Monday, July 12, 2004

Political Correctness: Not dead yet 

Cathy Young notes that PC never did die, it's just morphed into other, insidious forms.
In April, for instance, the faculty council of Oklahoma State University approved a "racial and sexual harassment policy" that amounts to a far-reaching speech code. According to a report in The Daily O�Collegian, the policy�s definition of harassment includes "a hostile environment that unreasonably interferes with the work or academic performance of those of a particular race, color, ethnicity or national origin," even if such "interference" is "unintentional." It covers "verbal and nonverbal harassment, as well as print and electronic harassment."

The policy does purport to exempt any "presentation or inquiry falling within justifiable academic standards covering course contents and pedagogy." But justifiable is a nebulous term, and the policy as a whole is so broad and so vague that it would surely chill the legitimate exchange of ideas, particularly outside the classroom -- in student papers, for instance.
Critical Mass nails it:
Campus speech codes exist for the cases when individuals or groups refuse to be shamed into submission. They are institutionally ratified shaming devices that not only make it acceptable to punish students for saying things that offend others, but that use shame as the punitive weapon of choice. Sensitivity training, a common "sentence" meted out to those found guilt of violating campus speech codes, is a shaming device, a mechanism meant to make people repudiate their own consciences and accept instead an externally imposed set of rules about what kinds of beliefs and behaviors regarding race, sex, and sexuality are acceptable (Jane Elliot's Blue Eyed workshops on racial sensitivity are classics in this genre). Forced apology, another signal feature of the punishments meted out under campus speech codes, is entirely about shame, about compelling an individual who is by definition unrepentant, unwilling to apologize, to do so anyway, and to do so in a manner that is convincing to administrators and the offended parties. That such a punishment makes a mockery of the principles it is intended to uphold--sensitivity to difference, tolerance of that which is not like oneself--seems to be lost on those who so piously dole the punishments out.
Think that's wrong? Read Jack again.
But the most awful part for me as the session ground on was that most of our faculty seemed to be actually trying to participate in the degrading nonsense. I decided that this wasn't even their limit: if, for instance, the leader had told everyone to jump on their left leg, flap their arms, and cluck like chickens the vast majority of the people in the room would have done it.

Then I began to wonder what they WOULDN'T do in the name of political correctness. The people who carried out Stalin's horrors started as pretty decent folks who wanted to be politically correct. Read Dostoyevsky. Then see what they became. I really don't know if the majority of my chicken-clucking colleagues would stop short if they had to be politically incorrect to do it.

It could be worse, if you live in Australia. (Hat tip: John Ray.)