|Justin Taylor|9:57 am CT|
Saturation, Suppression, and the Power of Political Correctness
Stella Morabito has an interesting piece at Public Discourse on how political correctness works.
First, she defines saturation:
Saturation is the practice of repeating a deception relentlessly and injecting it into every corner of public life so that it becomes accepted as truth. Saturation usually requires the control of most communications outlets.She then looks at the flip side, suppression:
We know it as the practice of quashing ideas that compete with the PC message, usually through speech codes, shout-downs, or smears. The process of suppression creates the conditions essential to the survival of the PC message. If we think of PC as bacteria, suppression is like the dark room and the culture required for the bacteria’s growth and replication.It works like this:
No matter how implausible an idea may seem, it can gain acceptance in the minds of the citizens as the forces of PC relentlessly hype the idea in the public square.She then references the work of economist Timur Kuran to show the cascading effects:
Simultaneously, the voices that might challenge and analyze the idea must be suppressed—accusations of bigotry and hatred often do the trick—so that the PC idea has a chance to incubate and then affect public opinion.
The twin processes of saturation and suppression, if diligently applied, can produce the illusion of a huge public opinion shift, or a “cascade.”
Kuran defines preference falsification as “the act of misrepresenting one’s wants under perceived social pressures.” This results in “the regulation of others’ perceptions,” and has an extremely powerful ripple effect that influences both the shape of public opinion and the political process.You can read the whole thing here.
In 1999, Kuran teamed up with Cass Sunstein, who served as President Obama’s regulatory czar from 2009 to 2012, to publish a Stanford Law Review article on a related concept known as the “availability cascade.” They define it as “a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation whereby an expressed perception triggers reactions that make that perception seem increasingly plausible through its rising availability in public discourse.”
The availability cascade has two complementary mechanisms: “information cascades,” in which uninformed people base their own beliefs on the apparent beliefs of others; and “reputational cascades,” in which earning social approval or avoiding social disapproval affects how personal opinions are expressed or withheld. Availability cascades are fragile, but they can potentially cause huge and unpredicted swings in public opinion and policy.
It is interesting to note that Justice Scalia identified the suppression-factor at play in how the majority opinion in the DOMA case caricatured opposition to so-called same-sex marriage:
The Court . . . accuses the Congress that enacted this law and the President who signed it of something much worse than, for example, having acted in excess of enumerated federal powers—or even having drawn distinctions that prove to be irrational. Those legal errors may be made in good faith, errors though they are. But the majority says that the supporters of this Act acted with malice—with the “purpose” . . . “to disparage and to injure” same-sex couples. It says that the motivation for DOMA was to “demean,” . . . to “impose inequality,” . . . to “impose . . . a stigma,” . . . to deny people “equal dignity,” . . . to brand gay people as “unworthy,” . . . and to “humiliat[e]” their children, . . .
I am sure these accusations are quite untrue. To be sure (as the majority points out), the legislation is called the Defense of Marriage Act. But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution.
In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.