Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Do not disturb

We should all be exposed to the widest possible range of ideas and opinions, so our knowledge of the world and other people is as complete as it can be. So I'm not in favour of the arbitrary censorship of supposedly "undesirable" and "dangerous" ideas.

Which is why I strongly support the University of Chicago's statement that it won't go along with such censorship, whether it's trigger warnings on books with "disturbing" content, no-platforming of "offensive" speakers, or the existence of "safe spaces" free of upsetting opinions.

All these things are contrary to their commitment to academic freedom, says the university.

Unfortunately the statement has been leapt on by those whose life is dedicated to mocking what they call "political correctness". Or what the rest of us call treating people decently and not crapping on them. So there's a reluctance to say that in this case the anti-PC brigade may have a point.

In general I find the whole concept of "political correctness" odious and mischievous, an ongoing attempt to resist greater equality and maintain elitism and privilege. Same-sex marriages? Transgender folk in the "wrong" bathroom? All-women short lists? Whatever next? It's political correctness gone mad!

However it seems to me that what the University of Chicago and other universities are resisting isn't "political correctness" but something much more familiar - over protectiveness.

They're not opposing tiresome bans and restrictions so much as the over protective indulgence of students too squeamish to deal with ideas and opinions very contrary to their own. Instead of hearing out those ideas and evaluating them, they want to shut them out and pretend they don't exist. Sorry, but that just ain't possible.

There's nothing radical or progressive about trying to silence people you don't agree with. It's much smarter to check out those opposing ideas and then comprehensively demolish them. Listen politely, then whip the rug from under their feet.


  1. Jean: You totally agree? 100 per cent? That can't be true! You can tear the whole post to bits if you want!

  2. I also agree, though I wonder if the almighty dollar is behind this? Universities seem to rely heavily on alumni donations, and obviously, there's been some kind of backlash.

    It's become a scary world when free speech is limited on college campuses.

  3. Bijoux: Very likely they're worried about cash flow. Anything that conveys a negative image to potential students won't last very long. And yes, college campuses are the one place where you would expect an unlimited exchange of ideas and opinions.

  4. Ha, so no one wants to tackle the hot potato of political correctness!

  5. I have to go do stuff now but I fully intend to come back and say something about political correctness!

  6. In general I find the whole concept of "political correctness" odious and mischievous, an ongoing attempt to resist greater equality and maintain elitism and privilege.

    i don't understand what you mean here? surely political correctness is an attempt to move towards equality?

    In spite of the fact that I don't understand why you would say such a thing, let me comment on the phenomenon.

    I get irritated by political correctness at times and have struggled to figure out why it irritates me, given that I am in favour of all the things it tries to support. I have come to the conclusion that political correctness irritates me when it is thoughtless and illogical or when it becomes patronising rather than empowering.
    For example: I once sat in a conversation where a black man was asked if it was ok for the white people to refer to him as black. Well, he is black, that is fact but needing to ask about it implies that it could be a bad thing. If you see a person's skin colour as a fact, like eye colour, you wouldnt think twice about mentioning it.

    I guess what I am saying is that maybe we should stop thinking about political correctness as an end in itself and start thinking about the intent of what we are saying (you made that point already)

    Having said that, I think some people are incapable of understanding the reasons why certain things can be insensitive and insulting so for those people we need to put peer pressure on them to self censor because sometimes the language change precipitates the attitudinal change.

    Trigger warnings are a bit of a mixed bag, I appreciate the intent to protect people from things they may find difficult but maybe we are too nannying about it. If a person has survived something like a rape or a stillbirth, do we really protect them by saying "trigger warning rape"?
    I cant answer that but somehow I doubt that a trigger warning is going to help much, I also think it's a little bit silly to imagine that we can protect people who have been so grievously hurt that their triggers can be anything and anywhere: things like a smell or a sound or a colour

    Ultimately, if we indulge in gross censorship we will retard growth and remove intellectual rigour from our schools and our society

  7. Kylie: When I say I find the term "political correctness" odious, what I mean is that it tends to be used only by those who object to treating other people decently. They use the term to ridicule those of us who try to be considerate and fair-minded. "All this bloody political correctness, I'm afraid to open my mouth" etc.

    I would say the same as you, that initiatives to promote equality can be off-putting if they go over the top and become thoughtless or illogical or patronising, or just absurdly over-sensitive. Asking if it's okay to refer to someone as black is a good example.

    As you say, some people just can't see they're being insensitive or insulting, and when it's explained to them they get defensive and accuse you of censoring them and being opposed to free speech.

    Like you, I don't believe trigger warnings are much help to people who've been seriously traumatised by something. And surely a trigger warning of "references to rape" could itself be disturbing? Should I insist on trigger warnings about bullying because I was seriously bullied at school? In that case I would miss all sorts of interesting things.

  8. i love your last sentence nick.

    apparently i'm not concerned too much about pc...
    or the hint of it perhaps on my blog.
    i rather blathered on in my post called who dunnit.
    people reading were kind to me.
    but i'm sure they could have said a lot more.
    as to certain trigger warnings...
    they are alarming to me. banning some classic books in school libraries is dangerous ground.

  9. Tammy: The idea that you shouldn't read a famous classic novel because there's a mention of something disturbing on page 193 is ridiculous. Anything that's worth reading or experiencing is likely to take you out of your comfort zone at some point. Surely what's needed is more resilience and a bit less hair-trigger sensitivity?

  10. Tammy: Just reread your "Who dunnit" post. I'm with you about living our privileged lives while haunted by images of devastated Syrian children. I'm surprised the anti-PC crowd don't sneer at those of us who dwell on victims of war as another example of "political correctness". But that really would be crass and distasteful, wouldn't it?

  11. it would be most crass nick.
    I have to squelch myself from naming names and pointing blaming fingers.
    our former leader(s) were pathetic. in judgment and motive.
    nobody. not even anyone's GOD... tells a leader to commit a vengeful act in revenge and engage so much human suffering... that has escalated into an entire region being a total mess.
    how's that for speaking one's mind! but it's true. and I can't believe people don't KNOW IT!

  12. Tammy: The indifference of political leaders to the horrifying accumulation of human suffering from relentless armed conflict is shocking. To them, it's still unavoidable collateral damage.

  13. One aspect of this is the desire of religious fundamentalist folks to control education on subjects like evolution, etc.

  14. Hattie: Absolutely. Funny though, I don't hear a chorus of angry voices complaining about "religious correctness". Yet the rest of us are expected to go along with religious beliefs.

  15. Nick,
    Nobody expects you to go along with their religious beliefs