False rape accusations may be statistically ‘rare,’ but they happen every day in the United States
Last fall, “trigger warnings” were the latest in campus political fashion. Students who had experienced particular trauma in their lives, or were especially thoughtful of others who had, were insisting that professors and teaching assistants give advance notice of anything in the lecture or assigned reading that might reactivate suppressed memories.
If the day’s American Lit lecture was on Huckleberry Finn, for example, African-American students should be able to skip class without penalty so they would not be exposed to painful portrayals of racism. If Sister Carrie was assigned reading, young women should be excused rather than subjected to scenes of male oppression.
Trigger warnings originated with students, not instructors. But instructors would do well to ponder whether 50 years of harping on white male hetero subjugation of all those differently labeled might have had something to do with the supersensitive students staring back at them in the classroom now. Has leftist ideology created a monster?
A similar clash of liberal verities occurred at Mt. Holyoke College, one of the New England women’s institutions founded in the mid-19th century by reform-minded benefactors. Ms. Holyoke still prides herself on women-only exclusivity, but what to do when nonbiological women want to enroll? Apparently, the solution is to make up some boilerplate about “concepts of what it means to be a woman,” which, mind you, “are not static.”
It makes for some interesting dilemmas. For example: After years of empowering the fair sex on campus through annual Valentine’s Day performances of Eve Ensler’s one-woman play The Vagina Monologues, it was decided that VM would be offensive to “women” who don’t possess the titular apparatus. Feminist protests notwithstanding, the show did not go on, and the academic world watched feminism tie itself in knots trying to accommodate nontraditional females. After two generations of emasculating men, what can they expect?
The PC vs. PC controversy reached an interesting point when Jonathan Chait, a prominent columnist for left-wing publications, dragged Political Correctness stunned and blinking into the glare of the liberal blogosphere. In “Not a Very PC Thing to Say,” appearing in the Jan. 27 issue of New York Magazine, he came right out and said that today’s “political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.”
‘Political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression.’
The piece attracted well over 1,000 comments and a slew of answering blog posts, most critical. Opposing arguments took this general line: (1) Chait is a whiner; (2) Chait is a hypocrite; (3) What else do you expect from a white guy? In other words, what he is invalidates what he says, especially if we don’t like it. Chait anticipated precisely this response: “I am white and male, a fact that is certainly worth bearing in mind. … If you consider this background and demographic information [to be] the very essence of my point of view, then there’s not much point in reading any further. But this pointlessness is exactly the point: Political correctness makes debate irrelevant and frequently impossible.”
Precisely; I seem to remember conservatives coming to this conclusion years ago. In fact, the You-say-that-because argument, where one’s opinion is tied to one’s racial, religious, or political identity, is at least as old as identity politics. Not a few conservative commentators have pointed out that Jonathan Chait, often enough in the past, employed the same kind of rhetorical devices he deplores now.
It’s classic: falling into the trap you set for others. The psalmists take frequent note of hostile forces hurling down their own slippery slopes (see Psalm 7:15; 57:6; 141:10). Left-wing blogger Fredrik deBoer admits “I’m out of ideas” after witnessing impressionable young people browbeaten in the classroom for using figures of speech like “man up”—where will the future ranks of progressives coming from?
One suggestion: They might start engaging the other side with real arguments instead of straw men. But it’s not likely.