Through the ’80s, ’90s, and into the new millennium, the phrase “politically correct” would crop up here and there. Among people who were credited as being sophisticated, use of the term would be met with a certain exasperation: It was needling and stale. The phrase had been picked up by the likes of College Republicans and Fox News, and if you had an ear for intellectual class distinctions you avoided it.
Originally a witticism, the term suggested there was something Soviet-like in the policing of liberal opinion. When it first came into wide circulation, was it anything but humorous hyperbole? Is that still the case today?
A sociologist might point to a decline in social trust over the past few decades—they have ways of measuring this—and speculate about its bearing on political speech. One wonders: Who am I talking to? How will my utterances be received? What sort of allegiances are in play here? In the absence of trust, it becomes necessary to send explicit signals. We become fastidious in speech and observe gestures of affirmation and condemnation that would be unnecessary among friends.
The more insecure one’s position (for example, as a middle manager who senses his disposability, or a graduate student who hopes for admittance to the academic guild), the more important it is to signal virtue and castigate the usual villains. In some settings these performative imperatives lead us to mimic the ideologue. But from the outside, mimicry may be indistinguishable from the real thing. This uncertainty heightens the atmosphere of mistrust, as in the Soviet world where one could never be sure who might be an informer. Such informers need not be ideologues themselves, just opportunists.
What they are seeing is the amygdala aspect of the r-selected ideology. As the r-strategy grows, the ability of their amygdalae to endure in the presence of adversity diminishes, and they grow ever more frantic to shut off the angst. This is common to leftism, because all of leftism is an adaptation to ease, and a consequent inability to tolerate adversity.
As a result, everywhere leftism grows, you find an ever more panicked group of neurotics, to whom life is completely expendable in the pursuit of total and complete validation of their every r-strategist urge. It is all inability to endure in the face of even the most minor amygdala-stimulation.
More and more, I think the decision point that determines your path is your immediate response in the face of that first hint of a stressor. If you fear the sensation itself, it creates a feed-forward mechanism that spins up the amygdala to unbearable levels. Once you fear the fear itself, you will rapidly approach a place where you will do anything to turn it off, and it will not matter how minor the initial stressor is.
I think this is why military training usually culminates in some extraordinarily stressful trial, often consisting of days spent without sleep, under stress, and forced to solve problems while exhausted and confused. They are trying to create a group of men who have experienced peak amygdala over such a sustained period of time, that to them, amygdala is part of the constant background noise of life, and as a result the sensation itself is ignored.
One thing I notice is that such military units usually do not try to imbue everyone with that level of amygdala tolerance. Rather they operate on an assumption that a large percentage of people are not worth the effort to try and imbue that, and they simply give them the option to leave, rather than waste the effort.
You see why r can grow ascendant in times of universal ease. When there is no fighting because nobody needs to die, a majority of highly fecund perpetual neurotics can rise and hold unusual sway over the smaller numbers of more stress tolerant K-strategists.
It is not until Darwin enters the arena for real through Apocalypse that the balance can truly be reset, and the K-selected environment can return for real.