To see the true dread impact of political correctness, look beyond the attitude-policing antics of the pampered imbeciles stinking up America's Ivy League campuses and Britain's top universities. Instead, cast your gaze to a town called Rotherham, in Yorkshire in Northern England.
Working-class, rough, famous for having been one of the beating hearts of the Industrial Revolution, Rotherham is about as far as it's possible to get from the starched lecture halls of Columbia or the dreaming spires of Oxford.
Yet this once thriving and now economically depressed town, home to 250,000 people, stands as an ugly testament to the grave dangers posed by political correctness, or P.C. For here, P.C. has done rather more than cause irritation to libertarians and liberals who don't think novels should come with trigger warnings; here, P.C. has allowed young women to get raped.
In the fortnight since Jonathan Chait broke the internet by doing what many a libertarian has been doing for 30 years—criticising P.C.—most of the Johnny Come Latelys to the anti-P.C. party have aimed their ire at the crazier instances of speech-policing and word-watching.
They've put the boot into students' sociopathic insistence that we use mad words like "cis" or have railed against academics' acquiescence to the transformation of universities into kindergartens for outsized offence-takers.
But beyond all this admittedly scary/hilarious stuff, there's a far larger and harder-to-criticise problem—P.C.'s invasion of everyday life; its movement from colleges into the concrete worlds of politics, society, and community relations. Consider Rotherham.
Major official inquiries, including one published last week, have discovered that in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, around 1,400 young people, mainly white working-class girls, were sexually exploited and abused by gangs of men, most of them of Pakistani Muslim heritage.
The girls, mostly poor, vulnerable, and from broken families, were groomed by the men and passed around as sexual playthings. Some were prostituted; many were plied with drugs and alcohol.
What does this have to do with P.C.? P.C. facilitated these crimes; it aided and abetted them.
The left-leaning Labour-run local council in Rotherham was so hamstrung by P.C., so riven with what the U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May has called "institutionalised political correctness," that it was reluctant to investigate or talk openly about the Pakistani men's sex crimes for fear of appearing racist and demeaning an ethnic minority.
All of the major investigations into this 16-year-long reign of abuse by gangs of Pakistani men have fingered P.C. as one of the key reasons the men's behaviour did not come fully to light earlier.
In last week's report, commissioned by the government and overseen by Louise Casey, an official who specializes in social welfare, Rotherham is described as having had a culture of "political correctness, incompetence and cover-up," which "allowed gangs of Asian men to get away with child abuse for years." Casey found that Rotherham "suppressed" the issue of Asian abuse gangs out of a "fear of being branded racist."
Her findings echo those of Alexis Jay, a professor of public policy, who last year chaired the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham. Jay likewise found among officials in Rotherham a "nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of [the] perpetrators for fear of being thought racist."
Theresa May describes it as "institutionalised political correctness." She says P.C. was so entrenched in Rotherham that some of the victims' "cries for help" were actively ignored by officials who did not want a national spotlight to be shone on the problem of Pakistani abuse of largely white girls. The girls were ushered away, sent back to their abusers, effectively, by officials who did not want to break the first rule of P.C.: Never let any culture or community be subjected to public criticism or ridicule. Well, what's a few rapes compared with maintaining Britain's multicultural mush of respect for all identities?
The P.C.-inspired lethargy of local officialdom in Rotherham meant it fell to the media to uncover the abuse scandal. The Times in particular was dogged in its determination to highlight the scourge of Pakistani gangs grooming young women: its reporting led to the first court case, in 2010, 13 years after the gang's lawlessness first kicked off, in which five Pakistani men were found guilty of grooming three girls, two aged 13 and one 15, and using them for sex. More men have since been arrested. Some of the victims have recently given interviews, describing how they were disbelieved and shushed by officials—officials more concerned with appearing right-on than doing what was right.
The Rotherham debacle captures the most terrifying thing about P.C.—how it discourages, paralyses, in fact, moral judgement; how it strangles critical thinking and common, human decency in favour of turning everyone into obedient nodding robots who promise never to break the First Commandment of P.C.: Thou Shalt Not Offend.
P.C.'s insistence that all cultures are equally valid, and that inciting concern about the behavior of individuals from any particular identity group is a really bad thing to do, led directly to a situation where young people could be raped.
The thing Chait got most wrong in his New York essay was his claim that, after it first burst onto the academic scene in the late 1980s, P.C. "went into a long remission" and is only now returning. Not so. In those 25 years, P.C. silently, and mostly uncontroversially, colonized more and more areas of life across Western Europe and the U.S., including the military, politics, education, and community life and politics.
It moved into the vacuum left by the decline and fall of older Western values, most strikingly the Enlightenment ideals of universalism, tolerance, and freedom. For this, in essence, is what P.C. represents—not simply the harebrained schemes of spoilt students who want to shut down debate, but a new, hastily constructed, and speedily spreading moral system that might replace the morality of old that has withered and lies gasping for breath.
The end result? Rotherham. A town in a modern, democratic nation where elected officials had elevated offence-avoidance and non-judgementalism to such a dizzying height that they could not allow something so seemingly petty as young women's pleas to be protected from rape to derail their P.C. project.
The irony is almost too much to bear. Well-off, middle-class students and academics unleash a new morality which they claim will, among other things, protect women from harmful words and images, yet in Rotherham it helps to subject women to unspeakable forms of abuse. "P.C. is simply about providing vulnerable students with a safe space!" they crow. Not in Rotherham, it isn't—there, P.C., with its pathological allergy to giving offence to any culture, made a whole town into a dangerous space, a violent, rapacious space, for numerous girls and women.