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Politically Correct – Beyond the definition

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...

Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people Ecce homo! (Behold the man!) In the New Testament account, that assembly found it acceptable to crucify Jesus instead of Barabbas, a convicted murderer – Image via Wikipedia

politically correct

conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated

political correctness


First Known Use: 1934

“Politically Correct.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Jan. 2018.

Well that’s a dictionary definition, which is a good start. But I think the term “politically correct” demands a little amplification.

From my perspective, “politically correct” describes a belief that the majority (or a highly visible group) at a given moment in history see as true or, if not ultimately true, acceptable or appropriate.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political thinke...

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political thinker and historian – Image via Wikipedia

When a politically correct idea takes hold, many follow suit and boldly proclaim with an almost religious zealousness a belief or agenda that, in reality, could be an ephemeral, ideological trend.

Along these lines, the classical French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) argued that democracy’s emphasis on equality could possibly squelch individuality, leading to a suffocating majority rule marked by total conformity.

In the New Testament narrative, Pontius Pilate voices the philosophical essence of political correctness when he says to Jesus Christ:

What is Truth!  ~ John, 18:38 NASB

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar has Pilate sarcastically ask

But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?

The following New Testament passage gives a scathing account of worldly wisdom, which could be seen as a type of political correctness:

What is truth? Deutsch: Was ist Wahrheit? Fran...

What is truth? Christ and Pilate – Image via Wikipedia

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”; and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS” ~ I Corinthians 3:18-20 NASB

Okay, so there is a lot of b.s. in the world. I think we all get that. But that doesn’t mean all politically correct ideas are bad or untrue. Many seem to contain virtue.

The key is to avoid blindly accepting majority opinion – and the political correctness that often goes with that – without first researching and thinking for oneself.

 Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017: ‘Feminism’ (

 John Legend will play Jesus Christ in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live (

 Breaking: Mormon Church President Monson dies at 90 (

 Mormon president to be replaced with homophobic elder following death (




Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to ...

Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to Carl Gustav Jung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M. H. Abrams says that a symbol is anything that signifies something else. Abrams also notes the distinction between public and private symbols. The public symbol, such as the cross, is (apparently) understood by everyone in a given culture. The private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.

This distinction, however, is open to debate. Not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.

In literature a symbol is

a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself.¹

In Jungian depth psychology, the symbol is an image that mediates forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness. These forces can be healing (the cross image) or destructive (the serpent image).²

Jung believes that symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are understood through archetypal images. Archetypes apparently mingle among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung, psychic energy flows between the collective unconscious and the symbol in a two-way process.

Jungian Erich Neumann says the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to a given culture’s ideology.

Jung believes that the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are linked, so trying to ignore one in favor of the other is not a good idea. He’s widely quoted from The Undiscovered Self (1958):

You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zed...

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are shaking hands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along these lines, charismatic political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This happens through brute force, clever calculation and public fascination and projection. Jung believes, for example, that a placard of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.

A more contemporary example would be the psychological effect that massive banking towers (symbolizing Big Business) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture probably had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less affluent visitors from foreign lands.

No discussion of the symbol would be complete without mentioning semiotics and poststructuralism. These contemporary paths of inquiry might not go into great detail about depth psychology, but they’re important for deconstructing cultural assumptions (see also sign, signifier, signified, denotation, connotation, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Bourdieu).

¹ A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320.

² Note, however, that for many the serpent is also healing (see Chakras, Tantra, Kundalini).

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English: The OWNER of this passport picture of...

Passport picture of Willard Van Orman Quine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Dogma is a doctrine or a creed that can refer to religious or non-religious belief. The word “dogma” comes from the Greek dogma (“opinion” or “that which seems good”).¹ Dogma often refers to beliefs articulated and endorsed by the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, apparently derived from divine revelation, and to be accepted by believers despite the lack of conventional scientific evidence to support them.

But the word dogma has also been applied within the philosophy of science. For instance, Willard Quine wrote a seminal paper, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, which levels a devastating critique of those who uncritically accept truth claims made by scientists.²

In everyday usage, the word dogma can refer to any kind of authoritarian claim that demands or depends on unquestioning belief. For instance, we have dogmas about healthy eating habits, normal sleep patterns, the efficacy of some green products, what constitutes intelligence and success, to name a few.

Related Posts » Aquinas (St. Thomas), Assumption, Church Fathers, Doctrine, Enlightenment, Heterodox, Holy Spirit, Infallibility, Postmodernism, Science, Transubstantiation, Wisdom

¹ S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, 1971, pp. 244-245.

² Unfortunately, if someone is callow or careless enough to be uncritically blinded by science, they probably won’t take the time to try to understand what Quine is saying.

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Philip II of King of Macedon, Ny Carlsberg Gly...

Philip II of King of Macedon, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek via Wikipedia

Hegemony is a political science term with ancient roots.

In the Greco–Roman world of 5th century European Classical antiquity, the city-state of Sparta was the hegemon of the Peloponnesian League (6th – 4th centuries BC); King Philip II of Macedon was the hegemon of the League of Corinth, in 337 BC, (a kingship he willed to his son, Alexander the Great).¹

In the 19th century historians used the term to describe one nation’s power over another, and by implication, the whole notion of Imperialism.

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937) was the first to use hegemony to describe the idea of a ruling class socially and economically dominating others within a given society.

The contemporary sociological meaning of the term hegemony points to an entire system of cultural values and practices existing within interconnected and (apparently) legitimate social institutions (e.g. markets, legal system, government, education, religion and media) which the powerful allegedly use to oppress the powerless.

Occupy DC

Image by AFSC Photos via Flickr

Along these lines, the French social thinker Bourdieu, Pierre (1930-2002) introduced the idea of “cultural capital” to try to explain the complex relations contributing to societal inequity, discrimination and domination.

For all its flaws, the recent “Occupy movement” (where protestors are sweeping the globe in protest of being “have-nots” apparently marginalized by a few wealthy “haves”)² raises the question of institutional legitimacy, which just a few decades ago, was certainly not a mainstream issue and hardly questioned by most people in the G8.



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Individual Rights and Freedoms

Detail from Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elih...

Detail from Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elihu Vedder. Lobby to Main Reading Room, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. via Wikipedia

Individual Rights and Freedoms is an admirable political ideal that aims to defend the fundamental rights of an individual within society. However, once put into political practice, defining and upholding the idea of individual rights and freedoms usually presents an ongoing challenge.

For sociologists like Zygmunt Baumann, modern democracies exhibit an uneasy tension between individual rights on the one hand, and individual freedoms on the other hand.

The problems is this: How can individuals be perfectly free while belonging to a society which by definition requires some kind of functional interdependence? What if, for example, your neighbors’ freedom to have a party interferes with your right to sleep at night or, if you work the night shift, during the daytime?

Due to potential conflicts like these we have laws that are continually being created or modified to try to protect and promote individual rights, as well as the ideals upheld by a certain social body.

This sounds great. But some like Scott Turrow suggest that laws do not necessarily solve problems because justice systems often favor high status groups at the expense of lower status groups. And in unduly corrupt societies, legal systems tend to go lightly on some offenders while slamming others.

The following outlines some of the issues about rights and freedoms as experienced in Canada: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

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A segment of a social network

A segment of a social network via Wikipedia

The word ideology is fairly well known today but not too long ago its mention, except among sociologists and historians, would probably have been met with a blank stare.

Ideology refers to a body of social, economic or political ideas and beliefs informing a person, a group or a nation. At least, this is the standard dictionary view. Social thinkers – who tend to question dictionary definitions – argue that ideology is an often deceptive set of beliefs willingly or possibly unwittingly advanced by those with the social power to do so.

According to Karl Marx, Roland Barthes and, to some extent, Michel Foucault, the unwitting masses tend to reproduce ideologies until the point where they become aware of the shallow and deceptive character of a given ideology.

At this time the so-called ordinary person, and not just the so-called intellectuals, may try to change or even revolutionize ideologies.

It’s been argued that all religions contain an ideological component. And this may be true. But to reduce the spiritual aspect of religious experience to mere ideology is probably a mistake or, at least, incomplete.

Academic treatments of the idea of ideology are often complicated and extensive. And, one could say, that although they may appear radical and progressive to naive young students, in reality the academic treatment of ideology is still, for the most part “safe,” and thus ironically reproduces the very social structures and attendant issues which are outlined in class (along with those issues that are overlooked).

That’s a cynical view, of course. And like any opinion, it’s biased and incomplete. Another view is that it’s better to talk about some things than entirely ignore or deny their existence. And social change need not be revolutionary but can, in fact, be gradual or subtle. So, university is not necessarily just “finishing school” but can help to spark young minds into positive action.

Another thing to consider about ideology – or, more properly, academic views about ideology – is that it need not be an evil or sinister process. Ideologies can be good or, at least, better than competing ones. This point is often overlooked by derisive professors who seem to be lopsidedly critical and unfairly trash the very system that gives them their bread and butter.

In the arts, Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn had this to say in the 1980’s song, “Call it Democracy.” I’m not sure what his stance would be today.

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament —
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology.¹

¹ Full lyrics and subsequent author comments (up to 2005) here:

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