The University of Chicago recently sent a letter to incoming students that bluntly laid out the school’s stance on freedom of expression. This NY Times article gives more background, but unfortunately suffers from a dopey headline that uses “political correctness” as though it were an unbiased term. This commentary on the issue is also well worth reading.
Students, like anyone else, can take things too far, but the whole concept of “trigger warnings” has now been picked up and blown out of proportion by conservatives. In the age of Trump and Black Lives Matter and campus protests by minority students, this letter is tone deaf and inappropriate. It’s largely name-calling and buzzwords with an attempt at plausible deniability.
Some will claim I’m arguing that students should be shielded from points of view they may disagree with. I have not said that at all. I do think that when a university brings in, say, a known internet harasser who uses his public profile to intimidate and abuse women online, students have the right to protest the legitimacy being granted by the university. If anything, the letter suggests that the leaders of U. Chicago are trying to make a “safe space” for themselves so they can frame criticism they don’t want to hear as anti-free speech.
Update: Some important background info for people who mistakenly think this whole issue is about “silencing offensive speech”: “What University Of Chicago Students Think Of Their School’s Campaign Against ‘Safe Spaces’“
I appreciated this note from reader Alex, in response to my recent comic on the concept of political correctness:
I’ve been reading your comic for years and I loved your latest one on right wing political correctness—something that seems to get completely ignored!
I’ve made a list of right wing political correctness in the States I thought you’d enjoy:
You cannot critique:
Police officers (particularly policeMEN), firefighters (particularly fireMEN)
Patriotism/Nationalism/Fourth of July
Christian Holidays (and you must say Merry Christmas/Happy Easter)
White victims of crime/trauma
You cannot use:
[The terms] heteronormative, internalized misogyny, implicit bias/racism, white privilege, racist (must say racial bias), sexist
Data, science, statistics that contradicts “feelings” (of white people that is)
Words to describe terrorists other than Islamic extremist .
You cannot talk about:
Drug addicts as victims rather than criminals
Reasons why someone might get an abortion
Criminals as people
Terrorists as people
Cycles of poverty
Terrorism committed by white people
Excitement about “first woman” or “first X”
Poison control centers received 37,000 calls over two years about kids getting into detergent pods, which resulted in two deaths and two dozen life-threatening injuries. Doctors are urging parents not to buy them. No one really needs clown-colored chemical hackysacks to clean their underwear. Keurig’s plastic packaging poses an environmental problem, to the extent that the inventor of the ubiquitous “K-cup” now has regrets. More on that here.
I was going to use disposable toothbrushes pre-loaded with toothpaste as a gag in the last panel, but it turns out they already exist.
If there is any silver lining to the Trump campaign, let it be that America finally wakes up to the Orwellian nature of the term “political correctness,” which has become a catch-all for any progressive values. It’s a one-sided insult that limits debate and critical thinking.
Almost two years ago, I wrote about my hopes for a challenger to Hillary in the Democratic primary. Like many, I’d been frustrated by what I saw as a lack of consistency and commitment to progressive values. So I’ve been open to criticism of her record, and attempts to nudge her in a better direction. Fast forward 23 months: While in Philly for the DNC, I had many conversations with people who don’t necessarily follow politics as closely as I do, or who get their information from less-than-scrupulous outlets, and I was stunned by the depth of paranoia and conspiracy theorizing about her. Of course, I was aware of this problem up to a point. But so many people are still hung up on Benghazi, her email server, even outlandish murder theories I’d never heard before. Most seemed scared of Trump, but were so wary of Clinton that they wouldn’t commit to voting for her. Granted, this is all anecdotal, but it was enough to leave me feeling alarmed.
I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that, in both positive and negative ways, Hillary is very much like Obama. Both have engaged in pandering to the right when it suited them, and both have been problematic on TPP, but both have also cared deeply about healthcare and many other progressive causes. If anything, Clinton is now running a bit to the left of Obama; Bernie succeeded in improving the platform in very meaningful ways. So people who think Obama is fine or at least acceptable, but Hillary is evil incarnate, are at least partly succumbing to a caricature that has been crafted over decades by the right. It would be nice if everyone could celebrate the truly historic nature of her candidacy, at least for a moment.