With the recent happenings in the presidential election, the topic of political correctness has once again reared its head. A recent poll conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University found that 68 percent of Americans agree that political correctness is a big problem for the nation. This is unfortunate, as the political correctness debate has always struck me as unproductive and phony. This is not to say that the heart of the debate about how we treat other people, especially groups who suffer under systemic oppression, is not worth discussing. Rather, the negative description refers mostly to the shallow, apocalyptic narratives used by PC detractors which have little grounding in reality and just come off as exhausting, anecdotal drivel.
The term “political correctness” entered into popular political discourse during the 1990s, and has always been accompanied by this absurd narrative. Ever since the 1960s, fear over radicalization — especially amongst universities — has consumed the public’s mind. This decade was framed as a frightening period on American college campuses when students occupied buildings, faculty mixed radical politics into their classes and administrators acquiesced to the demands of the student protest groups.
Naturally, this fear gave rise to a narrative, as espoused by works like Dinesh D’Souza’s “Illiberal Education,” which entails a leftist effort to censure all dissenting voices to their ideology. The media quickly latched on to this narrative as many of the articles published during this time “were almost uniformly critical of the Left and accepted the conservatives’ attacks without questioning their accuracy or motives,” John Wilson, author of “The Myth of Political Correctness,” writes.
Now what is used to justify this narrative is often anecdotes of conservative voices being censured. This also occurs most notably on colleges. At Saint Louis University in 2013, the College Republicans group was barred from inviting former senator Scott Brown to speak at a campus event over concerns it would jeopardize the school’s tax-exempt status. However, while these cases did happen, and faced public outcry, leftist voices being suppressed at college campuses has yet to garner public condemnation. As Wilson puts it “most of the attacks on academic freedom come from the right.”
During December 2015, George Washington University barred a student from hanging a Palestinian flag outside his window and, in November of that same year, Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer attempted to block a graduate student at the University of Missouri from performing research on the impact of abortion restrictions.
Now the reason for the censorship on both sides of the political spectrum pertains to the growth of college administration.
The hard truth is that the narrative touted out by PC detractors and the media is not based on the tenet of free speech, but rather a rhetorical preference.
The PC narrative is not used to protect speech but rather as a means to deflect criticism of ideas and policies without having to muster adequate supporting evidence. When Fox News’ Megyn Kelly confronted Donald Trump in an August GOP debate with a litany of sexist attacks he said, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
Other candidates like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson use the same narrative to support demolishing safe spaces on colleges and refusing to accept Syrian refugees. In other words, they evoke political correctness as a means of censuring all dissenting voices to their ideology, so ironically PC detractors are the very same people that they themselves decry.
This is why I find the PC debate exhausting more than anything else: the narrative is simply ludicrous and hypocritical. This phony debate needs to be buried and replaced with a more grounded discourse perhaps focused more on preventing actual censorship rather than protecting rhetorical preferences. Let the old discourse die, not to end the discussion about how we treat one another, but to allow it to begin.