"There are some ideas so preposterous, only an intellectual could believe them."
- George Orwell
The above quote is quite possibly apochryphal since I have been unable to confirm its provenance on-line, however, it captures the essence of intellectualization. When one becomes enamored of one's words (as many narcissistic people tend to do, ie they love the sound of their own voice without being too concerned with any meaning they may inadvertently convey), it is possible to come up with the most interesting theories that sound impressive whether or not they have any relationship to reality. A classic example is Marxism, which sounds wonderful: "To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities." What could possibly be wrong with such a system? Yet anyone with a modicum of common sense, or failing in common sense, any awareness of the last 100 years of human history, will recognize that Marxism can only work if people behave in ways counter to the ways that thousands of years of history and development tell us they do. It has taken a century of struggle with millions of lives lost for mankind to learn that a Utopian philosophy that has no relationship to human nature can not possibly work. Sadly, a large portion of the planet have yet to learn this lesson in relation to another Utopian philosophy which is equally divorced from human nature, and we are involved in this struggle today.
In Part I of this series, I described how each child during their early development must come to terms with the loss inherent in separation and individuation from the mother. For most children, the threat of loss leads to demands to control the object (mother) and the child can become quite insistent on having everything go its way. The vast majority of us learn to temper our angry insistent demands with respect and love for the other. We appreciate that our mother has other desires of her own that are independent of our need for her. This allows us to detach some of our emotional investment as a first step in becoming more engaged in the outside world. By age 5 or 6, most youngsters have accepted that they are not the sum total of their mother's emotional life, and have begun the long term task of involvement with the world. As part of their struggle over the loss, many defensive maneuvers are mobilized. The healthiest children grow up with the ability to accept and work through losses, to tolerate reversals of fortune, and to accept that they are not always right (a derivative of always having to have things your own way).
The most significant threats to our free speech come from those who need to hide their aggressive need for control from themselves and from others. People who are especially good with language and ideas can easily resort to the defense of intellectualization. In my post The Defensive Denial of Terror I described how various psychological defenses are mobilized in the face of threats. I described Intellectualization as
"the specialized form of Rationalization which college professors and other intellectuals specialize in.... In this case, the Rationalization is enhanced with multi-syllabic words, and a sophisticated theory. It still essentially is designed to deny unpleasant aspects of reality and offers the all-important "out", but it is more opaque."
I believe that much of what constricts our speech is the result of law professors and other left wing intellectuals, building an edifice of control, which they disguise with lofty language. The entire concept of "politically correct" speech rests on a dangerous bit of sophistry which has metastasized throughout our body politic in the last 20 years. The great "advance" in our speech codes came from the equivalence of words to actions. This rather dubious proposition has had profound unintentional consequences. Please note that as an analyst, I would contend that words are among our most powerful behaviors. We rely on words to communicate, to hurt, to convince; often enough, words are, in fact, more painful than the "sticks and stones [that] can break our bones". However, once you begin to equate speech and action, you run into danger. Civilization needs to control behavior (or it doesn't remain free and civilized for long.) Once you take the next step to controlling speech, all of our rights are in danger. It is an exceptionally tempting proposition to suggest that speech, since it is an action that can harm people, needs to be controlled so that it can no longer be used in aggressive and dangerous ways. This begs the question of who decides what hurtful speech needs to be controlled and eliminated. The only answer, up until now, is that harmful speech is determined by the victims, and by the victims alone. If Lawrence Summers has the temerity to suggest men and women may not be completely identical in their brain structure and function, this was enough to shock and pain the feminists at Harvard; the repercussions are still being felt. I wrote about this in a post on Political Religion. There can be no discussion of the merits or lack thereof, of his assertions, because feelings were hurt and this is not tolerable to the powers that be in Academia. When Jada Pinkett Smith speaks at Harvard (there's some nice commentary at Opinion Journal) and revels in her success and suggests it is available to all young women today (a not altogether convincing suggestion, but worth discussing) the accusation flies: Her comments were "heteronormative" suggesting a privileged position for heterosexuality, and this hurt the feelings of the BGLTSA (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance). We have gone from censoring speech based on danger to its victims (hate speech laws) to censoring speech based on insensitivity to designated victim group's feelings.
As a Psychiatrist, and at the risk of being seen as insensitive, may I just say, this is nuts!
I apologize for that outburst. I have a genuine concern about our language and discourse. While I would strongly support elevating our level of discourse, I would even more strongly suggest that we are endangering our ability to think rationally when we censor ourselves of anything that might offend anyone. The fact is that if our speech must cater to the sensitivities of the victim group, that will quickly be transformed into sensitivity to the most sensitive member of the victim group. Pretty soon we will not be able to speak at all for fear of offending someone somewhere.
Political correctness in everyday speech is not the only danger that arises from the intellectualization of the liberal elites; other unintended consequences have followed and will be addressed shortly.