Political Correctness Is the New Puritanism

3581039587_78ef193a3e.jpgOne of the saddest effects of the plague of political correctness that infects most selective campuses is the rampant dissatisfaction and unhappiness it produces. Those who care enormously about the purity of anything are often frustrated by even rumors of deviation from perfection. Just as hi-fi buffs searching for the absolute sound tend to listen for the imperfections on their discs or in their equipment more than to the music they ostensibly love, so today’s oh so caring politically correct students seem to live on constant guard against even the barest whiff of “exclusion” or homophobia or sexism or classism. All that concern makes for many unhappy campuses.
In one of her first acts as the new president of the University of Virginia, for example, Teresa Sullivan declared a Day of Dialogue on Sept. 24, with multiple events in hopes that

a full day of open and vigorous discussion about violence, hate, bias, and violence prevention will bring us together in new ways so that each of us can feel safe to participate fully in the life of the University.

Although Virginia’s Dialogue Day was provoked in large part by the murder last year of an undergraduate by her undergraduate boyfriend, the University community now has a long tradition of flagellating itself over what many see as raging tides of hate. Indeed, pick up the Daily Cavalier on almost any day and you’re likely to find a lamentation about the rampaging forces of hate on what to naked eye seems like an unusually friendly, “welcoming,” “inclusive” campus.

Looking forward to and endorsing the Day of Dialogue, for example, Daily Cavalier opinion columnist Rex Young wrote on Sept. 22 of the worthy goal of starting a conversation (it hasn’t been going on for years?) about “bias, discrimination or outright hate … in the bubble of Mr. Jefferson’s University….” Mr. Young was particularly agitated, however, because the University wasn’t sufficiently “Bankrolling diversity.” Specifically, an Education School course on multiculturalism, popular in part “because of its grade distribution,” has been “cut from three sections last year to two sections this fall.” Horrors!
“This class,” according to Mr. Young,

engages students with varied perspectives to consider multiculturalism. Ranging from classic racism, sexism and homophobia to classism and ableism (which many still cannot define), students are put to task to engage others who are not like them, share personal experiences with discrimination and bias, and discuss the effects of prejudices in our society. Students experience the same dialogue and community interaction that President Teresa A. Sullivan seeks to create with the Day of Dialogue later this week, only more intensively and constructively. Students experience an open environment where ‘the invisible is made visible,’ and the comfort zones within the racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation groups in which we belong are absent. But as the administration weighs budgeting with priorities, a classic battle of talk versus action sends another blow to funding this course — a course with a central purpose to address our society’s fundamental cultural divisions.

When Mr. Young writes that “[t]here is always an outcry when terrible things happen in the wake of sexism, racism, or homophobia and the like in our community,” one clearly get the feeling that Mr. Young and similar multiculturalists believe these “terrible things” happen with some frequency at UVa. Always acutely listening for the occasional scratch on the record, he and his multicult friends miss the wonderful music that surrounds them.
Two days later, on the Day of Dialogue itself, Jasmine Jefferson, one of those students who is “not like them,” writing in the Cavalier Daily on “The Need for Inclusion”,” opposed the notion that student groups such as the Honor Committee, the Student Council, University Judiciary Committee should concentrate on “the quality of their recruits” rather than racial statistics. She made the valid point that all UVa students are presumably qualified for all such student groups, but that was not her main concern.
“Ever since I walked onto the Grounds of the University of Virginia,” she wrote,

I continue to be reminded that I, a black female, represent diversity for those that find themselves in the majority. No matter what I do, I can’t help but walk into a classroom or meeting and count the number of people that look like me, and then become slightly disappointed and uncomfortable when I find that my count never went above one: just me….
As a minority in a majority group, I can say that numbers do make a difference, if for nothing else than for the comfort of a student. Unless a majority student finds themselves [sic] in an African-American Studies classroom, they [sic] will not ever feel the discomfort of walking into a room and being the only person that looks like them [sic]….
What I found out … is that people in minority communities … do not feel welcome and are not well-educated about major University groups like Council, the Honor Committee and UJC. It is always left up to a few students from minority communities not afraid to break out of their comfort zones to join these groups, but it shouldn’t be an issue of comfort. A student should not just hear the words “all are welcome,” but they [sic] should be able to feel that they are welcome when they walk to a table at the activities fair or they have someone come to their dorms and talk to them about an organization.

But would more “outreach” really make minority students feel more “welcome”? If most minority students are unwilling “to break out of their comfort zones,” which presumably means associating primarily with students “who look like them,” how does their presence provide much “diversity” to those who don’t “look like them”? And why would adding more of them encourage more of them to leave their “comfort zones”? Perhaps those students groups would do better to reserve their welcome for motivated students (of whatever color) like Ms. Jefferson who come knocking on their door rather than to beat the bushes trying to persuade less motivated students to leave their “comfort zones.”
And for a bit of humor take a look at “Rethinking humor,” also in the Cavalier Daily on Dialogue Day, Sept. 24, by Jean Miller and Nora Eakin, who are concerned that too much campus humor about sexism “objectifies women” and contributes “to rape culture on Grounds.” “Rape culture,” they add, “manifests itself through attitudes as well as structural inequalities,” and laughing at what some humor portrays as merely “misogynistic antics” contributes to those bad attitudes. It encourages “the objectification of women and hide[s] male privilege.”
Although Ms. Miller and Ms. Eakin insist that “Feminism doesn’t attack having a good time, it just asks that we think critically about how we do it,” it does seem to me that believing you are part of an unwelcoming community overrun by racist, homophobic, classist, ableist bias and even “outright hate,” not to mention a pervasive “rape culture,” would tend to put a damper on the ability of these politically correct watchdogs to enjoy their college days. I’m sure that they must on occasion have fun (in socially constructive, bias-free, and inclusive ways, of course), but it’s hard not to think of them as the embodiment of a new Puritanism, in the sense famously (if inaccurately) defined by H.L. Mencken: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time.”
About 1500 students registered for the Day of Dialogue events, the Cavalier Daily reported today [Monday, Sept. 27], “but there were fewer students in the discussions than anticipated, with male students being particularly underrepresented” — the very students, of course, who most needed to hear about the “culture of rape” of which they are a part.
Despite this woeful male underrepresentation, however, at a “resource fair” there were “more than 30 groups and organizations within the University that focused on combating violence, bias, abuse and other issues.” So much violence, bias, and abuse to combat; so little time…. And no doubt the students who did attend were inspired by Dialogue leaders such as English Professor Michael Suarez, who declared in closing remarks that although “the University community is one dedicated to the concept of truth, … I think the truth is something we are meant to do rather than just to know.”
Perhaps another Dialogue on another Day can deal with the troubling problem of what to do when people set out to “do” conflicting truths. In any event, I am a nearby (and I like to think, close) observer of the University of Virginia community, not a card-carrying member of it, and so maybe I just fail to see all the bias and hate that so concerns these sensitive souls. Still, I wish they would pause every now and then to listen to the music, not the scratches on the surface of their chosen media.


One thought on “Political Correctness Is the New Puritanism”

  1. There are many contradictions and inconsistencies associated with the concept of political correctness itself:
    1. Many people have pointed out that labelling others’ views as politically correct has become a PC activity unto itself. After all, to say that others’ views are politically correct is essentially to suggest that they are under some kind of false consciousness. The implication is that these people should correct their views into more politically incorrect and acceptable ones.
    2. It is also taken for granted by many who use the term politically correct that to express views that are “PC” is in itself a form of censorship, even when no attempt has been made to suppress the opposing view. This can be seen as an ironic attempt to intimidate others into silence on the feigned pretext of defending free speech.
    3. Political correctness is often explained in terms of a historical narrative in which we move from a happy time of freedom of speech to the dark ages of political correctness. There was apparently never any kind of enforcement of ideology prior to “the PC era” that began in the late 1960s.
    4. This crude historical revisionism leads to a further obfuscation of the meaning of the term political correctness. On the one hand, it is explained in very general terms to mean the forcing of one’s views on others and, on the other, in highly specific terms to denote the forcing of “liberal” views on others. And the enforcement of conservative ideology? See number 3: it never happened.
    5. The at once dynamic and fixed meaning of the term political correctness leads to an impossible situation in which only the enforcement of liberal views is seen as capable of being politically correct, while the enforcement of conservative ideology falls squarely outside the very concept of political correctness. The enforcement of conservative ideology? It never happened, and in any case it is conceptually impossible.
    In this way the so-called critique of political correctness functions to immunize certain views against criticism while pre-emptively refuting certain other views as obviously misguided and untrue. I can’t imagine how this sort of blatant obfuscation of language and meaning could possibly foster the open and honest culture of debate which those who profess to be anti-PC claim to defend.

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