The Rebirth Of Political Correctness

Freddie DeBoer gives out a cri de coeur:

Academics are my people. Leftists are my people. I have been around both my whole life. I am unapologetically a member of both tribes. I have no desire to slander or misrepresent them. I would love to tell you that the notion of a declining commitment to free speech in their quarters is a conservative fever dream. And like all people, I am constrained by my own personal experience, which is necessarily limited and biased. But I can only honestly represent to you both my personal experience and my read of the current journalism and literature on this subject, and both tell me that there is a distressing current of antagonism towards free expression within the social justice left.

His previous post on the hostility to free speech on the social justice left is here.

I am mercifully insulated from the academic left, so I cannot know all the details of Freddie’s observations. But it seems to me that the ideology that virulently (and rightly) opposes racism, prejudice, homophobia, sexism, et al. has a weakness. These new sins of the left can easily become the only sins that really matter (which is ridiculous), and the punishment for those sins can easily morph into an attempt at cultural control and coercion. That’s particularly true, as I found living in New York, when there’s almost no one who disagrees with you. In that climate of epistemic closure (far more acute in the academy), these sins can get out of perspective and morph into eternal truths that require of the zeal of virtual lynch-mobs to enforce them (like the brutal attempt to kill off Brandon Ambrosino’s career). Freddie details how bad it’s getting again:

I would cite, for example, the rise of “free speech zones” on college campuses; of protesters shouting down invited speakers and preventing them from speaking, rather than of protesting those speakers while allowing them to speak, offering a rebuttal, or inviting a counter-speaker; increasingly heavy-handed trigger warning policies for college instructors and similar efforts to regulate course content; and harsh crackdowns on student activists, such as the pro-Palestinian activists at Northeastern University. You might well say that pro-Palestinian activists are the kind of people who would be working alongside those who push to regulate speech on campus, but that’s just the trouble. Are Jewish students who claim to be unfairly affronted by pro-Palestinian demonstrations that different from students who claim that Things Fall Apart triggers them? When you let the genie out of the bottle, there is little telling who and what it may harm.

The impulse to punish and purge sin through these kinds of illiberal tactics is not reserved to the left. But I wonder how many leftists willing to suppress bad speech understand their similarity to their Christianist opponents on the right. At some point, you have to pick between liberty and social purity. I pick liberty every time.