Williams is a moderate Democrat who lost his job at NPR to PC intolerance over comments he made about Muslims on the O’Reilly Factor (Fox TV network.) Although his comments were clearly in favor of tolerance of Muslims, he was canned by the “liberal orthodoxy” at NPR. In his 2011 book, Muzzled: the Assault on Honest Debate, he offers an extensive discussion of PC. (See pp.32-58.) He is a very decent man, a good reporter and writer, and worth reading. He writes without bitterness over his dismissal. I’m using Williams to be able to approach the issue from something like the center.
IMO he makes some very good points, but is better on the ‘political’ than the ‘correctness’ side. In emphasizing muzzling, important to a reporter, he misses some essential aspects of contemporary PC. The 2011 publication date may have something to do with this.
PC as terminology goes back to the 18th century, but was confined to statements about electoral politics. Starting with the 1960s it raises its ugly head in the context of the culture wars. “…there is a real connection among language, thought, and action. It was a first glimpse of future culture wars as leaders in liberal movements began insisting on new language in the name of fairness but with the real goal of changing politics and society by establishing a vocabulary of acceptable terms and language for people who cared about equality and justice.” (p38) I would put it this way: the Left knew that “terminology is ideology in disguise” and adapted its tactics accordingly. The term ‘Negro’ was banned in favor of ‘Black’ then ‘African-American,’ chairs became anthropomorphized, and grammatical barbarism became acceptable with ‘singular they’ (note 1.)
Surveying the landscape up to the present, he avers that both sides used the PC weapon. Since the 1960s there has been a back-and-forth as one side then the other gained political ascendency. The Right used “divisive wedge issues” like gun rights or abortion to “to mock the Left as self-righteous and given to censorship.” (p43) Note that the goal was to win elections. PC tactics “win at the ballot box.” (p53) But now hard liners on both sides have migrated to the political fringes. PC is at its core an Us-vs-Them tribalism. “We are all adopting the vocabulary of the aggrieved, and it comes at the expense of some notion that we all share a common cause. The rising tide has been replaced by zero-sum. The conversation is now a hostile negotiation.” (p55)
I find his equivalence between Right and Left rather unconvincing, notably with respect to recent issues on campuses nationwide. The Right is not trying to change America to fit its “preferred vision”. The Left is. Wedge issues are genuine issues; debate is welcomed. Eric Holder’s wished-for conversation on race is not a conversation wherein all points of view are welcome. Whence the ferocity one sees on the Left? Whence the new emphasis on speech codes to prevent giving offense? (Only those on the Left seem to have the right to be offended.) Or the rancor directed at ‘hate speech’ and the vitriol directed at the speakers, who as moral lepers must be punished, reeducated, or somehow prevented from speaking? How does ‘hate speech’ automatically convict one of immoral ‘bigotry’ and gain instant expulsion from the club of the bien-pensants?
Williams perceptively points out the importance of “critical theory” on campus – as in critical race theory or critical legal theory. “Critical theorists did not view institutions in the traditional sense as just business, government, education, and the like. They viewed these institutions as representations of social inequality when it came to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and politics.” (p39) But he does not pursue this insight. Let me try. These ‘white’ institutions, which hold ‘power’ in the sense of wealth and cultural hegemony, must be destroyed or “fundamentally transformed” if there is to be true equality and social justice. Thus ‘racism’ is not simply the result of people harboring racial animus, but rather of an unequal power relationship. Thus it is possible to have institutional racism without any racists. Thus people without power cannot be racists. Of course if you commit a ‘microaggression’ to a black person, your conscience may be clean but it is still racism. Thus Rachel Dolezal passing as black is a true victim of racism, although 100% Caucasian. The problem is ‘whiteness.’ This “critical” point of view is what ConcernedStudent1950 wanted the Mizzou administration to confess to, accept, and apologize for. In this way conversation and ‘honest debate’ are stymied, as terminology has been so radically warped by left-wing ideology that people are simply talking past each other. PC has now evolved into something rather different from what it used to be; – clearly a symptom, part of something greater, coming from a new place. A fuller explanation will have to account for this.
Troglo (L. H. Kevil)
Note 1. The term ‘singular they’ designates the non-standard use of ‘they’ for the singular indefinite antecedent ‘he.’ For while old-fashioned feminism requires the use of ‘he or she,’ ‘s/he,’ or just plain ‘she’ to avoid the traditional use of the ‘sexist’ ‘he,’ it is just easier to sacrifice grammatical agreement in number to a sloppy ‘they.’ Demolishing a grammar rule is a bonus. But now even that is not sufficient. Freshmen entering university are asked for their PGP, their preferred gender pronouns to replace the offensive he, his, she, hers. Zi and hir are popular choices. Professors must make an effort to utilize these barbarisms in class.