​REED: When liberals become illiberal

Excessive political correctness is hurting progressives

Yesterday we witnessed another chapter in the saga of national hot-button issues playing out at the University. As part of its April Fools special edition, The Cavalier Daily published a series of articles, two of which have been since-removed and third which can be found here, intended as satirical critiques of racist and retrograde attitudes and practices. The articles tackled police racial profiling and brutality, fraternity flippancy and degrading assumptions about women in power through comedy. We can argue about effectiveness, but the resulting outcry over usage of racial and gender-based humor to critique racism and sexism reflects the dominant cultural trend of liberalism’s self-cannibalization. Excessive political correctness is weakening the left’s ideological underpinnings and detracting from its material success.

This is not to defend everything that was said in the articles, but rather to defend their intentions and right to exist despite their flaws and failings. I concede that ethnic puns like “Trail of Schmears” and “Dances with Wolves” along with attempted ethnic quips like “they posted bail of 1500 beads” are offensive and unnecessary without adding satirical value. However, the meat of the article calls attention to absurd police presence and resulting aggression towards minorities on the Corner and beyond. Unfortunate attempts at cutesiness aside, the article is a strong censure of the same issues of institutional racism and police brutality The Cavalier Daily has been reporting on since the incident involving Martese occurred. The article describing a hypothetical Rosa Parks party at the Zeta Psi fraternity critiques the same oppressive insensitivity The Cavalier Daily is now being accused of by directly quoting the fraternity president’s ridiculous response when asked about their very real Bombs Over Baghdad party. The article titled “First all-female Managing Board proves disastrous” is being slammed with claims of misogyny for referring to its authors as the “Managing Whores,” despite being written as a critique of misogyny by the all-female board in question. If after reading all this you still think the articles shouldn’t have been published, that is your right. This does not, however, make The Cavalier Daily sexist, racist or evil as it has been portrayed. Enemies of our enemies are no longer our friends unless they conform completely to every standard of perfect political correctness, a standard that increasingly shrinks the pool of acceptable discourse.

As Jonathan Chait puts it, “The new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph. . . Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree.” In this way, we liberals fight against ourselves over issues of identity politics as the material reality persists in its present imperfection.

The irony here is not so much comical as concerning. We liberals are cannibalizing one another. The most severe and sensitive among us set the party line and any deviation is punished with public tar and feathering. As Bill Maher, himself a staunch liberal and victim of overboard political correctness, puts it: “for folks who take such pride in their diversity, liberals don’t allow for much in their own ranks.” Regardless of how you feel about the since-removed articles, take a second to consider the consequences of the precedent that in a liberal democracy the media cannot risk publishing anything that might hurt feelings or offend. If media only publish exactly what we want to hear, what purpose does it serve? Policing language, especially that of a publication that recognizes and reports on systemic racism and sexism, is a stand-in for fighting systemic injustice. It is a distraction that begets intellectual rot and stagnation. This same trend is what has led over 100 commencement speakers to renege on their engagements following student protest in the last five years alone.

In the misguided and overbearing attempts to police language, we are turning against one another while institutional racism and inequalities persist. This manifests in discussions over whether it is acceptable to say “All Lives Matter” and severe consequences when we too often decide it’s not. Political correctness belies liberalism’s present impotence. The model modern-day liberal college student is more concerned with arbitrating over what can and can’t be said in public discourse than contending with real, substantive public issues. We get bogged down in minutia and stuck arguing over whether what words are too “othering” for print rather than focusing on how to change policing strategies or how to decrease the gender pay gap. In doing so, we are working backwards, against ourselves. We turn the mainstream away from liberalism as they react to this ridiculousness.

Beyond allowing the material progressive agenda to falter in favor of trivial ideological personality politicking, this self-imposed dogmatic orthodoxy prevents liberals from developing their worldviews. On his blog White Hot Harlots, a Northwestern professor and socialist describes why he prefers conservative to liberal students:

“Personally, liberal students scare the shit out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip — not even an outright challenging of their beliefs. . . and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.”

The prophecy he foretells is coming true at the University as we speak. By creating a dynamic in which we are constantly insulated from the real world, we lose the opportunity to have our worldviews challenged so that they might develop. The meta-irony of my writing this is that its intended audience, my fellow liberals, may read it and dismiss it entirely because I am a straight white male. If that is the world you choose to live in, just know that you are doing a grave disservice not only to yourselves but to the movement you claim to support. Silencing those who mostly agree with you devalues liberalism and degrades our ability to deal with real controversy and material issues. Focusing on the minutia of language does little to combat the reality of systemic injustice and does no justice to liberalism.

Zeke Reed is a second-year student in the College.

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