PC Culture & Universities

PC Culture & Universities

The divide of cultural thinking in America is becoming more and more apparent with every passing day of the dystopian Trump administration. On one side, we have the so-called backwards’ thinking red-necks keeping Kid Rock clocking in the millions and on the other, we have high-minded intellectuals who will take down anything even approaching the shade of intolerance in the comments’ section of their Facebook newsfeed. A few months back, we discussed this latter conglomerate in relation to Clint Eastwood’s denouncement of the millennial generation. Today, we will delve into that ever-relevant subject in the context of the student body and protests at universities; not for any particular instance but because in this new environment, liberals (whose ideas such as health care are widely more popular with the public) must realize that not every little thing is worth losing their minds over.

Colleges should be bastions of free speech and open-mindedness. Third-level education is about exploring new ideas which not only intrigue but challenge you. You do not necessarily have to agree with someone’s line of thought (even the professor’s) but you should be exposed to it because intellectual thought gains credence when it is tested and critical thinking, as we have also discussed before, is pertinent to keeping power and established notions in check.

So how come in many cases, colleges have come to exhibit the exact opposite philosophy?

Well, let’s take a look first at how many students’ intolerance of perceived intolerance has manifested:

  • In 2014, Condoleeza Rice (US Secretary of State under Bush II) was supposed to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey but was protested  over her administration’s handling of the Iraq War. Although the university’s president Robert L. Barchi defended their choice of speaker on the grounds of her being ‘one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years’, she decided to drop out, stating that the occasion should be a ‘joyous’ one and that her involvement might prove a distraction.Condoleezza Rice Gives Talk, Promotes Book In Washington DC
  • Later on that same year, comedian and political pundit Bill Maher was opposed by the students of Berkeley for criticizing Islam. In a viral debate with Sam Harris and Ben Affleck, he contested that as a set of ideas, Islam was a tough one to tackle because of the connotations associated with attacking a religion. In a change.org petition, signed by nearly 6,000 people, the student body objected to his ‘blatant [bigotry] and [racism]’, furthering that Maher’s kind of beliefs only served to conflate the ideas of extremists with the greater Islamic population. Maher went on to deliver the commencement address anyways but not before commenting that ‘liberals should own the First Amendment the way conservatives own the second’.
  • Women’s rights’ activist Ayaan Hiris Ali, meanwhile, was scheduled to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis University until the throngs came out against her. The offer was rescinded owing to the fact that past statements of hers against Islam were not compatible with the ‘core values’ of the university. Her activism, of course, can be attributed to a more controversial nature than Bill Maher’s but the student body’s disavowal of her, in light of the other causes she has promoted, spoke volumes for the culture in which we live.

Richard Dawkins, the famed biologist and atheist, has posited that political correctness has been replaced by an ‘unofficial’ Orwellian Thought Police. With instances such as the ones mentioned above, he believes that we have seen a ‘betrayal’ of the free speech movement which grew out of Berkeley. This philosophy, for many, undermines the values of a true democracy and lends gravity to the arguments of conservatives who conjecture that the left are out of touch with the common man.

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Maher (left) and Dawkins on HBO’s Real Time…

Not all liberals are ‘regressive leftists’ however (to borrow a phrase popularised by Sam Harris.) Many, like former President Obama, have espoused the need for students to balance their ideals with an open-mind. Militant political correctness, he stated in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous, serves as nothing more than a ‘recipe for dogmatism’. Even the leadership of the Civil Rights’ movement, he furthered, ‘sought to understand the views… of the other side,’ no matter how appalling. Students have become ‘coddled’ in today’s world, he asserted; a view shared by the likes of Robert L. Shibley, the vice-president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (a non-profit organisation), who stated: ‘Colleges and universities are teaching students to think like censors… [fueled by] overboard harassment policies, free speech zones that render most of campus a censorship zone, and a focus on civility and comfort at the expense of lively debate’.

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On the flip-side to be fair, one can argue political correctness has been born out of necessity. After all, hateful or embittered rhetoric can be influential- just look at the effect it had in driving anti-semetic practice in the 1930s. Plus, the need for racism or any alternative forms of exclusiveness is about on-par with the need for two more season’s of The Big Bang Theory. (Seriously, cancel the f*#$ing thing already… not to make light of this…) Let’s face it however; universities err on the side of caution a stretch too far. It may be because they have always been havens of progressive thought; it may be because the media thrives off sensationalist stories; it may be the power of a group mentality; and it may be because even the slightest association of a racist, homophobic, or sexist thought is enough to ruin one’s social standing today, but such thinking does not always precipitate action.

Free speech is ‘indivisible’ for Mick Hume, the author of Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? When one makes it a ‘privilege’ and not a right, ‘who are you going to trust to make the decision about where to draw the line through [it]?’ That does not mean we should allow bigotry, sexism, or any other forms of discrimination to thrive but if their preachers or their ideas have gained enough momentum, why not give them a forum from which to be challenged? Why not ask Condoleeza Rice, herself, about Iraq? Because her answer will offend you? It’s high time we ditched the emotional baggage of our PC culture and adopt an idea so foreign to America today, that you would swear its visa had been suspended- reason.

 

 

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Clint Eastwood and the PC Police

Clint Eastwood and the PC Police

Last week, Hollywood legend and sharp-jowled libertarian, Clint Eastwood sparked outrage for his professed support of Trump over Clinton, amongst other seemingly outdated notions. To keep it brief, he opined that just because Trump’s speeches caused offence, did not mean he was racist; rather that reaction reflected the values of a “pussy” generation, one built on overtly sensitised political correctness. This kind of “talk” (from Trump’s ever flabbergasted face) was not considered “racist” when Eastwood was young. So what has changed? The very discourse and face of civil rights, replied a host of people on Twitter and Facebook.  Not a bad point at all, I must admit, but this particular confrontation interested me for the subject matter involved. Let’s face it, Trump could be (could) right on one thing; maybe we do have a big problem with political correctness. Let’s examine this, in light of this controversy.

When the Donald delivered his rousing question mark of a speech announcing his candidacy over a year ago, the internet went abuzz with rage over his remarks regarding Mexicans. Were they stupid? Undoubtedly, Trump displayed (and has since) a poor and dangerous attitude towards immigration; an attitude which, if given credence, could not only sever international relations but also disenfranchise the millions of people who still see America as that beacon upon a hill. Were they racist? There’s a lot of evidence to suggest Trump may be a class-A bigot and indeed his banning policy is a prime Hitlaresque example of discrimination but for the sake of discussion here; not inherently so. It is racist to condemn a race of people because of what they look like and for merely being different. It isn’t necessarily when you criticise their country’s policy or culture, among other facets, given ample reason. Caution, of course, must be advised because no nation of people should ever be identified with a single brush stroke, but when issues such as immigration can’t even be tackled for fear of backlash, a problem arises. For one, you limit the intellectual scope of debate. And for another, you hamper free speech.

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It’s genuinely hard to get a good photo of Donald Trump.

 

Years ago, many hoped the internet and social media thereafter would break down social barriers and allow people of all creeds, colours, and religion to speak their mind, unburdened by censorship. These barriers have undoubtedly weakened but in their place, liberal constructs have sprung from those so sensitised to controversial opinions. We see this on a moronic level now. Last week, Eastwood wasn’t the only one grabbing headlines. An online petition too, was making the rounds, for the proposed closure of Rotten Tomatoes; a film review aggregate which collected an array of unfavourable opinions on David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. If people can’t even withstand a negative review of a film (and believe me it isn’t great), then what hope have we when it comes to topics which matter and should be discussed in an open forum; rape, religion, and emigration? As Mick Hume stated in his polemic Trigger Warnings, “[words] can hurt but they are not a physical weapon… Free speech is more important than hurt feelings.”

Now back to Trump. Do I agree with anything he’s said? Only perhaps with political correctness being a problem and that America’s infrastructure is crumbling. (The latter I can’t comment on in great detail however.) Overall, I think most people can succinctly point out though, without further reading, that Trump speaks with emotion and not logic, which undermines any gravity his claims may otherwise hold. The controversial subjects he brings to the table should be allowed to remain there however for the sake of free speech. If we disagree and find his comments repulsive, then why not point this out in an intellectually engaging manner? Like a debate, for example. Knee-jerk outrage only serves to energise his uruk-hai like supporters, which brings us neatly back to the generational divide old man Eastwood felt last week.

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A Trump supporter at last month’s RNC.

 

Culturally, America is being pulled in two directions. The liberals, I believe, are beginning to win this tug of war, even if it’s not politically evident. In recent years, social media and television shows such as Glee have been a great platform for the likes of the LGBT community. Where the race issue was once believed to be a shadow of its former pre-eminent self too, it is now at the top of our newsfeed, because of increased pressure from a generation with a growing voice. Most of us would likely agree that this is a good change of direction. On the other hand, many people in America feel betrayed by the direction their country is heading in. They’re tired of not being able to say what they want to and how they want to with regards to the hot issues, mentioned overhead. Is it not reasonable to say in this PC climate, that many feel suffocated? It’s not only with self-identified conservatives either.

Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have criticised this aspect of modern culture. The former, amongst others such as Jeff Ross, no longer frequents colleges because students often come across as too uptight. Bill Maher felt the backlash more forthrightly in late 2014, when students of Berkeley protested his address, due to his outspoken criticism of the Islamic religion. In another era, you would have thought Saddam Hussein was coming to flog his best moments’ memoir. Even opposing Katie Hopkins’ visit in this vein is pathetic (though that may simply have been for the quality of guest). Again it is worth repeating, if you have a genuine difference of thought it is worth taking that person head on with questions. If people had done that more calmly with Trump, then maybe he wouldn’t have been able to use increased media frenzy to push his way up the polls. Sensationalism sells, but it’s not always a dignified trade.

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From the “Modern Day Seinfeld” Twitter page. A good one to follow.

 

It is now 67 years since George Orwell’s classic 1984 was released and the Thought Police are becoming an all too eerie reality. In colleges, the very places which should stand as bastions of free speech and open mind, offensive opinions are being rejected without reflection. Whereas we have become a more inclusive society, we have also become one in some respects, that is tolerant of absolutely everything but intolerance. As Mick Hume asks, “[once} you make free speech a privilege and not a right, who are you going to trust to make the decision about where draw that line through free speech?” Eastwood may have the wrong idea about Trump but he’s got a reasonable measure of where American society’s headed, if only having lived so long. Political correctness, for all its good intentions therein, is not always the correct way to tackle the seemingly racist, bigoted, or plain mean.