Ed Driscoll

Political Correctness as Conspicuous Consumption

“The economics of political correctness,” as charted by Kristian Niemietz, at Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs, logically enough. She begins by complimenting Spiked Online for their pushback against the PC brigade, but with a caveat.

Niemietz writes, “if PC was not really about protecting anyone, and really all about expressing one’s own moral superiority,  PC credentials would be akin to what economists call a ‘positional good:”

PC-brigadiers behave exactly like owners of a positional good who panic because wider availability of that good threatens their social status. The PC brigade has been highly successful in creating new social taboos, but their success is their very problem. Moral superiority is a prime example of a positional good, because we cannot all be morally superior to each other. Once you have successfully exorcised a word or an opinion, how do you differentiate yourself from others now? You need new things to be outraged about, new ways of asserting your imagined moral superiority.

You can do that by insisting that the no real progress has been made, that your issue is as real as ever, and just manifests itself in more subtle ways. Many people may imitate your rhetoric, but they do not really mean it, they are faking it, they are poseurs (here’s a nice example). You can also hugely inflate the definition of an existing offense (plenty of nice examples here.) Or you can move on to discover new things to label ‘offensive’, new victim groups, new patterns of dominance and oppression.

If I am right, then Political Correctness is really just a special form of conspicuous consumption, leading to a zero-sum status race. The fact that PC fans are still constantly outraged, despite the fact that PC has never been so pervasive, would then just be a special form of the Easterlin Paradox.

Keep up the good work, spiked team. But bear in mind that you are up against a powerful economic force.

Which dovetails remarkably well with Jonah Goldberg’s observation in Liberal Fascism on the increasingly microscopic micro-levels of what have become known in the zanier precincts of academia as “micro-aggressions:”

This is not to say that there are no racist conservatives. But at the philosophical level, liberalism is battling a straw man. This is why liberals must constantly assert that conservatives use code words—because there’s nothing obviously racist about conservatism per se. Indeed, the constant manipulation of the language to keep conservatives—and other non-liberals—on the defensive is a necessary tactic for liberal politics. The Washington, D.C., bureaucrat who was fired for using the word “niggardly” correctly in a sentence is a case in point. The ground must be constantly shifted to maintain a climate of grievance. Fascists famously ruled by terror. Political correctness isn’t literally terroristic, but it does govern through fear. No serious person can deny that the grievance politics of the American left keeps decent people in a constant state of fright—they are afraid to say the wrong word, utter the wrong thought, offend the wrong constituency.

See also, an average day of Comcast-approved programming on MSNBC: