Jonathan Chait and the New PC


Michelle Goldberg in The Nation (Reuters/Kacper Pempel):

Unlike some of Chait’s critics, I think there is such a thing as renascent political correctness. (He quotes my own writing on the subject in the piece.) Most writers I know, including quite lefty ones, talk about it a lot in private. But as many others have pointed out, his examples don’t quite work, because he conflates several different things. First, there’s the genuine suppression of speech, as with Omar Mahmood, the University of Michigan student who was fired from his school newspaper, and whose apartment was vandalized, for running afoul of lefty sensitivities. Then there are the annoying rhetorical tropes of online discourse, which can make good-faith argument impossible. (Accusing every man who disagrees with you of “mansplaining” is one of these, even though mansplaining is a real phenomenon.) Finally, there is energetic debate. Telling these last two apart is pretty subjective. I think the response to Giraldi was the third. He probably thinks it was the second.

At one point, Chait describes a torrent of online derision directed at his friend Hanna Rosin under the hashtag #RIPpatriarchy. In Chait’s version, the hashtag is a reaction to her book, The End of Men, which, he writes, “argued that a confluence of social and economic changes left women in a better position going forward than men, who were struggling to adapt to a new postindustrial order.” In fact, the hashtag was spurred by a related Slate piecewith the trollish headline, “The Patriarchy is Dead: Feminists, accept it.” The patriarchy not being dead, feminists did not accept it. That’s not stifling political correctness. It’s responding to speech with more speech.

Yet that’s not the end of the story. Sure, Rosin was wrong, and Giraldi wrong-headed. But the sheer volume of the rebukes, the loud public ostracism, probably felt hugely disproportionate. When you’re on the wrong end of one of these things, it can seem like your identity has been hijacked, rendering you a caricature of yourself. “Her response since then has been to avoid committing a provocation, especially on Twitter,” Chait writes of Rosin. He quotes her saying, “The price is too high; you feel like there might be banishment waiting for you.” Part of what Chait is describing as political correctness is the way social media has dramatically raised the psychic cost of voicing unpopular opinions, whether they have merit or not.

To which, I suspect, many on Twitter would reply boo-fucking-hoo. Indeed, the milieu Chait has imperfectly described has developed a whole lexicon to mock those who admit to feeling bruised by it: they have the sadz, they’re butthurt, they’re crying #maletears. For Twitter’s guardians of righteousness, if privileged journalists feel more inhibited about bucking lefty pieties, so much the better. If a certain sort of skeptical, contrarian liberal intellectual style is being endangered, they won’t mourn it.

More here.