It’d be redundant to echo the righteous heat Jonathan Chait already is taking for his complaint that “the language police are perverting liberalism.” I have touched on many of these points before. The politics here are so inflammatory, however, that one severe problem is easy to miss: he never bothers to demonstrate the article’s factual premise.
After all, Chait is not simply arguing that PC is bad — he’s also arguing that it is happening. But none of this is ever substantiated. Typical claims that Chait makes but never bothers to establish:
- “large segments of American culture have convulsed into censoriousness”
- “one professor…has noticed a dramatic upsurge in her students’ sensitivity”
- “These sorts of episodes now hardly even qualify as exceptional”
These sorts of factual claims, described with pseudo-quantitative rigor, are at the heart of Chait’s grievance — but he never bothers to demonstrate that they’re actually true.
And anyone familiar with this genre of writing knows why. “Political correctness run amok” pieces always do the same three things: 1) they warn that the PC menace has grown into a historically extraordinary threat; 2) they demonstrate this with a parade of totally sensational anecdotes; and 3) they thereby have somehow proven the enduring danger of the political left. The only new element here is that it’s appearing in New York Magazine, rather than on Free Republic or in The National Review.
Of course, none of this ever gets around to actually demonstrating that PC is a substantial problem with significant consequences for anyone.
Tellingly, even as far as anecdotes go Chait’s aren’t particularly compelling. For example, as proof that political correctness has “more than theoretical power,” Chait tells the story of Mireille Miller-Young. This is a person who “engaged in vandalism, battery and robbery” — but in a truly sinister development, Miller-Young’s political allies “wrote letters to the sentencing judge pleading for leniency,” and some even argued that the crime was “an ideological construct”.
“These are extreme ideas,” he concludes — an odd kicker to a story that set out to show how political correctness is more than just a set of ideas. As for Miller-Young? Chait conveniently fails to mention that she was convicted on precisely those charges that he named — vandalism, battery, and robbery — and sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service and 10 hours of anger management classes.
Somehow, wicked political correctness did nothing to change the outcome of the case, a point worth considering if we care about the facts.
Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs.