Much goodness can be found in a recent American Scholar essay by William Deresiewicz. Attempting to make sense of political correctness on college campuses, he discovers an unspeakable horror, a movement that is diametrically opposed to the freedoms that America stands for.
Political correctness has become the shorthand for tyranny, a tyranny that casts a long shadow on the intellectual labor of educational institutions, that represses differences of opinion and that writes every discussion into a guilt narrative where straight white male Americans are oppressing everyone else.
Deresiewicz is struck by the tyrannical effort to suppress free expression. One can only wonder where the ACLU is on all of this. True, it has offered some limp denunciations when speech has been suppressed but it has put its greater fervor into resisting the American president.
On might well suggest that the advent of Trump, of a bull in the china shop, represents a gesture of rebellion against an encroaching tyranny. It you think that it’s just about universities you have not been paying attention to our government and the media. And if you think that it’s an accident that this all came into full flower during the Obama years you have underestimated the damage that the great community organizer could inflict on the nation.
Just as the defenders of Chairman Mao formed a cultural revolution to suppress anyone’s thought but his, so too have the Obama supporters refused to face the truth about his regime. Religions and cults have their gods. They have their messiahs. For the religion of political correctness the messiah is named Obama.
Anyway, Deresiewicz defines the tyranny:
By political correctness, I do not mean the term as it has come to be employed on the right—that is, the expectation of adherence to the norms of basic decency, like refraining from derogatory epithets. I mean its older, intramural denotation: the persistent attempt to suppress the expression of unwelcome beliefs and ideas.
The result, on campus, is that students are afraid to say anything that might offend. Students are effectively being bullied:
I listened to students—young women, again, who considered themselves strong feminists—talk about how they were afraid to speak freely among their peers, and how despite its notoriety as a platform for cyberbullying, they were grateful for YikYak, the social media app, because it allowed them to say anonymously what they couldn’t say in their own name. Above all, I heard my students tell me that while they generally identified with the sentiments and norms that travel under the name of political correctness, they thought that it had simply gone too far—way too far. Everybody felt oppressed, as they put it, by the “PC police”—everybody, that is, except for those whom everybody else regarded as members of the PC police.
Since I have often pointed out that politically correct beliefs function like religious dogma, certainly not like scientific truths, I am happy to concur with Deresiewicz’s analysis. Students, professors, fellow-travelers in the media and useful idiots all worship together at what I have called The Church of the Liberal Pieties.
In his words:
Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.
Among the dogmas are environmentalism., race, gender and sexual behavior:
First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did.
I am slightly amused to see the name of my friend Michel Foucault pop up in the minds of these know-nothings. True enough, Foucault was a gay activist who died of AIDS. I seem to have heard that he thought he was immune because he was French. If so, he would not have been the only gay Frenchman to hold that belief.
Be that as it may, the brilliant gay activist also supported the terrorists of the Weatherman faction of the SDS during the Vietnam Era. I recall him cheering when the Weatherman committed a successful terrorist attack. And, let’s not forget, Foucault was also a fervent supporter of the Ayatollah Khomeni’s Iranian Revolution—you know, the one that considered homosexuality a capital crime and that hanged gay boys from lampposts in Tehran.
A great leader for the politically correct movement….
When students believe that they are “in full possession of moral truth” they stifle intellectual debate and spend their time trying to figure out what they are or are not permitted to believe and to say.
The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.
Dogma, and the enforcement of dogma, makes for ideological consensus. Students seldom disagree with one another anymore in class, I’ve been told about school after school. The reason, at least at Whitman, said one of the students I talked to there, is mainly that they really don’t have any disagreements. Another added that when they take up an issue in class, it isn’t, let’s talk about issue X, but rather, let’s talk about why such-and-such position is the correct one to have on issue X.
This attitude promotes a self-righteous ignorance, people who are impassioned about what they do not know, students who cannot deal with facts and who fly into a rage whenever anyone disputes their opinions. Better to shut down debate than to expose one’s ignorance to the world.
Deresiewicz explains this salient point:
That, by the way, is why liberal students (and liberals in general) are so bad at defending their own positions. They never have to, so they never learn to. That is also why it tends to be so easy for conservatives to goad them into incoherent anger. Nothing makes you more enraged than an argument you cannot answer. But the reason to listen to people who disagree with you is not so you can learn to refute them. The reason is that you may be wrong. In fact, you are wrong: about some things and probably about a lot of things. There is zero percent chance that any one of us is 100 percent correct. That, in turn, is why freedom of expression includes the right to hear as well as speak, and why disinviting campus speakers abridges the speech rights of students as well as of the speakers themselves.
Along with dogma comes heresy. One knows all about this from the world of Freudian psychoanalysis, an important pseudo-religion that gained power and prominence during the last century. One has written about it extensively.
Which brings us to another thing that comes with dogma: heresy. Heresy means those beliefs that undermine the orthodox consensus, so it must be eradicated: by education, by reeducation—if necessary, by censorship. It makes a perfect, dreary sense that there are speech codes, or the desire for speech codes, at selective private colleges.
In truth, most true religions have far more tolerance for differences of opinion than does the new politically correct religion. The new religion has a totalitarian tinge that reminds Deresiewicz—correctly—of Stalinism:
There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.
If you do not belong to the thought police on today’s college campuses, you live in fear of offending it. Or else, you take a lot of STEM courses.
Consider the perniciousness of this totalitarian movement, one is forgiven for believing that it will not go down without a fight and without making an awful lot of noise.