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Hanging’ With the Suits

Sarah Barnett



The Maxim Institute’s Policy on Family tells you pretty much everything you need to know about them: “Maxim believes family is a natural and universal institution and that it is the first unit of society. Maxim holds that families are intergenerational. The Institute believes that men and women are drawn to each other for coexistence and reproduction and that marriage secures an environment for nurturing children. Maxim contends that the family — as well as being the fundamental social unit — is a small and domestic economy. The Institute supports policies that strengthen family and recognise the value of intergenerational networking. Maxim does not place all sexual relationships on the same level and so values policies that promote marriage. The institute sees policies that encourage and sustain marriages as beneficial to New Zealanders and especially their children.”
They call for policy based on “evidence, not ideology.” Their magazine is called Evidence. I’m just saying. Every single member of the board (except for 2 youngsters) is married with children, something which is specified in their bios – like a qualification. Again, just an interesting fact of probably trifling consequence. On the 22nd of March, the Institute Hosted a forum at the Wellington Club.
How, in the name of Sweet Fancy Moses, I was thinking, did Salient get an invite? I’ll hazard a guess that the folks at the Institute, while no doubt aware of the contrary political force Salient provides, thought they might have a sympathetic ear on this one: The guest speaker was Dr Frank Ellis, world expert on Political Correctness and how it is Evil. And Communist. Political Correctness may well be anathema to the student media, but this grand old rag has been accused of being Trotskyite on more that several occasions, so we can hardly be expected to throw our hands in the air about the whole Commie thing. That was their first mistake. Salient’s first mistake was getting there too late for nibbles and wine. Salient’s second mistake was not to be late-20s to early-40s, wearing a suit and hip glasses and carrying a chi-chi leather portfolio. I was never going to be allowed to ask questions.
Still, everyone was very nice. Steven Franks smiled at me (am I going to have to vote ACT now?), and, holding hands across the political and sartorial divide, we ventured forth.
It might just be me, but my plan, when I’m an International Lady
Expert on something and I’m invited to speak in countries other than my own, is to find out a little about my hosts’ news and politics. I will make sure that my arguments have causal links. I will not, by crikey, make ham-fisted attempts to use linguistic tricks to convince, and then dismiss Deridda and fire Foucault. I will stretch myself by addressing audiences who may hold views other than my own and I will be unequivocal in my opinions. I will make eye contact with people in jeans and hoodies. I will not have a teaching stint at the University of Las Vegas on my CV.
Ellis currently lectures in Russian Studies at Leeds University. He’s a prolific essay writer on the dangers of PC, based, he says, on a Russian Communist ideal. He is the self-proclaimed discoverer of the scourge – his first articles were dismissed as being written on something faddish that would disappear. Ellis has found the term “Political Correctness”, in Russian, as early as “March or May of 1921” in Soviet sources, attributed to Lenin’s regime. “Lenin was seeking to control his revolutionary party. He’d given up on the radical revolutionaries’ approach to overturning Russia…because he believed there was not enough discipline and focus…and what he came up with was this idea of political correctness. Now what this means in practical terms is that a position on any given issue can be said to be PC when it is consistent with the party line.” I’m following so far. Then Mao, we’re told, used the same approach. Okay. Good Communism in a nutshell, there. How does this link to what we know as PC today, though? It’s all about the New Left, we’re told, along with “interesting trends in feminism and post-modernism.” “The New Left has occupied and now controls the means of expression; the print and the broadcast media, our universities, our television stations, our public sector bureaucracies as well and even our armies.” I can’t wait to tell Rupert Murdoch he’s New Left. “They’ve been extremely successful in capturing and controlling the means of expression, such that it is part of our present problem of discontent.”
So… the media now is influential, Communist parties controlled their media – QED! No need for further argument here, it is abundantly clear that whatever the missing links in this presentation were,
they are implicit in the very fact that two entirely different political and cultural systems have some similarish traits, therefore one very clearly lead to the other. And because the first one was inherently evil, the second one must be likewise. I really hate it when people I kind of agree with make pants arguments. I feel undermined.
Relativism is a weapon in the arsenal of Leninism, Marxism and multiculturalism (apparently synonymous with PC): “for old-style Marxists, truth and knowledge were simply reflections of class bias. Now this has always struck me as rather odd, and I’ve had some interesting arguments with people over this, particularly when it comes to science. It’s always struck me as rather odd that people who believe that Newtonian laws of gravity were simply the reflection of the personal biases
and prejudices of Sir Isaac Newton are in a position to put that theory to the test by jumping out of the window and demonstrate whether it’s the personal prejudice of Newton or indeed represent some kind of objective reality. I’ve had very few takers.” He just about had one then – way to make a point! State your argument, then point to a loony fringe of society who may not even exist to prove it! Because there’s no way the laws of physics and subjectivity can coexist in this crazy world, buddy!
Dr Ellis believes in absolute objective truth. Without objective proof, you end up in the dangerous position of not being able to valorise one culture over another. And that’s whack, because clearly it’s the West.
If you’re PC, “Shamanism and Voodoo are simply on a par with Newton and Einstein.” There is no conceivable way that you could see some cultures as better in some areas than others – no, the objective proof is that Political Correctness equals saying everything is as good as everything else , and that we shouldn’t even rate them in different areas. No, West is Best. How do we know? Western Man has figured out how to explore Mars. “When one looks at the deep structure the West has contributed to the world, I think that the case for the West in my opinion is overwhelming. and easily defensible.” When asked to elucidate further, “I have no hesitation whatsoever in asserting that the West is demonstrably and verifiably superior across a whole range of outcomes… the West is the only society that has achieved an amazing dominance over nature. We have achieved technological superiority. We are the only civilisation reasonable likely to find solutions to HIV, the resurgence of malarial infections in sub-Saharan Africa, because men working in scientific laboratories and research institutes in the West are going to find solutions to them. Now, when some African living in a shanty town goes into a bar and he sees the lifestyle of the West being beamed into his own life, or he sees an advertisement or he sees the technological mastery which has been achieved by Europeans and the Western world, he wants that world… they want jet planes, they want sub-machine guns, they want computer technology, they want the secrets of software, they want the post-industrial society , they want all of these things… because they know these things will make their lives better in all sorts of ways… I will be convinced only when Shamans and Voodoo send rockets to the moon. And bring them back again.” When challenged by someone wearing a suit to answer the question on moral right and wrong, rather than to talk about rockets, “I think the West has got a good
record in terms of moral issues. The West – England started slavery… it was the English in 1833 who abandoned it. The West has produced some unsavoury and nasty things, but only in the West it seems to me do you find those forces are tolerated which can do something about it. You didn’t have a Green movement in the Soviet Union… Only in the West do you find a system which tolerates opposition on which the West can be challenged on moral issues. Slavery was clearly one of them, I think that inherent in a liberal democracy was the correction of the lack of property rights for women, no other society in the world has done as much for women as what we have done in the West.” Thanks, West! And I saw what you did with your men in labs, too – very clever, dude.
How is it, then, that a man so unequivocal in his own yardstick for cultural superiority in all things, despite admitted unsavoury elements, suddenly equivocates like a fox when asked about censorship? The central tenet of undermining PC, he’s argued, is a recognition of absolute free speech – the abolition of the idea of hate crime, so what about censorship “outside the political sphere, particularly when it comes to vicious depictions of sex or constraints on broadcasting standards.” as put by Steven Franks (I am going to have to vote for him now, Goddammit.). Ellis: “I believe in censorship in time of war… outside of those exceptional conditions, I tend, by and large, to favour um, ah, limits on freedom of expression have to be subject to exceptionally fierce scrutiny… on balance, despite some horrific manifestations of the abuse of free speech, I do personally tend to favour free speech unless subject to strict scrutiny, narrowly tailored standard.” Surely, for someone who tub-thumps about free speech, this is only a difficult question when you realise your view may be contrary to that of your host’s. But he comes up trumps: saying, “Well if you don’t like what’s on the telly, turn it off. It’s a bit like saying if you don’t like the air quality in Krakau, stop breathing.” No it’s not, Dr Ellis, it’s really quite different.
Something tells me that Salient won’t be invited back to the Maxim Institute anytime soon. It could be argued that I’m merely exercising my right to free speech, but I suspect it won’t stand up to a particular brand of narrow and tailored scrutiny.