On Jonathan Chait and PC Culture

Posted: January 27, 2015 in Braak
Tags: , , , ,

We have all been waiting for the answer to this question, “Can a white man criticize the p.c. culture of the liberal left?” and Jonathan Chait has answered this question at length . The answer is apparently, “He CAN, but probably SHOULDN’T.” Much better writers will do much better responses to this, but it’s left me so irritated that I couldn’t help but write at least a little bit.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with…I guess…let’s do “commencement speakers”, and maybe ask a few questions about why guys like Jonathan Chait get their knickers in a twist when a student body tries to block one person or another from speaking at their commencement.

Let’s at the very outset get something straight: commencement speaking is not an academic act, it is not part of a conference, it is not delivering a paper, it is not expounding on research, it is not contributing to the free exchange of ideas. A commencement speaker is a cheerleader, hired by a school, to on the one hand give the thumbs up to the graduating class, and on the other, show how wealthy and connected the school is by scoring someone good.

The academic life of the students (who, incidentally, are graduating at this point, so we might rightly suspect that about 99% of their college education is complete) is not hampered in any way by having one person or another as a commencement speaker, any more than it would be by not having a commencement speaker at all. This is not an important part of your education. It is not anything more or less than gladhanding, a mutual reach-around between university and speaker, the former enhancing the prestige of the latter, and enhancing its own prestige in a never-ending cycle of admiration.

So, there is nothing particularly fascist, particularly oppressive, particularly destructive to intellectual freedom to say that I, as a member of the student body, don’t prefer to be involved in that mutual cycle of admiration with some culturally-notable dipshit.

Here’s Chait, worrying about Bill Maher:

Bill Maher, who has criticized Islam (along with nearly all the other major world religions).

First of all, Bill Maher hasn’t just “criticized Islam” – like, after years (or even months [or even weeks, one suspects]) of theological or sociological study, he’s come around and had some salient point about the theory or practice of Muslim theology; the guy just reads a bunch of polls somewhere and talks about how he thinks Islam is philosophically different from other religions, and that by extension its adherents, at the very least implicitly, must therefore condone and support all manner of disgusting crimes.

And considering that the position of “commencement speaker” is not actually a part of the academic sphere, it seems to me that blocking a speaker who seems to genuinely believe that some of the students in this very class either are secretly itching for the chance to stone people to death, or at the very least morally condone the idea of stoning people to death, and who is just as likely to use this opportunity as any of his other platforms to slander them, is pretty reasonable.

Speaking of, by the way, it’s not like Bill Maher isn’t a regular guest on CNN or Charlie Rose or whatever, it’s not like everything he says doesn’t get turned into a meme and put on my Facebook timeline, it’s not like Bill Maher doesn’t have a fucking television show; you can’t seriously tell me that by “First Amendment” you mean that we’re morally obligated to make room for hellacious pricks like this everywhere. I’ve got to make sure he keeps his show and his twitter feed, and I’ve also got to stand up for him so he can be a (commencement) speaker (not an academic speaker or a researcher or anyone who is actually qualified to have an opinion on a subject), what else do I have to stand up for? He’s already allowed to walk around the Berkeley campus and tell anyone he likes what he thinks is wrong with Islam. Shall we keep space for him open at, I don’t know, public sporting events or something, in case he decides he has something to say? Should I make sure he has a spot at children’s birthday parties, too? Where, exactly, do we say that an asshole is basically unwelcome? What kind of ludicrous bullshit is this?

Chait’s got some wonky ideas about who deserves to be a commencement speaker, and I don’t know if he just couldn’t find examples that were actually good – like, again, I don’t know, proponents of unpopular research being excluded from conferences or something – or maybe he just has a real serious commitment to the academic freedom of the role of commencement speaker. Here are other people who were excluded from commencement speaking: at Smith College, Christine Legarde, “managing director of the International Monetary Fund, [the students] blaming the organization for ‘imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide’” (Chait does not specifically address this charge, so I wonder if he considers the possibility that the IMF actually does that to be patently false? Or does he just think that it’s irrelevant, and if a college wants a representative from an organization that, you know, does bad things, then the students should just shut up about it? Just take it on the chin, and swallow their contempt or something? A solution is not provided); at Rutgers, Condoleeza Rice (see previous; many people still seem to be upset about that Iraq war thing); at Haverford, Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau “who was disqualified by an episode in which the school’s police used force against Occupy protesters.”

I mean. “Who was disqualified by an episode in which the school’s police used force against Occupy protesters.” Sure, when you put it like that, it hardly sounds like anything at all. Good thing our entire culture isn’t embroiled in an ongoing discussion about just how much force police ought to be allowed to use and when, about how people can exercise their First Amendment rights without getting fucking tear gassed (but please, remind me again what an offense it is that Bill Maher was denied one of a hundred major media platforms), about just how responsible people in power are for the effects of oppressive systems – it’s a good thing that those questions are all settled, and we live in a safe and secure world, a universally just and fair world where we don’t need to worry about any of those kinds of questions, otherwise Jonathan Chait would look like a fucking idiot.

I don’t want to go too far into this, because for fuck’s sake there’s like twenty paragraphs here and I’m still working on the first five, but here are some other things Jonathan Chait thinks that p.c. culture – that suffocating miasma of people demanding other people respect their identities – has a problem with. These things are presented as though the simple fact that students have blocked them is, in itself, laughably absurd. To be clear, these are protests that are self-evidently stupid or oppressive, not things that he has to justify as being bad:

Native American students blocking a hilarious play about Andrew Jackson, the guy who famously signed the Indian Removal Act. Can you imagine? Students upset about a play, that does nothing more than make light of the historical tragedy and generations of genocide that their families experienced and that still affect them at every turn today?

Students at Mt. Holyoke College blocking The Vagina Monologues, because it excludes women without vaginas. Imagine! Transgender women objecting to a cultural event that purposefully and thoroughly excludes them from the conversation about being female! How extraordinary! (Actually wait, I misread that; no one blocked or protested it, the student theater group just decided not to do it. This is even MORE extraordinary – imagine, students deciding not to produce a play because it wasn’t inclusive enough of transgender women! WHAT AN ORWELLIAN FUCKING NIGHTMARE.)

Here, this is a good one, I want to make sure I get it right: “UCLA students staged a sit-in to protest microaggressions such as when a professor corrected a student’s decision to spell the word indigenous with an uppercase I — one example of many ‘perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies.’” CAN YOU IMAGINE! The choice of words reflecting ideologies? Who ever heard of such fucking BULLSHIT. Everyone knows words don’t reflect anything but their literal, annotative meaning, as defined by Merriam Q. Webster in 1885, when all American words were fixed in the immutable media of ink and paper.

What the fuck did that kid think, that he could make a perfectly reasonable request that cost no energy or effort on the part of the people around him in order to respect an identity that has been shat on by a culture implicitly and explicitly engineered to keep him under its boot?

[Jonathan Chait sputters in disbelief, dropping his cigarette-holder, his monocle just flies across the room.]

The article is replete with this kind of weird set of one-sided challenges, where we’re meant to deride “p.c. culture” for challenging one of Jonathan Chait’s friend’s conclusions about feminism – “Can you imagine,” he said, his mouth agape, spilling cronut crumbs on his copy of the New York Times, “people challenging an author’s opinion?” but with little to no consideration of whether the book or the play or the potential commencement speaker’s use of force against peaceful protestors constituted the same basic kind of challenge. Or, I don’t know, maybe the p.c. feminazis have figured out a way to weaponize twitter hashtags, or something?

(Little mention is made, too, of the people who HAVE weaponized the internet, engaging in endless campaigns of harassment, insult, and outright death threats…though, those guys appear to be universally the enemies of people who care about “identity politics”, appear to universally deride the “p.c.” culture which objects to their throwing around racist slurs, appear to just want women and black people and Muslims et al to disappear and go away; weird, that of all the fights going on, Jonathan Chait is going to jump into the ring to fight with the people who use hashtags to make sarcastic comments.)

Fucking white people man. I say this as a cis, straight, white male, keep that in mind, understand where I’m coming from when I say that there’s nothing that offends us more than the idea that you might have something that we’re not allowed to stick our fucking fingers in. You’ve got an identity as a woman that you don’t want us explaining to you? POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. You’re trying to navigate living in a culture of white supremacy and you want to define the terms of that navigation yourself? POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. You think the IMF is bullshit, and don’t want the head of the IMF as a cheerleader for your graduating class? POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AAAUAGGGH MY MONOCLE FELL OUT AGAIN OOHHH NOOOO!

Guys, let’s be clear on this. ONE: whatever future we’re going to build, however it’s going to look, it’s going to be one in which we can all be respectful of each other’s identity and history. TWO: We live in a racist, sexist, imperialist culture, and we need to take active steps to change that culture. THREE: That culture is made up of how we talk about things, so if we’re really committed to making the world better, we need to really commit to changing how we talk about things. FOUR: College is a really good place to try that kind of stuff out. I know it’s scary to think of the possibility that all of these kids and their dumb attitudes are actually kinder, better, more humane than YOUR experience was, because that means that you might not have been, historically, as good a person as you thought you were.

Well, tough shit. You haven’t got that many options in this world; one is trying to make it better, kinder, and more humane. The other is to go cry in the corner with Jonathan Chait.

  1. Rick Russell says:

    I’ll just say one thing — capitalizing the word “indigenous” probably doesn’t impinge on academic discourse, or require much time and energy of the reader or the class. Neither does correcting it. Holding a sit-in during class *certainly* impinges on academic discourse and eats up a lot of time and energy. And it is a calculated attempt to silence criticism by monopolizing the podium (indeed, being criticized is the *very thing* they are complaining about).

    Much of the rest of this, I have no complaint with, but that UCLA thing is farcical.

    Also this: http://www.juliansanchez.com/2015/01/27/chait-speech/

    which has a MUCH more clever title.

  2. braak says:

    Well, of course the sit-in impinges on academic discourse. Though I challenge that it’s an attempt to “monopolize the podium”, since holding a sit-in automatically deligimitizes the opinion of the protesters in the eyes of many outside observers, just by the fact that they’re being “disruptive.” Likewise, it’s not as though the administration is suddenly without a voice, just because students are sitting in in some buildings are something; in fact, in all public media related to the sit in, the administration is the first point of contact. Their position is actually amplified by the sit-in, and the protesters have to rely on the idea that, once this private dispute is brought to the public eye, enough people will side with them to precipitate the change that they want.

    Disruption is part of that process. If you want redress and you’re not getting it (and I find it very difficult to believe that the organized sit-in was organized entirely over this one single instance, and not over what was perceived as a pattern of similar incidents) from the organization to which you belong, you disrupt the organization.

    Though it’s similarly misleading to suggesting that this is some kind of violation of academic freedom. In the very first place, no protesters can maintain disruptive action forever; at best, all they’ve done is create a temporary inconvenience of one size or another, and I expect its a pretty poor institution that can’t at least manage the temporary inconvenience of a sit-in.

    In the second place, it doesn’t really do much of anything to actually disrupt academic freedom; it doesn’t stop papers from being published, for example, or research from being done. It stops classes from being held in the classrooms where it occurs, but sit-ins usually happen in places like the student union or the administrative offices, and so classes aren’t particularly disruptive.

    In the third place, it is neither an attempt to silence criticism, nor is it being conducted in response to criticism — even if we presume that all of the incidents were this same instance of grammatical corrections, it’s a pretty glib assertion to say that the students were responding to the notion of being criticised. They aren’t mad because they were corrected, they’re made because the assertion of “what is correct” (a pretty arbitrary standard in the first place, which any halfway-decent academic ought to know) is standing in diametric opposition to the social change that they’re trying to initiate.

    And in the fourth place, this is a question of personal identity anyway, not necessarily academic freedom; that is to say, do the merits of academic freedom exceed the merits of a society that does not systematically exclude the identity of various peoples from discourse? Certainly, the protesters have an idea in mind (even if they perceive that they were legitimately impinging on academic freedom in the first place, which I assert that they were not) as to which is more important, and, whatever answer you or I might feel is correct, it’s hardly a foregone conclusion.

  3. Rick Russell says:

    > just because students are sitting in in some buildings

    Well, you need to read what they actually did. The sit-in and the reading of the list of complaints was done during the scheduled class, in the classroom, speaking over the professor’s objection. Not in a neutral location.

    A university class isn’t an unstructured environment; each class is a forum with a specific agenda and purpose. Speaking over others with a monologue is not appropriate in that forum, unless you’re the professor and it is your job to lecture. Yelling over the professor to demand recognition of my math skills in a Spanish literature course would be similarly inappropriate.

    Anyway, I said academic *discourse*. And by definition a monologue delivered without response is a rejection of discourse.

    > do the merits of academic freedom exceed the merits of a society that does not systematically exclude the identity of various peoples

    Well, I think agree with the Julian Sanchez analysis that I linked on this point. The damage to epistemology by implementing draconian speech rules (which goes to other things Chait discussed, not so much the UCLA case) is a high risk. There may cases of speech “aggression” that are so harmful that some rules are still justified, but it’s hard to take these “microaggressions” seriously.

  4. Elspeth Grey says:

    “it’s hard to take these “microaggressions” seriously.”

    And at that point I scrolled up to check your name, and yep, you’re male and likely have little to no experience of microaggressions in your life.

    The point of microaggressions is that they are CUMULATIVE. It’s each time Indigenous is not capitalized, AND each time African Americans and Latinos and Asian populations are mentioned as local “minority” groups while Indigenous populations go unremarked on, AND each time Hollywood casts a white actor as Native American. Your dramatic cases of speech aggression create a hostile environment immediately, but microaggressions can create an equally hostile environment. They just do it over time.

    (I am not Native American myself, these are examples of hostility I have seen referenced elsewhere.)

  5. Well, I credit you for reading first before checking the gender of my username.

    There’s a difference between actions that are irritating and actions that are *blameworthy*. In my opinion, non-blameworthy actions don’t merit condemnation and protest. You’re free to disagree of course.

    I guess that’s one difference between me and the UCLA protesters, I’m not expressing my opinion by monopolizing the podium.

  6. Selina Moore says:

    Nicely done, Elspeth, for saying what we were all thinking: if you’re a guy, then you’re automatically privileged. Inconceivable that Rick could be gay, schizophrenic, an amputee, poor, atheist, or a person of color. If he’s lucky enough to have a dick, what could possibly have gone wrong in his life, right?

    Nice to see the boys no longer have the monopoly on being ignorant assholes.

    Anyways, I’m more depressed by Braak’s response. Chait’s essay, to me anyways, reflects something I’ve noticed, being self-identified as both a feminist and a liberal. The diversity within American Liberalism has been, as Chait correctly identifies, a glorious thing, and arguably Liberalism’s greatest strength – The Republican strategy, dating back to Nixon, of appealing to White Southerners and pretty much nobody else, finally showed the limits of its efficacy in the last decade or so.

    The observation that “microaggressions” and the increasingly oppressive tone of PC culture might actually be hurting the cause – may in fact be turning us into the shrill, humorless, self-righteous thought police that Conservatives have been trying to paint us as for decades – is to me an astute one. Worth maybe at least momentarily considering, even if you ultimately disagree.

    But fuck that! Why bother responding to any of his points when you can use hollow sarcasm, type in all caps, swear at nobody, and make jokes about his monocle falling out, rendering anyone you disagree with as a cartoon or, I don’t know… like, a man made out of straw, for lack of a better term.

    But why am I surprised? It’s the same hectoring, taste-fascist tone you adopt in the comments section when faced with anyone who disagrees with you about politics or society (or comics or movies or Batman…). It’s legitimately impressive to see somebody as intelligent as yourself, an author/actor/playwright/whatever, demonstrate such a monstrous, almost robotic lack of irony or awareness.

    You’re the dumbest smart person I think I’ve ever encountered online, and somewhere along the line this schtick went from “entertaining prick” to “prick.”

    Why don’t you go complain about some more movie trailers or something? That seems to be a bit nearer the intellectual plateau you’ve cleared out for yourself.

  7. Elspeth Grey says:

    Someone stepping on my foot by accident is irritating. People who do that still typically apologize and try to be more careful, because they recognize they’ve just made it unpleasant for me to be in that space. Even if I take your distinction between “irritating” and “blameworthy” (and in cases of speech I don’t), there’s still no reason for the person who is being irritating not to correct their behavior when they’re told it makes others uncomfortable. That refusal changes an action from being an irritating mistake to being deliberately hostile.

    I’m not defending the form of this particular protest. As someone who has taught college classes and will teach them again, I’m not certain what I think about it. But their complaint has merit, and that should not be ignored.

  8. braak says:

    @Selina Moore: Taste fascist! My goodness. Well, I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t particularly like to respond to arguments about what I should be writing about, or how I should respond to something, or anything that in any way implies that I have some obligation to conform my writing on this — my own website — to someone else’s notions of what is appropriate or required. However, as much as it’ll probably surprise you to discover (and probably surprise the three or four other people who might have read this) I do actually hate to disappoint people. So.

    As I said, there were bound to be a lot of people who were going to write more intelligent responses to this, more thorough and considered responses, than I ever would. Here are a couple good examples:

    Alex Pareene, at Gawker: Punch-Drunk Jonathan Chait Takes on the Entire Internet

    Sady Doyle, at In These Times (pretty accurately noting how my own angry and ill-considered response was exactly what Chait’s original article was meant to produce, thus making me feel like a sucker): If You Tweet This, Jonathan Chait Wins

    Jessica Valenti, at the Guardian: PC Culture Isn’t About Your Freedom of Speech, It’s About Our Freedom to be Offended

    And of course John Hodgman, on Twitter, doing with a few tweets what I could only dream of, if I was the kind of person who dreamed of responding to arguments with considered well-reasoned responses: John Hodgman Rebuts Jonathan Chait

    Now, heaven help us all if, when faced with a such a surfeit of good sound reasoning, people still think that Threat Quality Press is a meritorious source for opinions about articles, but let’s say, for the sake of argument that, having exhausted all other possible fonts of wisdom on the subject, a person did come back here expecting me to add something worthwhile to the debate.

    Here’s I think the root of Chait’s argument, which you’ve put pretty succinctly:

    The observation that “microaggressions” and the increasingly oppressive tone of PC culture might actually be hurting the cause – may in fact be turning us into the shrill, humorless, self-righteous thought police that Conservatives have been trying to paint us as for decades – is to me an astute one. Worth maybe at least momentarily considering, even if you ultimately disagree.

    Now, it seems to me that if I’m going to consider it, I might as well say that I think — having considered it however momentarily — that it’s completely wrong. That, in fact, the tendency of what we think of as the Old Guard Liberals (represented disproportionately by straight white men) to insist on conceding the possibility of this argument to conservatives works almost entirely against us, because it requires us to make arguments in favor of diversity and liberalism entirely on the terms of our opponents. It’s not a compromise or a middle ground, but a subset of conservatism in this — i.e., how do we get the things that we want, without changing the shape or structure of the way that we talk about them. It’s an argument against what we might call “new discursive spaces” — something that, as a liberal, you’re basically not allowed to say, because certain words and ideas are verboten in Old Guard Liberalism, which insists that all new ideas and approaches must be couched in the familiar language of civility and erudition found in important magazines like The New Republic or what have you or (in other words) exactly the kind of language that people like Jonathan Chait are already familiar with.

    It’s kind of an inverse thought-police, as it were — a cultural reaction to having to have to deal with new words or ideas, like “micro-aggressions”, for instance, something that Old Guard Liberals didn’t have to think about before, and didn’t even have to address before, because up until recently we didn’t have a word for it. It makes my own point — which I only touched on in the very last paragraph — pretty thoroughly; culture is made of language, so if we want to change culture, we have to change the way that we talk about things. The fact that people like Chait refuse to treat the idea of something new like “micro-aggressions” as anything but self-evidently ludicrous, is part of a kind of cultural conservatism that I think is counter-productive; he wants to change the facts of the culture, the political and social structures caused by the culture, but keep the essential medium of that culture untouched.

    Now, a good question might be, why didn’t I say that in the first place? And the answer to that comes in multiple parts. The first part is that, frankly, I feel like this argument is already settled. I’ve seen the PC-anti-PC argument before, I’ve seen the freedom to offend and freedom to be offended before, I’ve seen both Chait’s arguments and his examples before, and I didn’t find them compelling then, and I don’t find them compelling now. I’m angry about them, particularly (for whatever reason) about this commencement speaker argument (couldn’t tell you why, I expect this is something deeply rooted in my own subconscious), and so I participate in a kind of active process of expressing that anger through Threat Quality, in part because I am not a journalist on a payroll somewhere, I don’t write for In These Times or Gawker or The Guardian, I’m just a guy with a blog and a regular 9-5 job, who’s only got twenty minutes at lunch to try to articulate a thing that makes him angry.

    The second answer to this, though, is that frankly, I don’t think Jonathan Chait deserves a reasoned intellectual response. Not only is he re-hashing old arguments, many (as Sady Doyle pointed out) pilfered from other lefter, more radical writers, but he’s making his own arguments exceedingly poorly. Consider, for example, his long list of ways that PC-culture is suffocating dissent. Look at how he arranges these things as though they are, again, self-evidently part of the same cultural impulse. But then look at two of the examples, let’s say his very first one, the incident of Omar Mahmood, what is pretty clearly a hate crime and the Mt. Holyoke players decision not to perform The Vagina Monologues.

    Now, there’s been an ongoing debate about The Vagina Monologues that I’ve been following with great interest. At it’s heart, it’s really a question about whether — however important the play might have been — a play written nearly thirty years ago constitutes the last word on feminism, and on what it means to be a woman. Increasingly, many people associated with performances of it have questioned its trans-exclusivity, have questioned Eve Ensler as a kind of self-appointed representative of womanhood, have questioned whether, having instituted a cultural tradition of performing this play every Valentine’s Day, we’re now done with considering the subject that it broaches.

    Mt. Holyoke, incidentally, is an all-women school; I want to college at Hamphsire, just down the road from there, and did do at least one show with their theater department. Full disclosure, there, I’m well-disposed to the kind of earnest, radical, college-student response to social issues that you find in places like this.

    Anyway, it’s plain to see that an attitude of pushing a kid off campus, of threatening and harassing him for writing a gently satirical hewspaper article, isn’t even remotely in the same ballpark as a student theater organization deciding not to do a play because they’d come to the conclusion that it wasn’t inclusive enough — one is culturally conservative (i.e., rejecting and resisting challenges to a dominant cultural paradigm) while one is culturally radical (i.e., rejecting a traditional cultural element in order to make room for a newer one).

    Presenting these two items as part of the same list, the same discourse on PC-culture, which must either be conservative or radical but not both, is either wildly incompetent or grotesquely disingenuous. Whichever one it is to me doesn’t much matter — it’s only one example of what seems to me to be an underlying truth: Jonathan Chait’s article doesn’t deserve a serious response.

    All of these cats, up to and maybe even including Sady, are in some way doing us a disservice by responding seriously to Chait’s position; they’re doing whatever the opposite of creating a straw man is, not picking a weak interpretation of the argument to attack to make themselves look better, but instead, presuming that there’s merit to the argument in the first place and engaging with it at that level of civilized, New York Magazine-level discourse. The reason that I, as you’ve pointed out, devolved into ad hominem attacks about Jonathan Chait’s monocle, and why I swear at nothing and type in ALL CAPS is because, frankly, I don’t think this kind of baldly disingenuous trolling deserves the kind of measured response that Hodgman, Pareene, Valenti, Doyle, et al give it. It’s a joke article, that makes raises and collects its points without serious argument, and therefore merits only contemptuous dismissal by everyone.

    So, now, like I said, I am sorry to have disappointed you, but if it’s any consolation, think about how much more disappointed my own friends and family, who have to see me every day, must be in me. What can I do? I don’t pretend to be smart, I even go out of my way to provide indicators that I’m just some dumb guy with a blog; I often use “cat” instead of “person”, I use “I got to” instead of “I have to”, I swear all the time and make stupid jokes about monocles, I basically paint myself as a character of a red-shouty-face emoji — even when I talk about how smart I am, this is couched in the carefully-exaggerated language meant to indicate that I don’t believe it or take it seriously. And, in the few circumstances when people DO ask me, I’m always very careful to point out that I don’t think “smartness” is a real thing, that what people see when they think “smart” is more often an indicator of class or cultural background than anything else.

    Nevertheless, people expect me to be a smart guy, and they’re disappointed when I’m just a dumb shouty prick. There are times you know, when I wonder how much we live in a real world populated by people, and how much we live in a world populated by imaginative caricatures of each other, but who knows?

    Anyway, I’m sorry that I’ve let you down; I’m sure that, someone, somehow, somewhere throughout the rest of the internet is picking up the slack for me.

    EDITED TO ADD: I don’t know when the next Batman trailer is going to come out, but I can promise that I will probably have something to say about it, if you want to check back here around then!

  9. braak says:

    @Elspeth and @Rick Russell: Here’s the thing guys: I got to admit that I don’t even really care if classes are disrupted. One class, two classes, three or four classes. When I was in college, one year we had snow storms that basically cancelled all classes for the entire months of February and March, and I actually don’t think my education was significantly impacted from it (Selina Moore might disagree, though).

    But a large part of this is because I don’t necessarily consider the information gleaned from lectures to be the sole motivating purpose of college, or even the most important motivation. I think I would rather have kids miss a few classes and what they might learn in those classes if instead they learn that cultural change absolutely requires the disruption of routine, that they can and should exercise the power to organize and agitate and disrupt for that change, if they learn that they do not have to accept their casual exclusion from these discursive spaces.

    Is it ridiculous? You know, sometimes it is. Sometimes kids get real high on justice and they go overboard; but frankly, I think college is a good place to do that. I think college is where kids should be excessively earnest, excessively disruptive, where they should try out the kind of intellectual discipline that we call “PC-ness” — which I think is actually an act of self-examination in how and why we use language. It’s a philosophical principle that suggests that cultural oppression starts in the roots of language, and that the responsibility to end that oppression lies firstly with the speaker; before I can agitate for social change, I have to first see how I use language and why, and consider how that language could be the fundamental basis for the oppression that I oppose.

    Is it exhausting? Yes. Can you go overboard with it? Surely. Do most people abandon it once they leave college, considering it a childishly-earnest phase of their youth, while subtly dismissing those folks who held onto it and insist on creating spaces that adhere to that discipline? I think so.

    But if you’re going to at least TRY it, college is the place to do that, and I’m not sure it’s in yours or my or anyone’s best interest to talk about what college kids are up to these days as being a bellwether for “Liberalism” as a movement.

  10. Rick Russell says:


    > when expression of opinion is met with real world attacks

    I guess that’s what is bugging me about the UCLA case… it seems that nobody really has an interest in capitalizing the Latin word “indigenous” except this one guy, and (1) we’re supposed to take that seriously because of his feelings, and (2) he’s disrupting the class, wasting everybody’s time, and accusing the professor of grammatical racism, which skirts close to something like a “real world attack”. That is the line that was crossed.

    Should we be pissed that rich rapists argue themselves out of prison time and shit? That police turn young black men into prisoners with overzealous enforcement? HELL YES WE SHOULD. The UCLA case is nothing like that.

  11. braak says:

    Well, look, even considering the UCLA case as being overblown, which, fine, I’ll do — I don’t really know the details of it — I’m not sure I’m really too worried about it. The thing is that I’d rather have kids do this stuff and fail (and by “fail” I mean: attempt a thing and go overboard, as college students do) because that means they’re trying. The only condition in which these kind of failures wouldn’t exist is one in which no one was actually making the attempt to make these sort of cultural course-corrections at all; a condition in which we just accepted that everyone has to operate within a cultural and linguistic framework that was set down at some point and is now fixed.

    Even accepting this as a failure, I think Chait’s point is still basically disingenuous, because he’s not really arguing that it’s a failure at all — he’s presented it (again, self-evidently, which I cannot stress enough how much it makes me angry) as the success of something terrible. This isn’t kids trying out a new idea and going overboard, this is the success of a strain of neuro-linguistic fascists who are trying to wrest control of language out of the hands of…I don’t know, out of the hands of some people and give control of it solely to…some other people.

    I can agree that it was a waste of time, and even that it was asinine, but I think it’s pretty hard to make the case that the ultimate cultural power in this situation rests with a couple of minority students at UCLA.

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