Why Politically Correct Social Engineering Backfires
By Alec Rawls © 1998 (1350 words) Published in The Stanford Review,5/5/97

At its core, political correctness is a scheme of social engineering. Correctoids think that by imposing their hypersensitivity, they can make the world a more caring place. Unfortunately, social engineering tends to backfire.

In the field of economics, the best work of Nobel laureate Robert Lucas was his examples of how attempts to engineer economic outcomes are prone to be defeated by who they affect. Actors find ways to get back to their original objectives. In a world of zero transactions costs, it is like trying to block water with a sieve. Behavior often can't be redirected at all.

In the real world, water often can be dammed -- by increasing the intrusiveness of hole plugging and by ranging farther afield to keep after leaks -- but then a corollary takes over: the law of unintended consequences. Attempts to contain behavior are prone to redirected it in unintended ways that are perverse in terms of the social engineering objective. Social engineering can be necessary -- as in the need to stop crime -- but it is a very tricky business that must proceed by accounting how behavior is being channeled.

These caveats about social engineering carry over from the economic to the cultural. The culture of political correctness -- focussed on the most palliative of all solutions (trying to contain people's judgements about what they see in the world) -- is doomed to be nothing but perverse. Consider an example.

In our politically correct world, "uninvited sexual attention" is officially taboo. Television and film, staffed by a faux-liberal elite who regard politically correct social engineering as the measure of what they can claim to care about, think they are doing a service by refusing to show women responding favorably to uninvited sexual attention. Yet they want to show sex. Thus on screen it is always the females who take the sexual initiative. It is always the woman who asks out, always the woman who initiates a kiss, always the woman who climbs on top. These rules are absolutely universal with only two exceptions. One is the creep, who is crass or repulsive, or simply a loser, and who is immediately scorned by the woman. The other exception is the charming man who turns out to be a rapist or a murderer. Every time a woman says yes to an advance on screen you know she is about to learn a very painful lesson the hard way. In the P.C. media world, masculine icons like NYPD Blue's Jimmy Smits are transformed into paragons of sexual passivity, always waiting for the women to come to them.

The intention, presumably, is to depict how the politically correct think the world should be: one great big Antioch, where no sexual encounter ever proceeds without the woman's explicit permission -- which she grants by being the sexual aggressor. Of course they could also satisfy the Antioch criterion by having a girl resist and resist and resist, not giving in to a man's advances until he takes her to the altar, but Hollywood is not interested in that scenario, so we get the shortcut: females taking the initiative.

Such purity of intention! How could it possibly go wrong? After taping an episode of "Prime Time Live" on child sexual attitudes, Diane Sawyer didn't know what to make of their findings. "And here's something that surprised us," she said, "both girls and boys now feel the job of sexual aggression belongs to women." Gee, where could that have come from?

So now we have a nation of little girls going around chasing the boys. That quaint little tradition of girls resisting, which has been erased from screen memory, is not about to crop up in the boys. Their drive for sex is biological and overwhelming. We now have a generation of girls who are going to be sexually active by twelve. Being prepared to resist was their only hope, and that is gone. The screenwriters' attempts to favor girls has ended up betraying them.

There is a simple rule that would be social engineers can follow that will keep them away from this kind of pitfall: only care about the truth. A screen world where the women are always the sexual aggressors, are always on top, are always the one's who take the risk, is the most fabulous possible lie. If you are contemplating telling a stupendous whopper in the name of doing the right thing, just ask yourself one question: "Is this equivilant to lying to the Nazis about where the Jews are hidden?" If the answer is: "No, this is just lying to our kids about their true natures," you damn well better not do it.

There are many similar examples. Perhaps the most egregious bit of P.C. social engineering is this business of teaching grade school children about homosexuality and scaring them with inflated statistics about how many of them will turn out to be homosexual. I witnessed the effects on my ex-girlfriend's two eight year old boys and her ten year old girl. They are wonderful kids, talented, fun. I love them like crazy and can't stand to see them hurt each other, but that is what kids do, and one of their sharpest weapons is teasing each other about who is going to be homosexual.

The social engineer imagines that by telling children about homosexuality, they will come to see it as normal. That is nonsense. People who don't have their wires crossed feel a simple biological revulsion to the thought of homosexuality, the same as to foul smells and bitter tastes. Making kids start worrying about homosexuality long before they would normally be thinking about heterosexuality is a prescription for disaster.

Adolescence is already burdened by terrible doubts and awkwardness for most children. To prime them with years of teasing about homosexuality is simple cruelty. I won't be surprised at all if these three beautiful kids end up harboring deep resentment towards homosexuality. Why should they have to worry about this stuff?

The way to teach tolerance is just to teach kids about morality -- about valuing everything there is to value, about not fighting except in self defense, about the difference between criminal mindedness and citizenship. That is where fairness will come from, not from imposing sexual fears on children.

The homosexual activists are motivated by pure group selfishness. They don't give a damn about straight kids. They think homosexual pain is the only pain that counts. For that immorality, they will reap a generation of bitterness.

These different examples of unintended consequences even feed off of each other. My ex'es little girl, at thirteen now, is the prettiest girl in the whole wide world. Smart beyond belief, superior to boyish antics, she is well armed to find boys uncompelling for a long time, except for one thing. Because she has had fears of homosexuality pressed upon her at school, she worries that her disdain for boyish foolishness means that she will never like boys. She actually said that to me. This is a girly girl, feminine to her core. But because she is level headed instead of romantic, she thinks she has something to worry about. That is the chink in her armor. She is going to want to prove her sexuality to herself. Instead of her natural reluctance, she is going be pushing herself to like boys. Combine that with the false message that heterosexual women are sexual aggressors and it is like trying to kick her off a cliff. Then think of how amplified the drive of her brothers to have sex with girls is going to be, when they have been taught to fear that they might like boys instead. There are a whole lot of would be sophisticated little girls who are about to get blind-sided.

Just as we have learned in other areas how social engineering is prone to backfire we had better start realizing that the same thing applies to cultural engineering too, and nothing is more prone to backfire than P.C. social engineering, with its penchant for fantasy, disinformation, and disregard for anything but its own interest group politics. The problem of unintended consequences can do any magnitude of damage in the hands of people wearing blinders.

Alec Rawls is pursuing a Ph.D. in economics


Next article in the Non-ideal Theory volume of Moral Science: Is Conforming Non-conformism in Teenagers Nature's Backup Mechanism for Insuring Heterosexuality?

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Date Last Modified: 8/27/99
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