Is the Tide Turning against PC?

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

Has the contemptible Laura Kipnis Affair incensed the worm into turning? Our own David French certainly hopes so. “Feminists from Jezebel to The Nation have expressed concern about Kipnis’s treatment,” French wrote on Monday, “and Jonathan Chait has discussed her ordeal as part of his recent campaign against PC.” Indeed,” he continues, “there is a growing wave of leftist dissent against campus intolerance.”

The latest froth in the wave comes today, from “Edward Schlosser,” a teacher “at a midsize state school.” “I’m a liberal professor,” Schlosser writes over at the “explainer” website Vox, “and my liberal students terrify me.” Why? Because a considerable number of them have bought hook, line, and sinker into a worldview in which “the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed,” and, in consequence, any accusations of misconduct that are leveled at academics have become too subjective to be dispassionately analyzed. Chagrined and alarmed by the burgeoning number of inquisitions, Schlosser has been left fretting that were he to be hauled in front of a disciplinary committee, he would likely stand no chance:

Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

In March of this year, Schlosser issued a similar lament, albeit in less family-friendly language. “Personally,” he wrote regretfully, “liberal students scare the shit out of me.”

I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

That so-called liberal students are the problem here should come as no great surprise. And yet, for all the unconfined joy that conservatives will take from such clear and unadulterated admissions of this fact, the important part of Schloss’s essay in fact lies in the first clause of its headline, not the second. We already knew that our present discontent is the fault of the lunatic Left and its many young acolytes. What we did not know, however, is that their nominal allies within the academic and journalistic establishments would have such an early breaking point. If you want to take something crucial away from this story, notice who is doing the mourning: “I’m a liberal professor  . . . ”

RELATED: How to Censor Speakers on College Campuses

This isn’t about standards; it’s about power.

Unlike David French, I am not at all convinced that this is a sign that the “most recent wave of political correctness is cresting.” Rather, I suspect that it is merely in the process of mutating into a form in which it is less obviously damaging to progressive interests. That “backlash” that David notes? It’s not really a backlash at all. It’s a rearguard action. And that “concern” that we are supposedly hearing from Jezebel and The Nation? It is not the product of intellectual honesty or of a more general desire to institute academic liberty on campus; it’s a self-serving attempt to fight back against those revolutionaries who are eating their own. Here, Fredrik DeBoer’s horrified observation that “many good, impressionable young people run screaming from left-wing politics because they are excoriated the first second they step mildly out of line” is instructive. Of course Jonathan Chait is turning against political correctness and campus self-indulgence. Of course Vox’s editor, Ezra Klein, is now peddling lefty academics who are willing to stand up to the mob. Of course the good denizens of Jezebel are beginning to wonder aloud whether a feminism that eats the likes of Laura Kipnis is useful. If neo-McCarthyism “becomes a salient part of liberal politics,” Schlosser writes in his conclusion, then “liberals are going to suffer tremendous electoral defeat.” The American Left has started to rebel at the exact moment that its own interests are being hurt? Naturally. This isn’t about standards; it’s about power.

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The speed with which the orthodoxies are changing is extraordinary. Last October, when the pre-Enlightenment hysteria that Laura Kipnis was targeted for knocking reached its ugly fever-pitch, Ezra Klein went all in for authoritarian self-indulgence. In order to fix the supposedly “extreme problem” of campus rape, Klein proposed, the powers that be must embrace “affirmative consent” laws and abandon our traditional respect for due process and create “a world where men are afraid.” The endgame, Klein submitted, is to create “a haze of fear and confusion” that will instill “a cold spike of fear” in college students (Klein has a thing about spikes) and throw “everyday sexual practice into doubt.” Only this way will the requisite respect for women “settle like a cold winter on college campuses.” That this approach represents “overreach,” Klein concluded, is “precisely its value,” for “extreme problems” require “extreme solutions” — liberty and justice be damned. As for signing on to the Left’s broader maybe-this-has-all-gone-too-far trial balloon, Vox was having none of it. “The truth about ‘political correctness,’” Amanda Taub asserted huffily in January, “is that it doesn’t actually exist.”

RELATED: Campus Rape and the ‘Emergency’: It’s Always an Excuse for Authoritarianism

#related#Today, Vox is running coruscating polemics from left-leaning academics. Per Edward Schlosser, “the real problem” on campus is the “simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice” that so many students (and writers) have adopted. Also causing trouble: “the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media,” and the alarming fact that “all the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis — from due process to scientific method – are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males.” In the meantime, Ezra Klein is praising Laura Kipnis — who was targeted not for her outré feminism or for the quality of her work, but because she wrote against “sexual paranoia”; noted that, on campus, “gropers become rapists and accusers become survivors, opening the door for another panicky conflation: teacher-student sex and incest”; and warned that “the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life.” Whatever became of the virtues of the cold spike of fear? Did its gleaming edge strike a little too close to home?

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