The Real Victims of Political Correctness

Alex PareeneIn reality, the single most notable example in the last 15 years of an academic being punished for his speech is probably former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who was fired not for offending feminists but for claiming that some victims of the September 11 attacks were complicit in the crimes of the American state that provoked the attacks. Just a few years ago, liberal Democratic members of Congress and other officials publicly demanded that Brooklyn College cancel a forum featuring academics who support a financial boycott of Israel. Lawmakers threatened to withhold funding from the school if the event took place. Just this month, Duke University announced that it would not allow a weekly Muslim call to prayer to happen at the campus chapel, following criticism and threats from Christians and evangelical leaders. This is what speech policing in America actually looks like: like regular policing, it’s wielded primarily by people in power against marginalized groups and anti-mainstream opinions.

—Alex Pareene
Punch-Drunk Jonathan Chait Takes On the Entire Internet

8 thoughts on “The Real Victims of Political Correctness

  1. Pareene’s article is great. I prefer “explain yourself better than you’ve been doing thus far” to “shut up and go away,” but I get where the anger is coming from.

    What liberal anti-P.C. types don’t get is how much they created P.C. Establishment liberals marginalized economic leftism so much that people who were passionate about injustice focused instead on hurtful language. And guess what? They overstepped at times, they had dumb internecine wars like passionate people always do, and they accomplished a lot of good. It is simply unacceptable in polite society to tell racist jokes or homophobic jokes, not the kind you commonly heard 25 years ago. That’s far from insignificant.

    It’s entirely valid, in my opinion, to criticize P.C. and “identity politics” for not nearly gong far enough — for putting verbal/written politeness on a higher pedestal than real socio/economic equality. And who’s more likely to fall into this trap? Radical leftists or those who want a place at TED talks?

    Chait’s apologia (which I only read today) goes really off the loony end by frothing over Internet discourse. As you’ve discussed (and Key & Peeele, and many others) the speed at which we can share our thoughts often creates unfortunate misunderstandings. Chait sarcastically in his essay includes the information that he’s a white male. But that sort of information makes interaction less likely to be misconstrued — it’s good to know!

    The worst thing about electronic communication is that it’s faster than mail but slower than real conversation. Letters were composed and re-composed; the recipient wasn’t getting it for a few days anyways, so taking more time to be clear about your meaning didn’t slow things down much. Real conversations have body language, verbal inflections (even on the phone; I miss long phone conversations.) You can say “oh, you’re so wrong” angrily, neutrally, with sarcastic agreement, just by your manner. It’s very hard to be that precise in writing generally, and in quickly-typed, short-form-so-it’s-easy-to-read writing (because everyone has many other demands on their attention), virtually impossible.

    I don’t interact electronically much (here, a few other blogs, some texting) and that’s largely because I prefer to have some idea of whom I’m interacting with so I don’t inadvertently give offense. P.C. oversensitivity has nothing to do with it. It’s common courtesy, which most people will exhibit if you do the same to them.

    Lastly — still bugged by over-zealous P.C. campus types, Chait? Jesus. They bugged me too, in 1992, and I’m over it. I bugged people and I assume they’re over it. If I still had a gnat in my ear over what college students said that bothered me when I was 20, I’d really have a “Star Trek II” brain worm gnawing my cerebellum over the shit I said at that age.

  2. Chait has 50,000 Twitter followers. He is one of the most prominent political writers in the nation. You’d think he would have some perspective. If 50,000 people follow you, there are going to be some loons. But more than this, he’s been writing about this for a decade.

    I’m about to take Chait off the sidebar. It isn’t because I disagree with him. It is just that he isn’t writing very interesting stuff anymore. He used to have a great sense of humor. I haven’t seen much of that over the last year. And he’s gotten into this thing where he writes something intentionally provocative. Then, when people slap him down, he insists on writing a response. In a recent exchange with Ta-Nehisi Coates (who is no less pugilistic), Chait ended up quite bloody.

    But this isn’t even Chait at his worst. His worst stuff is on charter schools. It is an issue that he has no objectivity about. I understand. It’s what his wife does. As a result, he should just avoid the subject. But I know in his eyes, his anti-PC and anti-public education articles just prove how open minded he is and thus even more of a liberal than the rest of us. He really ought to retire, but the man is still in his early 40s. Imagine what he’s going to be like in his 60s. He might be a regular on The Five.

  3. Churchill was not fired for his comments. He was fired for plagiarism and impersonating an aboriginal. He deserved to lose his job, even though he agrees with much of what I think. I’m not a tribalist.

    For what it’s worth, I would not support firing a professor for comments like those Churchill made, but I would criticize them.

    I don’t like Chait, and I don’t think he’s a very good messenger for what is wrong with any sort of politics, but every response to him I have seen does not respond at all, but straw man him massively.

    • The university claimed they fired Ward Churchill for that reason. He sued, and won.

      I haven’t had much to say about the whole Chait thing. But it strikes me as very much like Sam Harris. He made a tightly reasoned argument. But if you go simply by that, then there is no reason for him to have written the article. Therefore, I conclude that Chait meant to make a much wider claim for the purpose of trolling. After all the criticisms, Chait wrote a much shorter argument claiming that all the criticisms showed that everyone secretly agreed with him. Right. On the very narrow, meaningless point, everyone did.

      • I was never under any illusion as to why they investigated Churchill. However, he deserved to be fired, because his ‘scholarship’ is plagiarised.

        What is the narrow point for Chait? Why is there any reason to draw a conclusion about Chait? There already was conclusive evidence he’s an asshole years ago.

        The problem with the PC stuff is not the hurt feelings of wealthy white guys – obviously I’m not too concerned with that – but with the fact that ‘privilege’, ‘microaggression’, etc. are words used by not-particularly-downtrodden individual representatives of oppressed groups to advance themselves as individuals. And the fact that this kind of discourse is incurably idiotic and deserves no defence from leftists or anyone else.

        People never, Internet or elsewhere, invoke ‘privilege’ to encourage a healthy look at hereditary differential civil/economic access; in every case it is just an individual asshole trying to get ahead of others. Or at least, this is what I have seen in every single example. And that individual asshole almost always comes from a pretty well-off family.

        People are turned off – rightly- by some of this aggressive rhetoric fraudulently claimed to be speaking for the oppressed. As I see it, it takes people who might be active supporters and makes them tacit supporters instead. I won’t attend a demo with speakers who say the meaningless, coercive phrases ‘patriarchy’, ‘microagression’, etc. Because it’s too fucking stupid.

        As I say, I really don’t think Chait himself acutely gets what is important here, being a bigoted neo-liberal (is there any other kind?). What it is about for me, is people patting themselves on the back, and convincing themselves that they are resisting racism, when in reality they are telling people who basically agree with them to fuck off, and have the nerve to be sanctimonious about it.

        The left should be winning. Those purveyors of ‘privilege’-talk aren’t helping, because they sound the same as Rush Limbaugh. A young person looking at what they should become in life has a rational basis for believing that there is no difference between the Fox News-watching crowd, and the ‘microaggression’ jack-off. Because there isn’t. Leftism does not have to sound like Limbaugh, because the balance of evidence is in favour of leftism. But that hypothetical young person will never find out.

        • I don’t really disagree with you. And there were a number of articles that argued pretty much the same thing: that there is a real issue of concern and that Chait totally missed it. Well, not totally; everyone agreed that the story at the beginning of the article is a good example of the real problem.

          The main response that I though worth noting was John Hodgman’s, Hodgman’s Chait “PC” Twitter Response in English. And his point was that although these people can be a real pain, they can also be helpful. It’s a mixed bag. I think the drive to get rid of this cannot be divorced from the push to improve the lives of minority groups. It’s like making disability insurance harder to get: yes, you will throw some people off who don’t deserve it; but you will also throw some people off who do. It’s a balance, and I don’t think the speech codes are really that much of a problem. But I might think differently if I had been the object of them.

          • I’m afraid I don’t see ‘privilege’ and ‘microsgression’ talk as having anything to do with any sort of justice. They are always attempts to establish a political space for toxic, sociopathic, individuals.

            Until someone attempts a good accounting of how many people are turned off (active support for) leftism by this sort of thing, I think I’m justified in seeing it as officially Part of the Problem. Leftist commentators need to be better than Glenn Beck, not more of the same.

            Please note this has nothing to do with being a ‘victim’ of any sort, speech codes or whatever. In the context I discuss now, speech codes are a problem not mainly because of who they hurt. (almost always left-wingers). They are a problem because they drive away active support. I can’t tolerate a person who advocates for speech codes, therefore I cannot be politically active with an organization that features this person. Because duh!!!! How many of me are there?

            The left should be winning. As I see it, the speech code types are inauthentic leftists, who hijack the language of justice for personal advancement. Objectively pro-master. How are they helpful?

            Could you email me some links to writers who expressed similar ideas to mine? From other writers I once respected, I literally have seen zero open-minded discussion on this issue. So I have not found these articles of which you speak.

  4. @RJ – I’m on my way out of town, so no. You seem very interested in the subject so spend some time with Google. I know that Greenwald linked to one article that I thought rather like what you are requesting.

    I just don’t see it as a big deal. And it certainly isn’t the reason that people are skeptical of the left. It isn’t the reason that young people don’t show up to vote. It is a marginal thing that most people are not even aware of. But I don’t see how you can say that it isn’t part of social justice. The language that we use for things is critically important to how we perceive these things. This has always been the case. Words that are thought totally unacceptable today were not seen that way five decades ago. No one is talking about making these words illegal.

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