Alex Reid’s piece on the illiberal nonliberlaisms or whatever: The backlash against “political correctness” really does trace back to conversations in the humanities about power. It isn’t so much, as Reid seems to suggest, a question of mobilizing an idea of America that includes both human and technical subject-objects. Or, at least, that isn’t ALL that it is. Rather, historical arc of humanities over the past generation — its individuation — bears some scrutiny to figure out what we might do next in the face of the PC backlash ushered into more mainstream discourse with the election of Donald Trump.
In broad strokes, the focus on the humanities as *the* place where racism, sexism, and classism, not to mention sexual orientation, indigeneity, and identity questions of all kinds can be theorized and discussed effectively doomed the humanities long ago. If there is an American ideology, it is a pragmatic one, indeed it may be pragmatism only now on steroids and a corn-based industrial diet laced with antibiotics. This is to say that the export of post-WWII French intellectualism, while of great quality and influence, found difficulty in taking root on American soil where results matter far more than whatever inputs or ingredients one works with. The American intelligentsia and academics found much in post-war European analyses to understand civil rights, pluralistic society, the value of dissent and minority opinion, not to mention these as essential for a secular, humanistic society. Lots can be cited here.. The point being that what has motivated American thinking for the past generation, if not two, has been European thinkers, tackling Europe’s problems.
Now, we still have some of Europe’s mess to deal with, especially in terms of colonialism where we have barely even acknowledged the fact that there is a mess at all. So, while I might critique the recent turn in American thinking as overly reliant on post-WWII thinking out of Europe, this in no way deflects or releases America )as a broad, more-than-United States imaginary) from European problems. My critique just points to the wrong use of a tool, not to a denial that a problem exists for which a tool is needed.
In the end, the focus on the humanities as the “PC” training (in the eyes of many, not in actual case) or at least in terms of the “humanizing” influence against the sciences, focused attention on humanistic inquiry as little more than a set of manners, a set of behaviors that really stemmed from Europe rather than our own continent. It was hoped that the problems with racism in western Europe and the racism against slaves and indigenous folks in the New World might be diagnosed as stemming from the same infection, one of Western conceptions and treatments of the Other. And this may indeed be the case as Le Pen’s party gains ground post Trump, Duterte, and Brexit. I do not rule that out.
What I do find suspicious is the reasoning that any corrective for a broad-based problem-in-common should be similarly in-common. In other words, it’s a matter of solidarity and scale. While it is good to entreat some sense of commonality, the problem lies in how much leeway one allows before solidarity becomes compromised. For many allies on the left in America, it has been to be of one voice against all manner of injustice. Yet, justice is particular. The remedies to injustice are not universal. Injustice does not impact all those it affects equally. Malcolm X noted how injustice was rampant in NYC even though the onus of racism was on the overt Jim Crow laws of the south.
So, even though the problem may be in common and from the same root, the means of combating or treating it cannot be the same. There is no chemotherapy or radiation treatment for this cancer; rather, we are faced with the pharmakon, which is always differential and always applied locally. The pharmakon is a contingent treatment. Tackling the problem with the Other is a matter of rhetoric, not of philosophy.