Non-judgmentalism – the new upper-class hypocrisy

From Telegraph blogs, March 2 2012

The fiasco over workfare is a curious little tale of political cowardice and failure; here was a welfare programme that was widely believed to have been a success in the US, and which had broad public support in Britain, in that most people believe that healthy unemployed adults should be doing something with their time. Yet the Government is losing.

How can this be? It’s not all down to a small band of Trotskyites; it may be that the Government has a huge linguistic disadvantage and has found it hard to frame the arguments on its terms.

In his book Coming Apart, Charles Murray describes the moral code that was once universally accepted across American society, and which was exemplified by the McGuffey Readers, the textbooks that taught generations of American children not just how to read and write but to behave.

Murray wrote that when growing up he remembered the code for males going something like this:

To be a man means that you are brave, loyal and true. When you are in the wrong, you own up and take your punishment. You don’t take advantage of women. As a husband, you support and protect your wife and children. You are gracious in victory and a good sport in defeat. Your word is your bond. Your handshake is as good as your word. It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. When the ship goes down, you put the women and children into the lifeboat and wave good-bye with a smile.

Now, of course, such a thing would be howled out of the class room, even more so in Britain than in the States, with a thousand sub-red brick academics coming forth to denounce the patriarchy this code supported.

In contrast the new code is one of “ecumenical niceness”, as Murray writes:

Children are supposed to share their toys, not hit one another, take turns… to be nice. And, by and large, the children of the new upper class grow up to be nice. But they are also taught that they should respect everyone else’s way of doing things, regardless or gender, race, sexual preference, cultural practices, or national origin, which leads to the crucial flaw in ecumenical niceness. The code of the dominant minority is supposed to set the standard for the society, but ecumenical niceness has a hold only on people whom the dominant minority is willing to judge – namely, one another.

That’s because the new upper-class has “lost self-confidence in the rightness of its own customs and values, and preaches nonjudgmentalism instead”. Non-judgementalism, he writes,

is one of the more baffling features of the new upper-class culture. The members of the new upper class are industrious to the point of obsession, but there are no derogatory labels for adults who are not industrious. The young women of the new upper class hardly ever have babies out of wedlock, but it is impermissible to use a derogatory label for non-marital births. You will probably raise a few eyebrows even if you use a derogatory label for criminals. When you get down to it, it is not acceptable in the new upper class to use derogatory labels for anyone, with three exceptions: people with differing political views, fundamentalist Christians, and rural working-class whites.

That is, in essence, the problem; as anyone who has read the Guardian Style Guide will understand, terms that imply criticism or judgment of any group, from the underclass to mental health sufferers to “sex workers”, is frowned upon. And when even criminals are often referred to in the media as “vulnerable”, what hope is there for dealing with the long-term unemployed?

Murray makes the point that “the collapse of a sturdy code” means that certain words lose their power. He uses the example of “unseemliness”, which Random House defines as “not in keeping with established standards of taste or proper form; unbecoming or indecorous in appearance; improper in speech, conduct, etc; inappropriate for time or place.”

One doesn’t hear unseemly being used these days, because it carries too much judgment, even though it would perfectly describes the problem with bankers’ bonuses; instead such outrages are only criticised through the socialist logic of “fairness”.

Neither do we hear much of “unbecoming”, which could be used to describe the behaviour of certain female celebrities; there is now simply no word which explains why women shouldn’t behave in a certain way, so we’ve given up.

On the other hand do hear a lot of “inappropriate”, which has evolved into this sort of all-compassing weasel word to describe someone who has broken some vague code of political correctness. This often leaves people confused, because they’re not entirely certain about when behaving “inappropriately” is necessarily wrong.

That’s because most people don’t actually follow the new non-judgmentalism, and still believe there should be a code that extends beyond not being racist, sexist or homophobic. They want a certain standard of behaviour to be expected, and for those who don’t meet it to be stigmatised. They want, in Charles Murray’s words, for the elite to preach what they practise; instead the new upper-class, in America and Britain, have made non-judgmentalism their new hypocrisy.


What do you think?