Monday, July 20, 2020

Cathy Young: In Defense Of The (Harper's) Letter

I've read a fair bit of this and skimmed through much of it. 
  It's good, as usual.
  Look, this argument about PC thought-policing is over. The good guys won it long ago. The PC left has never had good points. Most of their points are textbook fallacies--ad hominems, tu quoques and ad miseracordiams predominate. 
  This is not a disagreement between groups of rational people who disagree. This is a conflict between core commitments of liberalism, broadly construed, and the most ridiculous ideas of a totalitarian cult.
We argue with them not in order to figure out who's right and who's wrong--in this case, that has been obvious from the beginning. We're still arguing with these people only for rhetorical / tactical reasons: if their points aren't publicly refuted, they're emboldened. And there are a few people stuck in no-man's land who are undecided. Best to keep them from going over to the Dark Side.
   "Cancel culture" is a dumb name for a well-known aspect of political correctness--the left's tendency to lie about and personally attack those who hold or express ideas deemed politically incorrect. 
   Note that the left deploys one of its favored strategies: "cancel culture doesn't exist!" To some extent they must know this is false--but they generally devalue the truth, so they don't think that lying in the service of their utopian view is all that bad. But also these tools are not among the sharpest in the I'm pretty sure there's at least a bit of genuine cluelessness involved. The fallacy of the continuum seems to confuse them often, and part of their argument seems to be that there is no bright clear line between PC "cancelling" (again: stupid term) and the ways ordinary people act when they disagree. Their premise is true, but their conclusion doesn't follow. Their nuttiness isn't something new under the sun--it's a particularly nutty and concentrated form of something present elsewhere:
First, the views they are defending are crazy.
Second, they launch attacks (sometimes physical, but more often verbal) against people who disagree.
Third, these attacks are commonly unhinged, and out of all proportion to the "offenses"--even were we to accept that they are offences.
Fourth, even tiny deviations from PC orthodoxy can trigger such attacks.
Fifth, these attacks usually take the form of personal attacks, not arguments about the dogma.
Sixth, they're typically dishonest, and typically involve character assassination--typically unjustified accusations of racism or something similar.
Seventh, the point of all this is not inquiry / discussion--it's to shut down legitimate debate--it aims to take the critic in question out of public debate...and pour encourager les autres
   Anyway, all or most of these things do show up outside the loony left--but what's characteristic of the PC left is that they tend to show up together, in exaggerated form, all the time.

[Forgot to mention: the letter does exhibit one common feature of such centrist or center-left stuff: that is, the obligatory shots at conservatives. The general idea is that the right is always worse than the left, and that you have to establish your anti-right bona fides. Usually, people feel obligated to reduce their criticisms of the left to criticisms of the right: the loony left is bad because it will help the right! 
As I've said before: Trump is not a threat to democracy. The left has made it clear that it's a threat to democracy--but it's as if Russiagate never happened...  Trump's the output of democracy. (Though, of course, something can be both output of and threat to.) We hear over and over: Trump might refuse to leave office! Hence he's a threat to democracy! Maybe. But the blue team has spent the entire time since the '16 election working feverishly to overturn its results. Trump might do something...the blue team already has done it, and is continuing to do so.]


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