country. Shame on the HOA!


My DH is currently serving active duty in Iraq. I dare my own HOA to tell me to take down my yellow ribbons or my 'I Support My Darling Husband in Afghanistan' signs I have just off my front porch. Patriotism has become a thing of fodder in this country. So, one can't support their loved one being put in harm's way to fight for freedom in our own country but it's fine and dandy to ONLY support a sports team?"


"Human language can no more encapsulate human experience than ape language can encapsulate ape experience, or bird language bird experience."

Speaking of remarkably absurd statements...

This is the problem with the "post-structuralist" linguistic flea-fuck. It starts with the crudest, almost childish, dichotomies and then says "choose."

Human language is powerful yet imperfect and slippery. But we have one hell of a lot more power in the area than other animals.



Thus JC at 4:35 above:

Honestly, there's no reason to defend this crap
Indeed; but was anybody defending it? The silly 'PC' trope in JC's quote was really just a conventional turn of phrase at this point; why pay any attention to it at all?

What interested me was that the target of her wrath was an 'HOA', which I take it stands for "Homeowners' Association". Now I'm really with her on that one. The mere idea of such things -- telling people what color they can paint their houses,
or what they can have on their lawns -- makes me blind with rage.

Of course the really charming confusion she exhibits is the notion that HOA's, those quintessential suburban-Boer political structures, have some kind of left-wing agenda. You do just have to ask yourself what world such folks live in, and whether any communication is possible.


I don't think anyone was defending. Some asked "why defend?" I was commenting along that vein.

On the other note, the muddling of opponents and the astroturfed stupidity are enlightening. I don't know about "communication," but I sometimes just enjoy reading how Obama is a "tax crack addict" and an "entitlement junkie." The dissonance entertains, if nothing else.


Jack, yes. Here's the big laugh: Obama is waging class warfare.


Sorry, JC. I missed your point. But I loved the quote: so American. Land of the free, and property values, and Homeowners' Associations. And, uh, what happened to the 'free' part?


And the property values, if it comes to that. But thank God we still have the homeowners' associations.


Most of you I'm sure know
Beautiful losers is a novel by Lenny Cohen

That seemed only too perfect a label for the house progressive caucus

Then in 2006 and now


I share mjs view
I never argue with white reactionary males of the lower orders

I only listen and encourage them

We talk
sports sex and prejudice
as a friend of great and bitter wit once encapsulated it

He had a nice sense of personal Eden too

Just Him on top and Jews on the bottom

everyone else can go to Hell

... not that it matters, but "veal penning" was nicked BY Jane Hamsher FROM Dennis Perrin.


One doesn't want to get all anti-anti-anti-anti about it, though. Over at CounterPaunch, Cockburn channels his inner Hitchens with an unsolicited blast at Louis Proyect:

Every once in a while some Trotskyite purist like Louis Proyect will hoist his skirts and jump up on the kitchen table, aghast at the sight of an “incorrect” thought or assault by CounterPunch, often specifically me, on the canons of political and cultural PC as sedulously observed by this politically and intellectually demure old Trot.

Regardless of whether Lou is a demure old Trot, does the repetitive red-baiting, PC-baiting and skirt-bating invective somehow absolve Cockburn from his cowardly strawman fabrication of an "inference [that] seems to be that we published racist neo-Nazi propaganda which helped inflame Breivik"?

There was no such inference. There was, in fact an explicit disclaimer of any such implication.

"We don’t hold ourselves responsible for articles our contributors publish elsewhere." Fair enough, but apparently we don't hold ourselves responsible for truthfulness when responding to criticism, either.


Sandwichman, I hate to disagree with you about anything, but this blast at poor Lou made me laugh like a fool.

I read Lou's list, and occasionally even contribute, and I'm glad he goes to the trouble to maintain it. But there is a Mrs Grundy moralistic tone to the thing, and Alex's fleering came like a breath of fresh air.

Lou is still smarting over an earlier characterization of himself by the Ace -- smarting so much that he keeps quoting it:

...some old Trotskyist lag like Louis Proyect, dozing on the dungheap of history like Odysseus’ lice-ridden old hound Argos, woofing with alarm as the shadow of a new idea darkens the threshold.
I dunno whence comes the bad blood, but Lou seems to have become Colley Cibber to Ace's Al Pope.

(This is a little unfair to Cibber, who was a highly successful actor, much loved in broad comic roles; whereas I don't think Lou has ever raised many laughs.)


Dude, post-structuralism is 50 years old -- if there are elements of the movement that count as good insights and that are still around, they are certainly not "fads." And "hot house campus PC" is just stupid. For a couple of decades, at least, "PC" has been nothing but a term of abuse for use by people who want to grant themselves the laurels of being "anti-PC." Attacking "PC" has all the intellectual heft and importance of attacking "hipsters" and "fanbois."

Jesus. You're better than this crap.


No need to apologize about disagreeing with me. What I would say, though, is that even IF Cockburn's hit on Proyect was accurate and funny, it is more importantly an evasion and a cop out. Cockburn has been caught with his pants down and all he can do is wave his arms and shout, "Look over there!"


The rather blatantly defiant editorial eclecticism of powder punch
Has long been noticed by unalloyed keftites of several stripes less starchy then comrade Lu Lu

Lind is in fact funny paper material

So what !

but then again so there and so forth

hair pulling eye scratching act
Strikes this disinterestedly scrupulously neutral observer
as perhaps
as skirtish as poor lace collar Lu Lu 's habitual
Church lady face pruning

Not as robust a cat fight
As the one between two dostoyevsky gals in BK
That revolve around bro dimitri as opposing archetypes

Oh I guess if you could re imagine the two
in an adwardian drag spat written up by Oscar Wilde

To be perfectly clear here
Just who is putting skirts on the both of

I myself am a homely lusting lesbian grain sack
trapped in the body of a plump
Last ends rentier



To what Who and where
Is your blistering reproach addressed?

The target or targets are not clear to me


And anyone that mocks Argos is a ignoble prat

The reunion of the two hero and hound is one of the great moments of
Shameless unbleached
Sentimentality in all of western literature
And to yoke that once fleet hunter with Lu Lu

I hope Alex enjoys years of deep bone ache and
Other elderly torments
Waiting on his next celebrity phone call


Alex in his typically acid tossing way does cover his exposed bottom

The Lind piece Lu Lu sites falls under the category of no looking back no d
Ie a tacit hat tip to the nasty curl of the bit Lu Lu extracts from lind's off color post
I suspect Alex has some sense that particular piece
might have remained posted only at the center for freedom and purification site
Where Lind habituated normally
And not received the kindly mirroring other lind war crit pieces received
at powder puff

It's very faint but there
A second line of defen
We shall m
Not memory hole our editorial lapses let alone authors that have moved into the taboo zone on other occasions

Not the time
And more basically not the inclination

A word I love in the mouth of general Jack ripper
But from Alex ...it's ...well... Disappointingly high hatish
As is the entire Lu Lu brush off

The crying of " trot" in the night
Is endearing but insufficient alas
Lu Lu has struck meat here
Why does Alex persist in his broad front with
Assorted freaks geeks leaks and streaks ?

A witches brew Will not an anti imperial poison make
Only a toonish indulgence of the grande guignol
like the work of some 16 th century Flemish night mare

Michael Hureaux Perez:

Alex Cockburn has long walked the tightrope over the vales of rightie pirhanas, seemingly convinced that they will not rip his flesh should he fall. Thin skinned as he can be on this point, his lilly slapping dismissal of Mr. P. is no surprise. And Proyect can be a big pain in the ass to be sure- isn't that what sometimes goes with this gig?--- but his view of Alex is generally pretty supportive.

Allow me to parse Cockburn's mea non culpa ultimatum:

"We don’t hold ourselves responsible for articles our contributors publish elsewhere."

There are at least two meanings of "responsible" melded here. One is "we don't routinely screen our contributors backgrounds and other writings." I've got no problem with that one and I suspect that is what Cockburn is banking on. But the other one is "we exempt ourselves from having to respond even when it is revealed that our contributors are douche bags." That's just irresponsible -- and I suspect it's not literally true. Who wants to take my wager that Cockburn will never again publish an anti-war piece by William Lind now that the shit has hit the fan?

In the responsibility universe, there is such a thing as regret and even making amends, which doesn't imply guilt. Cockburn should man up and do a sweeping expose of the Larouche/Lind paranoid conspiracy swindle. He could even commission Chip Berlet (whom he baits along with Proyect and the SPLC) to write it. I'm not holding my breath.


There are worse things than pc.


"Fortunately, Mussolini recognized the danger Gramsci posed and jailed him."


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