A while back, I noted a battle of words between white liberal Michelle Goldberg and black liberal Brittney Cooper over the former’s feeling assailed by people of color. Goldberg argued, in an inflammatory article for the Nation, that white liberals like herself are defenders of “true” liberalism, and that she is increasingly attacked by ’60s-inspired radical leftists who use her whiteness against her. Cooper responded by, as the title of her article has it, “It’s not about you, white liberals!” Yours truly came down on the side of Cooper, which of course ended the argument.
It seems that Jonathan Chait, a white liberal currently with New York magazine, decided to rip open old wounds on the Left with a piece decrying political correctness, talking about how white liberals feel victimized, and even citing the Goldberg vs. Cooper dust-up from last year.
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…
But it would be a mistake to categorize today’s p.c. culture as only an academic phenomenon… Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach.
As someone with a Tumblr account, I can absolutely vouch for this. A lot of Tumblr progressives are bringing in the academia-inspired PC rules to the site, right down to the highly annoying “oppression Olympics.” (The person who feels the most oppressed, wins!) The humorless, holier-than-thou moral preening of some of these people, who absolutely revel in telling others just how racist/sexist/transphobic they are based off of flimsy or else no evidence whatsoever, outstrips any moralizing even the religious right can drum up.
But you know what? There are real injustices that are being talked about. Black people, for example, really do feel slighted in ways besides the most obvious, racist-cop examples. Yes, I am referring to “microaggressions,” but they are a real thing. I’ve talked in the past on how much of racism (especially from white liberals like Chait and Goldberg) comes as crimes of omission rather than Bull Conner-style commission, thus manifesting as microaggressions, and these need to be brought up.
Of course, some extremely tiring leftists bring these up in scolding, judgmental ways meant only to humiliate the target while buttressing the leftist’s own supposed moral credibility. They are absolutely convinced of their own righteousness, and regard America as fallen and too sinful for themselves — much like a Christian conservative, actually. I know. They are annoying. You know what else is annoying? People who hold up the line at Starbucks for 10 minutes to give their insane order while giving zero fucks about the people behind them. Or people who brake on the highway for no reason. Or people who get into loud arguments on their cell phones in a waiting room. Obnoxious people will be obnoxious. Annoying, obnoxious people will always be a part of life.
But what of Chait’s other line of thinking — that involving free speech? Doesn’t the PC police present a chilling force on freedom of expression and the First Amendment? Every day, some campus somewhere invents a ridiculous new form of speech code, or runs a speaker off the campus for possessing inconvenient thoughts, as Chait talks about in his piece. How could I ever be in support of that?
I am something of a First Amendment absolutist, as some of my earlier posts make clear. It is stupid and counterproductive for governments to lock up people who say offensive or hateful things. Those that do, not-so-paradoxically experience far worse problems with fascism than America currently does. (Even countries that were former victims of the Nazis!) Plenty of mainstream ideas started life as heresy, as Galileo could testify, and the problem with speech codes is that they inevitably come back to bite you on the ass. A leftist who supports criminalizing saying hurtful things about Muslims, for instance, might not like it so much when a President Ted Cruz turns around and then starts criminalizing speech against Christianity using the same law.
But that is neither here nor there. Chait isn’t bringing up any examples of government suppression of speech, so the First Amendment is irrelevant to his piece. It’s just that Chait doesn’t like being called a racist on Twitter. I get that. Few people do. But, in cases where they are wrong, then you know what Chait is dealing with? An internet troll. And if he really thinks he has it bad with internet trolls, female feminists would beg to differ. Even the most irritating SJW has absolutely nothing — NOTHING — on a male MRA. If the SJW is the one holding up the line for 10 minutes at Starbucks, then the MRA is the one shooting the place up because the barista wouldn’t talk to him.
And as far as campuses go: the decline of American academia is one long, sad story, and it parallels the degeneration of our elite ruling class. After all, who do you think runs the damn places? But campus speech codes are not even in the top 10 of what’s gone wrong in academia today, which is for a separate discussion.
Now, the irony is that, as I noted with last year’s piece, I really am on the side of sensible liberals like Chait and Goldberg versus the hard left. Many leftists really have forgotten about the working class, obsessing about the oppression Olympics instead, and tend to be rabid anti-Americans and anti-Semites to boot. We just can’t get so defensive when people of color point out our racist bullshit we probably aren’t even aware of. If it’s just a troll, then that’s why Twitter has a block feature. But if not, then generally try to listen. Listening and understanding: that’s why we’re liberals to begin with.