Friday, February 13, 2015


Jonathan Chait has written a follow-up piece on left-wing "political correctness." Once again he describes it as an unstoppable force:
There is a long-standing and frequently demonstrated sociological principle called “the law of group polarization.” It holds that like-minded people grouped together tend to converge not on the center of their shared beliefs but upon increasingly extreme versions. More confident voices in the room will drown out less confident ones, and individuals will one-up each other to assume leadership roles....

More recently, other studies have found that group polarization has an even stronger effect if the group meets not in a room but in electronic form, like a chat room....

All these findings, put together, help explain the world of online discourse we see around us. We live in a culture of outrage, nurtured by tribes of fellow believers huddling together around embers of outrage they stoke ceaselessly. The recent rise of social media has created a powerful new role for the interlocutor, framed up in the most outrageous (usually oversimplistic, and often inaccurate) terms....

Political correctness prevents the left from reasoning internally. It makes questions of identity central to all political debate, then deems those topics beyond dispute.
So if resistance is futile, and participants in every left-wing debate inevitably defer to the angriest people practicing the purest forms of identity politics, then how did Stephen Colbert survive Suey Park's #CancelColbert campaign, after an inadequately explained allusion to Asian stereotyping went out on his Twitter feed? Why didn't we all just defer to Park and her allies? Why did Colbert not only survive but get a plum job replacing David Letterman a few weeks later, a job he's in no danger of having to give up in response to a lefty pressure campaign?

The answer is that even the Twitter-zombified liberals of Chait's narrative were capable of weighing Colbert's worth to them against Park's portrayal of him as a bigot. Activist mass anger is powerful, but it's not all-powerful.

I've argued in the past that people who protest against campus speakers (lefty fascists, in Chait's view) are motivated in part by the futility of bigger, more meaningful fights: against inequality, police brutality, and so on. The rich get richer, the killer cops mostly don't get indicted, and hopelessness spreads -- but Condi Rice or Ayaan Hirsi Ali can at least be compelled to go pontificate somewhere else. What Chait describes as "political correctness" triumphs when the alternative seems to be surrender. But in the Colbert dust-up, the alternative wasn't complete surrender -- being ro-Colbert also seemed progressive because, while Colbert's comedy may not change the world, at least it sometimes seems like a thumb in the eye of the powerful. And so the side Chait regards as pseudo-Marxist totalitarian leftism lost, and what he'd call liberalism won.


Meanwhile, over at Slate, Jamelle Bouie makes a very different argument about the alleged susceptibility of liberals to mass hypnosis:
... as a liberal, college-educated millennial -- the almost prototypical viewer for The Daily Show -- I’m thrilled [Jon] Stewart is leaving.

... I’m saying this because Jon Stewart, with his brand of left-leaning cynicism (sprinkled with occasional earnestness), is a bad example for the liberals who watch and love him.

The emblematic Stewart posture isn’t a joke or a witticism, it’s a sneer -- or if we’re feeling kind, a gentle barb -- coupled with a protest: I’m just a comedian.

... in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works.

... for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem.
But if that's the case, how did the 2008 Obama campaign happen? Whatever you think of the Obama presidency, it's undeniable that his campaign -- staffed by quite a few Stewart-watching millennials -- was extremely idealistic and, for most of its participants, not at all cynical. Why did the "Yes, We Can" brigade turn out if years of Stewart cynicism had left them contemptuous and jaded?

Mass jadedness, like mass anger, is powerful, but, again, it's not all-powerful. And for that matter, why does the lefty/fascist/"PC" crowd that causes so much handwringing on Jonathan Chait's part even exist, if Stewart's made everyone such a cynic? If the kids aren't all right, are they not all right because they're fist-shaking zealots or hipster smirkers?

I think the tendencies described by both Chait and Bouie exist -- but there are countervailing factors. Bouie's smirkers stop smirking when they see a reason for hope rather than cynicism. And Chait's liberals will someone who's damned a bigot if the indictment isn't persuasive. Media-driven mass psychology matters, but not to the exclusion of all else.


Victor said...

While Sarah "The Whore of Babblin'-on" has her 'word-salads," the Reich-Wing pundits take all sorts of things, put them in their mental "juicer," and the pour it out.

Can I have some politically incorrect vodka in that?

Otherwise - oy...

Leftist Lutheran said...

I have a standard I've been using for a couple of years now when reading political commentary: if the writer uses the term "political correctness" I stop reading immediately. The writer has forfeited his/her right to be taken seriously. Using "PC" to make or bolster your argument is lazy. It's like using the phrase "Al Gore invented the internet." I don't have time to read everything, so I just discard those articles that rely on euphemism and code words, and spend my time reading someone who has an actual argument.

Arctor said...

I went back to Chait's essay and couldn't find any mentions of PC as all powerful. He describes it as a 'towering presence,' indicating NOT that it is all powerful, but that it is formidable and inescapable. He refers to it even as a 'bludgeon,' in a specific instance he discusses.

But I never once saw him refer to it as unstoppable cultural force without any countervailing forces whatsoever. In other words, you're just arguing a straw man.

Look, just admit it, ok? You're allowed to criticize the ignorance and venemous self-righteousness of the diversity cops, ok? They're repulsive. They DO wish to silence others. Yes, they really exist. Yes, they DO wish to silence dissent.

In my gradute school for clinical psychology, a student was referred to the ethics board (about 6 months ago) for referring (!) to 'people of color' in a quote (!). One professor had the temerity to not that police are required to procedurally enact certain behaviors, and was immediatley silenced by another professor who stated she was offended. End of debate, full stop.

My wife, who does therapy with LEOs, tells me stories every single week about the complete inability to bring up during meetings the problem of race, if one is white. For seven years, I've heard this.

Or, there is Freedy deBoer, good liberal, who lists several examples of his own at:

Stop making excuses for your team. The upside of the digital age is accelerated social change - such as the use of gay marriage as a GOP wedge issue in 2004 to it being (close to) 'common sense' a decade later in most civilized circles. Republicans know they've lost this battle of the culture wars. It's not universal, but we've won this one.

Republicans have been outed for their bigotry, and they somehow can't stop fumbling over how to define rape. It's surreal, watching them repeat the same mistakes, over and over. It's because they've lost their famous 'moral clarity.' Good, they're wrong.

But we are, too. Yes, we really are. This is NOT moral equivalence. The GOP is worse. But we're awful, too. Ugly. The downside to the digital age is the absolute rage of the far left - who simply cannot tolerate dissent. Chait is right - they're Marxists policing each other.

You completely ignore the left's tactics - that debate is a sign of defensiveness, that feeling offended equates to being offended - and therefore virtuous and unimpeachable in one's positions.

Where have you been for the past decade? The trigger warnings, the expectation that one should be free of any discomfort. Have you actually ever seen a video by Sue and Sue? How they radiate hostility?

No, the PC cops haven't swallowed the culture whole, yet. But it's getting there, it's momentum is rising.

Yes, transphobia is wrong. Racist jokes are wrong. Homophobia is wrong. But that's NOT what Chait is railing against. Chait is NOT whining that others are criticizing him, either.

Maybe we live in radically different worlds. You don't see it?

This is no way to recruit allies. Simple psychology. This multiculti rhetoric is angry and it does not back down a single inch. It is tribal and hostile to debate. Just as resistant to rational discourse as Republicans were during the Iraq war, in many cases.

Knock off the pretense it is 'all powerful.' It is becoming MORE powerful, undoubtedly, and is already very powerful in certain pockets. Let's see if you can muster some of your outrage against the outraged.