Do Liberals Really Have A Free Speech Problem?

Do Liberals Really Have A Free Speech Problem?

This just in: “Study Finds Fruitcake Right, Anti-Gravity Left Share Similar Traits, Tactics.”

OK, so I made that up, although I’m confident that there’s no end of psychological studies confirming the observation. Ever known somebody who did a 180-degree ideological switcheroo, say from the Progressive Labor Party to the Ayn Rand Marching and Chowder Society? Were they less dogmatic and morally superior afterwards?

Not hardly. There’s a reason religious people are leery of converts. In my own tradition, “holier than the Pope,” is one way to express it.

So anyway, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait recently caused an uproar on the left by pointing out how many sanctimonious, puritanical progressives “attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.”

Particularly on college campuses, this isn’t news. A single example will suffice: “A theater group at Mount Holyoke College recently announced it would no longer put on The Vagina Monologues in part because the material excludes women without vaginas.”

Seriously, people, send your daughters to Texas A&M. Encourage them to study engineering. It’s long been this way on fashionable campuses. Things show no sign of improving. If they’d canceled The Vagina Monlogues for witless vulgarity, the Mount Holyoke campus would have gone up in smoke. Armed convoys would have arrived from Northhampton and Amherst.

Indeed, I’d advise any ambitious youth to avoid the Omphalic Studies wing of the university altogether in favor of subject-matter disciplines where competence brings respect, if not a lifetime guarantee against bigots and fools. Devoting one’s entire academic career to the minute dissection and magnification of every imaginable ethnic and gender grievance can lead to a kind of auto-paralysis that can take years to overcome.

But I digress. Chait’s broader point is that “political correctness,” a hackneyed term everybody nevertheless understands, has made inroads into the broader political culture via Facebook, Twitter, etc.

“And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate,” Chait worries “the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary….[it] has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular.”

I don’t know about “psychic space,” but he’s correct that campus culture warriors sneer at liberal pieties like free expression exactly as doctrinaire Marxists once did.

One immediate result is that friends of Chait’s, such as feminist author Hanah Rosin, who offended militant Soldier Sisters over some damn thing, have found themselves so bruised by Twitter-based insult campaigns that they’ve fled the medium. “The price is too high,” she explained “You feel like there might be banishment waiting for you.”

Sounds like junior high, no?

Two responses: One, hurt feelings didn’t prevent Rosin from playing a critical role in the takedown of the recent Rolling Stone-UVa rape hoax. So I think she can handle herself.

Two, it comes with the territory. Every death threat I’ve gotten has come from demented “Christian” right wingers. I once had to start unplugging the bedroom phone to prevent my wife from talking to a guy who’d call after midnight from a phone booth outside a liquor store to say he was coming to kill me and rape her. She’d pick up the receiver worried something had happened to our sons.

The police assured me that anonymous callers are cowards who never show up. But they did trace the calls.

To me, anybody intimidated by cant terms like “mansplaining,” “whitesplaining,” “straightsplaining,” etc. must not have much to say anyway. So MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry called you racist. Boo-hoo-hoo. A list of public figures she hasn’t charged with bigotry would be shorter. For that matter, I disagree with Justice Clarence Thomas on just about every topic but one: the baleful effect of ethnic groupthink on African-American life.

It’s amazing how many responses to Chait display exactly the kind of ad hominem name-calling he criticized. Apparently, they can’t help themselves. Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder mocks “the whining of an out-of-touch white guy.” To Gawkers Alex Pareene, he’s a “sad white man” and “petulant man-baby.”

Salon’s Joan Walsh plays mind-reader, speculating that the author “has been wounded personally.” She thinks he needs proper instruction in “his own racial subjectivity, and privilege.”

I expect she thinks I do too, and you, Dear Reader, as well.

In America, that’s always a losing argument. As Chait observes, “politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree.”

But the real damage isn’t to opinionated loudmouths like Chait and me. Ordinary Americans are repelled by humorless dogmatism. Most would prefer to have race and gender play a smaller, rather than larger role in their lives. Some are even naïve enough to resent being called racist, sexist, etc. when they’re trying hard not to be.

If that’s what they think progressivism is, they’ll want no part of it.

Photo: lewishamdreamer via Flickr

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