I’m not going start this essay by reviewing the definition or history of the term “political correctness.” A fellow named Jesse Walker did a fine job of that a year or so ago.
I’m generally not a politically correct guy. In my writing, if I’m staring down a choice between milquetoast PC conformity and a what I consider (if I say so myself) a clever, pointed, funny, and possibly offensive jab at someone or some group that violates the tenets of PC, the un-PC will usually prevail. It’s not that I violently disagree with PC ideals…but I do have priorities.
More than that, I consider the current brand of PC conformity (or at least the demands for it) on America’s university campuses to be an abomination. Back in my grad school days at UC Davis when PC-ism was just beginning to be taken seriously—if mostly in the liberal arts departments—I was initially of the mind that it was a great idea. It seemed like an attempt to adopt new folkways designed for conversing in ways that were more respectful.
But even then, the dark side of PC was evident. My rude awakening: Walking into a building on campus with one of my über-feminist female grad student colleagues on my heels, I opened and held the door. She stopped in her tracks, backed up a few steps, and fixed a hateful death-glare on me. It took me a second to get it—I was a patriarchal oppressor who, by holding the door, was saying that she was weak and in need of my help. I let go of the door and when it clicked shut she reopened it and entered, still glaring at me.
My immediate reaction was embarrassment—I was literally red-faced with shame. My faux pas was worse than un-PC language…it was un-PC action. I had been exposed as the hayseed west-slope Colorado working-class shit-kicker that I was, with the smell of dung lingering on me no matter how long it had been since I’d kicked a cow pie. I could hear the voice of my people—“My how he growed!”—and imagined that I sounded exactly like that in every conversation with my peers and profs. Forever doomed to be an unsophisticated rube.
But upon reflection—and it didn’t take long—I decided that my grad school colleague was a gold-plated jerk. I had held the door for her just as I would have held the door for anyone, male or female. If PC meant that we had to abandon being nice to each other, I wasn’t going to fully engage.
It got worse. In one animal behavior grad seminar, during a discussion of mating strategies, a fellow grad student claimed that rape didn't occur in non-humans. This was obviously put on the table to suggest that within the animal kingdom, human males are particularly vile—and believe me, I’m fully on board with that assessment—but I just couldn’t let the untrue factoid stand. I pointed out that forced copulations were well documented in other animals, and that I and another participant sitting at the table had once looked on in shock as three drake mallards drowned a mallard hen while trying to forcibly mate with her, right there on campus. That earned an immediate accusation that I was an advocate of rape. Let me repeat: An advocate of rape.
I turned to the female grad student who had co-witnessed the horror at Putah Creek Pond and gave her a look: You going to say anything? She looked away. Already, in my cohort of grad students, there was a perceived price to pay for taking on academia’s PC proponents.
Finally, the female professor who was proctoring the seminar said, “Forced copulations are well documented in other species. So let’s talk about that.” Bless her…but she was old school.
Reportedly it’s only gotten worse, what with “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and all of that horse manure. Various forms of “privilege” certainly exist, but you’re not even allowed to ask, “How much does it weigh in a given context?” without violating PC-ism. In my day it was primarily feminists demanding PC conformity. Now everyone needs special treatment. Hell, even angry white males portray themselves as victims these days—everyone needs coddling and protection from being put-upon and offended. Victimhood is the current zeitgeist.
(Please note: I’m not denying that there remain victims of systemic discrimination, but I’m distinguishing that from today’s insidious, destructive, overarching culture of victimhood.)
But there’s hope for academia yet.
This fall, the University of Chicago issued a letter to incoming freshmen that the school does not condone "trigger warnings" prior to lectures so that students can opt to retreat to "safe spaces," and the university does not cancel talks by visiting lecturers simply because the lecturer's worldview clashes with those of some students and faculty and may be controversial. The letter says that students should expect to be confronted by lots of ideas, some of which may make them very uncomfortable.
In summary, the letter says that the university the students are entering is a university, not an echo chamber full of cuddle pillows.
Are you paying attention, my beloved University of California system?
Now then: I wrote all of the above fully cognizant that I might be viewed as just another white male whining about political correctness—pining for the days when we could say any rude thing we desired about women, minorities, homosexuals and competitive bird-listers—and not risk a thing. But I’ve been setting the table for the main course that I’ve intended to serve all along:
- Bros, you’re right. PC is bullshit. You should be free to say most anything you want.
- Dudes, buy a clue. You don’t get to say whatever the heck you want and risk nothing.
What the anti-PC crowd gets right: When the ideals and tools of political correctness fall into the hands of self-appointed censors of ideas, we’re in trouble. Our universities and our news media sheltering us from opinions that might offend us? That is deeply messed up.
What the anti-PC crowd gets wrong: The notion that spewing offensive opinions and abusive insults should have zero consequences is silly. One of our candidates for POTUS regularly denigrates liberals, large women, Mexicans, Muslims, and anyone else his unfocused mind happens to settle upon as a target for his scorn—by last count in August he had insulted 258 people and places on his Twitter account. When he’s criticized for it, the yowling (mostly from my fellow white males) begins: “Political correctness! Thought police! We’re being repressed by the PC crowd!”
No, you flowerbed full of heat-stressed pansies—you don’t deserve or get special protection from the consequences of your noxious proclamations. Nor does your supreme leader, Bonny Prince Flo-Yellow-Silly-String-Weave Tiny-Hands Jerky-Pursed-Lips. Every time I throw an un-PC dart at someone (referring to anti-PC whiners as pansies, for example), I recognize that there may be a price to pay in the currency of offending and alienating many of those pansies—maybe even an important royal-purple-wearing pansy or two.
You and Donald H. Snarkzilla need to recognize that same potential cost. Grow up, broskis.