'Something Wicked This Way Comes': Political Correctness and the Reincarnation of Chairman Mao

39 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2016

See all articles by David Barnhizer

David Barnhizer

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

Date Written: January 15, 2016

Abstract

There could not possibly be any parallel between the actions of Mao Tse Tung’s young Red Guard zealots and the intensifying demands of identity groups that all people must conform to their version of approved linguistic expression or in effect be condemned as “reactionaries” and “counter-revolutionaries” who are clearly “on the wrong side of history”. Nor, in demanding that they be allowed to effectively take over the university and its curriculum while staffing faculty and administrative positions with people who think like them while others are subjected to “re-education” sessions that “sensitize” them into the proper way to look at the world’s reality, should we judge students and protesters such as those who submitted fifty Demands to the University of North Carolina to be in any way akin to the disastrous, repressive, immature and violent members of the Red Guard who abused China between 1966 and 1976. Nonetheless, though it would be unfair to compare the two movements, the Cultural Revolution does send out a warning we should perhaps spend a little time thinking about lest we repeat some of its errors. A brief descriptive capsule appears below.

“The first targets of the Red Guards included Buddhist temples, churches and mosques, which were razed to the ground or converted to other uses. Sacred texts, as well as Confucian writings, were burned, along with religious statues and other artwork. Any object associated with China’s pre-revolutionary past was liable to be destroyed. In their fervor, the Red Guards began to persecute people deemed “counter-revolutionary” or “bourgeois,” as well. The Guards conducted so-called “struggle sessions,” in which they heaped abuse and public humiliation upon people accused of capitalist thoughts (usually these were teachers, monks and other educated persons). These sessions often included physical violence, and many of the accused died or ended up being held in reeducation camps for years.”

I never thought I would be starting off an analysis by citing a description of the Red Guard’s re-education and thought control actions in Mao Tse Tung’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and the words of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” song. But in the context of what is going on in American and European societies involving the comprehensive strategy to control freedom of speech through formal and informal mechanisms of power, Gore’s slightly edited (for length) language seems highly appropriate. Her in-your-face paean to independence of thought and action captures what we face.

[D]on’t tell me what to do Don’t tell me what to say… I don’t tell you what to say Oh, don't tell you what to do So just let me be myself That’s all I ask of you I'm free and I love to be free To live my life the way I want To say and do whatever I please

If the idiocy and well-intentioned malevolence of the Red Guards and Ms. Gore’s eloquent protest against being controlled in thought, language and action don’t offer enough insight we can add the feeling evoked by a 1983 Disney movie titled “Something Wicked This Way Comes” based on a 1962 Ray Bradbury novel of the same name. “Something Wicked” reflects an inchoate fear of a dark and evil force moving steadily but invisibly toward a group of youthful innocents in a small town. Although some might not like the parallel it is my position that in America today, and Europe for that matter, something wicked is coming our way and its wickedness is masked by hidden agendas and even good intentions.

Part of that developing evil is found in the campaigns by many identity groups to label any view other than their own as hate speech, vile, reprehensible and so forth and to savagely pursue and punish anyone who fails to pay obeisance to their positions. This is being done by heckling, destroying careers, issuing threats, labeling with powerful accusations for which it is largely impossible to “prove the negative”, and demanding resignations or firings and other contemptible behavior that “offends” the targeted individuals, denies them their “safe spaces” even though their attackers insist on their own entitlement to such. The irony is that we can even assume that these tactics by people insistent on having their own “safe spaces” create traumatic experiences that will generate a need for “trigger” warnings for the affected persons for the rest of their lives.

What is occurring is not new but it is gaining in sophistication, scope and intensity as fanatics of various persuasions learn how to use the Internet as a weapon. Peter Drucker has described what is happening within our political and social system as the “new realities” of an increasingly pluralist democracy, explaining that: “The new pluralism … focuses on power. It is a pluralism of single-cause, single-interest groups — the “mass movements” of small but highly disciplined minorities. Each of them tries to obtain through power what it could not obtain through numbers or through persuasion. Each is exclusively political.”

Keywords: Speech suppression, political correctness, power, Mao Tse Tung, Red Guards, Liberalism, propaganda, Internet as a weapon to intimidate, “new pluralism”, hyper-sensitivity, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, fanaticism, single-cause interest groups

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Barnhizer, David R., 'Something Wicked This Way Comes': Political Correctness and the Reincarnation of Chairman Mao (January 15, 2016). Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 291. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2716355 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2716355

David R. Barnhizer (Contact Author)

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University ( email )

1801 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
United States
216-687-2315 (Phone)

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