You care about the greater good,
but you want to define it for yourself.
What if you disagree with the politically correct view?
You fear ridicule, shunning and attack, so you tell yourself it’s not worth it and find a way to conform. Until one day you can’t.
I was politically correct until the day I heard myself lie about a simple fact because the truth didn’t sound progressive. I froze– in the middle of a lecture to 150 students. Enough! I decided to take back my brain. I gave myself permission to see what I see and know what I know instead of living in fear. It cost me, but the benefits outweighed the costs. Here is the story of my transition. You can do it too.
This book shows you how:
- biology drives political correctness
- you can enjoy the rewards of political correctness without it
- you can feel good when conformity surrounds you
What do I mean by Political Correctness?
I do not mean the hot-button dramas that fill the headlines. They are just tribal solidarity rituals. I mean the belief that we are suffering under a “bad system.” Political correctness trains you to feel victimized by bad guys running the bad system, and to fight them by following the leaders of political correctness. If you follow, you get to be one of the good guys and share in the rewards that these leaders control. If you don’t follow, you are labelled a bad guy and excommunicated.
This message is so pervasive that we take it for granted. I only questioned it after decades of noticing a gap between the facts of my life and the politically correct dogma. I saw that the good guys are not all good and the bad guys are not all bad. I tried to overlook the inconvenient facts because I feared excommunication. But when I had kids, I saw how harmful it is for children to be taught that they’re powerless victims. I did not want my kids to blame their frustrations on bad guys and “the system.” I wanted them to believe in themselves instead of just following the lead of political correctness.
It’s hard to leave the world view that has shaped your life. I searched for alternatives, but after all I’d been through, I could not embrace another preconceived belief system. I looked for answers that fit reality as I’d lived it. My search led to amazing research on the social behavior of animals. This showed me that political correctness is biological. The brain chemicals that make us feel good are inherited from earlier mammals. They reward us for behaviors that promote survival in the state of nature. Political correctness stimulates your reward chemicals in primal ways.
I’m not saying we’re hard-wired. On the contrary, our neurons are not connected at birth. We connect them from life experience, and these connections make us who we are. Early experience wires you to expect rewards and pain in ways that happened before. Political correctness wires you to expect rewards and pain in specific ways. It’s hard to re-wire yourself after the neuroplasticity of youth, which is why people cling to political correctness even when they see its flaws.
I finally ripped off the PC goggles and looked at the world without them. You can say I haven’t escaped political correctness because it’s still there. But I have stopped filtering reality through the lens built by the gatekeepers of political correctness. I have learned to focus on the pleasure of my own choices instead of on solidarity with suffering. You can rip off the PC goggles and enjoy your own choices too. You’ll be glad you did!
What do I mean by Political Correctness?
You spin facts to make the good guys look good and the bad guys look bad. You fear being ridiculed, shunned, and excommunicated if you don’t. You often see facts that conflict with politically correct assertions, but you try not to think about them so you don’t get yourself into trouble.
Part 1: Feeling the Choice
- My Moment of Insight (1994)
I suddenly noticed my political correctness when I caught myself lying to my students about a simple matter of fact for fear of sounding right-wing. I always told myself it served the greater good, but now I saw that it served me. It protected me from politically correct rebuke. Once I realized that, I had a choice. You have a choice too.
2. Family Politics (1953-71)
Early experience builds the neural pathways that tell us whom to trust and how to survive. Young mammals survive by transferring their attachment from parents to a herd. Here are the experiences that taught me how to survive as I looked for my herd. It’s the straight story— not filtered through PC expectations.
3. A “Good” Education (1971-5)
This is not a sex, drugs and rock-and-roll story. My teachers were the most reliable people in my life, so I embraced their world view. It didn’t quite ring true to me, but like every young mammal, I sought respect and observed how it’s gotten.
4. Saving the World (1975-83)
I went to Africa with the United Nations and discovered that it was a mafia. I was pressured to make the good guys look good and the bad guys look bad regardless of the facts. I knew how to do that thanks to my “good education,” but I did not want to be in a mafia. I kept looking for a new herd.
5. Shaping the Next Generation (1983-94)
Political correctness had trained me to defer to my children and my students, but I started to see the harm done by this submission. I was not meeting their needs; I was meeting my own need to avoid conflict.
6. My Secret Shame
I did the right thing according to political correctness even when I knew it was wrong. I protected myself from ridicule, shunning and attack, until finally my mom genes kicked in. In my quest for an alternative, I studied the mammal brain and learned that political correctness is biological.
Part 2: The Biology of Political Correctness
7. Why it’s always high school in your brain
The superhighways of your brain build from the experience of your myelin years— before age eight and during puberty. Adolescence builds the myelinated pathways that stimulate our happy and unhappy chemicals. No one consciously relies on teen wisdom, but the brain relies on the neural pathways it has. Political correctness stimulates happy chemicals because it fits adolescent pathways so well.
8. The mammalian urge for social support
Mammals seek safety in numbers because the brain rewards it with the oxytocin. Common enemies bind a group of mammals despite internal conflict. Political correctness bonds people by pointing at common enemies. It offers a way to enjoy the feeling of social support without the messy complications of one-to-one bonds. No one consciously thinks of political correctness as following the herd, but the mammal brain makes it feel good without need for conscious thought.
9. The mammalian urge to seek resources
Our ancestors didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, so they had to scan constantly for resources. The joy of dopamine is released when you approach a reward. But the brain habituates quickly to the rewards it has. It saves the dopamine for new and improved. That’s why we’re always foraging for new rewards. Political correctness promises new rewards and shames you for seeking rewards in other ways. This leaves you dependent on political correctness for the good feeling of dopamine.
10. The natural urge for social dominance
The mammal brain rewards you with the good feeling of serotonin when you gain the one-up position. We don’t admit to this natural urge for social importance in ourselves, though we easily see it in others. Serotonin is quickly metabolized, so we seek the one-up position again and again. That’s risky, so we appreciate a fast, easy path to social dominance. Political correctness puts you in the one-up position by asserting your moral superiority and generating new ways to condemn others. But you have to submit to the gatekeepers of political correctness before you can command that submission from others.
11. The natural urge to avoid pain
The mammal brain releases cortisol when you see a threat or obstacle. Cortisol makes you feel like your survival is threatened, which motivates action to relieve it. Cortisol is triggered by disappointment, so you can feel threatened a lot even if you don’t consciously think that. Political correctness stimulates threatened feelings and then promises to relieve them.
12. The natural urge to leave a legacy
Natural selection built a brain that rewards you for promoting the survival of your unique individual essence. Happy chemicals flow when you take steps toward building a legacy, and mortality fears are relieved. That’s hard to do, so the illusion of saving the world is very attractive. Political correctness continually activates the good feeling of saving the world.
Part 3: Life without Political Correctness
Once I understood the needs of my mammal brain, I could meet them without political correctness. I managed to escape quietly without angry confrontations. I do not want war with the politically correct because most of my loved ones are among them. I do not want another embattled mindset after working so hard to shed the last one. I simply want to manage my own brain instead of yielding it to the gatekeepers of political correctness. I will not apologize for that, and if there’s a price to pay, I find a benefit to offset the cost.
13. Valuing authenticity
The risks of escaping political correctness come easily to mind, so it’s important to be equally attuned to the benefits. Authenticity releases the physical distress caused by squelching your true self. Self-squelching is part of being a social animal, but each moment of authenticity is a valuable release of tension.
14. How to be a good person without political correctness
It’s hard to feel like a good person when you’re surrounded by messages that condemn you as evil. I learned to define “good” for myself instead of submitting to the politically correct definition. Then I systematically cleared my airspace of those accusatory messages. I can’t control the world, but I can control access to my eyes and ears.
15. How to make a living without political correctness
The workplace requires strict submission to political correctness. This leaves you in a double bind: stress if you conform and stress if you don’t conform. My strategies for surviving the politically correct workplace are to: live frugally, develop two hard skills, and treat everyone with respect.
16. How to enjoy social support without political correctness
People who talk about inclusion are likely to exclude you if you don’t embrace the PC agenda. I did not want to keep playing the same game with a different jersey. I wanted to free my life of in-group/out-group politics. So I developed a long list of alternative ways to give my inner mammal the feeling of support without joining a herd.
17. How to feel safe without political correctness
Like any addiction, political correctness lures you with good feelings in the short run while hurting you in the long run. The habit is hard to kick, but I learned to feel safe without political correctness by focusing on my next step, avoiding social comparison, and putting things into historical context.
18. How to lead without political correctness
Politically correct leaders win popularity contests by giving “power to the people.” You are called a Nazi if you enforce rules, so many leaders submit to the squeakiest wheel to protect their status. Here’s how I transcended the beer-and-pizza school of management and honored my own judgment instead of substituting the presumed judgment of “the people.”
The day I lost my cool
I couldn’t control my anger when I found my new husband in the “blame-the-teacher” school of parenting. But my PC family is gradually learning the true meaning of diversity.
Introduction: What Do I Mean by Political Correctness?
I do not mean the hot-button dramas that fill the headlines. These are just tribal solidarity rituals.
I mean the belief that we are suffering under a “bad system.” Political correctness trains you to feel victimized by bad guys running that bad system, and to fight them by following the leaders of political correctness. If you follow, you get to be one of the good guys and share in the rewards that these leaders control. If you don’t, you are labelled a bad guy and excommunicated.
Political correctness trains you to focus on suffering – yours and others. It tells you that fighting the system is the way to relieve suffering. This mindset originated with the express intent to replace the capitalist system with a socialist system, but controversial terms were dropped to broaden the appeal, so now it’s just “the system.”
Political correctness transfers resources from designated bad guys to designated good guys. Good and bad are defined by opinion leaders whom you follow in order to be included among the good guys. The gatekeepers of political correctness have the power to reward friends and punish enemies. But you never acknowledge the self-interest behind political correctness. You invoke the greater good whenever political correctness giveth or taketh away.
You can be a good guy if you submit to the demands of political correctness. Good guys are never deemed responsible for what happens to them. Bad guys, by contrast, are 100% responsible. Whenever you suffer, you know bad guys are the cause, so you learn to hate them viscerally.
Political correctness trains you to believe that bad guys get things easily, so you are unfairly deprived. Thus your only option is to join other victims and fight. If you question the assertions of political correctness, you lose your status as a “good guy.” You must conform to the template of blaming “them” and absolving “us” to avoid losing your protected status.
For example, the student is always the good guy, and the teacher is the bad guy, even when you know the student is up to no good and the teacher is working hard to help them. The worker is always the good guy and the manager is the bad guy, even when you know the worker is up to no good and the manager is working hard to keep things going. The United States is always the bad guy and the other country is the good guy, unless it’s long ago, and then the UK was the bad guy. The male is always the bad guy. The white person is the bad guy. The heterosexual is the bad guy.
You are expected to point to “data” to back your conclusions. You use words like “evidence-based” and “science proves” a lot. But you only accept data from the politically correct.
Sometimes you are labelled a bad guy no matter what you do. Now you must open your pocket and submit to rebuke in order to sustain your inclusion in the good-guy alliance.
If you don’t submit, you will be attacked. Ridicule is Step One. We’ve all heard the ridicule inflicted on the politically incorrect, and no one wants to be the target of such public shaming. It’s enough to motivate most people to conform.
If you don’t, shunning is the next step. You are cut off from the resources controlled by political correctness. Much more than money is at stake. Social support, status, and – let’s be honest – sex, are controlled by the gatekeepers of political correctness.
If you still fail to submit, you are declared an enemy. Direct attack is likely. The benefits of submitting are so high that most people persuade themselves that it’s “the right thing.”
Over time, you submit so automatically that you don’t realize you’re doing it. You build an internal self-monitoring mechanism to avoid the risk of incorrectness. You censor your thoughts as well as your words because an incorrect thought might get blurted out accidentally. Your self-monitoring is so effective that you even hate yourself when you notice a fact that conflicts with PC commandments.
Yet inconvenient facts keep popping up. What do you do? Do you ignore the reality reaching your senses? Or do you risk ostracism?
A safe solution is thoughtfully provided by the gatekeepers of political correctness. They tell you that the greater good is served by spinning facts because this prevents bad guys from reinforcing stereotypes. So you mark yourself as a person of virtue and intelligence when you re-configure information to make the enemies of political correctness look bad and the friends of political correctness look good.
You don’t even notice yourself doing it after a while. Everyone around you does it, so it feels normal. The media lead the way, so you always hear a safely pre-spun story before you have time to ponder the facts for yourself. Your brain effortlessly substitutes the politically correct agenda for your authentic perceptions.
The benefits of conforming are huge. You get a share in the rewards; you are absolved from responsibility for whatever happens to you; and you protect yourself from excommunication. The costs are subtle: that nagging feeling that you have overlooked something important and given away your power.
But your sensory receptors keep finding evidence that the good guys are not all good and the bad guys are not all bad. What do you do with this evidence? If you have studied cognitive dissonance or paradigm shift, you know that the brain resists changing the template learned in youth. It re-configures reality to fit the template instead.
“But this is what they do!” you may say. Why don’t I write about “them”? Let me answer with a story.
When I was young, I was thrilled to discover the field of psychology, especially the study of irrationality. But I was disappointed to find that this research limited itself to the irrationality of racists, sexists, and capitalists. Apparently progressives could not possibly be irrational. Yet I lived in the progressive world and saw plenty of irrationality. I knew I should blame the system, but my difficult childhood taught me not to trust people who deny responsibility for their actions.
Over time, new research methods appeared but old presumptions were always confirmed. For example, fMRI brain scans are widely seen as “proof” that conservatives are fearful while progressives are not. I know plenty of fearful progressives, however. You may say they have reason to fear because irrational conservatives surround us. This thought assures your inclusion in the politically correct alliance. But perhaps you can see that different standards are applied to left and right wing thought beneath the veneer of objective science. Conservatives are pre-judged in the name of fighting prejudice.
“Fundamental attribution error” is the error of blaming our own missteps on unavoidable circumstances, while blaming our adversaries’ mis-steps on character flaws. Progressives use the theory of fundamental attribution error to condemn conservative bias without a hint of self-reflection. Anyone who dared to connect the dots would become an enemy in the eyes of political correctness. Few dare.
This book connects the dots: humans are irrational; progressives are human; progressives have the same irrationalities as other humans.
My search for a more satisfying explanation of the human mind led me to evolutionary psychology. I was thrilled to I discover research on the neurochemistry we share with animals. I learned that the mammal brain rewards you with happy chemicals when you promote your own survival, and alarms you with threat chemicals when you see an obstacle to meeting survival needs. These chemicals wire your brain to release more good or bad feelings in similar future circumstances. Our life-and-death feelings about social comparison are produced by the operating system we’ve inherited from earlier mammals– not by the evils of capitalism. Finally, life made sense to me.
But my excitement turned to dismay when this research became taboo. Academics and the media shunned it in favor of research glorifying animals and blaming human foibles on the racist, sexist, capitalist system. New “studies” representing animals as empathetic were spotlighted. Science converged on the belief that altruism is the state of nature and will sprout like daisies once we tear down our evil system. Acknowledging the conflict among animals, well-known to farmers and shepherds for millennia, is career suicide today.
Belief in a better world is comforting. It’s nice to believe that nature is good and we can restore that effortless goodness by fighting the man. It’s fun to absolve yourself from responsibility and bond with good guys at barricades and cocktail parties. But abdicating responsibility for your own brain does not lead to a better world. It just leads to the same old mammalian behavior patterns. This is not progress. It only feels like progress if it fills your pockets at the expense of others. Perhaps your human cortex smells a rat, even as your mammal brain enjoys it.
The mammal brain is preoccupied with social comparison. In the state of nature, social dominance spreads your genes. Natural selection built a brain that rewards you with happy chemicals when you find safe opportunities for social dominance. It alarms you with threat chemicals when you fail to dominate.
Political correctness focuses intensely on social comparison. It is not “change” at all. It is the same old primal impulse, made worse because it rationalizes social comparison as a greater good. You get to feel virtuous with your human brain while indulging in the jealousy and resentment of the mammal brain.
This doesn’t lead to good feelings in the long run. It leads you to feel like the success of others threatens your survival. Political correctness entices you with the illusion of a promised land where you are always in the one-up position. No greater good is served by this illusion. Social rivalry becomes more dangerous in countries that pretend to eradicate it.
Ultimately, political correctness benefits only the gatekeepers. I would rather define reality for myself. Such heresy has costs, but the benefits are higher in my opinion.
Scientific experiments are good, so I like to think about the experiment that political correctness is really conducting. Imagine two groups of rats– a control group that forages to meet its needs, and an experimental group that is passively fed while hearing this message: “You’re not getting enough food and mating opportunity. It’s not your fault. It’s their fault.” The experimental rats are rewarded with extra food and mating opportunity when they bite the hand that feeds them. This is the experiment we are effectively performing. Which group do you want your kids in?
I was PC and didn’t know it
I was politically correct for decades, but never really noticed. I thought I was just a good person. Then one day I caught myself lying about a simple matter of fact to avoid saying something politically incorrect. It happened in mid-sentence while I was lecturing to 150 students.
I was too horrified to continue so I dismissed the class.
Why was I so shaken? I’d like to say it was integrity, but I knew it was more. It was fear.
I feared being a person who could lie to sound good, but I feared sounding “right wing” even more. Suddenly I noticed all the self-monitoring I did to ensure my political correctness. Why?
In the past I would have said it served the greater good. Now I saw that it served me by protecting me from attack. And I saw that an ideology which prevails through attack does not serve the greater good.
Once I saw what I was doing, I had a choice. You have a choice too.
Every choice looked bad as I stepped down from the podium that day. I didn’t want to subordinate my life to ideological despotism, but I didn’t want to be ridiculed and shunned either. How did I get into this mess? I’m a grownup! A tax-payer! A reader of self-help books!
The books had taught me to focus on what I can control, so I decided to control my fear of politically correct gatekeepers. I gave myself permission to see what I see instead of spinning the truth to make the “good guys” look good and the “bad guys” look bad. I resolved to define the greater good for myself instead of submitting to politically correct doctrine.
Of course it felt risky, but I learned to weigh risks authentically instead of defaulting automatically to political correctness. I recognized the price I was paying for political correctness, which motivated me to pay a price for escaping it. You too can expand your options by reconsidering the costs and benefits.
I didn’t want to just join a new team and follow plays called by a new coach. After my long struggle to escape, I didn’t want a new herd that would impose new expectations. This is hard because most mammals seek safety in numbers and fear isolation. I learned to make peace with my inner mammal instead of relying on political correctness to do it for me.
This risk may seem like too much for some readers, and too little for others. Some may think we should fight political correctness instead of just escaping it. Others may think departing from political correctness is not worth the risk of ruining your life. I chose the middle ground. Fighting is not for me because I wanted a change from that embattled mentality. And my loved ones are still in the politically correct territory so I don’t want to war on it.
I will not tell others what to think, but in exchange, I will not be told what to think. I will not spend my life fighting the enemies of my herd, and I will not engage with people who want to fight me.
Escaping political correctness does not mean being “right wing.” It means being honest with yourself. You can’t be honest when you are dependent on political correctness for rewards like money, sex, self-esteem, and social acceptance. This book shows how political correctness meets those basic needs and how you can meet them in other ways.
If you depend on political correctness for essentials, you are easily bullied. You must submit to each new dictate or else. You may rationalize this by invoking the greater good because it’s too painful to admit that you are submitting to bullying to get rewards.
This may sound harsh. It’s easier to think you are motivated by empathy. But one day you will catch yourself lying about a simple matter of fact, and you will long for a choice. I hope the story of my choice will help you make yours.
When I was in school, you were a “right-winger” if you believed in open borders. Now you are a “right-winger” if you don’t believe in open borders. In my college days, you were called a right-winger if you were against independent schools; now you are a right-winger if you are for them. One thing hasn’t changed in those five decades, however: being called a “right-winger” can ruin you. Just the thought of being condemned as one of “them” can trigger bodily fear. Your equilibrium is restored by embracing the politically correct position. Your brain learns to do this reflexively, the way you learn to pull your hand off a hot stove. You don’t notice the emotion that animates your political views. You think you’re being smart because you’re doing what smart people do. You think you’re being good by doing what good people do. But you are promoting your own survival the way herd animals do.
Our true motives
The human brain motivates us by releasing chemicals that the verbal brain is not aware of. These chemicals are inherited from earlier animals. They motivate behaviors that promote survival in the state of nature. Your brain rewards you with a good feeling when you do something good for your survival, and it alarms you with a bad feeling when you do something bad for your survival. The brain defines survival in a quirky way, alas: it cares about the survival of your genes, and it relies on neural pathways built in youth. This is why we do things that our verbal brain has trouble making sense of. We do what it takes to stimulate our happy chemicals, and then our verbal brain finds a way to make it sound good.
You can understand your happy chemicals if you know how they promote survival in the world your brain evolved in. Oxytocin rewards you with a good feeling when you find social support because that promotes survival. Dopamine rewards you with a good feeling when you find new resources because that promotes survival. Serotonin rewards you with a good feeling when you assert yourself because that promotes survival.
It’s not nice to care about self-assertion, resources, or safety in numbers, we are told. So you have to find a better way to explain your natural quest for dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. You make it a quest for “justice” and “the data” with your verbal brain, but your mammal brain seeks happy chemicals as if your life depends on it.
The brain built by natural selection cares most urgently about the unhappy chemical, cortisol. In the state of nature, threats are more urgent than rewards. Social isolation can land you in the jaws of a predator, so we have inherited a brain that sees social isolation as a survival threat. You don’t think that with your verbal brain, but your cortisol surges in response to social isolation, so it feels like a crisis.
You may find it hard to believe that smart people are just conforming to feel good. I found that hard to believe too. I had to be confronted with it over and over and over before I got it. Here is the story of how I lived with political correctness for decades without noticing, and finally trained my brain to feel safe without it.
The mafia impulse
My family is from the cradle of the Mafia in Southern Italy. No one mentioned the Mafia when I was young, so I presumed it was an invention of Hollywood. But when I got older, I realized there was a blank spot where my cultural heritage should be, so I started doing research. I learned that organized crime is very real. It thrives by rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Mafias prey on their own people by promising protection from “the real bad guys.” People tolerate a lot of abuse because they are so trained to fear “the real bad guys.” Once they’ve had enough, they discover that a mafia is hard to leave.
Political correctness is a mafia that rewards friends and punishes enemies. People tolerate its abuse because they believe it protects them from “the real bad guys.”
The mafia code of silence is not just fiction. In mafia neighborhoods, people live in fear of seeing what they see and knowing what they know. This is my cultural heritage. You have probably felt this fear regardless of your cultural heritage because mammals bond by uniting against common enemies. They define you as the enemy if you don’t join.
I cannot idealize my cultural heritage because I know how much damage it did. My grandparents’ village in Sicily lacked flush toilets until the 1950s. When foreign aid came, the Mafia stole it. The village finally prospered in the 1980s from heroin trafficking. I am grateful to have escaped that cycle of violence, so I want to avoid mafias however I can.
After my moment of insight on the podium, I did not want to live like a Sicilian peasant, afraid to see what I see and know what I know. I wanted out. But mafias are hard to leave. I respect what my parents did to leave, though I didn’t get it when I was young.
My parents did not raise me to kowtow to thugs. They did not train me to protect myself by being an apologist for violence. So when others expect me to be an apologist for their misdeeds, I won’t join their herd.
Mafias are tempting because our inner mammal loves the solidarity, the resources, and the power. You get tired of the conflict eventually, but the thought of leaving triggers a surge of fear. So you tell yourself that your mafia is not so bad compared to “the real bad guys.” You surround yourself with like-minded people so you only see facts that fit. You suffer, but you blame your suffering on “them.”
Political correctness works by absolving you from responsibility. It trains you to blame “them” for everything that happens to you. You can always find flaws in others to justify your choices. But you still have a choice.
Here is how I navigated my choices. Part 1 tells how my political correctness got built up and gradually knocked down. Part 2 presents the biology of political correctness. Part 3 describes the practical steps that helped me escape. There are no easy answers, but anyone can find a way to survive and thrive without political correctness.
You may say I haven’t escaped political correctness because it is still there. But I have stopped judging myself against its template. I have stopped letting its accusatory chorus sing in my ear. I found an escape that fits my unique brain and life circumstances. You can design an escape that fits yours.
Each brain responds to the world in unique ways because our chemicals are controlled by pathways built from life experience. Whatever triggered your happy chemicals in your youth built neural pathways that turn them on today. Whatever triggered your unhappy chemicals built the superhighways that turn on your cortisol today. Our pathways all overlap because our common operating system yields common experiences. You can decipher your politically correct wiring and find an alternate path to reward.
No one consciously thinks of political correctness as a way to meet primal needs. Our verbal brain crafts sophisticated theories to explain the limbic brain it’s attached to. You have more power over your inner mammal when you know where its impulses come from. Discovering the biological roots of political correctness helped me transcend it, and it can help you too.
Feeling the Choice
My Moment of Insight (1994)
It happened while I was lecturing on the Japanese origins of Total Quality Management. A student raised his hand and asked: “Didn’t they get this from us?”
I knew that was true, but I didn’t want to say so. I wanted to praise Japanese culture, not credit the American military and American management experts who indeed brought TQM to Japan in the post-war reconstruction. I feared sounding like a “right winger” if I said yes, so I said “not really.” Then searched for a way to make it true.
Suddenly, I saw what I was doing. I was about to distort, misrepresent, effectively lie, in public, to impressionable youth. It was a small detail, but I saw the underlying pattern. I had been filtering my every thought, word and deed, for decades, to conform to the politically correct belief system.
Why was I pretending to be objective and then arranging “facts” to fit the politically correct agenda?
Why was I automatically glorifying other cultures and then looking for “evidence” to back it up?
Why did it feel unsafe to acknowledge anything positive about my own country?
I could have credited my compassion and intelligence, but that didn’t ring true. It didn’t explain my reflexive applauding of other cultures and debasing of my own. The real reason was obvious, but I hated to admit it: I feared the social sanctions heaped on people who violate politically correct expectations.
This doubled my anxiety. As bad as I felt about my lapse of integrity, I saw that my fear was justified. I really did live in a world that denounced those who deviated from the “progressive” message.
Did I want this fear run my life? Should I invest myself in an agenda that rests on bullying for support? Was I a person who chose popularity over authenticity?
No. No. No.
But I didn’t want to be excommunicated either. What could I do?
I pondered the dilemma with the neural pathways I had. We are all born with billions of neurons but very few connections between them. Our connections build from experience, and early experience builds the foundation that shapes later experience. So let’s trace the experiences that left me at age 41 with a world view I could no longer believe in.