- - Sunday, March 5, 2017


By Howard S. Schwartz

Palgrave McMillan, $99.99, 199 pages

We usually think of the culture wars as being a competition between the broad groups we currently call “progressives,” and “conservatives,” each of which has a general concept of a just society. While they intensely disagree, each group understands the other’s goals. Historically, each has tried to win people over; remember the old 1960s demonstrators’ approach, “are you aware of the student’s ten demands? May I give you a copy?” Lately, though, we see rebelliousness without goals, and the careful honing of the sensibilities to a level of refinement that can perceive the remotest connection to an offense, real, intentional, or not. We, left and right alike, drape a blanket called political correctness over it all, and sit, baffled, as though we tuned in late and missed most of the plot. Butch Cassidy summed it up for us: “who are those guys?”

“Rage is not a policy.” So said Tom Brokaw on the Feb. 23, 2017 edition of “Morning Joe.” He was talking about the Berkeley students rioting to block a controversial speaker from the campus. “They are privileged people at that university.” Mr. Brokaw said, “and they can’t hear somebody who comes and has a message [contrary to their ideas]? I think it’s outrageous…” The 2016 mess at Mizzou was somehow triggered by: a drunken white lout who used a slur in a black gathering; an anti-gay insult; and an anonymously drawn swastika in human feces. Oberlin College was overwrought over a non-existent Klansman and a racist and anti-Semitic prank played by students who said they were “trolling.” Yale melted down over opinions about Halloween costumes. Occupy Wall Street occupied space and made noise but never presented a set of demands at all. There are more. “Who are those guys?”

Howard S. Schwartz thinks he knows them and offers to make an introduction by means of a fascinating book titled, “Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self.” Mr. Schwartz uses psychoanalytic techniques to explain perplexing recent politically correct phenomena. He theorizes that we are seeing the actions of a kind of narcissist that demands that all contacts from the world at large be loving nurturing, and affirming, and who believes such a state of affairs to be a right, of which he or she has been deprived by the social structure.

Such people subconsciously wish to live in the imaginary state of infants who receive all nurture and protection from the mother. This state of affairs, which never existed outside of infantile perception, can only exist if the entire world is maternally nurturing and loving — to them — as opposed to being objective and demanding or even, merely indifferent. It is also atomistic because each such person wishes to be the center of the loving world.

However, the world in reality is objective, demanding and indifferent. Such people, therefore mistrust and even hate all social structure, seeing it as being inherently oppressive. Society to them is not an organically developed and positive, if flawed, system of guidelines, and agreed norms of behavior, but rather something wrongfully imposed, that blocks the maternal nurturing world they seek and steals from them their personal freedom and uniqueness. This they unconsciously and symbolically identify with the paternal principle. Hence they deeply resent and feel rage towards the “patriarchal system,” (and of course, white males), they attack “toxic” masculinity, and they seek to pull down the existing cultural structure without anything to replace it. After all, a replacement social structure is in fact, just another social structure.

The beliefs of such people take a religious quality. Therefore, what opposes them is evil. White males, as the creators/beneficiaries of the “patriarchal system,” and of “white privilege,” are the source of the evil. They and their works must be rooted out, even at the loss of the basic conventions necessary for people to interact. Consider the University of Washington, Takoma, which finds that grammatical standards are racist and must die. So much for laws, contracts, scholarship and even love letters.

Mr. Schwartz’ plentiful examples in the book, including several mentioned above, begin to make sense under his analysis. If he is right, the challenge for progressives and conservatives of good will is this: how does one compromise with people who have no program to propose? What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Joseph Sullivan chairs the advisory board for the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas.

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