No one asked, but here are my thoughts about the Jonathan Chait piece in New York Magazine, Not a Very PC Thing to Say.
I acknowledge the phenomena he is describing is an actual thing. I was on a campus in the 90s and am on the internet now. I’ve seen and occasionally been confronted by principled passion and vitriol in response to what I thought was a mild opinion. I have been flustered at the suggestion that my opinion is simply invalid due to my privilege. I have watched all sides become entrench — their circular arguments tighten into sanctimonious death spirals, as they jockey for grievance status. Sometimes I conclude that many people just want to fight for its own sake; it offers them something; the other is not important.
It was ever thus online, however, as it was ever thus in every smelly college coffee house ever. There are toxic, pointless arguments all over the internet since internet began. Social justice is just one flavor of contentiousness. But I will say that the “PC” critiques, even at their most infuriating to me, almost always make me think and yes check my privilege. I’d never heard of cisgender until it had been hurled at me as an invalidating insult on Twitter. I bet it’s true for Chait too. But I am glad I know it now; I am glad to give these issues thought. It enlarges me to be called out, even when I conclude the caller is a troll, and especially when it’s by a person I respect.
Jonathan Chait offers very little evidence against this form of contentiousness, other than the anxiety and hurt feelings of some colleagues. To suggest that somehow this discourse is hurting its own side has a name: concern trolling. But I don’t want to invalidate his argument. Rather, I want to make a counter argument of my own. If Chait and heroes of mine like Andrew Sullivan [!?] want to make common cause against SJWs with gamergate that’s fine.
But I’ve avoided discussing gamergate out of fear of being drawn into a speech war that has had real world consequences on both sides. Because there are those who truly monitor and punish speech with doxing threats and harassment — from every philosophical spectrum. I’ve never had an exchange with the so called SJWs that I couldn’t shrug and move on from — sometimes smarter for it. I’ve learned tons from contentious folks of other stripes of Internet warriors as well: gamergate, MRAs, far right wing.
But when expression of opinion is met with real world attacks, the occasional harangue of the politically correct feels small to me.