Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Political Correctness and its Discontents

Today, Jonathan Chait was in the tumbrils for a bit over a column critical of the apparent resurgence of "political correctness", which could loosely be defined as dissent against certain speech deemed to be derogatory towards protected classes, generally of gender, gender ID, sexual orientation or affection, race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, or lack thereof.
I won't lie. There are times when I do suspect that there is an "itchy trigger finger", if you will, behind certain storms of internet-based outrage. Sometimes I really feel like there is a need for a "Devil's Advocate" on behalf of some otherwise well-intentioned ally who has bumbled over this or that rail and is getting raked over. And yeah, I have certain people whose writing or work I follow and find or have found serious disagreements with, whom I nonetheless wouldn't write off because of those disagreements. I make no secret of my issues with Bill Maher, Naomi Wolf, Andrew Sullivan, or the late Christopher Hitchens, but I still keep up with the former and retain a kind of admiration for the latter on the basis of not only the bits I agree with, but the way I am challenged to reform, restate, or review my understanding of my own position when I do disagree. To me, the arena of ideas is where our shit gets thrashed out, and some ideas get discredited, and for me--it's not really any skin off my nose when I don't see eye-to-eye with someone.
But then again, I have a lot of white, cis, straight (appearing), middle-class, able-bodied privilege. This is why I recognize that while I can take a lot of things impersonally--this isn't really the option for everyone. It's one thing to scoff at the concept of "microaggressions". It's another to really grasp that those microaggressions take place on top of or alongside the actual systemized macroaggressions of racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, disablism, or some intersection of the same. The sentiments, and the life experiences that they arise from, are real. They shouldn't be dismissed.
Now, I think some things aren't at least, for me, practical or practicable. At one stage in my blogging, around 2010, I tried trigger warnings and the application of more gender-inclusive language to "break out of the binary". It felt forced.  The former I found to be condescending, because I credit people interested in my content with being able realize within a paragraph or two whether that content is something they prefer to engage with, and the latter simply felt awkward and distracting. But the overall goal of not being rude and not stereotyping whole groups of people because of my learned cultural biases is necessary and actually liberating and honest. People are just people. Shedding assumptions and trying to speak from a place of authentic observation and genuine criticism of lazy "proofs" that some marginalized group "really is" lesser than is not "political correctness" so much as being on the right side of a battle against bullshit.

So  to address the overall theme of the column--well, it's complicated, right? My privilege does let me decry what I sometimes see as "excessive" trends in some social justice-based commentary, and I do question in some respects the utility of direct action against mainstream voices if only because--I am not sure it really works. After all, I am not the kind of dope who thinks that people boycotting Rush Limbaugh sponsors or a Bill Maher speaking engagement are on any kind of par with the Charlie Hebdo attackers. But similar groups have tried to kill South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy and Married With Children (which died a natural family sitcom death, having taken on a "Cousin Oliver" and of course, gaining Ted McGinley as a cast member--I kid, I think Ted's ok)--it doesn't work. But the episodes of "excessive" PC behavior that Chait uses to make his case seem like the exceptions, not the rule.

The rule is more like the "strongly-worded letter" or "snarkily-written hashtag". Death by a thousand hashtags is not a real thing. The fear that voices will be silenced that are necessary and important is why so-called politically correct people try to keep alive the voices of the marginalized. In the meanwhile--how many people, including me, linked Chait's column to give it a going over? He trended on Twitter all day. A person is by no means silenced when they are alternately much agreed-with (Sullivan, natch), lambasted to the nth--as is Pareene's speciality, and criticized more in disappointment than offense by Joan Walsh. It would seem that one is awkwardly not actually silenced so much as magnified by the scrutiny--warts and beauty marks alike.

This would actually look to me like free speech banging along on all cylinders. Rather as if "political correctness" was just free speech being countered with other, dissenting speech, and not a fresh cup of shut up at all.

One actually may feel like thanking him for opening up the floor he got wiped with. 


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Pareene's response is awesome.

mikey said...

I make no apologies. I'm a Chait fan. I don't always agree with him - hell, I don't always agree with anyone, including ME - but he's fair and reasoned, and willing to think things through, even if it takes him in directions that make people with very narrow doctrinal viewpoints uncomfortable.

I don't think there's a downside to having a conversation, and I always think that attempts to silence thoughtful discourse because it's ideologically uncomfortable to be one of the worst traits of internet connected dialog. I've spent years supporting the Palestinian cause and have had people attempt to silence me by calling me all the predictable names. I remember when Yglesias wrote a column after Sandy - on purely economic terms - considering whether 'price gouging' on gasoline could increase available supplies and he was excoriated for it. You can make your own policy judgements, but if you don't think people should explore all the options, think about all the outcomes, and even consider ideological apostasy if there is a pragmatic reason to do so, then you are every bit as intellectually dishonest as Fox News. (Note: Not YOU you but them you, y'know?)

The 'daily outrage' is stupid and below the quality of a lot of people who are far to ready to pick up their gear and charge into spittle-flecked battle. Many years ago I was active on a particular Blog that I loved, but the conversation descended into Troll vs. Anti-Troll, and whether Nazis were bad. I had to leave. I've seen lots of people I know on the twitter machine launching anti-Chait diatribes, and I just sigh kind of sadly and move on.

In the end, I'd rather read Chait than those who would silence him. Then I can just make up my own mind.

Formerly Amherst said...

Hi Vixen, I appreciate that Chait at least invites leftists to examine the bromides that are usually accepted thoughtlessly.

There is a sort of disconnect here. The whole idea of political correctness and stuff like white privilege is entirely an affectation of upper middle class leftist bubble-speak. If you have grown up thinking about going to an Ivy League university since you were 15, and your favorite beverage is a vente decaf caramel macchiato, you're probably going to be tuned into the cultural fashion that galvanizes conversation around these labels.

In red state sensibility you try to lift up the people that need assistance without putting down a group that is managing. The idea of trying to help minorities or the underprivileged by casting aspersions and pejoratively labeling little children who happened to be born into a family that was industrious is an indictment of those dreaming up the criticisms.

I don't build myself up by putting you down.

Furthermore, these labels for the main part are simply hot air because they do not define anything. It's a bit like discussions revolving around the word “God”. Unless one defines what they mean by this word, people are just debating hot air surrounding their different projections.

You say that you have been raised as someone who has enjoyed white privilege. If you tell me that that is who you are and that is the way you were raised, then I have to reason to doubt the genuineness of your feelings.

I, on the other hand, am a fairly successful almost senior citizen who is never aware of any white privileges, whereas I have black friends who have enjoyed a great deal of white privilege.

I went to at state supported university on the GI bill. I had this opportunity because of “military privilege” right alongside some of my black comrades in arms.

I spent most of my life working at blue collar jobs right alongside other people scratching around the lower middle class. For example, one job I had to walk 5 miles through a bad neighborhood to work the night shift loading trucks at a truck dock (mostly scabs), and then walk back through the same neighborhood home. Eventually in early middle age, I discovered I had an aptitude for the financial markets. Which of course are open to anyone that wants to start buying and selling stocks. At no time in my life did I ever receive a financial helping hand.

On the other hand, my black friend Phillip is the son of a doctor who still practices, and they just sold the old house for close to a million, and he was frequently invited to parties in the wealthiest section of a large city. I asked him once if he had ever experienced any prejudice, and he just laughed at me. It was so absurd that an affluent kid like him had experienced prejudice.

So white privilege doesn't mean anything for the main part in red states unless it is conceded that it is just as easy for a minority member to have enjoyed white privilege. Where I live these labels and words simply never come up in conversation anytime with any adults. And are only met with scorn in high schools if they do come up. On of the things I wish in my fantasies is that we could get rid of these bubbles and speak honestly with each other without everything having connotations.

I had a Canadian friend tell me once that it was interesting because as soon as they came across the border into the US, Canada ceased to exist. In all this lingo that is used to suggest passive-aggressive hostility directed at people who haven't done anything, it should be realized that it all disappears completely as soon as you move from your bubble to my bubble. If people speak of it at all, it is with contempt and derision. However, a huge amount of effort in my bubble also goes to trying to uplift the disadvantaged.

Vixen, I really appreciate the way you and mikey as well are interested in having these discussions.

Vixen Strangely said...

I think it's a valuable discussion to have, because I feel that with phrases like "political correctness" etc, left and right are developing almost separate languages which provide a greater barrier towards communication.

The whole idea of political correctness and stuff like white privilege is entirely an affectation of upper middle class leftist bubble-speak. If you have grown up thinking about going to an Ivy League university since you were 15, and your favorite beverage is a vente decaf caramel macchiato, you're probably going to be tuned into the cultural fashion that galvanizes conversation around these labels.

Keeping in mind Ted Cruz was likely thinking about Ivy League universities when he was 15 (and doesn't seem to buy into any respects of the language of "the academic left"), and a person like me who has had the real Italian stuff shudders at the idea of some West Coast-influenced caramel/coffee abomination (?) the language of the feminist/activist left started coming into "fashion" twenty years ago or so when I was in college--a small Catholic college in a solid middle class Philadelphia neighborhood. But I related to societal criticism based on intersections of gender and race because I could observe those dynamics in actual interactions around me. It wasn't solely academic. And it remains useful--I'm semi-active on Twitter myself, but follow feminists who some from all kinds of backgrounds--the genie of what's been dubbed "PC" language is out of the university.

Also, the idea of calling it "PC" seems weird--just like one man's religion is another man's blasphemy, it strikes me that one person's "politically correct" phrasing is another's political heresy. Freedom fries, anyone? The Senate Judiciary committee on the Constitution, Human Rights and Civil Rights, dropped the last two phrases just recently--signaling? People get very granular over language, sometimes.

I do think, though, that there are ways in which economic class and education supersede gender and class bias--in that it could be argued an upper middle class black kid from a good zip code going to a Ivy League School has a lot more social mobility than a poor white kid from Appalachia. (Although social mobility surely exists for the poor kids: I'm two generations removed from Appalachia coal miners--and that's not too dissimilar to what WW2 era Southern Italy was like for my husband's parents. But here we are both college grads.) And yet just recently, an African-American columnist at the NYT relates how his son, a Yale student, was possibly profiled and treated unnecessarily suspiciously by the police. That sort of thing has never happened to me or sposo mio.

There have been studies that, all other things being equal, when they put out resumes changed in no other particular but names, male and Anglicized names were more likely to get interview offers than female, Hispanic or stereotypically African-American names. In my posts about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and all, I've posted some statistics about the not-entirely-color-blind justice system. I can't call racial and gender bias a dead letter--but I will agree that nothing is so simple as to be chalked up to "only" race or gender bias.

I think it is possible that looking at only the negatives still present in society can in some respects feed into defeatist views. But I still feel like they have to be looked at to be properly addressed.