It’s worth checking out the YouTube video of this year’s semi-annual Munk Debate held in Toronto this spring. The proposition at hand: Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress….
For the pro position: Michael Eric Dyson, sociology prof from Georgetown U, and New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg;
on the con side, Jordan Peterson, psychologist and U of Toronto prof, and Stephen Fry, British actor and screenwriter.
The debate quickly beat a path to identity politics, which make up the actual substance of PC, itself only a method of conveying the substance.
PC acts as a filter for sifting out thought that doesn’t conform to orthodox ideology, and for punishing those who dare to express the filtered-out ideas. So, PC only allows for a narrow range of expressed opinion on identity politics. PC is literally thought-policing. It’s hard to imagine anyone being in favor of that, which is exactly why PC behavior so odious to those of us who value free speech.
The orthodox view in identity politics these days is that “white male cis-heterosexual patriarchal privilege” is responsible for the discontents of women and “people-of-color” - a squishy, mischievous category which obviously doesn’t count Chinese grad students at Harvard or the Asian-Indians in the Silicon Valley C-suites — and demands reparations of one kind or another.
Mr. Peterson laid it out nicely: identity politics assigns everyone to ethnic, racial, and sexual groups, and all the human relations among them amount to never-ending battles for political power. Nothing else matters. Individuals especially don’t matter, only the group. And no group has abused its power more than European white men.
This animating idea comes out of the mid-20th century “post-structural critical theorists” Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, whose Marxian views emerged conveniently at a time when women and non-white people were vying for departmental chairs in the college humanities and social science programs, and thus have two generations been indoctrinated.
Well, if human relations are solely about power, than exercising power over others is all that matters. Hence, the key to identity politics: it’s all about coercion, making others do your will by threat of force and force itself. These days, the main threat is depriving heretics and apostates of their livelihood. That’s what happened to Brett Weinstein at Evergreen U in Washington State last year, and to Jordan Peterson himself at the U of Toronto, when he objected loudly and publicly to a new Canadian federal law that sought to punish citizens who refused to use the new menu of personal pronouns for the rapidly multiplying new gender categories (e.g. ze, zir, they, xem, nem, hir, nir….)
Both Weinstein and Peterson refused to be coerced and found themselves inadvertently leading a movement against the pervasive, creeping coercion of our time - which has now spread from the campuses into corporate life, with the HR departments working overtime to enforce thought among employees, because company profits are at stake (e.g. Starbucks day-off for “diversity and inclusion training”).
Most of the sparks in the debate came off the friction between Dyson and Peterson. Dyson, who was ordained as a Baptist minister at age nineteen, relies on the tropes of the pulpit to entertain his audience (or his classes at Georgetown). That theatricality is well-suited to putting across dubious ideas with false authority. In the end, he resorted to plain old name-calling, branding Peterson as “an angry white man.” Peterson did appear deeply annoyed. I could certainly understand why. He’s been suffering the enmity of morons for a couple of years now. But he has them on the run. He’s onto their game and he’s unmasking their mendacious intentions. And offering a framework for understanding human relations that actually comports with reality. In what has been lately a reality-optional culture, that really hurts.