In a recent article for Vitae, Professor Rob Jenkins entered the revolving debate on the ills of political correctness by pondering the scintillating question of “how do we decide what’s offensive?” Hmmm. On its face it’s just an innocent question, we all wonder from time to time how to determine whether something causes offense or is offensive. He thinks professors are biased (guess which way) and that perhaps offense is determined in a haphazard fashion that has more to do with politics and less to do with objective measurements. All statements are offensive to someone, therefore who knows what’s offensive, right? And besides, in this sea of political correctness, who knows what will be offensive one day and not the next? Everyone knows that feminists and anti-racists are just switching things up on us, causing confusion everywhere with their almighty declarations of what’s offensive or not.
To illustrate he kindly gives us a few examples to work from:
“Express hatred or disdain for one group (say, anti-abortion activists) and your colleagues will be quick to come to your defense; do the same for another group (for example, gun-control advocates), and they will line up to attack you. Again, speaking objectively, that seems inconsistent. Is it hatred itself that we find morally repugnant, or do we discriminate based on the target? If the latter—as often seems to be the case—then we can hardly be considered impartial judges.”
So, here he compares disdain for a group that seeks to take away women’s human rights (anti-abortion activists) with an issue that revolves around restrictions on personal ownership of dangerous weapons (gun-control). Hmmm. It seems that those two things are not quite the same. But hey, maybe the good professor just made one mistake with this comparison. Maybe he’ll correct this later on. Maybe, it’s an anomaly. No. nope. Instead he helpfully explains that “there is nothing inherently offensive about expressing support for the Second Amendment or opposition to abortion—or vice-versa.” Because what could possibly be offensive about denying women the right to medical care? It’s exactly the same as gun ownership.
He’s not done though, in his next example of the so called P.C. culture he finds troubling, he asks us to “imagine the confusion and chagrin of a 50-something college president who finds himself in hot water after advising female students to be careful about where they go, what they do, and whom they’re with. To a person of my generation, that simply sounds like common sense—what any of us would tell our college-age daughters. But in today’s politically charged environment, amid fears of a campus rape culture, such well-meant advice might be interpreted as ‘blaming the victim.’ Thus the stunned president finds himself having to backtrack, explain, and apologize—and might very well find himself out of a job.”
Nope, guess it wasn’t an anomaly.
This time Professor Jenkins expects us to pity the poor, unfortunate college president who was just looking out for the ladies (by giving them utterly worthless advice that doesn’t do a damn thing to protect rape victims on the whole) by telling them, once again that rape prevention is their job. Why should we pity him? Because he – wait for it – had to apologize! OMG. The P.C. police are at it again, forcing powerful men to apologize for saying things that are harmful to women and counterproductive to ending rape. The nerve! He didn’t know any better; after all he is just the head of a powerful academic institution, where conversations about rape culture have been happening for 15 years or more. Apologies: the real oppression. Go home now feminists, no need to keep talking about how 1 in 5 women experience sexual violence, no need to talk about how 20 percent of college students experience dating violence/partner abuse from current partners, or about how sexualized street harassment is part of most women’s everyday experience (read full report on VAW here).
So far the evils he has uncovered in the P.C. wars include disapproval for violating women’s human and legal rights and men having to apologize for making mistakes. Surely he’s run out of uninspired, easily refutable examples though? Surely he can’t embarrass himself more?
He proceeds to make a series of flawed arguments that have been put to bed over and over by people who actually understand something about social justice issues or just basic logic.
In his next poorly conceived quote he waxes eloquent on the sacredness of civil debate and evidence-based arguments. He wants everyone to know that “we may engage our philosophical opponents in civil debate, using evidence-based arguments to advance our case. But that is very different from vilifying people just because we disagree with them.”
So far the examples he has used have nothing to do with vilification because someone merely disagrees with another’s viewpoint. It has to do with that viewpoint being either totally wrong or misogynistic/oppressive in nature. See, its the content of someone’s views that the “P.C. police” have such a problem with, not the disagreement. Pretending otherwise is not only disingenuous but an example of shifting the goalposts, a logical fallacy any English professor should be familiar with.
But he’s not done, oh no. He’s got another zinger of a comparison for us.
“We must also, I believe, start placing less emphasis on what people say and more on what they actually do. So a professor tweets his strong aversion to what he terms the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Fine. Is there any evidence that he has actually discriminated against Jewish students in his classes? Another professor uses a gay slur in a Facebook post. But has there been any discernable pattern of anti-gay bias in her teaching? When we start punishing people for what they say, even if they haven’t actually violated any law or policy, we begin to enter Orwellian thought-police territory—and that, it seems to me, is not somewhere we want to be.”
Where to begin? For starter’s what people say is (usually) an expression of what they believe, and one can only presume that they will act on said beliefs in some way. So caring about what people say, if they are a professor in the business of teaching ideas, makes perfect sense.
Second, we have the bizarre comparison between criticizing a genocide and occupation and using a slur against a marginalized group. Because those are totally the same. AMIRITE? Then we are expected to pretend that a professor using an anti-gay slur (a silencing and marginalizing tactic) should not be criticized or potentially punished/sanctioned because that professor must first take some sort of action. What action? Does a professor need to hit a gay kid in front of Professor Jenkins before he will feel comfortable saying that this teacher holds bigoted or ignorant views toward gay people? Or maybe the good professor would be moved toward punitive measures if the student were given a poor grade with a note stating that it was because they’re a faggot.
Finally, we have his completely absurd conflation of exercising punitive measures for a person’s words with “thought policing”. Last I checked, once someone has written something down in a semi-public forum like Facebook, it is no longer a thought. In fact, said person has taken that thought and expressed it in words. Criticism or punitive measures for that is not thought policing, it is having consequences for bigoted and harmful speech.
It seems though, that any consequences, including having to apologize, are a symptom of this dangerous “P.C. culture” where privileged people are the hapless victims of forced apologies and judgement. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that this constitutes a threat to free expression? Please. What this is an example of is the privileged squirming because they can’t get away with their shit as easily anymore. The feminist bloggers and black twitter are coming for them. With their lack of institutionalized power and their words.
But in all seriousness, this seems to be a symptom of the powerful realizing that they may not be so forever. Someday, someone else may sit at the top of the heap or perhaps even reorganize so that there isn’t a heap anymore. And they are scared and resentful and angry.
Good. Keep on fellow social justice types. These sad excuses for reasoned argument are all some of the privileged believe they have left.