It’s widely understood that “political correctness” can be employed as a speech-killing device. But it’s only been in recent times that we’ve been able to witness the full range of its lethality.
From colleges and universities like Fordham, Brown, and Brandeis have come recent, ugly demonstrations of intolerance, based on PC–themed arguments, which have yielded a suppression of “disfavored” speech on those campuses.
Elsewhere, columnist Charles Krauthammer reports that in February, the Washington Post received 110,000 signatures on a petition demanding a ban on any article questioning global warming!
In the midst of all this have come a number of commentaries, mostly written by conservatives or libertarians, decrying this state of affairs, and the apparent acquiescence in it of mainstream entertainment and journalism outfits.
Subjects that have prompted recent censorious acts include opposition to (1) the Affordable Care Act; (2) global warming or “climate change”; (3) same-sex marriage; and (4) abortion.
The role of the media in the growth of the speech police hasn’t been so much a matter of their overt support as of their benign neglect. So it is that environmental organizations can brand climate change skeptics as “deniers,” whose views are unworthy of circulation or consideration, safe in the knowledge that most in the mainstream media agree with their take on the issue, even if they may not themselves encourage censorship activities.
So too with the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, and abortion, opposition to all of which has been loudly and uncritically attributed to racism, homophobia, and a “war on women,” respectively.
As Krauthammer put it in his piece about the number of signatures on the global warming petition: “The left is entering a new phase of ideological intolerance – no longer trying to win the debate but stopping debate altogether, banishing from public discourse any and all opposition…. Long a staple of academia, the totalitarian impulse is spreading. What to do? Defend the dissenters, even if – perhaps, especially if – you disagree with their policy. It is – it was? – the American way.”
It’s against this backdrop that one reads with considerable relief an article published last week in … Nation magazine! Written by Michelle Goldberg, and titled “#Cancel Colbert and the Return of the Anti-Liberal Left,” this slim offering is one of the best, and more encouraging, things written about political correctness in recent memory. It’s one of the best because of the reasoning employed in the piece; it’s important because of its publication in the resolutely left-wing Nation.
But don’t take my word for it. Read on:
It’s increasingly clear that we are entering a new era of political correctness. Recently, we’ve seen the calls to #CancelColbert because of something outrageous said by Stephen Colbert’s blowhard alter ego, who has been saying outrageous things regularly for nine years…. Then there’s the sudden demand for “trigger warnings” on college syllabi, meant to protect students from encountering ideas or images that may traumatize them….
Call it left-wing anti-liberalism: the idea, captured by Herbert Marcuse in his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance, that social justice demands curbs on freedom of expression and that “it is possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones….”
Note both the belief that correct opinions can be dispassionately identified, and the blithe confidence in the wisdom of those empowered to do the suppressing.
What Goldberg calls “left-wing anti-liberalism,” others might characterize more harshly. Take, for instance, the example of the group called Media Matters for America, created for no other reason than to attempt to silence conservative voices. To characterize such a group as merely anti-liberal, or anti-conservative, would seem like a rather dainty way of putting it.
Beyond MMA, there are other groups and individuals, whose actions or theories play a role in the speech suppression business. Robert McChesney, co-founder of the septic organization misnamed Free Press, comes to mind.
This said, there’s much to be appreciated in Goldberg’s thesis. For one thing there’s the consoling fact that, for all the cultural and political differences currently roiling the nation, there are certain bedrock principles, like free speech, that people of vastly different perspectives can rally around.
For a nation founded on the principles of popular democracy and the Bill of Rights, this is a good thing indeed.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.