Friday, January 30, 2015

Jonathan Chait whines about "political correctness"

Jonathan Chait rolled out the old reliable whine about Political Correctness a few days ago in Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say New York 01/27/2015.

There have been numerous worthwhile responses, including:

Digby, From blogofascism to PC Police. It's always something. Hullabaloo 01/28/2015. She writes that Chait "deserves a trolling bonus. Nobody does it better." She a bit of recent historical context, noting, "Chait is making about the PC Left today are the same arguments he made about the Netroots Left a few years ago." She concludes, in a tone of slightly weary sacrcasm, "Liberalism will survive the social justice warriors just as it survived the blogofascists. We'll all live to see another day."

She links to an older post by Henry Ferrell, Chait on the netroots Crooked Timber 05/04/2007. Chait has been at the liberal trolling game for a while.

Joan Walsh, When “political correctness” hurts: Understanding the micro-aggressions that trigger Jonathan Chait Salon 01/27/2015:

It’s almost exclusively women of color being called out in this [Chait's] piece. On behalf of white liberal women who’ve had our feelings hurt on social media over the years, I feel like I’m supposed to thank Chait for coming to our defense. Because that’s how much of it reads: as an attack on women of color for saying some not-nice things to white progressive women. It’s chivalrous, almost; and chauvinistic, too, as though we can’t speak up for ourselves.
Amanda Marcotte, P.C. Policeman Jonathan Chait Can Dish It Out, But He Can't Take It TPM 01/27/2015: "The list of ideas and articles Chait thinks should disappear is dizzying."

Glenn Greenwald, The Petulant Entitlement Syndrome of Journalists Intercept 01/28/2015:

Being aggressively, even unfairly, criticized isn’t remotely tantamount to being silenced. People with large and influential platforms have a particular need for aggressive scrutiny and vibrant critique. The world would be vastly improved if we were never again subjected to the self-victimizing whining of highly compensated and empowered journalists about how upset they are that people say mean things online about them and their lovely and talented friends.
Matt Ylesias in All politics is identity politics Vox 01/30/2015 calls attention to the fact that Chait is complaining mainly about identity politics among women and people of color, and notes on a currently prominent discrimination question:

... not addressing a racially discriminatory status quo in policing is itself a choice. Indeed, it's a kind of identity group appeal — to white people, whose preferred means of striking the balance between liberty and security, in many contexts, is that security should be achieved by depriving other people of their civil liberties.

This is where the at-times tiresome concept of privilege becomes very useful. The truth is that almost all politics is, on some level, about identity. But those with the right identities have the privilege of simply calling it politics while labeling other people's agendas "identity."

Denial of this reality, it seems to me, is actually a key failing of a certain brand of American liberalism. Conservatives may join some white male liberals in decrying "identity politics," but nobody knows better than conservatives the power and importance of identities like Christian, American, traditional family, etc., in shaping thinking and giving meaning to political engagement.
Between various kinds of political involvement and decades of corporate and public bureaucratic office politics, I don't think I would start trembling in fear of expressing my opinions just because somebody scolded me for not using "cis-gendered" in the proper place. And I generally assume anonymous online commenters aren't worth taking much notice of.

If you don't know what cisgendered is, its a counterpart to transgendered. As in, "How do you identify? Why, I'm cisgendered, thank you very much for asking." Get with the 21st century, people!

The term "political correctness" has always been hard for me to navigate, too. Not least because I'm around a fair number of people for whom English is not their first language, and it's kind of hard to explain that when Americans says something is "politically correct," they mean they think something is politically INcorrect from their viewpoint.

My problem with Chait's piece is that he takes mostly examples from academia and online journalism and blows them into a big ole problem of Mean Libruls hurting his feelings.

Exotic literary theories have no doubt produced some questionable scholarship and possibly some bad hiring decisions on university campuses. I was very impressed by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s book from the height of the "PC" bickering circa 1990, The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1992)." He even gives credit to some of Dinesh D'Sousa's complaints; this was before D'Sousa had become a complete crank and crook.

Julian Sanchez, Chait Speech 01/27/2015:

The mockery [of the kind of which Chait complains] makes a certain amount of sense if you read Chait’s essay as a straight white male’s “help, I’m being oppressed!”—a reading for which Chait, alas, provides some textual support whether or not it’s what he intended. For people accustomed to seeing their opinions greeted with everything from dismissive condescension to harassment and death threats, a successful writer complaining from a perch at New York magazine about his friends being “bludgeoned... into despondent silence” - because people are mean on social media — simply sounded whiny. Chait also moves a bit too seamlessly from real, honest-to-God censorship by public institutions to more informal social pressure in a way that makes it sound like he’s conflating them - claiming that criticism is somehow tantamount to censorship or repression.
Sanchez goes on with some general thoughts about the dangers of groupthink, though he doesn't use that term.

Scott Lemieux, Jon Chait’s Political Correctness LGM 01/27/2015:

Obviously, vandalism as a response to speech is illiberal and indefensible, but these isolated cases aren’t representative or defended by liberals of any influence or significance. His examples of behavior that’s more common, on the other hand, tend to be self-refuting calls for less or different speech. People expressing disagreement with who gets chosen to receive a hefty check to express platitudes before a captive audience, for example, are not actually attacking on free speech; they are engaging in it.
Belle Waring at Crooked Timber has a couple of posts on the Chait/PC issue, Jonathan Chait: Political Correctness Gone Mad OMG I’m Scared 01/29/2015 and But Wait ... There’s More! In the first, she comments, "98% of what people angrily claim is 'Political Correctness' is just manners. Politeness."

In the second, she notes that Chait and those who make similar complaints about the terrors of PC "think the fact that people can tweet snarky single-sentence takedowns of them is a bad development, and it was better for everyone when we would have had to wait till the next issue and see who made it into the Letters to the Editor."

Steve M, On "Political Correctness" and Kicking the Dog No More Mister Nice Blog 01/27/2015.

Political Correctness Is Not What You Think It Is The Rude Pundit 01/27/2015: "The Rude Pundit believes that you are not allowed to go through this life without being offended, probably on a daily basis." Also: "Chait locates much of the debate over political correctness on college campuses (although we don't really use the term 'politically correct' much anymore). And while the Rude Pundit agrees that many of the examples he cites are frustrating and, perhaps, oppressive, often the whole story has a great deal more to it."

As The Rude Pundit says, Jonathan Chait's kind of whines about PC-ism in academia and also primary public schools need to be viewed carefully.

Christian Right lawyers bring cases all the time against public schools about borderline cases where some school principal went overboard in banning students from wearing "I Love Jesus" buttons or something. Sometimes they have merit. Sometimes the ACLU joins in. But the fundis then try to turn those examples into evidence of their imaginary War On Christianity and their laughable claim that Christians are being systematically persecuted in the United States.

Academic disputes like those Chait references can also make interesting ACLU cases. But in terms of actual threats to free speech, a lot of those are very much gray areas, as well. Most colleges today wouldn't think of completely prohibiting any kind of political campaigning on campus. (The immediate issue that sparked the famous Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the 1960s.)

And most campuses wouldn't regard protesters coming into a classroom and shouting down the lecturer so that class couldn't take place as an acceptable exercise of free speech. Nor would they allow people to shout racial insults at each other during business hours, either in classes or offices . Between those extremes, gray areas happen. Is is a violation of a commencement speaker's rights if students complain that they would prefer that particular speaker not to be there? Especially given the kind of tuition and fees even students at public universities have to pay these days? I'm inclined to think not. But I haven't parsed all the relevant Supreme Court cases, either.

For Chait to try to blow this up into some kind of general complaint that the Mean Libruls have achieved such a stranglehold on every aspect of American culture that poor, shy reporters like Jonathan Chait are afraid to speak their minds is just too much to swallow. Here in the real world, Rush has been bellowing about the oppression he suffers from Political Correctness and feminazis for a quarter century now and making a lot of money doing so. And nobody has dropped a bag over his head and shipped him off to Guantanamo. The iron rule of the feminazis evidently isn't 100% in force yet.

This comment from Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber (Rules for Contrarians: 1. Don’t whine. That is all 10/22/2009) is also relevant to the discussion:

The whole idea of contrarianism is that you’re “attacking the conventional wisdom”, you’re “telling people that their most cherished beliefs are wrong”, you’re “turning the world upside down”. In other words, you’re setting out to annoy people. Now opinions may differ on whether this is a laudable thing to do – I think it’s fantastic – but if annoying people is what you’re trying to do, then you can hardly complain when annoying people is what you actually do. If you start a fight, you can hardly be surprised that you’re in a fight. It’s the definition of passive-aggression and really quite unseemly, to set out to provoke people, and then when they react passionately and defensively, to criticise them for not holding to your standards of a calm and rational debate. [my emphasis]