Saturday, May 14, 2016

Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far? Yes

This weekend I'll be hosting a debate on political correctness and on whether it has gone too far — which is gotten me in a fix because as the host I'm expected to me impartial. I make it no secret that I think modern PC has gone too far. Political Correctness is defined as:

the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

Let's look at a few examples of where I think it has:

  • Debating/Open Dialogue: Recently, when a debate over campus sexual assault was organized at Brown University, some women on the campus feared such a dialogue would enable trigger warnings and under the university's guide were given a safe space room to retreat to equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as reported by the New York Times.
  • Clapping: As reported by ListVerseThe National Union of Students Women’s Campaign, a feminist college student group in Britain, announced in March 2015 that they would ban clapping at their future conferences held at UK colleges. The feminist group claimed that the act of clapping could “trigger some people’s anxiety,” and therefore should be banned from all of their conferences. Instead, the feminist students instructed those who attend conferences to use jazz hands—to wave their hands silently in the air—when they wished to display approval.
  • Cultural appropriation: As reported by ListVerseTrouble began for a band called Shokazoba when they were scheduled to play a Halloween concert at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Shokazoba plays a genre of music called Afrobeat, which is a fusion of funk and jazz music with African rhythms. However, this style proved to be the band’s undoing because of one problem. The band’s members are mostly white.
  • Microaggressions: As reported by The College Fix: The University of California's president recently declared some staples of small talk to be inherently racist or sexist. Saying “America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” are among a long list of alleged microaggressions faculty leaders of the University of California system have been instructed not to say. Other sayings deemed unacceptable include:
    • “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”
    • “Where are you from or where were you born?”
    • “Affirmative action is racist.”
    • “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
  • Due process: Under pressure from the Obama administration, some universities have abandoned due process in favor of a guilty until proven innocent attitude in sexual assault cases. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, colleges that refuse to curtail the due process of the accused may lose federal funding. Through an interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act universities will be strongly discouraged from questioning or cross examining the accuser. 
  • Feminism: Critics of modern day third wave feminism, like Christina Hoff Summers, who challenge popularly believed statistics like that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted on campus, or that women earn 77 cents on the dollar to men, make “trigger warnings” by their very presence on college campuses and are banned or protested against from speaking.

I think these are disturbing trends. Let's take a look deeper at cultural appropriation and the idea of safe spaces.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture. This past Halloween there was a controversy at Yale University when a master at one of the residential colleges wrote an email to students suggesting that it might be OK if students wore costumes that were "obnoxious" or "provocative" and "a little bit inappropriate". She also complained about the censorship atmosphere at Yale. As a result many students demanded her ousting, including in one famous viral video, in which her husband is cursed at by an angry girl who claimed the email ruined the "safe space" for her friend.

Safe Spaces

Which brings us to the idea of "safe spaces", particularly those on college campuses. Campus safe spaces were primarily created to shelter LGBT students from harassment but include a sheltered environment from sexism, racism, ablism, and various forms of cultural discrimination. It seems like a nice idea, but the problem today is that the idea of a safe space is being stretched to the entire campus and not just a part of it. Some college students today want to have a college experience where their views are never challenged and those with views that fall outside of the most PC version of liberalism are silenced. Case in point, the recent hoopla over Bill Maher's commencement speech at the University of Berkeley.

This is a very important debate to have. The stakes are very high. The social norms for what's appropriate and inappropriate and our very ability to tackle social problems are on the line. Do we really want to live in a world where we cannot ever publicly criticize someone's views for fear of making a trigger warning? Do we really want to live in a world where we'll never be able to say anything about anyone's personal views—or even our own? That's a scary idea. I'm not completely against political correctness. No one wants to live in a society like the way it was in the fifties when everyone was openly racist and sexist. But there should be times and places that are deemed socially acceptable to discuss and criticize one's views, and we should foster a culture where people are willing to be open to challenges to their views—at least sometimes. I respect the idea of the safe space. There should be places where people who've been victims of particular abuse and trauma can feel safe from that harm. But we can't act as if we're so emotionally frail that we all have to walk on eggshells.

Maybe it's because I'm a bit older than these 18 year old college kids. The culture has changed a lot since I was 18 back in 2000. I wonder what I would think if I were 18 today. Would I have the same views towards political correctness as I do now? Would my experiences growing up in the current culture make me think these policies are acceptable? I don't know, but I definitely think that I'm on the right side of this dicey issue.

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