You Will Be Made to Shut Up

February 4, 2015

Jonathan Chait wrote a long essay on the ways in which the politically correct try to shut down debate on issues they don't care to discuss. The standard leftwing response to Chait's piece was to tell him "quit whining" or, as Amanda Taub did over at VOX DOT COM, to just deny that political correctness, writ large, exists.

Yes, that's right: the left has been reduced to political correctness denial.

It was amusing to watch the denials and the shrugs. Even as they were occurring, we saw proof of Chait's thesis. In certain instances, the proof was so stupid as to be funny. For example, there were the dumb people who complained about the Army using the phrase "Chinks in special ops' digital and physical armor" in a tweet. If the Army's social media person was guilty of anything, it was of using a tired cliche. The aggrieved, however, saw things differently, demanding a deletion and an apology. Some are arguing that the phrase should be "retired"—a more pleasant way of saying "verboten," I guess—because sensitivity and hurt feelings and triggers.

Then there's this amazing op-ed, highlighted yesterday by Freddie deBoer. In it, a proud "anti-fascist" named Malcolm Harris uses the language of the academy and the theory of "privilege" to argue that it should be okay to commit violence against those with whom you disagree. It is a straightforward, straight-faced argument that we should use fascistic means to crack down on "fascism," all in the name of "anti-fascist" goals. Words fail.* But remember: Jonathan Chait is a dope who had his feelings hurt on Twitter so the things he said are bad aren't real.

Yesterday, the Daily Beast published an interesting report by Cathy Young on the case of Emma Sulkowicz. You probably know her better as "that brave girl carrying around her mattress at Columbia to symbolize how she was raped and the school refused to expel her rapist." The Daily Beast's reporter uncovered new documents: Facebook conversations between the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator that show a friendly relationship lasting for months after the alleged "attack." For committing the crime of reporting, Young was denounced on Twitter, harangued for victim blaming, and excoriated for "proving we still have no idea how to talk about rape." The treatment of Young—the viciously nasty way she was treated for objectively reporting both sides of a story—serves a purpose. It's a warning, a lesson to anyone else who would dare question the veracity of a "victim's" story. As one Columbia University journalist put it in an op-ed yesterday:

But I think we—not just the opinion page, not just Spec—but we, the members of the campus media, failed specifically with Sulkowicz’s story by not being thorough and impartial.

Instead, campus media’s goal to promote discussion about sexual assault and to support survivors became conflated with a fear of rigorous reporting. Personally, I felt that if I covered the existence of a different perspective—say, that due process should be respected—not only would I have been excoriated, but many would have said that I was harming survivors and the fight against sexual assault.

Emphasis mine. Political correctness exists because political correctness works. It's a method of shutting down debate, of silencing the opposition, of promoting the narrative at all costs.

Folks on the right often use Erick Erickson's line "You will be made to care." I don't think that's exactly right, however. The politically correct don't particularly care if you care. A more accurate formulation is probably "You will be made to shut up." Because if you don't shut up, well, it'd be a shame to see you mess up that nice little career you have.

*Amusingly, this op-ed was published at Al Jazeera's website. Al Jazeera, you may recall, recently said that words like "terrorist" and "extremism" have no place on its airwaves. But calling for fascistic responses to free speech is totally cool. You literally cannot make stuff like this up, guys.