Politically Correct. PC. Multiculturalism. The New Enlightenment. The New McCarthyism. Whatever one chooses to call it, politically correct thought, speech, and ideas continue to wage war with older disciplines (the great evil of Western Intellectual Thought) on campuses across the country. The movement's goal, according to Newsweek's December 24, 1990 look at PC, is "to eliminate prejudice, not just the petty sort, but the grand prejudice that the intellectual tradition of Western Europe occupies the central place in the history of civilization."
Unfortunately, proponents of PC thought are generally about as subtle as a brick through the window in enforcing their views. Nina Wu, a University of Connecticut sophomore, was caught by the PC police for having offended the canon. She was ordered to leave the dorms where she lived, and forbidden to set foot in a campus dorm or cafeteria again. Her crime? Having a sign posted on her door that listed as "people who are shot on sight:" "preppies," "bimbos," "men without chest hair," and "homos." This expression offended the local gay community and violated the school's recently-rewritten student behavior code, which prohibited "posting or advertising publicly offensive, indecent or abusive matter concerning persons...and making personal slurs or epithets based on race, sex, ethnic origin, disability, religion or sexual orientation." Wu successfully fought the ouster in court and the school's code was later re-written to conform more closely with the First Amendment. But her case is not unusual or unique. Across the country, stories continue to pour in of people who, on the basis of a perceived slur or slight, or even a failure to include, have been stripped of their academic positions, expelled, or publicly castigated. The same University also has rules on the books forbidding "inappropriately directed laughter" and "conspicuous exclusion of students from conversations."
It is not enough to satisfy the PC, according to Newsweek, that a person refrain from insulting homosexuals or other minorities. He or she must affirm their presence on campus or in the world, and study their literature and culture alongside Plato, Shakespeare, and Locke.
At the very core of the politically correct movement, I believe there is a grain of fundamental truth. Yes, people should be nicer to each other. Yes, people should take an interest in cultures other than their own. And yes, something should be done about prejudice and hate. Unfortunately, the PC movement has managed to coat those truths with a witch-hunt mentality and an air of self-righteous, "death to all who oppose us" zeal that will ultimately harm the movement and its acolytes much more than it will help them.
What's more, only certain groups enjoy the "protection" of the PC movement. Religions, especially traditional Western religions, have no protection. White people, especially "middle-aged white males" or "dead white males" not only have no protection; they have been made the designated scapegoat for all of the world's ills. Women, the American Indians, blacks, homosexuals and Mother Earth herself have, according to PC canon, all been victimized by white males at one point. Never mind the fact that Africans engaged in slave trading--usually of enemy tribes--long before America was colonized. Never mind that the American Indians slaughtered each other regularly. Never mind any of the hurts any of these PC groups have done themselves or each other--they did so because white men made them.
At the University of Texas at Austin, according to Newsweek, the freshman composition course was assigned a new textbook by Paula Rothenberg entitled "Racism and Sexism: An Integrated Study." In the first chapter, Rothenberg tells white males why they are the only ones ever accused of racism and sexism: the sine qua non of racism and sexism, she says, is subordination. In Western society this is exerted by whites over blacks and men over women. Therefore, by definition, reverse racism and sexism don't exist.
While this odd notion of using prejudice to end prejudice is clearly hypocritical, the methods of employment are even more dangerous, and present a threat to fundamental aspects of freedom such as free speech, the right to an opinion, and the right of self-determination--to make up one's own mind about groups or individuals without being told the appropriate way to think.
The problem isn't that the PC-protected groups are receiving protection; in a sometimes cruel world, it's always nice to have an advocate. The problem is that the PC mentality not only attempts to limit thought and speech, it also teaches people to rely on their status as a victim to gain sympathy and power. A comparable situation would be a football coach who, instead of telling his players "You're big, strong, tough and well-trained, so go get 'em," tells them "You're victims. You've been abused before and you'll be abused again. So go let 'em get you, then sue the bejeezus out of 'em."
Famed black writer Shelby Steele, in an interview with Time magazine (Aug. 12, 1991), said that the debate in black America on power has focused on two issues: using the principle of self-sufficiency as a means to power versus using their status as victims. "We have taken our power from our history of victimization," Steele said, "which gave us an enormous moral authority and brought social reforms, to the neglect of self-reliance and individual initiative." Steele warns of people who encourage blacks to identify with their victimization. "It is one thing to be victimized; it is another to make an identity out of it."
This fashioning of an identity out of victimization is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the PC movement. It is a displacement of responsibility from the individual to some larger institution, such as a school or a government, so that the institution becomes responsible for how the individual reacts to what he or she sees, hears, or interprets from the outside world. It is a bankrupt system of thought, because no one can truly determine what the individual's reaction will be except the individual. The PC movement essentially says "I don't like the way the world works; therefore, YOU must change!" The misapplication of logic in this is clear; a similar example would be my saying "I don't like being a starving college student; therefore, YOU must give me money!" Not a bad idea on the surface, but it completely shuns the concept of self-reliance and the right (and responsibility) of every individual to determine how he or she reacts to the world around them. It may well be that prejudice and bias have affected every single person under the PC umbrella, but they hardly have the market cornered on victimization. When I was younger, I was a somewhat precocious student--gifted, some might say--and I attended a local business college to study computers while still a junior in high school. I was the youngest person in attendance at the college, and I was often subjected to what the PC might call age-ism, if it protected young people. Even after my graduation from the school (at age 17), I would meet people, while walking through the halls, who didn't know me and assumed I was either lost or up to no good. More than once I had people say to me "Are you thinking of going here someday?" in a tone that dripped with patronization. It never occurred to me at the time to run screaming through the halls shouting "Ageism! Ageism!"...I usually answered that I had already graduated from the college, made a mental note that this person was stupid, and went on my way. These were not isolated incidents. I could very easily say that I was oppressed by the entire educational system for the same reason, because my youth belied my intellect and I was treated as inferior, to my mental distress. I didn't say this or even think it; at the time, I considered it just a part of the way the world was, and I tried to ignore it or work around it as much as possible.
People can be cruel, regardless of their race, creed or color. There will always be insensitive people, rude people, and people who assume things about you before they really know you. This latter action is a well-documented psychological coping skill; stereotyping is what allows us to deal effectively with a very complex world and a constant barrage of input. As long as people have minds of their own, they will make assumptions about the world and the people around them, based on their experiences with, and interpretations of, the thing or group in question. The PC movement not only insists that people abandon anything it deems a negative stereotype; people must also think only good and happy thoughts about the victims in question, essentially venerating everyone associated with the movement. Any opposition to these groups, according to the canon, is motivated by hate and prejudice, and must be squelched at once. This does nothing to address the underlying causes of hate or prejudice, assuming they exist in a given case, and denies the validity of any feelings or opinions the non-PC party might have. This denial sounds like the same thing that motivated the movement in the first place: its members felt that they were being oppressed and ignored. Nietzsche's adage may well apply to the Politically Correct movement: Beware, when you go hunting for the beast, that you don't become a beast yourself.
Site Contents © 2004 Robert M. Rowan