Patterico's Pontifications

1/27/2015

Jonathan Chait on Political Correctness, Then and Now

Filed under: Education,General,Political Correctness — JVW @ 11:51 am

[guest post by JVW]

In the continuing effort to acknowledge those moments when our ideological opponents have a moment of sanity and allow themselves to see things from our perspective, let me bring to your attention Jonathan Chait’s interesting exploration in New York Magazine of the politically correct mania currently sweeping not just our country but by and large all of Western thought.

Chait begins the article by rehashing the familiar story of Omar Mahmood, the University of Michigan student who was kicked off of the daily campus newspaper after writing a satirical column mocking political correctness and microaggressions for a conservative campus publication. Chait, a Michigan alumnus, ties that story in to a 1992 incident at that very campus in which radical feminists influenced by law professor Catharine MacKinnon attempted to shut down an exhibition by a feminist videographer which aimed to explore the lives of workers in the sex industry. The arguments of the radical feminists 22 years ago will sound familiar to those of us up to date with the current movement to censor ideas that exist outside the narrow canon of tolerance: that being exposed to this material poses “a threat to the safety” of those students which justifies their claiming the mantle of victimhood and the corresponding right to act as censor. As Chait notes in comparing the 1992 and 2014 incidents at UM, “In both cases, the threat was deemed not the angry mobs out to crush opposing ideas, but the ideas themselves. The theory animating both attacks turns out to be a durable one, with deep roots in the political left.”

It’s a long piece and Chait weaves in several different pieces of evidence, from protests against campus speakers to the Obama-Clinton primary battle of 2008 to Charlie Hebdo. He traces the journey of politically correct totalitarianism from the rarefied and dopey mores of academia to the hive-like communities that have developed on social media. Those who are judged to be insufficiently deferential to the oppression suffered by the victim group du jour are routinely hassled, bullied, and threatened on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms popular with a young audience that is susceptible to mindless conformity in the name of social popularity.

But Chait also makes a very keen observation regarding another reason for why we are now hearing of so many instances of the left enforcing PC orthodoxy. As Chait writes, “Every media company knows that stories about race and gender bias draw huge audiences, making identity politics a reliable profit center in a media industry beset by insecurity.” At the same time success breeds imitators, so every interest group that manages to browbeat its critics into submission is an enticement for another interest group to attempt the same. This leads to an unacceptable situation that Chait neatly summarizes:

Political correctness is a term whose meaning has been gradually diluted since it became a flashpoint 25 years ago. People use the phrase to describe politeness (perhaps to excess), or evasion of hard truths, or (as a term of abuse by conservatives) liberalism in general. The confusion has made it more attractive to liberals, who share the goal of combating race and gender bias.

But political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.

Of course, Chait being Chait, he later has to let loose with a paragraph of nonsense designed to remind everyone that hey, he’s a good lefty too, not one of those awful reactionary rightwingers:

Political correctness appeals to liberals because it claims to represent a more authentic and strident opposition to their shared enemy of race and gender bias. And of course liberals are correct not only to oppose racism and sexism but to grasp (in a way conservatives generally do not) that these biases cast a nefarious and continuing shadow over nearly every facet of American life. Since race and gender biases are embedded in our social and familial habits, our economic patterns, and even our subconscious minds, they need to be fought with some level of consciousness. The mere absence of overt discrimination will not do.

Get that? “The mere absence of overt discrimination will not do.” Why shouldn’t we read that to mean that Chait is suggesting that it’s not enough if I am cordial to Al Sharpton and treat him in a way that is honest and fair; unless I eventually come to see things his way I cannot truly be considered to be a “good person.” What else could Chait possibly mean with his blandishments about a nefarious and continuing shadow and biases embedded in our subconscious minds other than the tired claim that unless you vote Democrat you are a racist.

That aside, this is by and large an honest and worthy exploration of a rather illiberal phenomenon that has been cultivated, protected, and advanced for far too long. One can only hope that more thinkers on the left – especially members of those cherished victimized groups – will join him in opposing the mindlessness of enforcing cultural orthodoxy. Again, it’s a long read, but the full article is worth the while. Read the comments too, if only to get your daily allotment of self-regarding leftists who make the “our opinions are the only moral ones, so it is perfectly fine for us to censor your amoral deviations from proper thought” argument that we have all come to know.

– JVW

25 Responses to “Jonathan Chait on Political Correctness, Then and Now”

  1. i got almost all the way through then he got a lil blah blah blah about it

    you know i try really hard to help carve out discussion spaces to where we can have a free exchange of ideas even if those ideas are offensive to certain sensibilities I really do

    and then i relax with a tasty cup of jumpy monkey pu-ehr tea and celebrate a job well done

    konichiwa!

    happyfeet (a037ad)

  2. Another thing about Chait’s observations that I would take exception to is this line:

    Indeed, [PC’s] most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.

    That is only true in the sense that maybe some otherwise well-intended liberal is made to feel guilty on Twitter because they accidentally use a verboten term (hello, Benedict Cumberbatch!), but the reality is that it is mostly center-right folks who lose jobs, or otherwise face job-related consequences for running afoul of the PC Stasi.

    JVW (60ca93)

  3. ***trigger warning***

    happyfeet (a037ad)

  4. Indeed, [PC’s] most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.

    Mr. JVW I think Chait was up to a lil mischief with that assertion

    happyfeet (a037ad)

  5. If you oppose political correctness why not burn the korans in front of mosques day?

    nuke mecca (677d15)

  6. If you oppose political correctness why not burn the korans in front of mosques day?

    I’m OK with that, and I’m also fine with the members of the mosque coming out with fire extinguishers and garden hoses and hosing down both the burning Korans and — whoops! — the people setting them alight. If burning the Korans runs afoul of local fire codes then I am fine with the authorities charging the perpetrators with those violations, provided that the authorities are consistent on the matter and would also charge any Muslims who publicly burned the American flag without following the proscribed fire-safety procedures.

    But to me anyone who would burn a Koran in front of a mosque is an asshole who is really looking to provoke rather than to educate or advocate.

    JVW (60ca93)

  7. But to me anyone who would burn a Koran in front of a mosque is an asshole who is really looking to provoke rather than to educate or advocate.

    As opposed to the beheading peace loving Islamist poltroons?

    Gazzer (e441dc)

  8. burning korans and bibles is a great way to free up some extra carbon dioxides for to help wrap the erf in a cozy blanket of warmth and love

    happyfeet (a037ad)

  9. As opposed to the beheading peace loving Islamist poltroons?

    The difference between jackassery and evil, Gazzer.

    JVW (60ca93)

  10. burning korans and bibles is a great way to free up some extra carbon dioxides for to help wrap the erf in a cozy blanket of warmth and love

    Heavens, happyfeet, it’s as if you don’t even believe that Man-made Global Warming exists!

    JVW (60ca93)

  11. i like covering all the bases

    happyfeet (a037ad)

  12. In the continuing effort to acknowledge those moments when our ideological opponents have a moment of sanity

    Thus the rarity of posts

    Teflon Dad (46259c)

  13. No treble.

    Gazzer (e441dc)

  14. tl;dr…

    besides, i saw what i want, when i want, where i want and don’t give a damn who’s offended.

    read the First Amendment, you fascist corksuckers.

    redc1c4 (b340a6)

  15. Ok no burning the koran instead dip them in pig fat and have a dog pee on them and bury them in dung heap. By the way obama just announced why he didn’t go to 70th anniversary of liberation of auschwitz. No muslims were killed their! Beside dead jews can’t contribute toobamas presidential library live saudi princes can so he is going there instead!

    nuke mecca (677d15)

  16. Perry, go play with your poop.

    nk (dbc370)

  17. That’s pretty amazing, nk. Still, the fellow posts?

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  18. I always wonder what liberals think gender bias actually means to them…as far as I can tell it means that people generally treat women and men differently (as they should), but they also seem to undermine their own efforts by demanding that only women get to speak to women’s issues (for example).

    Same goes with Racial Bias. People don’t want you to someone by their race, but they want to judge people by their race and they want races to have their own cultures apart from others (this necessitating the need to view them by race).

    Its all very confusing to me.

    Dejectedhead (4bfcf6)

  19. Completely off topic, but this is too rich not to share: I live in de Blasio’s heartland, as the crow flies not 100 yards from his house. This morning a cafe literally on his block (around the corner from his house, you don’t cross any streets to get there) had a sign up saying “Breakfast sandwiches only”, with a list of options, followed by “#blamediblasio”.

    It seems the bloom may indeed be off the rose.

    Milhouse (9d71c3)

  20. This is for red1c4:

    Apparently it is now acceptable to use the N-word, as long as it ends with ‘a’ rather than ‘er’.

    Out of respect for the fact that most of them can’t spell.

    Courtesy of Sickipedia.org: http://www.sickipedia.org/racism/black/apparently-it-is-now-acceptable-to-use-the-n-word-1548863#ixzz3Q4dF8knj

    nk (dbc370)

  21. Hello

    You have a nice blog here! My name is Samuel Gonzalez and I run The Last Tradition. I’ve been doing it since 2009 and I’m pretty dedicated to what I do. I’m always looking for other good blogs to service my readers and yours fits the bill. Check out my blog and if you like what you see I hope you add me to your blog roll. I’ll do the same for you. Hope to hear from you soon!

    http://www.thelasttradition.com/

    Samuel Gonzalez (624613)

  22. “American Sniper” on its way to becoming the Number 1 box office war movie. What do you have to say about THAT, Howard Dean? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjPTdJ2auj0&sns=em

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  23. Servicing teh readers… yay!

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  24. Put me down for a quick tune up.

    Gazzer (e441dc)


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