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Posts Tagged ‘political correctness’

Writers on the Left are brawling yet again over whether people who express–or who had once expressed–an opinion that now appears racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic or the like should suffer severe consequences, including loss of job or career. Cases in point include a man caught yelling racist taunts on a video, a Boeing executive who wrote an essay decades ago opposing women in military, an editor of The New York Times who published a column by a U.S. Senator, and J.K. Rowling’s skepticism about gender transitions.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Evelyn Beatrice Hall:   “… your right to say it.” (1906)

On July 7, 2020 Harper’s Magazine published an open letter signed by many academics, journalists, and noted cultural figures objecting to such “illiberalism,” to a “brand of dogma or coercion” “that tend[s] to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” Fierce rejoinders followed, including at least one that included the phrase “Ok, Boomer.” (Ageism? Or cohortism?)

Here, I add my two cents in support of the Harper’s letter. Suppressing offensive viewpoints is historically and logically a right-wing tradition. For the Left, however, such suppression is self-negating, even in two “hard cases”–racial differences in IQ scores and Holocaust denial.

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I first heard the phrase “political correctness” on the Berkeley campus in the 1970s, from the lips of a Marxist activist office worker. It was self-mockery: we may be in class struggle, but let’s have a sense of humor. She and her comrades took a stern, old Communist Party phrase—assessing whether one adhered sufficiently to doctrine—and punctured its sanctimoniousness. As in: “We had to eat where he wanted. It was PC, because he comes from a real proletarian family.”

In the 1990s conservatives grabbed the term, stripped it of its humor, and cudgeled leftists with it. The heyday of the PC battles is behind us, although an occasional spitting contest still breaks out, such as the brouhaha surrounding a recent New York magazine essay by the political journalist Jonathan Chait. Beyond the name-calling, however, remains a real concern about how political correctness impedes thinking.

Read the rest of this column at the Boston Review here…..

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