There are still people who think of political correctness as a kind of civility that’s maybe a little too vigorously imposed. It was a good idea originally, they think, it’s just a shame that it was brought to a point of absurdity.
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Take the recent hearing for a teaching assistant named Lindsay Shepherd at a Canadian university because she showed a video in her class that presented a debate. One side advocated the use of gender-neutral pronouns, and the other side, Prof. Jordan Peterson, insisted on calling people only “he” or “she.”
Shepherd claimed in her defense that she hadn’t taken a side in the debate. But the holy synod of her department reprimanded her, comparing her failure to take a stand against Peterson to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler,” no less.
All this is no coincidence. Political correctness is not too much of a good thing. It was a bad thing in the first place. It is a form of racism and chauvinism, though in reverse. It’s guilty of the same generalizations of which it accuses others but it does so against groups that happen not to be on the list of certified victims.
What cannot be said about women can be said about men, what cannot be said about Mizrahim can be said about Ashkenazim, and what cannot be said about Arabs can be said about Jews. For example, it’s considered perfectly correct to offer an anti-Semitic course at Berkeley whose subject is the “decolonization” of Palestine, and in which students will examine the possibilities of destroying the Jewish nation-state.
Why does political correctness permit treating different groups by different standards? Because its worldview is based on what I have called “moral kitsch”: Whoever has more power is automatically the scoundrel, and whoever has less power is automatically right. That’s how the world is divided between righteous victims and wicked victimizers.
As a moral view it’s clearly absurd. The prison warden has far more power than the prisoner, but that doesn’t prove that the prisoner is always right and the warden is always wrong.
Moreover, the list of the powerless is arbitrary, and the various groups are judged based on guilt feelings existing in the present, rather than a serious assessment of their history. The Jews were absolute victims of European racism who could have been forgiven everything, but at a different point in time they are considered the emissaries of European Orientalism and cannot be forgiven for anything, not even for their aspiration to something that all nations are entitled to – self-determination.
In the real world there is of course no correlation between being weak and being right, and sometimes the opposite is the case (see our Palestinian neighbors, for example). Adlai Stevenson once reversed the proverb by saying: “Power corrupts, but weakness corrupts absolutely.”
The sentimental-brand liberals are especially vulnerable to the moral kitsch of political correctness, and it’s easy for them to fall into its false logic: Since liberalism demands equal treatment of all people, and since values are part of a person’s identity, we must respect the values of all people. Therefore, liberalism itself commands us to respect its rejection as well.
That’s how we’ve reached the absurd situation in which for liberal reasons Sweden isn’t acting to prevent marriage that is forced on children in its immigrant communities, and in the United States a female Muslim activist who supports sharia law like Linda Sarsour, becomes the leader of a feminist march. (Sarsour believes there is a necessary contradiction between Zionism and feminism, but for some reason there is no contradiction between sharia and feminism.) And of course Sarsour considers any criticism of Islam’s attitude toward women “Islamophobia.”
This march of folly won’t end until we stop confusing equality between people with equality between values, and until we recognize that “democracy” among values hinders, not promotes, democracy among people.