110 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This book is a very informative text for anyone who wishes to understand more clearly the effects of the Political Correct culture that has swept across our land over recent years.
Browne discusses in detail the objectives of the Political Correct elite and how this plague has driven an infection into the very heart of a once free speaking nation. Using strong...
Published on 25 Sep 2007 by S. Duke-low
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Polemic? I think not.
Whilst an interesting read, there is little in terms of content that I found to be particularly controversial. Perhaps, as Browne suggests in his final few pages, this is indicative of the demise of the PC ideology; I certainly hope so. This is very much an essay rather than a work of any great intellectual rigour but one that I would suggest is worthy of the investment...
Published on 31 Jan 2008 by G. Rees
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Polemic? I think not.,
This review is from: The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain (Second Edition) (Paperback)Whilst an interesting read, there is little in terms of content that I found to be particularly controversial. Perhaps, as Browne suggests in his final few pages, this is indicative of the demise of the PC ideology; I certainly hope so. This is very much an essay rather than a work of any great intellectual rigour but one that I would suggest is worthy of the investment of a few hours of one's time.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, essential reading,
This review is from: The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain (Second Edition) (Paperback)A brilliant book that should be read by anyone with an interest in the issues it addresses, The Retreat Of Reason is written in a very accessible manner and can be digested quickly. The author makes his points succinctly and intelligently. He is a beacon of wisdom in this land taken over by madness, as sponsored by an appalling government.
There should be a copy of this in every library in Britain and in every MP's office in Britain. But of course that won't happen. Why? Political correctness!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern McCarthyism in our Midst,
This review is from: The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain (Second Edition) (Paperback)Civilisation has progressed. We no longer burn heretics at the stake. According to Steven Goldberg , these days "all one has to lose by unpopular arguments is contact with people one would not be terribly attracted to anyway" (Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences: p222).
Goldberg not only underplays the psychological impact of social ostracism, but also ignores more serious consequences of contemporary heresy. Bomb threats and even a threat to murder her children have been issued to women such as Erin Pizzey and Suzanne Steinmetz who argued that women are equally or slightly more likely to perpetrate domestic violence against men than vice versa (a finding now replicated in countless studies: Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren't Supposed to Know; see also Fiebert 2009; Archer 2000). Similarly, in the 70s, Arthur Jensen had to be issued with an armed guard on campus at the University of California for suggesting in an article that it was a "not unreasonable" hypothesis that the black-white IQ gap was partially genetic (a claim also well within the mainstream of scholarly opinion: see the survey of experts in I. Q. Controversy, the Media and Public Policy). It is therefore perhaps not altogether paranoid to observe that Heinrich Heine's aphorism that "those who burn books will end by burning people" was proven prophetic in his own home country barely a century after he penned those words.
Political correctness has cost people their jobs. Academics such as Chris Brand, Helmouth Nyborg, Lawrence Sommers, Frank Ellis and even James Watson have been forced to resign positions for researching, or just mentioning, politically incorrect theories such as the possible social consequences of or innate basis for race and sex differences in behaviour and cognition.
The same fate has befallen non-academics, some of whom have been deprived of their livelihoods simply on account of their political beliefs. Browne refers to the case of the headmaster sacked for saying Asian pupils should be obliged to learn English, a proposition subsequently adopted as official government policy (p50). More generally, Browne continues, police and prison officers in the UK are currently barred from membership of the BNP, a legal and constitutional (albeit thuggish) political party (p51-2) (but not from membership of Sinn Fein, who until recently supported terrorism against the state, or of various revolutionary Marxist groups who seek to overthrow the state).
There have been other cases of individuals sacked on account of their membership of this party. Far from protecting employees from this treatment, trade unions such as ASLEF have followed suit themselves expelling members on the grounds of their party membership (p52) - successfully defending this action in Strasburg by citing Freedom of Association (a right denied employers by anti-discrimination laws). Browne concludes "one must be very disillusioned with democracy not to find it at least slightly unsettling that in Europe in the twenty-first century government employees are being banned from joining certain legal political parties but not others, legal democratic party leaders are being arrested in dawn raids for what they have said and political parties leading the polls are being banned by judges" (p57).
It is notable that Liberty, Britain's ostensible civil liberties advocacy pressure group has done nothing to oppose any of these infringements of basic rights to freedom of speech and association, in stark contrast to the principled and courageous stance of its American equivalent, the ACLU. Of course, members of parties such as the BNP hardly represent a fashionable cause célèbre for civil libertarians. But, then, neither did other groups targeted for persecution at the time of their persecution. It is precisely this quality which rendered them so vulnerable.
Political correctness is often dismissed as a trivial issue. Free speech is never trivial. When people's lives are threatened and they lose their livelihoods because of currently unfashionable opinions, what we are witnessing is a contemporary form of McCarthyism. While columnists, academics, opinion-formers and moviemakers delight in condemning without fear of reprisals a form of McCarthyism that ran out of steam over half a century ago (i.e. anti-communism), few dare to incur the wrath of the contemporary inquisition by exposing a modern McCarthyism right here in our midst.
For Browne, PC is "the dictatorship of virtue" (p7) which replaces "reason with emotion" and subverts "objective truth to subjective virtue" (xiii). He sees political correctness as a dangerous alternative to factual correctness (p8), whereby "measuring stick of the acceptability of a belief is no longer its objective, empirically established truth but how well it fits in with the received wisdom of political correctness" (p5).
In fact, there is nothing particularly new about political correctness. Every age has its taboos. Formerly, compatibility with religious dogma rather than with political correctness represented the primary "measuring stick of the acceptability of a belief" and heretics from Galileo to Darwin have long been persecuted for promoting the "objective empirically established truth" as a preferable alternative. Browne acknowledges the analogies between religion and PC, noting how the latter "echoes religion in providing ready, emotionally-satisfying answers for a world too complex to understand fully and providing a gratifying sense of righteousness absent in our otherwise secular society" (p6) and how "Christianity... has shown many of the characteristics of modern political correctness and often went far further in enforcing its intolerance with violence" (p29).
At its heart, PC evaluates a claim, not on its factual merits, but on its ideological appeal and offensiveness to certain interest groups. Certain views are held to be not only false, but also unacceptable to hold or openly defend.
Near the beginning of his discussion, Browne provides a useful definition of PC. Viewing "intolerance of dissent" as at the heart of PC, he defines it as "an ideology which classifies certain groups of people as victims in need of protection from criticism and which makes believers feel that no dissent should be tolerated" (p4).
Unfortunately, however, in some of his subsequent discussion, Browne extends the concept of PC beyond this useful definition. For example, he describes Euro-scepticism (opposition to the further integration of the European Union) as politically incorrect (p60-62). However, there is no obvious victim group in need of protection from Euro-scepticism (the EU institutions themselves can hardly qualify). Additionally (and probably for this very reason), Euro-sceptic views, although often derided as ignorant and as motivated by Jingoism, are not deemed offensive or as outside the bounds of acceptable discussion. They do not therefore in my view qualify as politically incorrect.
Browne's extension of the concept beyond its usefulness in this way is typical of many critics of PC, who succumb to the temptation to define as PC as any view with which they themselves happen to disagree. Extending the definition of PC in this way enables them to tar any views with which they disagree with the PC label. More importantly, it also allows ostensible opponents of PC to purportedly condemn PC while never actually violating its central taboos by raising any genuinely politically incorrect issues. Ostensible opponents of PC can therefore pose as heroic opponents of the PC inquisition while never actually addressing any topic which fully incurs its wrath.
Drawing on and refining Browne's own definition, I would suggest that what is required for an opinion to be politically incorrect is:
1) The existence of a group (women, blacks, homosexuals etc.) to whom the opinion in question is regarded as offensive;
2) The group in question must be perceived as oppressed or disadvantaged.
It is therefore perfectly PC to offer opinions that offend groups that are not regarded as oppressed groups (e.g. the English, bankers, the upper-classes), but groups who possess victim-status are deemed sacrosanct and largely immune from criticism.
However, victim-status itself appears to be rather arbitrarily bestowed. Certainly, actual disadvantage and poverty has little to do with it. For example, it is widely acceptable to denigrate the white working-class and underclass (hence the relative acceptability of perjorative epithets such as 'chav': see The Redneck Manifesto), while, on the other hand, even privileged upper-middle-class blacks, women and homosexuals are able to perversely pose as oppressed.
Similarly, it is acceptable to denigrate men in a way that is unacceptable in respect of women, despite the fact that, as Browne observes, "men were overwhelmingly underachieving compared with women at all levels of the education system, and were twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to commit suicide, three times as likely to be a victim of violent crime, four times as likely to be a drug addict, three times as likely to be alcoholic and nine times as likely to be homeless" (p49: see also Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell). For this reason, forms of overt discrimination against men, such as the different ages at which men and women are eligible for state pensions in the UK (p25; p60; p75) and the higher levels of insurance premiums demanded of men (p73) are tolerated without criticism. As Browne concludes, "the demand for equal treatment only goes as far as it advantages the less privileged sex" (p77).
The apparent arbitrariness of the bestowal of `victim-status' and its importance in public debate means that, as Browne observes, "there is a large incentive for people to portray themselves as victims" (p13-14), such that groups as diverse as "the obese, Christians, smokers and foxhunters" are battling to redefine themselves as oppressed groups (p14). Browne characterises this as a perverse "competitive victimhood" (p44), whereby incentives are reversed and people are encouraged to strive for the bottom rather than the top thereby undermining "one of the main driving forces for progress in society, [namely] the individual pursuit of self-improvement" (p45).
Jews, Muslims and the Middle-East
Another example of Browne's tendency to extend the concept of PC beyond its useful sphere is his characterisation of defence of the policies of Israel as politically incorrect. The Middle East is certainly an issue over which emotions run high. However, the ad hominem and guilt by association methods of argumentation which Browne describes as characteristic of PC (p21-2), are more often invoked by defenders of Israel than by her critics - the charge of `anti-Semitism' here substituting for the usual refrain of 'racism'(despite the fact that the Palestinians have at least as strong a claim to be classed as Semitic as do modern Israelis). For example, especially in the US, any suggestion that the US's small but disproportionately wealthy and influential Jewish community influences US policy in the Middle East (e.g. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy) is dismissed as tantamount to proposing a Jewish world conspiracy.
Browne acknowledges that "the dual role of Jews as oppressors and oppressed causes complications for PC calculus" (p12) because their history of oppression in the past conflicts with their perceived oppression of the Palestinians in the present. However, he hastily concludes "PC has now firmly transferred its allegiance from the Jews to Muslims" (Ibid.).
While there may be some truth to this, to some extent the Jews retain their 'victim-status' as an 'oppressed group' notwithstanding their disproportionate wealth and power. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the taboo on referring to this disproportionate wealth and power. While the PC left talks endlessly about 'male privilege' and 'white privilege' and continually recycles statistics showing the disproportionate wealth and overrepresentation in positions of power of whites as compared to blacks and other ethnic groups (and of men as compared to women), to cite similar statistics indicating the disproportionate wealth and overrepresentation in positions of power of Jewish people (let alone advocate affirmative action to redress these perceived imbalances) is castigated as anti-Semitic and beyond the bounds of acceptable discussion. This is despite the fact that the average earnings of Jewish people and their disproportionate overrepresentation in influential positions in government, media and business surely far outstrips that of any other group.
The Gender Pay Gap
On page eight, Browne identifies four issues where he claims the "politically correct truth", conflicts with the "factually correct truth". One of these is the claim that discrimination underlies the gender pay gap. This is also the first issue addressed in Browne's chapter on how PC affects policies. It is also included by David Conway as one of six issues raised by Browne in the main body of the text for which Conway purports to provide supportive evidence in a section entitled `Commentary: Evidence supporting Anthony Browne's Table of Truths Suppressed by PC', which is included after the Epilogue and Postscript in later editions.
Although standard practice in mainstream journalism, it is regrettable that Browne himself offers no references or sources for the statistics and data he cites. Indeed, the `Commentary' section included at the end of the book represents the only real effort to provide supportive data for Browne's claims and this is authored, not by Browne himself, but by David Conway, a professor of philosophy. Unfortunately, this covers only a few of the myriad of issues touched upon by Browne in the main text. Nevertheless, having researched many of the issues myself, I can testify that most of Browne's claims are backed up by the evidence.
In support of Browne's contention that "different work/life choices" and "career breaks" underlie the gender pay gap (p8), Conway cites the work of sociologist Catherine Hakim (p101-103). However, more comprehensive expositions of the factors underlying the gender pay gap and the sacrifices endured by men in return for their higher levels of compensation are provided by Warren Farrell (Why Men Earn More - The Startling Truth Behind The Pay Gap and What Women Can Do About It) and Kinglsey Browne (Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality (Rutgers Series in Human Evolution)).
Browne, in common with most commentators on the gender pay gap, neglects to factor in the more fundamental feminist fallacy in regards to the average earnings of men and women. This is the observation that, despite earning more money than women, much of the money earned by men is actually spent by their wives, ex-wives and girlfriends etcetera, such that women, rather than men, are known to dominate most areas of consumer spending.
Browne also usefully debunks the another area in which the demand for equal pay has resulted in manifest injustice - namely the demand for equal prizes for male and female athletes at events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships. As Browne points out, "logically, if the prize doesn't discriminate between men and women, then the competition that leads to those prizes shouldn't either", such that there shouldn't be separate men's and women's events whatsoever and, as a consequence, "women would win virtually nothing" (p76-77). Browne notes that "it would currently be unthinkable to make the same case for a 'white's only' world athletics championship" even though "it is currently just as pointless being a white 100 metres sprinter in colour-blind sporting competitions as it would be being a women 100 metres sprinter in gender-blind sporting competitions (p77).
International Aid and African Underdevelopment
Another topic included by Browne on page eight as one where the "politically correct truth" conflicts with the "factually correct truth" and covered by David Conway in his commentary (p113-115) is the issue of the reason for the underdevelopment and poverty of Africa. Whereas the politically correct answer asserts, according to Browne, that African poverty results from inadequate international aid, Browne notes that "development aid has a poor record of promoting economic development" (p48). Instead, Browne claims that the real explanation for African poverty is "bad governance" on the part of their own leaders (p8).
However, though convincing on its own terms, this argument merely begs the further question as to why African countries are so prone to corruption and misrule - not to mention why places outside of Africa but populated and governed by individuals of African descent (such as Haiti and Jamaica and even some US cities) - are similarly afflicted. The usual PC answer, namely that the legacy of colonialism holds these countries back, is unconvincing, because African countries were 'underdeveloped' even prior to colonisation (this was what allowed them to be so easily colonised) and those African countries largely spared colonisation (e.g. Liberia and Ethiopia) are, if anything, worse-off.
More plausible alternative explanations for differential levels of development compatible with PC have been developed (e.g. Jared Diamond's excellent Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years). However, one suspects that merely addressing the question of the ultimate reason why bad governance and underdevelopment are more prevalent in some parts of the world than others is too politically incorrect a topic for even Browne to touch upon, since the alternative explanation (namely that for which James Watson was recently excoriated and driven into retirement for raising and which has been more fully developed by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen IQ and the Wealth of Nations (Human Evolution, Behavior, and Intelligence)), will always lurk unspoken like an elephant in the room, too politically incorrect for even Browne to risk addressing.
Is Browne a Victim of PC himself?
Most of the preceding criticism therefore converges on a single problem with Browne's otherwise exemplary dissection of PC: namely that Browne, an ostensible opponent of PC, is, in reality, neither immune to the infection nor ever able to fully break free from it. For example, Browne describes what he refers to as PC's ability to "divide and rule", describing how "the politically incorrect often end up appeasing political correctness by condemning fellow travellers" (37p). This is a characteristic feature of witch-hunts, from Salem to McCarthy, whereby victims are able to partially absolve themselves by succumbing to pressure to name and `out' fellow-travellers.
Yet, ironically, Browne himself provides a perfect illustration of this tendency when, having condemned the blacklisting of BNP members for their political views, he issues the obligatory ritualistic disclaimer, condemning the party as "odious" (p52). This perfectly illustrates the appeasement of PC which he has himself identified as central to its power.
Similarly, Browne fails to address any of the most incendiary issues, such as those that resulted in death threats to the likes of Jensen, Pizzey and Steinmetz. After all, to discuss the really taboo questions would not only bring upon him even greater opprobrium than that which he has already faced but also possibly deny to him a platform on which to express his views altogether.
Browne therefore provides his ultimate proof of the power of PC, not through the topics he addresses, but through those he studiously and conspicuously avoids. In failing to address these issues, either out of fear of the consequences or out of genuine ignorance of the facts due to the media blackout on their discussion, Browne provides the definitive proof of his own fundamental thesis, namely the PC corrupts public debate and subverts free speech.
Archer, J. (2000). `Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: a meta-analytic review'. Psychological Bulletin 126 (5): 651-80.
Fiebert, M.S. (2009) `References examining assaults by women on their spouses or male partners: An annotated bibliography' (available online).
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An almost perfect account of PC's origins,
PC thought and action though has evolved to the point that the "common" people - not just academics or our former liberal elite - are regularly touched by it. Anyone who has been unfortunate to have become a victim of crime will invariably encounter PC (sic) behaviour from their local police - often in their sheer lack of interest in pursuing the perpetrator. When citizens deal with local authorities, the NHS, and even many commercial organisations (such as Sainsbury's) they'll encounter PC behaviour at some point.
Browne explores the origin of PC and knocks over some of it's foundations (with relative ease it has to be said.) He points out the now-regular conumdrums that PC-literate folk suffer from, almost constantly - when they have to somehow balance their strict morality with its consequences - pointing-out the likes of Ken Livingstone - formerly known for promoting equality in all forms, but who will quite happily invite a Muslim scholar to London who calls for the murder of gays and the formal chastisement of women.
One element of the book rankles with me - Brownes almost puppy-like love of big corporations and enterprises. These are the organisations that have willingly shipped technology abroad (to Communist China for instance) and hopelessly failed to invest in skills and training for decades. Brownes lavish praise for capitalism might be out of step with some readers who are (like me) a little skeptical of its so-called triumph.
Browne though pulls his punches. The knots that PC folk get themselves into have led to our former left-wing and liberal elite falling into the maw of facism in recent years - an observation regularly pointed-out by commentators like Nick Cohen and the former Leftist David Horowitz in the US. Enchanted with a desire to challenge Western concepts in all forms, PC has moved from its Marxist heritage to occupy the ground that those around in the 1930's would have recognised as distinctly facist. Thus we see so-called "Lefties" demanding the introduction of Sharia Law (through the SWP/Respect) whilst the likes of Peter Tatchell are frantically discouraged by those who are desperately floundering with their moral compasses.
PC's greatest failure is to rob society of the liberal elite and left-leaning individuals that would have protested for our freedoms of expression, encouraged (proper) equality for women and gays and fought off the siren call of facism. Now, because of PC, that generation has been lost and we are none the better for it. Browne points out that we will need a new Age of Elightenment to repair the damage that PC has done - but those who used to work to change the Establishment have now become part of it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A courageous account on how political correctness distorts the public debate, as emotion dominates over the facts and reason,
Although written for the British political context, the book also includes some illustrating cases for other European countries and the U.S., allowing its scope to have universal validity within Western societies. By the same token, the analysis centers around some British-specific issues such as immigration, multiculturism, women pay-gap, but the author's analysis and conclusions regarding the difficulties in dealing with a reasonable debate have validity to a whole range of other issues, such as the ones briefly mentioned at the end of the book.
The epilogue: "A Guide to Purging the Political Correctness Within" provides the reader with ten quite valuable pointers or rules to apply before judging an issue, to allow a shift from political correctness for factual correctness. The application of most of these ten points is not limited to social issues, they also apply to some of the current controversies and discussions regarding scientific issues, and policies related to them, such as climate change, genetic engineering, transgenic foods, and drug safety, as many interest groups use the same tactic of never engaging the actual arguments but instead defending their view based on dogmatism, intolerance of dissent, incomplete and politicized science, and above all, with personal attacks from high moral ground with a self-righteousness quasi-religious attitude. Don't let yourself be trapped in a spiral of silence for the sake of political correctness!
Highly recommended, particularly for those concerned with the increasingly distortion of facts and new scientific findings by the politically correct mainstream media, fueled by the interests and biases of advocacy groups. I recommend the following books by Sidney Hook for those interested to deepen on this subject: The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research and Sidney Hook on Pragmatism, Democracy, and Freedom: The Essential Essays, which includes the essay "The Ethics of Controversy", cited several times by Browne. An excellent complementary reading is The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion--Our Social Skin.
4.0 out of 5 stars Vital Issues,
Shaw's statement that he might well loathe and despise an opponent's views but would fight to the death for his right to give voice to them, cuts little ice in today's society. Fewer would understand let alone support Lionel Trilling's argument that the most precious of our liberal values can only be truly cherished by putting them under the most rigorous scrutiny and pressure. As Browne so potently argues, liberalism itself has become the major victim of political correctness. Dissent is all too often taboo. The irony is that we have never experienced such intolerance of tolerance.
At the root of all is language, and sadly nowhere is the assault on critical reasoning more alive than in the educational establishment. Minds are no longer opened but filled. The teacher is no longer a crowbar but a dripping tap of moral propaganda. Sanctimonious bigotry threatens a new form of fascism, as exclusive of logic and free philosophical enquiry as Stalin's Soviet Union or many an African, Middle Eastern or South American state. The cultural - sorry multicultural - arbiters are such as Harriet Harman (the deputy leader of a major political party!), the NUT and Cross Cultural Studies still masquerading as English departments.
Have we escaped from the tyranny of organised religion to meet only this sad new dawn of secular oppression? Perhaps Salmon Rushdie is right that the battle for enlightenment has to start all over again.
Browne is not the only voice in the wilderness, but crass media populism and pusillanimous politicians, soft in the head as they may be, are as hard as the Berlin Wall to tumble. This is invaluable polemic, not the final word, but anything that kick-starts a shift back to sanity and freedom of thought and expression has to be welcomed.
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read,
This review is from: The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain (Paperback)So nice to read a book and know I'm not the only one out there who thinks like this, had borrowed a copy from a friend and thought I'd like one of my own to lend to others.
5.0 out of 5 stars The retreat of reason: political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern briotain,
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important Book You'll Ever Read,
18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A confused politically correct expose of political correctness,
Hardly thoughts and presuppositions from a real enemy of politically correct thuggery. Which is probably why Mr Browne kept his job after he released this book. To his credit he does manage to provide a healthy number of, albeit relatively "safe" and sometimes inconsistent, criticisms of PC. Indeed, the tone of the book is a disapprovingly critical one. However, the truly politically incorrect amongst us, not just those who poke holes in PC itself, are still out of bounds in Browne's world. Many real free thinkers would no doubt be treated to a number of PC epithets employed by Mr Browne in this book.
Even though the book is PC, it is still at the same time an expose of PC. On balance I'd still recommend reading it as a source to stimulate your own thoughts on the subject.
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The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain (Second Edition) by Anthony Browne (Paperback - 10 April 2006)
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