Letter to the Editor: Professor assesses political-correctness

April 1, 2015

What unites the following? (And, does it matter?)

-Oklahoma Univ.: aboard a bus, off-campus, only some fraternity members sing an “n-word” chant. It’s videotaped. Next day, the president banishes the fraternity from campus, evicts all members from the house.

-A Seattle bus carries FBI ad picturing the current 20 top terrorists. Most from the Middle East. Democratic lawmaker objects: ad “not diverse enough”—because no white faces were shown.

-New Mexico Univ.:  student-government passes resolution deploring any “dislike [of] or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.”

-Marquette: an ethics-class teacher omits discussing same-sex marriage. “Some [negative] opinions aren’t appropriate.” And, simple discussion, “might be offensive to the gay/lesbian students.”

-Univ. California, Irvine: Some students, faculty, protest displaying American flag in University Center because that’s “nationalist.”

-Speakers offering currently-“incorrect” stances (Ayyan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher, others) are banned from  campus microphones (Brandeis, Yale, U.Cal.) because their stances are either “disrespectful” “hate speech,” or might cause offense, insult—or even risk students’ “safety.”

-Some campus speech codes approach First Amendment violation. Restricted speech areas. And no “non-niceness”—even in e-mails!

-Children’s dance class cancelled: enrollees “not diverse enough.”

-Elsewhere, some graduate students of color protest their professor’s correcting their papers’ grammar is an oppressive “micro-aggression.”

So, although atypically-extreme, these incidents may illustrate a key social truth. That “good ideas can go too far.”  Can accelerate to become dictatorial dogma. But remain unperceived, uncritiqued.

Examples: “today’s truths (“you must believe this!”) & taboos” (“you can’t even consider that!”).  Or pendulum-swinging fads.  Dominant ideologies, world-views, zeitgeist.

And yes, which also includes “Political Correctness” (you guessed it.)  Endangering free speech, true education, even national security… (A liberal shortcoming, but conservatism’s equally flawed-plus-valuable.)

But as noted, insidiously unseen, unnamed, unrealized, hence unquestionable. Even as puppets dance to the tunes of their “puppet-master” of current norms-and-mores.  As a fish swims unaware of water.

But wait, shouldn’t true education “expose students to differing viewpoints, to articulate their own views, to voice controversial opinions, to have their beliefs challenged, all in a “marketplace of ideas?”   (Susan Kruth)

The sixties needfully reformed excesses:  elitist-hierarchy, exclusions, etc.  But has political correctness now become monstrous, grotesque, decadent, runaway? Simple equality, becomes “Steamroller Egalitarianism.” (Which ironically says: “don’t notice diversities!”)  Genial openness, becomes “Rampant Relativism,” as in “who’s to say.”  Voluntary civility, has become a “Rubber-Stamp Respect” of all, whether deserved or not.  And polite consideration, becomes “Sensitivity-Buffering,” overly over-protecting feelings.

And as noted, all un-noted. Covert, tacit, unperceivable—hence, uncorrectable.

And this is directly threatening “free speech.” In America, all speech is free, except (1) outright slander (untruths), and (2) literal endangering, as “directed to inciting…imminent lawless action.”   All else can stay. Crude satire. Yes, even “hate-speech,” that vague and over-used notion.

Since, alas, “culture can make anything wrong and anything right,” one wishes  to ascend the summit to see with perspective.  To identify then oppose these dangerous “standardizations of error.” To protect education, liberty, even survival.  (Education, anyone?)

Brian Kevin Beck
Emeritus Associate Professor