PC Run Amok: Take 98

The American right-wing has a cultural theory, or at least a cudgel: America is being destroyed by political correctness. College professors and liberal students, especially those of color, are to blame. 

It’s not a new theory, but in this age of multi-million (billion, for Fox?) dollar media companies and the magnifying effect of social media, it has intensified in its consequences.  On the one hand, Donald Trump ran for president against PC, which is pretty high stakes I guess, but I’m more focused on the academic context. There are well funded conservative anti-academia sites promoting comments, often social media off-the-cuff stuff, sometimes formal writing, and sometimes gross distortions, by professors that will inflame their readers. There are editors at Daily Caller, Fox, Breitbart, trolling those anti-academia sites for a professor-of-the-day to target. And then there are the consumers, who have learned that they can start calling and threatening and being loud, and get professors suspended or fired in some cases. In other cases, they can issue threats and harassment campaigns, and drive academics out of their homes, into spirals of anxiety, and otherwise perform Gamergate-like campaigns on academics (mostly women and PoC).

So here’s my question: What are the centrist writers who have spent years criticizing PC run amok going to do about it?

I wrote a bit for Pacific Standard about this problem.

Mostly, when centrist writers acknowledge the threat from the right, the approach is to suggest the left talk less about racism, identity, the need for safety, for the left to make visible their openness to diversity. To argue that when the left says, “safe space,” it opens up room for the right to say, “safe space.” There’s a lot of “both sides are equally bad” talk.

But although attacks on free speech are, in abstract principle, equally bad, on a practical basis, power matters. I’d like to see a shift to the practicalities in terms of how we spend our media power.

I always think back to Melissa Click, the professor at Missouri. She behaved badly to a student journalist. It was bad, and it received massive scolding coverage from across the media landscape.

Then the legislators got her fired. To me, state legislators interfering in hiring/firing decisions in public universities is WAY MORE SERIOUS A THREAT than a single professor behaving badly.

We need to focus whatever command we have of the attention economy on the more serious threats, rather than feed Tucker Carlson his lines with our own “PC run amok” confirmations.

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