Political Correctness

The PC Revolution is Eating Its Own, But What Sort of Shit Comes Next?

Political correctness is dying. The university must now embrace unfettered intellectual debate and dialogue as the way forward.

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There are many signs that the high tide of political correctness on college campuses is cresting. The scandal surrounding the treatment of Northwestern's Laura Kipnis, a feminist professor of journalism who got into hot water for writing about her sexual activity in The Chronicle of Higher Education, has erupted into a full-scale what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-today's-puritanical-and-easily-offended students fury. Offended students filed a Title IX complaint against Kipnis, charging that her work created a "chilling effect." Investigators found the complaint without merit, a decision widely hailed by anti-PC observers. Even writers at Jezebel, who are often quick to side with PC elements, look at the situation as an example of "feminism devouring itself."

First codified in its current usage in the late 1980s and early '90s, PC refers not simply to outspoken discourse that views everything through the prisms of race, class, gender, and other totalist frameworks but to the attempt to shut down all disagreement as beyond the pale, beneath contempt, and in fact a prima facie case that marginalized voices are constantly being attacked. In this sense, PC is not new (or solely a province of left-wing thinking) but it is kind of brilliant: The very fact that you disagree with me proves that my perspective and all I claim to represent is being oppressed and the only righteous action is to shut down your speech.

So how do we know we may be approaching peak PC? For starters, liberals have begun attacking the phenomenon. Consder Jonathan Chait's New York Magazine story, "Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say," from earlier this year. Chait unspooled a litany of recent instances where some sort of campus expression was shut down, including the age-old tradition of protesting graduation speakers and newer forms of restraint:

At a growing number of campuses, professors now attach "trigger warnings" to texts that may upset students, and there is a campaign to eradicate "microaggressions," or small social slights that might cause searing trauma. These newly fashionable terms merely repackage a central tenet of the first p.c. movement: that people should be expected to treat even faintly unpleasant ideas or behaviors as full-scale offenses. Stanford recently canceled a performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson after protests by Native American students. UCLA students staged a sit-in to protest microaggressions such as when a professor corrected a student's decision to spell the word indigenous with an uppercase — one example of many "perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies." A theater group at Mount Holyoke College recently announced it would no longer put on The Vagina Monologues in part because the material excludes women without vaginas. These sorts of episodes now hardly even qualify as exceptional.

This sort of acknowledgement by liberals and even many on the harder left may be a long time coming, but it's out there and now creeping into popular culture. Chris Rock doesn't play colleges anymore because of the general offense taken at the mildest jokes and Jerry Seinfeld voices similar misgivings. Bill Maher, an atheist vegan who figuratively skullfucks conservative Republicans on a weekly basis, is protested at Berkeley and articles likening college students to "human veal" are popping up all over the place like support groups for readers traumatized by the auto accidents in The Great Gatsby.

In response to Chait's article, Vox's Amanda Taub wrote a piece essentially saying there is no such thing as PC but if there is, it's really coming from the stuffed-shirts and Dean Wormers of the world who already hold all the power:

Political correctness isn't a "creed" at all. Rather it's a sort of catch-all term we apply to people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we're willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them. Worse, the charge of "political correctness" is often used by those in a position of privilege to silence debates raised by marginalized people — to say that their concerns don't deserve to be voiced, much less addressed.

This gets things exactly wrong. The silencing of debate on campuses isn't being done by free-speech absolutists and libertarians. Rather, it's being done by folks such as student groups at Maryland and Michigan who attempted to ban showings of American Sniper on the grounds that it was hate speech against Muslims living in America. It isn't hate speech simply to diminish other people's concerns or to say, for instance, that trigger warnings are stupid and unworkable (even Taub admits the latter point). That's just disagreement, which is supposed to be one of the things universities revel in. With disagreement comes engagement and debate and with that comes, one hopes, newer and better understanding of truth (not with a capital T, mind you, but some incremental progress toward keener understanding of the human condition). The essential move in PC is shutting down discussion, not airing unpopular or marginal points of view.

So how do we know that peak PC might be upon us and that it's all downhill from here?

As I noted at the top, the Kipnis case has caused a large rethink among many on the broadly defined left. And then there's Vox itself just earlier this week, getting on the PC-Has-Gone-Too-Far Bandwagon by publishing the pseudonymous story "I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal professors students terrify me":

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best….

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to "offensive" texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students' ire and sealed his fate.

On one level, the author's complaint about "the folly of oversimplified identity politics" and the way students bug him is truly low-level workplace bitching. His parade of horribles—he once saw an adjunct not get contract renewed!—is pretty weak sauce for outrage, even if you try to imagine it being uttered by Rutger Hauer in Bladerunner. I've taught at the college level and have many friends who are academics (tenure track and adjunct) and there's no question that students are often really annoying jackasses. Which is almost perfectly balanced by the ways in which faculty are jackasses. Although it's not completely determined by commercial transactions, college is and always will be a customer experience for students and overall that has empowered them to call shots that are generally good. Similarly, the anonymous prof's world-weary complaint that "things have changed since I started teaching" could be uttered at any point in the past 500 years and be utterly true (I recommend reading Leslie Fiedler's What Was Literature? to get a sense of just unsettled the American university's mission, identity, and purpose has been for the past 100 years).

The most interesting and important thing about this latest Vox piece is simply that it exists and that it articulates yet one more critique of a campus atmosphere that is more stultifying than a mid-century girdle. Campuses are in fact more sensitive and inclusive than they were when I graduated from college 30 years ago. In many and mostly good ways, American society writ large is more mindful that people have different experiences and that the good society allows for airing of grievances and celebrations of diverse ways of thinking, of loving, and of living. Some of that change came from marginalized groups demanding to be taken seriously and forcing universities to give them the space and opportunity to do that. When that sort of openness transmogrifies into launching Title IX complaints against professors for publishing in The Chronicle of Higher Education or demands that Oscar-winning movies be banned from campus or shouting down as ineffectual speakers as David Horowitz, well, something has gone horribly—and obviously—wrong.

The revolution always eats its own. And after 25 or so years in which speech codes, behavior codes, and a constant stream of complaints about everything from the books being studied to the speakers being brought to campus to the need for less gluten in cafeterias, the PC revolution has run out of chow.

The only question left—and it's not a small one—is what kind of shit comes next. Will faculty start to lobby for the sort of commitment to free speech that was the hallmark of '60s campus crusades (read Greg Lukianoff's Freedom from Speech on this)? A belief in allowing all sorts of freewheeling debate and dissent ultimately was tagged  as a form of repressive tolerance that maintained the status quo by giving malcontents the right to blow off steam. But now that liberal and left-wing faculty are feeling the sting of PC, they may finally be willing to rethink their positions. Will students, the vast majority of whom probably could care less about any of this sort of thing, start evacuating campuses that are known to be ultra-PC? Will they start bypassing college altogether, except maybe for technical degrees that are relatively immune from many ideological battles?

Alan Kors, the libertarian University of Pennsylvania historian (and Reason contributor) was once upon a time was involved in one of the first great battles in the PC wars (google "water buffalo case" kids). He talks about how one of the major problems is that faculty no longer really run universities. For a variety of good and bad reasons, they ceded governance of higher education to bean counters, fundraisers, and residence-life staff who have very little interest in intellectual discussion and a lot more in regimenting lifestyle and thinking. In believing this, the co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is joined by Camille Paglia, who remains outspoken in her contempt not just most scholars but students too (kill an hour listening to her here; you won't be sorry).

Colleges and universities becoming places where free inquiry is not simply tolerated but a foundational principle? Where faculty are expected to produce new knowledge and engage in sharp, unsettling, and sometimes incredibly nasty debates while inching toward some inherently provisional but nonetheless meaningful understanding of truth? Where students are exposed not to epistemic closure and endless jeremiads about the latest and greatest microaggression (soon to be replaced, I'm sure, by even smaller and difficult to see nanoaggressions)?

Yeah, it could happen. Take a listen to Kors, talking in 2012, to see if that might be a university you'd want to attend or to which you'd send your kid:

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76 responses to “The PC Revolution is Eating Its Own, But What Sort of Shit Comes Next?

  1. The only question left?and it’s not a small one?is what kind of shit comes next.

    Whatever comes next, you can be sure the pushers of it will again brook no debate.

  2. So how do we know that peak PC might be upon us and that it’s all downhill from here? As I noted at the top, the Kipnis case has caused a large rethink among many on the broadly defined left. And then there’s Vox itself just earlier this week, getting on the PC-Has-Gone-Too-Far Bandwagon by publishing the pseudonymous story “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal professors terrify me”:

    1. “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me”

      1. It may take a while to catch on. I don’t think Nick likes to wade into the riff-raff’s commentariat.

          1. I went to a Riff Raff show a few years ago and I even paid the extra 50 for meet and greet. I wish I could say it was worth it but dude wouldn’t even take a picture with me. Anyways, his “eccentric dominance” has worn off on me since then.

  3. a feminist professor of journalism who got into hot water for writing about her sexual activity

    What now? She wrote about university policy, not her own sex life.

    1. I came here to post the same thing.

    2. THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL!

  4. Maybe sanity comes next. I’m enjoying the hell out of watching progressivism, and this nonsense is mostly from the left, descend into self-parody while some of its acolytes discover their self-awareness.

    1. What comes next is that those left-wingers who criticize political correctness will soon be considered conservatives, and what’s left will be the PC supporters.

  5. I believe Nick’s most-accurate previous prognostication was marking the ‘high water mark’ of the Religious Right in America.

    I think it was shortly after the Jack Abramoff affair? Regardless, he nailed it.

    The Libertarian Moment, however…. well…. i have greater hopes for the down-slope of our current PC trend.

    I’m not so sure about it, however. Two things make me skeptical = one, its mostly driven by *students* rather than teachers, and ultimately the institutions will adapt to their demands; secondly, there’s an entire media-industry built up around Victim Politics now. They will not vanish overnight.

    1. there’s an entire media-industry built up around Victim Politics now. They will not vanish overnight.

      All of those students are going to graduate, they’re going to head into the workforce, head into government jobs, run for office. The next generation of people actually wielding the guns scares the shit out of me.

      1. Lol, no. None of these people will be meaningfully employed. They’ll be working at Starbucks.

  6. Nick, ol buddy, this article has a few errors that might have Matt Welch sending you out to join Lucy on the breadline.

    1) Kipnis wrote in general terms about sexual relations between professors and students that she had witnessed.

    2) The liberal professor was scared of his liberal students.

    1. There are things we don’t talk about

    2. Nick, ol buddy, this article has a few errors that might have Matt Welch sending you out to join Lucy on the breadline.

      Nick runs the website. Matt runs the magazine.

      1. ONE JACKET TO RULE THEM ALL

        1. No. The One Ring was a tool of the Dark Lord Sauron.

          The Jacket is a distinct entity in it’s own right, a creature of pure Libertarian thought in textile form. However, it requires a symbiotic relationship with its human host to get it from place to place and to give voice to it’s musings on freedom.

          1. Don’t believe it. True Lord of the Jacket is still somewhere out there, a formless spirit of malice, lurking and patiently waiting for the Jacket to find its way back to him.

            Can we identify him somehow? Do you know who else liked to wear leather jackets?

        2. One Jacket to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

    3. Also, students, the vast majority of whom probably could care less.

      1. look, old man – kids these days know 3 things =

        – “Literally” means whatever you want it to mean
        – NOT OKAY
        – headlines are where you say things like, “…and here’s why its a problem”

        your demands for perfection are like totally not cool

  7. UCLA students staged a sit-in to protest microaggressions such as when a professor corrected a student’s decision to spell the word indigenous with an uppercase I ? one example of many “perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies.”

    Proving that in addition to not being able to spell, the students also didn’t know what the fucking word meant either.

    1. you expect students to know things? What the hell kind of monster are you? And there is probably some microaggression you’re committing just by harboring those thoughts.

      1. Proving students are paying grand sums to be sufficiently socially programmed, and universities have nothing to do with education?

        I know. No chocolate ration for me.

  8. Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me ? particularly the liberal ones.

    I don’t know if the person who wrote this was ever a proponent of this PC bullshit, but many of the people realizing it has gone too far were people who pushed and supported it up until now. So it’s a little rich seeing them go “oopsie, that might have been a mistake”. I love how hindsight isn’t just 20/20 for many people, it’s not their fault in any way, apparently. Good intentions and all that.

    1. That’s always the way it goes. We got Danny Westneat wondering where it all went wrong, too. But do we get a mea culpa as we get herded into the train cars? Nope.

    2. “… it’s not their fault in any way, apparently.”

      Just as no single raindrop thinks it had any responsibility for the flood.

      1. It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.

  9. “Will faculty start to lobby for the sort of commitment to free speech that was the hallmark of ’60s campus crusades” etc.

    Seriously? There was the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and some protests about the rights of Commies, but there were also disruptions of campus speakers and, of course, disruption of campus operations more generally. All in the name of more openness of course.

  10. While the complaints in the Vox column aren’t particularly terrifying, it has a good analysis of what’s going wrong intellectually:

    The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. …[T]heir manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. …

    This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that “is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ … ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.”

    1. ” the complaints in the Vox column aren’t particularly terrifying, “

      from the POV of people who got into teaching in order to be moral-intellectual dictators it certainly is.

      they’re being pushed around by their students. Not. Okay.

    2. Can you just tell me how I can blame this on the Koch brothers so I can move on?

      1. You don’t need a reason, you just need an excuse.

      2. “Can you just tell me how I can blame this on the Koch brothers so I can move on?”

        The Koch Brother’s are greedily holding onto their assets instead of sponsoring professor-student communication seminars across the world. So really, it’s all their fault.

  11. First codified in its current usage in the late 1980s and early ’90s

    I remember back then when I first heard the term in actual live conversational usage, it was used in a more neutral way– the way someone would point out flawed or uncouth table manners. “That’s not politically correct,” you would be told. It was only later that it became a jokey, ironic phrase of derision.

  12. an atheist vegan who figuratively skullfucks conservative Republicans on a weekly basis

    No, Nick, he literally skullfucks conservative Republicans.

  13. I love the water buffalo incident, by the way, for the perfect proof it provides that people who claim this stuff is offensive are, much of the time, simply insanely ignorant about the most basic aspects of their own language and how it represents the world around them.

    1. Yes, but it makes them feel right, and isn’t their self-esteem more important than truth?

      Maybe I left college at the very beginning of this new academic Dark Age but I do not recall a single incident of any of my classes (I being in the social sciences where you’d expect more of this) where SJW nonsense interfered with something.

      So I regard these kinds of incidents are relatively rare and unusual, at least in terms of stuff that actually affects regular people.

      1. You can just see the grade-inflating high school teachers in the lounge: “OK State College, they’re YOUR problem now!”

    2. I believe that was the same sorority had some 1AM rally outside my dorm the night before I had a 8AM major exam in partial differential equations.

      I fucking wanted to murder the useless cunts. And some of our neighbors did get investigated because someone in the dorms shouted “Shut up, you nigger bitches!”

      They never figured out who it was. I wanted to murder them too; I was stretched too thing with actual class work to have time to deal with the bullshit caused by stupid people.

  14. Why would anyone not on the left want this to stop? The American left should have Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of its own.

  15. “the Kipnis case has caused a large rethink”

    Uh huh. If these people could draw sensible conclusions at all they would have seen this coming a long time ago. It was entirely predictable. If they could think there would be no need for a rethink. Whatever comes next I am sure it will be a big a turd as the one they have now.

    1. You know how, when one lies to other people, one winds up having to tell bigger and grander and more complex lies to cover up the original?

      It works that way when you lie to yourself, too.

      1. Very insightful and apt comment you have there Hamster.

  16. Alan Kors, the libertarian University of Pennsylvania historian (and Reason contributor) was once upon a time was involved in one of the first great battles in the PC wars (google “water buffalo case” kids).

    Don’t need to… remember it well. I thought PC was dead after the 90s, but it came back, stronger and more vibrant, and even more resistant… like a staph infection.

    1. Exactly. Writing that this higher crest is a sign of it fading away is beyond wishful thinking.

    2. I think it’s been more like one continuous wave, with a brief interlude in the 2000’s thanks to Bush.

      In those years the lefties finally had a real monster, and they could forget about all their imaginary ones.

  17. Am I the only one who reads “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal professors terrify me” like ‘it’s my money and I need it now’?

    1. Does Canadian J.G. Wentworth give you that tire money for settlements and trust payouts?

  18. And no.

    There will be no peak PC with this bunch.

    1. “There are many signs that the high tide of political correctness on college campuses is cresting.”

      Yes, that comment looks like Nick is predicting peak derp. I’m skeptical.

  19. Amanda Taub wrote a piece essentially saying there is no such thing as PC but if there is, it’s really coming from the stuffed-shirts and Dean Wormers of the world who already hold all the power[…]

    This gets things exactly wrong.

    You are being too kind. Taub is simply lying through her lyin’ teeth. She gives bullshit a face to paste it on.

    I believe I said this before at another time: The accusation that Political Correctness is actually a right-wing thing is something that has been peddled by the Marxians since the 90s. I clearly remember an episode of Crossfire where some person alleged the same thing Taub did. It was a lie then and it continues to be a lie today.

  20. I’ll believe PC is cresting when I see that progressives (from all over the interwebs) have stopped smearing criticism of Barack Obama as pure racism straight from the get go.

    1. Racism is presumed.

  21. The common refrain here seems to be “Oh shit, now they’re doing it to us.” My guess is they’ll figure out a way to direct the witchhunt back to where it belongs-libertarians and conservatives.

    1. Exactly. If we could just get the cops shooting an equal number of white folks, it’ll be ok. There’s no overarching issue of accountability and violence…

  22. Nothing new about “feminism devouring itself”. Your average feminist is probably really keen on devouring feminists. That’s just the way they go.

    1. Omedetou

  23. i think Gillespie has called this one wrong. A “high water mark” is going to involve people actually starting to question the underlying assumptions of the social justice creed. At this point, all you really have is a few liberals who have been on the receiving end of the social justice cadre mobs whinging that “things have gone to far” (in other words, “It wasn’t supposed to be directed at me“). But, the underlying assumptions remain unchanged. And it was the underlying assumptions that gave rise to the social justice mobs. That is to say, in a fight between liberal hypocrites and the social justice mob, the the social justice mob has the moral high ground by their shared standards.

  24. This is the world liberal professions created and wanted.

    The revolution is eating its own. I saw pass the mustard.

  25. College students who choose to be censorious, fragile little twats are best ignored. When that is not longer possible, they are best ridiculed.

    I’ve wondered if the need to censor, silence, and repress that which makes one uncomfortable is part of human nature. A flaw that takes work to overcome. Certainly, we as a species have shown that we will murder those heretical to the status quo- and then deify them.

  26. This shit only stops when government stops backing student loans. Then the higher ed bubble will burst and schools will gladly tell the free riders doing all the whining to get bent in favor of actual paying customers.

    1. This applies to the dipshit professors as well. If enough paying customers complain about an asshole professor doing a shit job of educating, his ass will be put out to pasture. Right now, the professors getting the complaints the ones actually challenging the students to learn.

    2. This shit only stops when government stops backing student loans.

      Exactly. Right now, we have a large number of people attending college as a signaling mechanism. But, it’s a fundamentally broken signaling mechanism – a large number of students simply aren’t college material. To keep the federal money rolling in, the colleges shuffle the students off to phoney majors. Take away the subsidy and the whole house of cards falls apart. You wind up with a lot fewer schools, but those schools that exist focusing on actual academics

  27. Victimhood is the new privilege.

  28. Can’t say I’m sold on “peak PC” actually carrying with it any significant ramifications, at least none I’m too interested in. The PCers never cared in the first place about honest discussion, nor did they even go to great lengths to fake it. It’s based on the idea that “You’re either with me or against me,” and moreover that all forms of opposition are the same. A war movie is considered equivalent to a threat, and “hate speech” puts students’ safety at risk. I think it’s notable that these supposed defectors are probably old enough to remember when progressives tried to pass themselves off as advocating tolerance for diverse viewpoints and beliefs, and actual debates, but the progressivism of the PCers no longer carries that same pretense. The defectors are not defecting, but simply publicizing the realization that in a generation, their progressivism is incompatible with the progressivism of their students. But they are not the future of progressivism, and they will be unable to teach their own kind because, as the pseudonymous Voxer points out, he is beholden to his students, and thus if he is to teach anything progressive, it will have to satisfy his students. Thus PC breeds.

    I truly hope there could be a change in this trend, and the sooner the better, but I don’t think this is an indicator of it.

  29. Will faculty start to lobby for the sort of commitment to free speech that was the hallmark of ’60s campus crusades

    Bullshit. The current situation is the direct result of those 60s campus crusades. Are you really surprised that lovers of Ho, Mao and Castro don’t like freedom of speech?

    And calls to abolish hate speech by lefties have been around since the 1940s at least: https://reason.com/blog/2015/05…..for-outlaw

  30. In 1971, as a fine arts major, the USAF in which I enlisted , as well as the other services I interviewed, had no problem accepting me into pilot training. Their point being if you were smart enough to finish college they could teach me to fly. No matter the course of study. Such a better life choice than getting drafted.

  31. Polybios (?) ancient historian stated something to the effect that every democratic society will evolve ( devolve?) into a tyrrany or dictatorship. If there is hope for us, then to paraphrase Shakespere,” first, let’s kill Some of the progressive college professors .” Or maybe it is merely the admin guys that set rules of engagement that eliminate the free speech thing.

  32. The problem with any artificial monopoly is that people won’t try to compete; they will try to control it so as to prevent others from controlling it against them. Even people who want nothing to do that understand this on some basic level.

    Monopolistic government only exaggerates the problem. PC arises because universities are ensnared by Title IX specifically and government subsidies more generally and have become defacto monopolies at the government tit. Thus students and faculty and bureaucrats all try to control the monopoly instead of competing by being better.

    Whatever follows PC will be just as bad.

  33. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    go to tech tab for work detail ????????????? http://www.workweb40.com

  34. These little turds would have mixed the hemlock for Socrates, and cheered as he drank it.

  35. Is there no degradation of western civilization that can not be justly laid at the feet of disco? No, there is no.

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