Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Saving Liberalism from Political Correctness

Jonathan Chait wants to save liberalism. By extension, he wants to revitalize the Democratic Party by expunging the rot that seems to have invaded its core.

Chair knows that the horrors that are being committed in the name of political correctness are dragging down the Democratic Party. Perhaps at some point the party was happy to have the support of the radical left, but the situation has gotten out of hand. Democrats lost a lot of elections a few months ago. If things continue this way, the Democratic Party might go the way of the Whigs.

Chait does not mention that the American electorate breathed a new vitality into political correctness by electing Barack Obama to the presidency.

When Obama became president, political debate was no longer about ideas. In social media and universities those who opposed Obama were slandered and defamed.

Let’s not forget that Obama used to pal around with radicals like William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi. It’s not as though America elected a good liberal Democrat to the presidency.

Now, with the candidacy of Hillary Clinton looming, the debate will no longer concern Mrs. Clinton’s thin resume and  barely visible accomplishments, but about the sexism of those who oppose her.

Among other points, Chait echoes an argument that I have occasionally made against the fashionable notion of trigger warnings. The point bears repeating:

Trigger warnings aren’t much help in actually overcoming trauma — an analysis by the Institute of Medicine has found that the best approach is controlled exposure to it, and experts say avoidance can reinforce suffering. Indeed, one 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?’

Several columnists have challenged Chait’s idea that political correctness is antithetical to liberalism. I tend to agree with him that it belongs on the radical left:

But political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.

If political correctness is a symptom, of what is it a symptom? Chait suggests that it is symptom of ignorance and stupidity. Those who cannot engage with ideas, who cannot participate in political debate resort to calumny, slander and defamation.

After noting that he himself is a white male, Chait despairs at the fact that the radical left considers his identity to be the only important point about his ideas.

If you consider this [my] background and demographic information the very essence of my point of view, then there’s not much point in reading any further. But this pointlessness is exactly the point: Political correctness makes debate irrelevant and frequently impossible.

In many ways this reflects what is called identity politics. The value of someone’s work, especially in academia and the media depends more on the person’s racial, ethnic or gender identity than on any intrinsic merit.

Political correctness is simply the radical version of identity politics. It refuses to debate ideas, disparages the notion of intrinsic merit and promotes people who owe their jobs to their identity, not to what they have achieved.


Ares Olympus said...

I don't see Chait talking about political parties at all. But this is a good summary from him:
"But political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves."

It sort of reminds me of a quote from Wendell Berry, in regards to opposition to Gay marriage:

“Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred,” Berry said. “Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness – as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.”

I find the quote helpful since it is true from any political leaning.

When confronted by someone who is possessed by images of the enemy, what is the proper response, I mean assuming the animosity isn't directed at you personally?

It's an open mystery to me that I hope to someday solve.

Dennis said...

This does a better job at expressing my thoughts. Comes from American Power.
"To be fair, I think Chait was genuinely trying to differentiate a genuine "liberal" politics of the left. But the left isn't "liberal." Today's "liberalism" is commensurate with ideological hostility to difference. So-called "liberals" --- routinely mislabeled in most mainstream political coverage --- are in fact radical leftists in the Marxist dialectical orientation. These cadres stand against so-called liberal tolerance and respect for ideational interplay as privileging unequal discourses of power. Chait would have saved himself some trouble be simply identifying leftists for what they are and reminisced approvingly for some long lost era of anti-communist liberal politics.

In any case, folks are going to keep using "liberalism," since it's ingrained in the cultural superstructure.

With that, here's Sean Davis, at the Federalist:
In a widely praised piece for New York Magazine, liberal writer Jonathan Chait says the leftist language police are perverting liberalism. Chait is wrong. The politically correct language police don’t pervert modern liberalism; they embody it. And amateur leftist thought cop Jonathan Chait himself is proof.

In his piece, Chait catalogued numerous discussions within a large Facebook group called “Binders Full of Women Writers” to show the toxic effect that language and thought crime policing can have on basic political discourse. At times, members of the overwhelmingly liberal group would demand that certain sentiments not be shared. Sometimes, members declared that certain people weren’t even allowed to have opinions on a subject on account of their color, gender, or sexual orientation. Here’s a small selection from Chait’s piece:

[Long block quote here.]

One of Chait’s main points — that speech codes are inherently corrosive and antithetical to a free society — is impossible to argue. He’s correct. They are. Speech codes are a widely used tool taken right out of the fascist toolbox. If they can’t control how you act, then they’ll control how you speak. If they can’t control how you speak, then they’ll control how you think. And if you act, speak, or think contrary to their demands, you will be punished. To the energetic little fascists of the online Left showcased by Chait, wrong thoughts lead to wrong words, and wrong words can incite wrong behavior. You will submit, or you will pay the price.

I’m glad Chait has suddenly decided that speech policing is a terrible idea. He’s only a couple hundred years behind the times, but better late than never, I suppose. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s all that sincere about it. In fact, I think he just opposes speech codes when they’re used against him or his fellow travelers. And the reason I think that is because I’ve actually read what Jonathan Chait has written about people on the right who disagree with him. It’s one thing for Jonathan Chait to oppose the practice of using speech codes against Jonathan Chait and his friends, and another thing entirely for Chait to oppose speech codes used against his political opponents."
Academe in order to seen as not radical Leftists has moved everything to the right so it is easy to see Chait's confusion.

Ares Olympus said...

Andrew Sullivan wrote in support of Chait's essay, seeing it from the gay rights excesses. It sounds like once you start the "good fight" its hard to ever identify when enough is enough.

...If reason has no chance against the homophobic patriarchy, and one side is always going to be far more powerful in numbers than the other, almost anything short of violence is justified in order to correct the imbalance. The “victim”, after all, is always right. Gay beats straight; but queer beats gay; and trans beats queer. No stone must be unturned in this constant struggle against unrelenting aggression and oppression. In the end, they may even run out of letters to add to LGBTQIA. And all of the “hate”, we are told, is just as brutal as it ever was. And so the struggle must not ease up with success after success, but must instead be ever-more vigiliant against hetero-hegemony. So small businesses who aren’t down with gay marriages have to be sued, rather than let be; religious liberty must be scoffed at or constrained, rather than embraced; individual homophobic sinners must be forced to resign or repent or both, and there is no mercy for those who once might have opposed, say, marriage equality but now don’t. The only “dialogue” much of the p.c. gay left wants with its sinners is a groveling apology for having a different point of view. There are few things in a free society more illiberal than that.

Sam L. said...

Don't forget: Liberals so devalued that name that they changed to "progressive", claiming that conservatives had made "liberal" a bad name.

Martin Luther King's great line, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." will not be allowed to come true by those who believe in "identity" (and personal aggrandizement) above all.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @January 28, 2015 10:10 AM:

"You will submit, or you will pay the price."

Indeed. And Islam means "submission." Perhaps that's why the White House sees the value in protecting the Prophet, and refuses to label those who kill based on their interpretation of the Koran "Islamist terrorists," which is EXACTLY what they are. If you kill in the name ofIslam to the exclusion of all other faiths, you are definitionally Islamist. What could those the White House possibly be arguing about, if this demand did not come from on high?

I'm all for respecting Islam, but as soon as they say I should submit to their book -- under the threat of violent "conversion" (submission) -- the conversation is over. It means there is no Truth in their religion, only death.

n.n said...

Political correctness is a liberal method and practice to manufacture leverage in order to marginalize and eviscerate competing interests. The untold paradox is that today's liberal is tomorrow's conservative. This happened to classical liberals. It happened to classical progressives. Generational liberalism is a degenerative ideology.

Katielee4211 said...

Liberalism, in the classical sense, has nothing to do with Liberalism, nee Progressivism (AKA Marxism - or let's call it what their true romanticized goal is - communism), today. With that definition, it doesn't sound like Chait meets the mark.
Ares Olympus: Someone noted that it was no longer about fighting for the rights, it's about the fight in and of itself.

Sam L. said...

Let's not help save the left from political correctness. An overdose of their own medicine could be good for them.

Fat Man said...

All revolutions eat their own. Robespierre was sent to the Guillotine, and Trotsky got an ice-ax in the back of his head. It is fun to watch.