Wednesday, August 19, 2015

8.20.15 STFU: THE NEW (AND SCARY) POLITICAL CORRECTNESS


This article originally appeared in the 8.20.15 issue of Metroland.


            It seems like all of a sudden free speech is under serious attack.  Two epic Atlantic articles lay it out.  In “The Coddling Of The American Mind” writers Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt dissect and analyze the growing movement on college campus to restrict speech that might make someone uncomfortable.  This odd variant on political correctness seems to be originating not from pointy-headed academics (who spurred the first political correctness scare in the 1990’s) but from the students themselves.  And it’s horrifying.

            The buzzwords of the day are microaggressions, in which seemingly innocuous statements become vehicles of offensiveness, and trigger alerts, in which teachers are often required to issue warnings when the content of a class might possibly cause someone a PTSD-like recurrence of a past trauma.  Many colleges have speech codes in which microaggressions are punishable offenses, like asking an Asian student where he or she was born (which apparently carries the implication that the student isn’t a “real American”) or carrying around a book about the Ku Klux Klan (and extremely anti-Klan) that features a picture of a Klan rally on its cover.  The cover is a microaggression because it might make black kids uncomfortable.  Trigger warnings could include allowing law students to skip the parts of a criminal law class that deal with rape, or to skip over the suicide-y stuff in “Romeo and Juliet.”  Really.

            In the companion Atlantic piece “That’s Not Funny”, Caitlin Flanagan explores the recent trend of stand-up comics avoiding college gigs because the students have created such a repressive atmosphere that most stand-up fodder is unwelcome.   Prominent comics like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld have recently talked about this, and the article explores how comics at all levels of the fame spectrum have had to sanitize their routines in order to score the lucrative but increasingly undesirable college gigs.  Edgy humor is not allowed.

            What the hell?  How did we get here?  Lukianoff and Haidt try to connect the dots from helicopter parents and the incredibly protective nature of today’s kids’ upbringings.  There are no more “free range” kids, there is a massive and growing phobia about bullying (and an increasing sphere of what “bullying” consists of), and kids are led to believe that life is something that avoids disappointment, defeat, hurt, insult, fear, or even discomfort.  You know, the shit of everyday life that we all deal with.  And once they get to college, the cash-strapped institutions (which is most of them) will do anything to keep the little bastards (and their tuitions) happily on campus.  So the retards are running the asylum.  Can I even say that?  Probably not.  Eat me.

            I got a taste of this “catering to the inmates” deal a few years ago when I was teaching at a local institution of higher education.  I gave a hard test, designed that way, designed so that some students wouldn’t finish it.  A couple of weenie students complained to the Dean that my test “wasn’t fair” because they couldn’t finish it.  Never mind that all the students took the same goddamn test.  Instead of telling the little creeps to bite it, I got the shaft.  I’ll bet almost every college professor you know can tell you something similar.

            And then along comes an article in The New Yorker from Kalefa Sanneh, “The Hell You Say.”  Sanneh, rather incredibly, talks about free speech being a relative thing, using European law as an example.  He trots out a couple of crappy lesser-light books about how "liberals" are ruining free speech and argues how the books' logic are wrong.  He compares “speech nuts” to “gun nuts.”  And then he fawningly describes a couple of academics who agree with him.

            It’s really a disgraceful bunch of writing from somebody who should know better.  The best place to look for a retort is at the website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, thefire.org, which lays out 10 points on which Sanneh is either factually of logically wrong.  It’s pretty devastating, and it’s good.

            I strongly suggest you take the time to look at these articles.  Right under our nose, a world is being created that I don’t think we want to live in, like Brave New World without the Soma.  And let’s not let the right wing claim to be on the right side of this, because it would be the one issue they’re absolutely correct about.  It’s not liberals who are destroying free speech, its kids.  But at this point, the liberals are letting them get away with it.


Paul C. Rapp was recently described in a local newspaper as a “lawyer, musician, and lifeguard”, and that’s about right.

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