The Atlantic's Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt knocked it out of the park when they took on the out-of-control PP culture in American universities that has resulted in professors being fired for swearing in class and trigger warnings being demanded for books and lectures, etc. What on earth is going on and what can we do about it?
Political protectionism is a form of passive-aggressive bullying, a kind of inverted racism and snobbery that does more to divide than to unite. Make no mistake, the liberal socialist Frankenstein's monster born of identity politics and white guilt that was spawned in American universities in the name of advancing multiculturalism and ending racism has actually caused more problems than it's solved.
It fuels destructive binary politics
Argue if you like but would you like to try discussing a hot button issue with someone who self-identified with a particular group? This is what it looks like.
The various conservative camps in our larger than you might expect tent never seem to want to stifle dissent… in fact they thrive on it. And if you happen to wander in with a liberal opinion to espouse, oh… they will make a beeline for you and talk to you until closing time. - The fantasy of Right wing political correctness - Jazz Shaw, Hot Air
Is that so, Ms. Shaw? Read through these tweets. You'll find that there's no debate taking place, they're just frustrated that I won't accept what they say as true and reasonable without question. I get called all kinds of names for daring to have a moderate opinion, and that is mostly on the right. "You must be a liberal socialist!" is a favourite, though it didn't happen there. As political discourse becomes more polarised, the two sides of any argument tend to drift further apart because the object of the exercise is not to reach consensus but to get the other so-and-so to accept your authority. Read the tweets again. That infuriating my way or the highway attitude is out and proud, isn't it? Read the Hot Air article again. Nope, no censorship here. Of course not, dear. And while yer woman was holding forth about her God-given right to wave the Confederate flag I gleefully imagined her chagrin at the thought of a rainbow flag flying at the school her little cherubs attend. You were saying?
I really do get annoyed when people do that my-way-or-the-highway thing and call it a debate, forcing us to make a choice between their side or the enemy's. I don't play that game and refuse to be sucked into it. It's a tough gig being a moderate; people are forever trying to force you to take sides and you have to stand firm to avoid being sucked into the binary see-saw game.
It creates an all-pervading atmosphere of fear
Imagine living in a world where, at any moment, the cultural goalposts that define your existence could shift, immediately turning you into a pariah because you said the wrong word. A friend of mine fell foul of that once. Married to an African-American, he discussed his daughter's progress with a teacher after school one day. "I worry about the possibility that she might be bullied, being mixed race and all," he said.
"Dual heritage," came the frosty reply. I wonder what the accepted term is now.
In America, particularly in Liberal circles, this is a thing, as they say on that side of the pond. This is the view of a Liberal who supports Donald Trump (emphasis mine):
I feel that political correctness has run amok in this country, and we now live in a society where every blogger and Twitter user is searching for the slightest offense so they can try to ruin another human (famous, or not). The average person is afraid of expressing any controversial opinion in a public forum for fear of being "exposed," made viral, and ruined, personally and/or professionally. - The Atlantic, Why Do People Support Donald Trump?
I've seen little evidence of that myself, it must be happening in his or her circles. But look at it: this is where the whole Social Justice vigilante thing has got so far out of control: it seems to me we hear so little from moderate Americans (Conor Friedersdorf being the exception I know of) because they're afraid to say anything in case they get hammered for it by people they know. It's the ones who are willing to roll around the floor biting, gouging, and hitting below the belt whose voices are heard because they don't give a rat's about what anybody thinks.
The blowback is harsh
I like blogger and defence lawyer Scott Greenfield. For the most part, he seems like a reasonable person. I mean, he doesn't gleefully celebrate rape in prison or anything like that. However, when the people crying foul are university students, he apparently goes into full patriarchal "just an angry chick" mode. I've tried to discuss this with him but he declined to continue and I respected his wishes.
He wrote this a few days later. Since he had dropped out of the thread I couldn't finish what I was saying, so here it is: we have a responsibility not just to individuals but to our society to see that justice is done. Due process is an essential component of that. To deny due process to the accused, whatever their crime, is to deny justice to the accused, and ultimately, to ourselves and each other. Without due process, the judicial process becomes an horrific Cardassian system where the guilt of the offender is determined in advance of the trial itself in the full, unrelenting glare of the media. Rights can be granted or taken away: responsibilities are absolute. Constitutionally, Americans are entitled to due process. Over here in the UK, we are too. In fact, this is being eroded by cuts to legal aid so getting competent counsel is a privilege afforded the affluent. The rest of us must manage as best we can. That is why I said due process is our responsibility. To my mind it's immoral, forget constitutional, to deprive anyone, however heinous his crime or obvious his guilt, of due process.
A way forward for due process
RE: due process for the accuser: establish the facts without pre-judging her; what she says must be carefully examined and a decision should then be made as to whether or not a full investigation will ensue. It is both reasonable and fair to provide her with proper and appropriate counsel to advise her of her options given the evidence and the likelihood of bringing the case to trial in a university disciplinary hearing or an open court. She should be fully informed of the progress of her case at all times. In a he says/she says case she should be advised that her chances of securing a conviction without compelling evidence are slim to none; her word alone is not enough to convict or to have the accused student removed.
Basically, I think we should deal with each case on the evidence alone and treat each actor, the accuser and the accused, as neutral players until the facts have been established and proceedings can be brought. If there's not enough evidence to bring a case against the accused, it's neither right nor fair to attempt to exact vengeance by spreading stories about him all around the campus. If there is enough evidence to prove Jackie was lying, she needs to be expelled for it. We can't have people like that causing all sorts of trouble with impunity. On the flip side, if there's simply not enough evidence to corroborate her story, she should not be treated as a liar out to wreck a man's life.
Legally defined due process
Okay, let's talk about what due process actually is. Read through that list, if you will. Two of them stuck out for me:
- Being informed of evidence that undermines the credibility of the accuser
- Being given access to all relevant and material evidence, without regard to how that evidence makes the accuser feel
In the light of all my research on rape culture, I understand that not saying a clear, distinct "No" makes it very difficult to prosecute a rape case. However, in the case where a young woman had sex with her friend then regretted it afterwards and subsequently cried rape, that is clearly a false accusation. Okay, I understand the need to undermine an accuser's credibility when they may be lying, but then I'm afraid of "But she's a proper tart, yeronner *winks at the jury*" being brought up as evidence to undermine her credibility.
Beware of ideological bias
I've been told that this is not accepted practice but the cases I know of personally have taught me that rape victims are generally thought of as lying tramps. Statements like this don't help:
There are arguments for why the accuser shouldn’t be re-traumatized by such things as examination, scrutiny of their allegations, cross-examination, exposure of their accusations and their own contributory conduct. These are all obvious pieces of due process in court, but not on campus.
Would your credibility against a burglar be undermined because of your "contributory conduct" that one time you went out leaving a window open? But he's also said this:
Certainly filing a false police report, as Ashley did, claiming that she didn’t know the identity of the perp who jumped and cut her on her way to school, is a horribly heinous crime. It impairs police work and has the potential to make them less effective than they would be with accurate information. The fabric of society is at risk.
But Tony Simmons, on the payroll to counsel juveniles, was just having some fun.
Simmons, 47, admitted he raped a 15-year-old, forced a 16-year-old to give him oral sex and molested a second 15-year-old in the courthouse. The victims were all in court custody.Cy really needs to either time his outrage better or find himself some ADAs who can distinguish between the severity of a kid’s lie and the likes of Tony Simmons.
The kid was underage, to be sure, but having filed a false report would have undermined her credibility, right there. All of these kids were offenders; it's hard to be perceived as credible when you're already a proven liar, as Ashley was at the time so it's a miracle Simmons was prosecuted at all.
But as you read through Scott's blog you'll see that if the accusers aren't college students in consensual/hookup situations prior to the events they're complaining about, he's all sympathetic and stuff. If they are, he seems to pretty much think they're unreasonably vengeful and may possibly be being economical with the truth, to say the least.
Vanilla (stranger + violence) rape = Very Bad.
"But I didn't want him to do that!" = "Well, you said yes* at first, honey. That makes it hard to believe you."
*Contributory conduct, right there. Kiss your credibility goodbye.
Sparta! Social justice blowback
I could absolutely lay into this guy if I wanted to, but the truth is his views are the result of social justice blowback: he's had enough of their nonsense and he's givin' it back with both barrels. Hell, I understand that, I react that way to binary politics and the efforts made to drag me
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
So maybe, just maybe, the social justice types need to get a grip and stop characterising everything that Sally doesn't like That Boy Over There doing as kinda-sorta-rapey. It's causing more problems than it solves.
I mean, come on, catcalling as sexual assault? No, it's a nuisance. Yes, it's annoying and sometimes insulting and degrading but it's not an actual assault. I agree with Scott about not relying on feelings when attempting to establish the facts. However, let's not forget to be human while we're at it.
It does nothing to prepare students for the outside world
The trouble with creating and enforcing the sanctity of an environment in which an echo chamber mentality is established and enforced by demonising dissenters is that it is sustained within the bounds of its home community. Move outside of the safe space where nothing offensive is allowed and you're in for a world of hurt. Comments such as, "Your comment about giving so-and-so a damn good pounding triggered a horrible memory for me. I felt quite ill afterwards" are most likely to be met with either paternalistic coddling that shunts you out of the way of any intellectual or emotional heavy lifting or outright dismissal or derision. There is, as I've pointed out already, no middle ground where your comments can be calmly taken into consideration: political protectionism culture demands that you be believed without question and treated sympathetically at all times, whether you are exaggerating your mental anguish and the effects thereof or not.
The blowback faction will, of course, make fun of you and call you a special snowflake. They may even prance about in mockery of your alleged fairy-like fragility. But that's the problem with political protectionism: by regulating every thought, word, and deed it creates a world in which the people they are trying to protect are doubly victimised because it does nothing to empower them, help them to make better decisions going forward, or help them to develop strategies to keep themselves safe. Let's face it: nobody wants to work with a whiner who finds everything you say offensive, so I fear for the future of those poor suckers caught up in this toxic mess.
What can we do?
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt recommend applying the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, i.e. exponentially exposing people to ideas they might find challenging or downright threatening, the idea being that they come away equipped to deal decisively with the situations they get into. Their other recommendations are well worth consideration but personally I think this is a bigger problem than mere self-indulgence.
We've abandoned the Enlightenment principles of empiricism and logical discussion that gave us our modern technology in favour of what Scott Greenfield describes as "the feelz." We have never been more desperately in need of returning to them. Reasoning skills have fallen out of fashion; tribal loyalty is held in higher esteem. Call that nonsense out for what it is. If you don't, nothing will change.
The moral authority claimed by political protectionism is based on the idea of standing up for the little guy. Call that out for the lie that it is. Political protectionism is the spawn of political correctness, the idea being to control what you can or can't say. Instead of ending racial and gendered discrimination it made matters worse by presenting The Other as an easily-offended time bomb with a hair trigger. Political protectionism is more about cocooning the objects of its favour to shield them from all possibilities of being offended. It presents The Other as a delicate gossamer will-o'-the-wisp that must be protected at all costs from every slight, be it real or imagined. Needless to say, anything that challenges the political protectionist narrative will be demonised and battered into submission. Since all of this is usually based on uninformed opinion or hearsay, what moral authority? It's the relativism that's the problem.
Be willing to push back
Since I'm not involved with academia, I'm not always aware of their emerging trends, but I do know they tend to find their ways into British academia and thence into British politics. Which means I'll come up against it sooner or later on Twitter. The good news is the pushback has begun so political protectionism is unlikely to take hold over here to the degree that political correctness did in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Nonetheless I recommend that if anyone starts demanding that we treat them with kid gloves or walk on eggshells around them we tell them to get real. It's one thing to be considerate of the needs of others but it's another thing altogether to submit to passive-aggressive bullying, which is what political protectionism is. Don't. Push back and tell them you're not having it. If enough of us do that, we can kick this nonsense to the kerb where it belongs.
What do you think?