Thursday, December 31, 2015

PC Denialism / Villifying Opponents of PC: Michael Roth Edition

   Well this is really terrible.
   It's difficult to believe that anyone could actually be so clueless about political correctness and opposition thereto. But dishonesty seems to be the only other possibility...  One way or another, it's shocking to see that the president of Wesleyan could write something so bad...not to mention publishing it...
   I'm not going to waste much time on this. Here's the main idea: PC good; opposition to PC bad. Roth spews out some half-baked and undefended hypotheses as if they were established fact:   
Alas, in 2016 I expect to see the bogeyman of political correctness circulate even more widely in academic circles and in national political discourse. On colleges and universities the idea of "political correctness" has an important function -- it pumps up the myth that our biggest problems stem from a lack of tolerance for ideas friendly to the status quo. When fraternity brothers are disturbed by changes to the ways they organize parties, they will continue to cry "political correctness." When middle-aged alumni of past college protests no longer see their own battles and slogans repeated by today's students, they will go on whining about pc culture undermining free speech.
   Quickly--because this doesn't deserve to occupy much of my time:
   First, no one has ever claimed that PC is "our biggest problem". That's a straw man. This could be called the "bigger problems exist" fallacy: someone puts their finger on a problem, you want to dismiss their concerns, but you can't think of any way to defend the claim that the problem isn't a problem...what do you do? Accuse them of claiming that the problem is our biggest problem. Because all problems but one--whatever our biggest problem actually is..and I have no idea what it would be...death? The looming threat of nihilism? Evil?--will fail to be our biggest one. So this fallacious defense can be used to deflect concern about almost every problem there is. Sneaky. Stupid and dishonest...but also sneaky. 
   Second, opposition to PC does not mean defending the status quo. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with defending the status quo. Some of it's good, some of it's bad. So some of it deserves to be defended and some doesn't. But pointing out the PCs are insane does not mean defending the status quo. It just means: rejecting one insane set of objections to the status quo. 
   Third, that bit about middle-aged alumni doesn't even deserve consideration. 
   Then there's this:
There just isn't any downside to attacking this imaginary monster of groupthink, so we can expect to hear speakers trumpeting their own courage in "not being pc" as they attack especially vulnerable groups in society.
   First, PC groupthink is in no way imaginary--again, only ignorance and/or dishonesty could explain someone believing that it is. Second, what we have there is yet another ad hominem: if you oppose PC, you must be doing to in order to seem courageous. What nonsense. Finally: there's a big downside to attacking PC on many campuses: you'll be mercilessly harassed and accused of bigotry. Your career might even be disrupted or ruined--ask Erika and Nicholas Christakis...
  The rest of the letter is just as bad, but I'm not going to waste time on it. The upshot is: PC doesn't exist. It's a "fantasy."  This, you'll note, coming from the president of a university at which the following occurred:
In September, sophomore Bryan Stascavage — a 30-year-old Iraq veteran and self-described “moderate conservative” — wrote an opinion column for the Wesleyan Argus, the student newspaper. In it, he criticized the Black Lives Matter movement — not the movement’s mission or motivations, but its tactics and messaging, particularly those of its more anti-cop fringe elements.
The essay was provocative, but it contained neither name-calling nor racial stereotypes (the usual hallmarks of collegiate column calumny). It was no more radical than the conservative commentary you might see on mainstream op-ed pages such as this one.
That didn’t stop all hell from breaking loose.
Within 24 hours of publication, students were stealing and reportedly destroying newspapers around campus. In a school cafe, a student screamed at Stascavage through tears, declaring that he had “stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,” Stascavage told me in a phone interview. Over the following days, he said, others muttered “racist” under their breath as he passed by.The Argus’s editors published a groveling apology on the paper’s front page. They said they’d “failed the community” by publishing Stascavage’s op-ed without a counterpoint, and said that it “twist[ed] facts.” They promised to make the paper “a safe space for the student of color community.” This self-flagellation proved insufficient; students circulated a petition to defund the newspaper.
   Funding for the Argus was eventually cut in half.
   Did Dr. Roth not notice when this happened at his own university?
   So Roth is the president of a university at which students attempted to completely defund the student newspaper for running a politically incorrect op-ed...and they eventually succeeded in halving its funding. Yet he insists that PC groupthink is a fantasy...
   It's difficult to believe that ignorance is the explanation here...
   And that leaves dishonesty.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of radical threat to the status quo is supported wholeheartedly by university presidents? Oh right, the fake kind.

3:32 PM  

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