We should be able to disagree without being disagreeable; we should object without being objectionable; and we should go onto the political offensive without being offensive.
However, whilst we may feel the need to rigorously challenge them in political debate, we should not have the right to be protected from other people's disagreeable, objectionable or offensive views. The high standards that we set for ourselves shouldn't be imposed on others.
There are several good reasons to resist this imposition of 'virtue'.
First, it's paternalistic and infantilises people by assuming they need protecting from nastiness. Moreover, treating participants in political debate as little, delicate snow-fakes that have to be mollycoddled is ultimately disempowering - it depends on an all-powerful 'parental' authority to police it.
Second, it's elitist and patronises people by assuming that nothing can possibly be learnt by engaging with nasty ideas or nasty people. This is ironic because nothing could be further from the truth. The 'imposition of virtue' has encouraged the growth of a self-censoring orthodoxy that seeks out and harshly punishes heresy and heretics. In this way, change, progression, and development has to be instigated from outside the 'echo chamber'.
Third, it's a hermetically sealed worldview that deskills activists by not allowing them to develop during the course of normal engagement with the 'nasties'. For good reason, ordinary working people, the majority of the population in any developed society, tend not to be politically correct. Any effective political interventions in the 'real world' will ultimately depend on an open two-way dialogue.
Fourth, it encourages bad habits, in particular the wholesale embrace of victimhood and the cultivation of the art of offence-taking. On today's campuses social status is gained from association (no matter how tenuous) with (self defined) groups that suffer real or imagined social disadvantages or oppression. The real disadvantaged and oppressed - 'The Great Unwashed' masses (male, female, white, BME, straight, LGBT, able-bodied, disabled, etc.) - are kept outside the university gates.
Fifth, despite our liberal pretences, it's profoundly illiberal. As Noam Chomsky says, "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all". However, aside from concerns regarding consistency, the 'slippery slope' argument is also pertinent here - well-meaning restrictions on freedom of expression are introduced but, once began, where will they end?
Sixth, it's an outgrowth of a politically-correct, socially-liberal orthodoxy that was tied up with the growth of identity politics and the post-modern obsession with language. It was born out of the marginalisation of class politics and the political weakness of the left in economics. As we slowly move towards a new post-liberal era, it is already looking increasingly old fashioned and unsustainable.
'Safe spaces', 'no platform', trigger warnings, accusations of micro aggressions, and the unquestioned predominance of so-called 'liberation' issues, have all had their day. It is time to move on.
Martin Jacques, one of those thinkers who attempted to map the ‘New Times’ of the 1980s, isn’t alone in thinking that the recent rise of populism “marks the return of class as a central agency in politics, both in the UK and the US” (‘The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics, The Observer, 21st August). He argues that, "hitherto, on both sides of the Atlantic, the agency of class has been in retreat in the face of the emergence of a new range of identities and issues from gender and race to sexual orientation and the environment. The return of class, because of its sheer reach, has the potential, like no other issue, to redefine the political landscape".
Re-engagement with class politics doesn’t require us to impose virtue on others. It shouldn’t involve the self-righteous, patronising missionary zeal of social liberalism – spreading civilised values to the darkest regions of our local council estates. It requires reintegrating ourselves with the communities that surround our universities, and talking less in order to listen more to the real, everyday concerns of ordinary people.
An End to Political Correctness: Redefining the Political Landscape | Megan Hughes Reviewed by Student Voices on 10:42 Rating: