Political correctness goes beyond organized lying; it is teaching a whole generation to silence alternative ideas and increasingly to use muscle as well as intimidation to do so.
Consider one recent incident. Anti-jihad activist Robert Spencer was poisoned in Iceland. After giving a talk on Islam which was harshly criticized in the media, he went to a restaurant. A “fan” of his work approached him and quietly laced his drink with Ritalin mixed with the party drug Ecstasy. He ended up in hospital and the Reykjavik police are investigating.
Spencer’s account of his trip to Iceland reveals a concerted effort by almost of all media there to prevent him from being honestly heard and evaluated. Their concern was not news but the suppression of news, presumably in the interests of a social goal to which they think news-gathering should be sacrificed.
His experience was political correctness on a glass slide under the microscope. If Spencer’s concerns are justified, how would Icelanders know? Not through their media.
Here are five suggestions for reclaiming our right to think for ourselves:
1. Face the fact that suppression is actually working. And each time it works, it gets further entrenched. Yale recently gave a prize to the students who bullied faculty in the Hallowe’en costumes affair.
We sometimes hear that most faculty and students don’t really support the war on alternative ideas. Maybe not, but to the extent that they act as if nothing is happening, it doesn’t matter what they think. A a result, the ones who do matter are totally cool with restricting free speech. Eric Hoffer’s 1951 True Believer, a “classic study of mass man, mass movements, and the mass mind,” is relevant again.
Those who clamor loudest for freedom are often the least likely to be happy in a free society. The frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints.
There are academics who recognize the problem. The recently retired head of Stanford University, philosopher John Etchemendy, recently spoke of “the threat from within”:
“The university is not a megaphone to amplify this or that political view, and when it does it violates a core mission. Universities must remain open forums for contentious debate, and they cannot do so while officially espousing one side of that debate.
We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds, perhaps opposed, to one's own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth.
What if many faculty and students are not searching for truth but merely for an environment in which they feel safe. That is precisely what they say they want, “safe spaces.” And they expect university (and later, rest assured, society) to accommodate them at whatever cost. And they are at their most serious when they are apparently ridiculous. See, for example, Yale’s Hallowe’en costumes uproar) for which the bullying students received an award instead of social disapproval.
2. Stop giving to your alma mater just because you graduated there. It may not be the U you knew any longer. Some problems over the years originated in excellent intentions such as helping as many people attend college as possible. But we all tend to make an underlying assumption: that any given student would thrive in the world of ideas if only he were offered an opportunity. Money was poured into universities by private and government sources but much of it has resulted in administrative bloat, sometimes marketing nebulous “studies” programs that will not prepare a student for life in say, the professions.
That may be one of the reasons so many students now move back in with their parents after graduating. Quite apart from politics, administrators have much less natural interest in intellectual freedom than academics would.
But if campuses cannot protect free speech, they need new management. Already, campus free speech bills are picking up speed in several states. And lawsuits over incidents of denial of free speech are beginning to follow. It would be smart for administrations to avoid the hassle.
Ask about specifics. Here, for example, is the Princeton statement sponsored by Robert P. George and Cornel West:
The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share. (March 2017)
Are current faculty willing to even discuss it with you? Make your donor decisions based on what you hear.
3. We should quit being nice and start being honest. For example, why are campus brownshirts so often described as “liberals”? There is nothing liberal about exchanging mortarboards for jackboots. Many such people describe themselves as progressives and there is no harm in calling them so. But we need to be clear that their progress is away from freedom and responsibility, not toward it. Be prepared to say that a student who cannot deal with challenging ideas or thinks that, for example, objectivity is sexist should not be at a university.
4. Stop expecting much help from traditional media. With their gatekeeper role extinguished by the internet, they are less likely to challenge attacks on free speech and may in fact co-operate with efforts to restrict it and also to restrict access to online information. They can usually find an extreme individual or rare event to blanket with coverage to help make the case. Long term effects are harder to see.
5. Don’t just give up, fearing embarrassment. I asked Canadian commentator Mark Steyn, an outspoken defender of free expression, for some thoughts on what we can do. He replied,
The best way is to push back against it whenever you encounter it. … So when the stupid school field-trip form comes back with a space for signature by “Designated Primary Caregiver 1” or whatever, score through it and write “Mother” or “Father”. I know I'm a demographic bore, but it's not just a numbers game: The people who want it most tend to get their way. And on a lot of this stuff we give the impression our hearts are not in the fight.
Someone’s gotta do it, and it may as well be people like us, people with a lot to lose.
How political correctness morphed into a monster.
The war on freedom is rotting our intellectual life .
When professors stifle freedom of thought
Don’t expect a quick end to the war on free speech
Denyse O’Leary is an Ottawa-based author, blogger, and journalist.