After reading The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide in the early 1990s, I never realised how infectious, dangerous and widespread political correctness would become. Most of the examples back then were humorous and appeared far-fetched with constructs such as vertically challenged instead of small and chemically inconvenienced for being drunk.
Whether it’s in the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, not a week goes by without yet another example of books being banned, ideas being censored, the past being rewritten, statues being demolished, and authors and academics being vilified and publicly shamed.
Now rebadged as being “woke”, political correctness represents an existential threat to Western societies, including concepts such as rationality and reason, religious freedom and freedom of expression. We have entered an Orwellian world where Big Brother and the Party control how citizens think and where anyone who questions the thought police is victimised, punished and silenced.
For years praised as an accomplished and successful author, JK Rowling is now condemned as transphobic for arguing against radical transgender theory. In her resignation letter, Bari Weiss, an accomplished writer for The New York Times, describes how she was bullied and isolated because of committing what she terms “Wrongthink”. Such is the destructive nature of what he terms the “appalling ideology of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity” that Jordan Peterson resigned from his academic position at the University of Toronto.
As argued by feminist Camille Paglia, such is the debilitating and destructive nature of political correctness, “We are plunged once again into an ethical chaos where intolerance masquerades as tolerance and where individual liberty is crushed by the tyranny of the group”.
In schools and universities, as a result of neo-Marxist inspired critical race and post-colonial theories, students are taught Western societies are inherently racist, there is nothing beneficial about Western civilisation and, if they are white, told they must atone for past crimes committed against People of Colour including exploitation, cruelty, slavery, dispossession and genocide. Such is the insidious and dangerous impact of critical race theory on schools, American parents are orchestrating campaigns and state governments are now legislating to ensure a balanced and impartial curriculum.
In Australia, the neo-Marxist inspired gender fluidity program Safe Schools, funded by state, territory and commonwealth governments, tells primary and secondary school students boys can be girls and girls can be boys. A recent discussion paper informing government guidelines for kindergartens and preschools argues gender is fluid and binary and young children can self-identify anywhere on the LGBTIQ+ spectrum as there is nothing normal about being a boy or a girl. To suggest gender and sexuality are binary is to be guilty of hetero-normativity and cisgenderism.
Such is the power of woke ideology that much valued and appreciated literary works are regularly condemned and cancelled. Examples include Huckleberry Finn (using racist language), To Kill a Mockingbird (promoting white saviour complex), Moby Dick (killing whales) and Lord of the Flies (all the characters are white, male and privileged). Children’s stories are not immune to wokeism and cancel culture. Victims include Thomas the Tank Engine (enforcing capitalist hierarchies), Little Black Sambo (racism), Sleeping Beauty (heteronormativity and non-consensual sex) and Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree (no assertive roles for girls).
Much valued literary works published with the best of intentions are also targeted by the woke thought police. In England, the University of Leicester has decided to cancel such literary classics as The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf and Le Morte d’Arthur in order to decolonise the curriculum and present students with texts that properly reflect “ethnicity, sexuality and diversity” characterising contemporary society.
Nothing is immune for the cultural-left’s thought police, with even food and beverages targeted. The list includes American and Australian food brands like Coon Cheese, Red Skins, Aunt Jemima, Dixie beer and Eskimo Pie being condemned for cultural appropriation and reinforcing unconscious bias. To cure Western societies of racism, all that has to be done is to rebrand and market products now considered politically incorrect and offensive. Ignored is such misplaced tokenism does nothing to redress the very real disadvantage often suffered by people of colour. Instead of virtue signalling and acting morally superior a much better idea is to address what causes disadvantage and to empower those at risk to better their lives.
While justified as a request for greater civility and the avoidance of unjustified discrimination, over the past 40 years political correctness has morphed into an Orwellian nightmare of distorted language and mind control. George Orwell writes “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” and there is no doubt we are now living in a world where reason and rationality no longer prevail and where words, phrases and concepts have been weaponised by the cultural-left in its campaign to impose its ideological agenda.
Best illustrated by the slogan “War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”, the strategy is to force citizens to accept two or more conflicting concepts, thus ensuring compliance by determining how people conceptualise and think. Orwell writes doublethink involves the ability “…to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic”.
Such is the bizarre and irrational world of woke that babies are no longer born as girls or boys, rather they are assigned a gender at birth. In some maternity hospitals, breast feeding is described as chest feeding and mothers renamed birthing parents and fathers as nongestational persons.
Woke language is also used as a weapon to vilify and attack those who refuse to conform or who dare to question what has become the new orthodoxy.
The cultural revolution of the 60s, when all forms of authority were challenged and undermined and where a range of radical, liberating philosophies, including deconstructionism, postmodernism and feminist, gender and postcolonial theories arose also underpins political correctness and wokeism. As a result, literary classics are deconstructed and analysed in terms of gender, ethnicity and class, the history of Western civilisation is characterised by white supremacism, imperialism and exploitation, and Western societies like England, America and Australia are riven with structural sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism.
Such is the power and dominance of cultural-left ideology and the threat it represents to Western civilisation, the English cultural critic and public intellectual Roger Scruton writes in Conservatism, “Understanding political correctness and finding ways to combat it have therefore become prominent among conservative causes” and, as a result, the culture wars are “central to their sense of what they are fighting for and why”.
That such a battle needs to be engaged is made even more crucial at a time of international uncertainty and conflict illustrated by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Xi Jinping’s campaign to achieve global hegemony.
If ever there was a time for the West to be confident and assertive and convinced of its own validity and worth, then this is it.
This is an edited extract from Kevin Donnelly’s The Dictionary of Woke by Wilkinson Publishing. Out now.
1/ Jordan Peterson, pictured with writer and commentator Cate McGregor on Q&A in 2019, has resigned from his academic position at the University of Toronto.