Political correctness was a weapon of the religious right-wing in the 1990s, used to silence caustic and vulgar dissent like the comedy of Bill Hicks or George Carlin. First as tragedy, and then, in the 2010s, as farce, when the online left took up the lingual cleansing of society as a way to achieve ‘progress’. However, cultural policing has never been radical – in fact the idea of citizens self-censoring themselves is utterly compatible with any authoritarian regime. Under the justified good of protecting women, people of color and trans folk, self-censorship has been portrayed as a positive value. This is how all bad principles come into being – under the flag of a cause that no one disagrees with. Take justifications for the war in Afghanistan, as ‘the liberation of Afghani women’, or justifications for mass surveillance, as ‘keeping Americans safe’. Every illiberal and anti-democratic principle enters society and becomes a norm through the Trojan horse of an irrefutable cause.
Patently, the safe space culture of American universities is promoting self-censorship as a civic value. As a matter of fact, self-censorship is being promoted as a virtue in a free democratic society. One can attempt to justify it, but this is the principle in question. To protect the marginalized, we should all abstain from making counterpoints that are not progressive in nature, and also, our ordinary speech should always pass through a politicized filter.
What this amounts to is absolute emotional control over political discourse. If a particular viewpoint or topic makes people feel bad, it can be silenced, and to continue to discuss it is to ‘be a bad person’. As a principle, this is disastrous for free speech, and for any open democratic society. The left wields illiberal weapons when it thinks it can succeed, but should censorship as a principle swivel back to the right (which it will after the next major terrorist attack on the US mainland) the left will have already established the politicization of feelings as a reason to censor discussion of certain topics. They have advocated a principle that is anti-democratic, a principle that they enjoy while it is on their side, but will contest the moment it is used against them.
Feelings cannot dictate any discussion of facts. Principles that are authoritarian in nature should not be advanced by the left or the right. The politicization of every moment, and of every feeling, is a marker of a totalitarian society.
No wonder, then, that political correctness was referred to by George Carlin as “fascism pretending to be manners”. It is promoted by, as Ben Shapiro (a man I rarely agree with) calls them, ‘panty-waist fascists’.
It is a soft authoritarianism that uses sensitivity as a weapon to silence speech. It is the closed fist masquerading as the open hand and the falling tear. It is the principle of self-censorship disguised as empathy. It is everything that is nefarious and subtle about societal control.
Debating issues such as the wage gap and rape culture is, at many universities, akin to drawing a knife. Words themselves are often considered ‘violence’. Feminists like Julie Bindel and Christina Hoff Sommers have speeches cancelled and are protested for their acts of ‘violence’, such as contesting statistics evoked by 3rd wave feminists. “Disagreeing with me is violence.” This is the principle.
Self-censorship as a value is anti-democratic. In principle I will never support it, because it is a disgusting value. It is no minor squabble, it is a foundation of the free society that is at risk. Training young people to view self-censorship as virtuous is straight out of the pages of dystopian literature.
It could be argued that women and people of color, marginalized groups, must be protected from regressive ideas.
But this will lead society to ruin. How can such softened activists ever dismantle a corporate empire that will deny them employment and seek to imprison them? Words are the least of their worries. If I am afraid of words, and cannot cope with them, how will I cope with a mass movement being physically beaten by police in the streets?
The Marxist class analysis has failed to inspire revolution. Thus, the 21st century has seen progressives re-frame Marxism as a race/gender analysis. All women and all people of color are now defined as an oppressed class, defined as requiring special protection. Who will offer that protection? Media elites who soothe you with one hand and praise corporate politics with the other. Diversity and political correctness are already preached by MTV. Why? Because MTV is radical?
The corporate state is not threatened by the value of self-censorship as a moral virtue. For its long-term survival, the injection of backwards principles into society for the sake of the ‘greater good’ is a boon.