Psy 383E: Psychology and Ideology: The Study of Political Correctness

September 2001

As most readers of the Newsletter know, last academic year for the first time I taught the course PSY 383E: Psychology and Ideology - the Study of Political Correctness at King’s College of the University of Western Ontario in London. As soon as the National Post had published an article, the media took an unexpectedly great interest in the course. I was repeatedly interviewed by the CBC, BBC and a dozen other radio stations for any time up to two hours. The most enthusiastic interviewers and audiences were in the Western provinces. Among all the media attention that I received with the course there was only one article that was critical and disapproving. The opposition came from the Women’s Caucus of UWO which was vehemently antagonistic. True to feminist dogma, it was argued that the issues to be examined in my course are already ably analysed in a number of other courses (in the Women’s Department) and, further, that I as a patriarch could do it only in a biassed, i. e., unfair manner.

Twelve students enrolled in the course which was limited to third and fourth year honours psychology students. The majority of the students were white women. They all expressed great interest in the subject matter, were open-minded, and eager to learn the analytical skills necessary to intelligently read scientific reports and newspapers. There were no agents provocateurs or officious observers from other departments. The President and Vice-President of the Women’s Caucus who claimed to be appalled by the putative one-sidedness of a course on PC were warmly invited to speak in class, however they declined to come.

Political Correctness was defined as a canon of orthodoxies and prohibitions, as a set of claims that society today does not readily allow to be questioned. Psychology is replete with such dogmas that are based in ideology rather than empirical research, such as: learning disabilities, therapeutic touch, multiple personality, repressed memories, hypnosis, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, self-esteem, sexual and racial harassment, homosexuality, and a host of dogmas that have their origin in burlesque feminism (glass-ceiling, chilly climate, equity, rape, battered-wife syndrome, etc.).

Emphasis in the course was on the following topics: freedom of expression and scholarship and censorship; harassment codes as speech codes; hate legislation and the human rights commissions; violence against women research and advocacy research in general; feminism; racism (affirmative action, racial profiling, college admission policies, diversity).

The students were required to read and were examined on: Canadian Psychology, Special Issue: Political Correctness in Academia, 38(4),1997. D’Souza, Dinesh (1995). The End of Racism. Principles for a Multiracial Society. New York: Free Press. Fekete, John (1994). Moral Panic. Biopolitics Rising. Montreal: Davies. Klatt, Heinz (1997). Death by the Atomic Bomb and its Educational Fallout. UWO Klatt, Heinz (Ed.) (2000). Reader on Political Correctness. UWO. Kors, Alan & Silverglate, Harvey (1998). The Shadow University. The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. New York: Free Press.

Twice I had guest speakers. Prof. Jeffrey Asher, formerly from Dawson College in Montreal and forced into early retirement by a feminist coup, spoke on the Deadly Hazards of Being Male in Canada. Prof. Richard Zeller, who had recently resigned from Bowling Green University in Ohio, spoke on Affirmative Action. Prof. Zeller for seven consecutive years had offered to teach a course on Political Correctness in the Sociology Department as well as in the Faculty of Education, even large undergraduate sections and without remuneration, but was never allowed to do so. For both evenings all members of the university were invited, both sessions were very well attended and well received. One of the two guest lectures was particularly lively due to the very active participation of an instructor from UWO’s Women’s Department. There was a frank and hardy exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Unfortunately, due to lack of time I could not accept offers of other colleagues who were willing to contribute.

What were the major difficulties in teaching this course? The topics chosen for discussion were all fascinating and made the teaching easy. Further, it was easy to present opposing arguments because they have been clearly articulated over and over in the literature and the media. I never refrained from offering my own views and routinely ended debates by telling them that it was for them to choose. All exams were formulated in such a fashion that the students had to show familiarity with the facts and interpretations without having to take sides.

However, what I found most difficult was to make them understand that all interpretations and opinions are not equal or equally meritorious. When I, for example, judged that genital mutilation of non-consenting girls is categorically wrong, I was judged as being as dogmatic as those who defend the practice. Many times it appeared to me that even among the more insightful students of this generation, cultural relativism is in their blood and their every brain cell. The argument that opinions based on empirical facts are better than opinions based on tradition or superstition is very difficult for them to accept because for them all opinions have the same status. Even for students who are appalled by the reality of PC the ultimate virtue is not to judge at all, but to be "tolerant"! How difficult have we made it for this generation to accept any moral principle besides to be "nice" and "non-judgmental"!