Jonathan Chait has written a lengthy screed on the perils of political correctness. He reviews its history, provides numerous examples of its pitfalls and even name-checks Balloon Juice fave Freddie deBoer, who is quoted as follows:
It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.
It’s a long piece, but if I may attempt to summarize, Chait divides libtards into two camps: Radical leftists (black hats!) who are the intellectual heirs of Marx; these social justice warriors infest Tumblr and other platforms and try to win the day by shutting down opponents. The second group, Classic Coke liberals (white hats!), are the heirs of Enlightenment traditions. These free speech advocates try to win through application of reason.
After expending many pixels cataloging the poignant obstacles faced by white and / or male liberals and warning of the clear and present danger social justice warriors pose to liberalism itself, Chait ends on a triumphant note — literally!
That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use. Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.
Now, I don’t disagree with everything Chait says. There are people online who get off on finding a pea of offense beneath 20 mattresses of good intentions. Quite frequently it’s white males who have appointed themselves Defenders of the Downtrodden who make the most obnoxious and persistent scolds.
But the prism of victimhood seems to have a funhouse effect on Chait’s perceptions, leading him to write things like this as if they express some self-evident, awful truth that requires no further explanation:
Under p.c. culture, the same idea can be expressed identically by two people but received differently depending on the race and sex of the individuals doing the expressing.
By labeling it “p.c. culture,” Chait attempts to wave away context altogether — as if it’s silly to even entertain the idea that it might be relevant. I’m sure wingnuts who are secretly pissed off that they can no longer use the n-word in polite company would agree that an idea or a word is wholly separate from the person expressing it. But of course context matters — it always has — in HUMAN culture.
Chait also seems to engage in some magical thinking about the curative powers of the “free market of ideas,” wherein more speech is always the cure for bad speech and therefore all speech must be protected (with the usual caveat about yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, one presumes). I subscribe to that view myself, in the absence of a better one. But as always, there’s a difference between protecting speech and insisting that it remain free from criticism — even from harsh criticism that results in hurt feelings and blog-flounces!
And maybe it’s important to acknowledge that there will always be an imbalance in the free market model of speech, just as there is in the commodities market. I’m just as free to invest in political speech as defined by the Roberts Court as the Koch Bros. are; I just have a lot less to invest. And that matters.
Anyhoo, it’s an interesting piece, and when I read it, I thought of the ten ways to Sunday y’all would tear it apart. So have at it!
H/T: Commenter Peale, for bringing the article to my attention.