[This is a reaction requested from me regarding a Washington Post article, by Alex Nowrasteh, titled “The right has its own version of political correctness. It’s just as stifling.”]
This is not convincing, because it posits a false analogy. (It is also extremely badly written.) The analogy is false because it falsely defines “political correctness.” Conservatives don’t regard PC as bad because it shows that people have strong feelings, or because those feelings are believed to be irrational. (A side note: PC has been around for 30 years, not 10. See my review of Thiel’s “The Diversity Myth,” which was written in 1996.) They regard PC as bad because in wide swathes of America, and disproportionately in elite occupations, it is used as both reason and mechanism to punish those who fail to toe the line on whatever today’s PC orthodoxy is. (That orthodoxy, and the weighting of its different tenets, as with any religion substitute ideology, shifts constantly—see, e.g., transgender rights.) That is, PC imports ideological concepts as a tool to punish and silence ideological opponents, or to advance the dominance of ideological concepts, in areas that are traditionally either non-ideological (e.g., commercial relations) or regarded as areas of open, uninhibited discourse (e.g., academia). It politicizes everything, in the service of advancing the dominance of a set of political views.
So yes, conservatives have, within their own world, “their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions.” Liberals do too. If taken to exclusion, those rules tend to be bad for any group, because they promote unhealthy insularity. But only one set of rules, those of political correctness, actually have power in the real world, beyond the personal worlds of the group members. That is, at Heritage Foundation dinner parties, there is a set of rules. At, say, SPLC dinners, the same is true. My guess is that the Heritage Foundation is actually much more open and less restrictive in what is allowed to be said. But ignoring that, only one set of rules, liberal, PC rules, has power in the rest of the world, and that power is regularly used in academia, in the corporate world, in the law firm world, in the journalism world, and many other worlds, to deny and cripple employment to those not adhering firmly to PC mores, and to chill and suppress the speech of all opponents. Examples are legion—take, just randomly, the example of Erika Christakis at Yale. But I could come up with literally hundreds, if not thousands, with no effort at all.
This author therefore compares two things not the same. For there is no equivalent on the conservative side, and the author offers no evidence of, despite feeble attempts to do so. That conservatives nearly fifteen years ago called people names proves nothing (and who the hell is Buzz Patterson?) The Dixie Chicks example is the closest example, and it is bad, because it is a consumer market power boycott, which I disapprove of, but is not the thing complained of by conservatives. And disapproval of Kaepernick is just disapproval; he has suffered no consequences at all, but rather received huge benefits. (The author notes that Justice Ginsburg criticized him and retracted it; he does not note that she retracted it because she was immediately, widely and viciously attacked for failing to toe the PC line, and promptly jumped back into line because she knew what was good for her, which just goes to prove that conservatives are right about PC, the opposite of the point the author is using the story to make.)
All of his other examples are false (e.g., widespread outrage at Jeb Bush speaking Spanish at home) and also irrelevant to his point. “Illegal immigrant” has been the standard term for decades, not some new insult, because it is merely factual. Criticism of it is, in fact, PC; using it is just like saying “it is raining.” All the author’s examples are merely taking some outrider comment by some person with no power and saying it is the same thing as the cultural elite imposing their vision across all of academia, law, and journalism by force. (Weirdly, this is not dissimilar to the critical theory idea that racism is not racism unless committed by those with power, which is necessarily limited to white people. That’s false, but the realization that power relationships matter in the political impact of opinions is true.) He also shows a total non-comprehension about actual conservative arguments, such as about gay marriage, or why refusing to say “radical Islam” matters, or that conservatives want trigger warnings about “Merry Christmas.” Or, more accurately, he’s one of stupid, sloppy, or malicious.
There may be an argument that if Trump manages to gain and consolidate power, in some future America a conservative equivalent of PC will become a problem. But to maintain that is true now is, frankly, farce.
Political correctness, as I believe Theodore Dalrymple wrote, is Soviet propaganda writ small (I would correct TD and suggest its writ large, larger anyway than the Soviet system). It’s goal is to humiliate and therefore the less it corresponds to reality, the better. The more ridiculous the claim, the more apt one is to try and ignore it, the more opportunity for academic-like humiliation (i.e. “you’re a racist”).
Dalrymple’s definition isn’t even in the same universe as the proponents of PC who say PC is simply about being polite and not purposefully hurting someone’s feelings. The gender pronoun business is more of the same.
This is why I don’t think any conservative should ever cheekily say “that’s not politically correct.” What do conservatives mean by that phrase? They mean that so-and-so isn’t trying to be polite when he says X, which is another way of conceding to the Left’s definition of PC. Make sense? The Left say PC is all about being polite. When the Right says so-and-so isn’t PC they are saying that he isn’t polite, and thus we just conceded the Left’s definition of PC.
PC is about getting power through humiliation. Call a man a “she” or a “they” or be labeled a bigot, it’s your choice.
The moral here is that when you feel inclined to say that someone or some thing isn’t politically correct, stop. The right thing to do is to say, “Look the Soviets spent 70 years utilizing these tactics. Most of those in the Gulag had no idea why they were there, and they were told to confess to crimes about which they were completely unaware, and turn in names they never heard. PC is Soviet propaganda writ small (or large). Don’t tell me this is about being polite.”