This piece by Jonathan Chait that appeared in New York Magazine has become the talk of the internet. It’s about the overwhelming monster that insistence on PC thought has become, which is apparently alarming even the liberal Chait.
He’s not alone:
…[O]ne professor at a prestigious university told me that, just in the last few years, she has noticed a dramatic upsurge in her students’ sensitivity toward even the mildest social or ideological slights; she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma — or, more consequentially, violating her school’s new sexual-harassment policy — merely by carrying out the traditional academic work of intellectual exploration. “This is an environment of fear, believe it or not,” she told me by way of explaining her request for anonymity. It reminds her of the previous outbreak of political correctness — “Every other day I say to my friends, ‘How did we get back to 1991?’ ”
But it would be a mistake to categorize today’s p.c. culture as only an academic phenomenon. Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.
I would say to all those liberals who are surprised and disturbed at how far this has gone: what on earth did you think was going to happen? Do the words “slippery slope” mean anything to you? Do you understand why academic freedom is so prized? Do you appreciate that it is not everyone’s right—or really, anyone’s right—to demand not to be “triggered” or upset by the speech of others?
And do you understand that this didn’t start around 1991? That may be when you began to notice it and find it offensive, but that’s probably because it may have been when the attackers stopped attacking only those you found offensive and started to attack those you didn’t (maybe even to attack you).
And it’s not just the “the more radical members of the left” who do this—it’s most liberals these days. Chait spends quite a bit of time trying to deny this last fact—but very few of today’s “liberals” defend the tenets of free speech in the way he seems to think they do. And apparently, he’s not always one of those defenders, either (for example, several writers have pointed out that Chait recently wrote an article saying that Republican AGW-deniers are “unhinged” and unqualified to hold public office).
In his anti-PC piece, Chait describes how PC-accusations poisoned an invitation-only Facebook women writer’s forum called “Binders Full of Women Writers” (his piece contains quite a few astounding quotes from the forum’s participants):
The name came from Mitt Romney’s awkwardly phrased debate boast that as Massachusetts governor he had solicited names of female candidates for high-level posts, and became a form of viral mockery. Binders was created to give women writers a “laid-back” and “no-pressure” environment for conversation and professional networking. It was an attempt to alleviate the systemic underrepresentation of women in just about every aspect of American journalism and literature, and many members initially greeted the group as a welcome and even exhilarating source of social comfort and professional opportunity. “Suddenly you had the most powerful women in journalism and media all on the same page,” one former member, a liberal journalist in her 30s, recalls.
Binders, however, soon found itself frequently distracted by bitter identity-politics recriminations, endlessly litigating the fraught requirements of p.c. discourse….
Who would have thunk it? How could those supportive, kindly, lovely, misunderstood, discriminated-against-but-extremely-worthy-of-renown women end up turning on each other in a tangle of competing and aggrieved special-interest identities?
When the raison d’etre of a large number of a group’s members starts boiling down to complaining about victimhood and hurt feelings, exchanges are going to degenerate into a competition for who’s got the most to complain about and who stands highest in the approved-victim hierarchy.
I remember long long ago, in the early days of ’60s and ’70s feminism, hearing some women (and even some men) claim that women were inherently nicer, better, kinder, and more spiritually evolved than men, and that the groups they formed would just naturally be nicer, better, kinder, and more spiritual than other groups. Well, anyone who believed that hadn’t yet spent a whole lot of time among women in groups.
[NOTE: Ace makes some good points about mobs and speech.]