Left-of-center writer Jonathan Chait has committed the sin of telling the truth about our self-appointed political-correctness police, those who use their membership within an historically victimized and oppressed group to victimize and oppress others (men, mostly, and mostly white men, but sometimes white women as well). It indeed in so many quarters is open season on all white males, who are deemed automatically to be oppressors and victimizers because of their immutable characteristics of being male and being white. (As a gay white male, my non-heterosexuality gives me only so much cover for being a member of a class of victims, as homophobes widely consider homosexuality to be mutable. [Of course, it doesn’t fucking matter whether it’s mutable or not; we all should have the freedom to express ourselves sexually as we please, as long as we do so consensually.])
New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait started a shitstorm when he wrote about toxic PC (political correctness) police. Had he been completely wrong, he probably would have been ignored, but since he spoke so much unflattering truth, I’m one of only a handful of Internet commentators who have yet to comment on his comments.
First off, it’s necessary to describe the environment in which all of us Americans operate: to such a large degree stupid white men (emphasis there on “stupid”) still rule, as evidenced by the popularity of “American Sniper.” Not only is the Clint Eastwood film still No. 1, despite Eastwood’s penchant for talking to a vacant chair (actually, for “American Sniper’s” target audience, I’m sure that was in Eastwood’s favor), but the book American Sniper is No. 1 on amazon.com, and in amazon.com’s top-100-selling book titles there are no fewer than four different versions of the same fucking book (as I type this sentence) — plus an apparent knock-off book about yet another American sniper called The Reaper.
So mindless, blind worship of stupid, murderous (or at least violent or at least aggressive) white men widely misconstrued as “heroes” continues. (This could be its own blog piece, and indeed, was going to be, but I’ll get it over with here: “American sniper” Chris Kyle, who died by the sword as he lived by the sword, was no “hero.” He was part of an illegal and immoral occupying force in Iraq. As part of that illegal and immoral occupying force, he slaughtered a bunch of people who were, at least in their own eyes, defending their nation from a foreign occupying force [duh]. As Iraq had posed zero threat to the United States, as Iraq had not killed any Americans and had had no capability of killing Americans en masse [yeah, those Iraqi “WMDs” claimed by the war criminals who comprised the illegitimate Bush regime have yet to be found], there is no valid argument that Kyle was “protecting our freedoms” or some other jingoistic, Nazi-like bullshit. Kyle very apparently just really, really liked to slaughter people, and if he were Muslim instead of “Christian” and weren’t taking the big dirt nap, he probably would be a member of ISIS right now, slaughtering people left and right with gleeful abandon.)
So that is the nasty backdrop (part of it, anyway) against which those of us who aren’t stupid white men (again, emphasis on “stupid,” not on “white” or on “men”) or one of their worshipers must live in the United States of America.
That is the kind of background and context that Jonathan Chait’s piece is largely if not wholly missing, and I fault him for that fairly glaring omission, as well as for apparently not having allowed his piece to gestate long enough before birthing it upon the nation. (I often if not usually let something gestate for at least a few days before I finally give birth to it, such as this piece.) Further, the gravity of the topic — political correctness (which falls under the umbrella of identity politics) — could merit its own book, so no magazine article or blog piece (not even this one) could do it more than partial justice.
But Chait describes fairly well the phenomenon in which so many members of historically oppressed groups identify so much with being oppressed (whether these members as individuals actually have been very oppressed as individuals themselves or not) that they are hyper-vigilant about any signs of oppression.
Seriously — it used to be that people were just oppressed. And oppression was a bad thing. You didn’t want to be oppressed.
Now, being a member of an historically oppressed group is très chic. And apparently maintaining your membership in your très-chic group of oppressed people means constantly finding fresh meat, fresh new examples of how you have been oppressed, so if there aren’t any actual examples of how you have been oppressed, you’ll wildly exaggerate or even fabricate such “examples.”
Since you haven’t been (very) oppressed yourself lately, you’ll gladly piggy-back on to others’ (real or exaggerated or fabricated) oppression. That’s always fun.
If you didn’t jump on the Michael Brown bandwagon, for instance, to many that means that you are a white supremacist who supports the gunning down of black men, especially young black men, by white fascist cops who enjoy killing black men.
Never mind that it still remains quite unsettled as to whether or not Michael Brown actually went for the cop’s gun before the cop shot him dead. The cop claims that Brown did, and not only was the cop not indicted by a grand jury (which, indeed, might have been a bogus process), but the U.S. Department of Justice also declined to bring charges against the cop for civil-rights violations (granted, proving a civil-rights violation can be a high bar to clear, I know from personal experience).
It’s disturbing that so many people jumped to conclusions and have held fast to them. If your identity politics is that of the oppressed black American, then of course Michael Brown was innocent, a “gentle giant,” and was gunned down by whitey primarily if not solely for his race, and if your identity politics is that of the right-wing white person whose worldview at least verges on white supremacy if it isn’t already fully there, then of course Brown was a thug (and the phrase “black thug” would be redundant) and of course the white police officer only did what he had to do.
Either Brown went after the cop’s gun or he did not. (If I went after a cop’s gun, I’d expect to get shot.) The cop, under our existing (deeply flawed) legal structure, used deadly force against Brown legally or he did not. But whatever actually happened on that August day in Ferguson, Missouri, has little to nothing to do with identity politics, yet for many if not most Americans, their identity politics dictates the “facts.” That’s scary.
(The Eric Garner case, as I have written, at the bare minimum was a clear-cut case of manslaughter by the thuggish white cop, and, entirely unlike the Brown case, we have video of Garner incident, so “I can’t breathe” is an apt slogan of protest, whereas I never was on board with the “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” meme because there is no evidence that Brown ever put his hands up in surrender — there are only biased claims that he did.)
The case of Woody Allen, too, also wasn’t about the actual knowledge of actual facts but was about identity politics.
Women whom Rush Limbaugh might call “femi-Nazis” have asserted that of course Mia Farrow, being a woman, told the truth that Allen had molested their adopted daughter, even though the allegation came during a nasty custody battle — and that of course Allen, being a man, was guilty as charged. Never mind that none of us was there and has any actual knowledge of what did or what did not happen; we have only the claims and counter-claims of the members of a deeply broken family whose dirty laundry has been scattered all over the public square.
This is some highly toxic shit.
The case of Bill Cosby, though, and that of Arnold “Baby Daddy” Schwarzenegger when he was running for California governor in a bullshit recall election in 2003 that had amounted to a do-over election since the bumbling Repugnican candidate had lost the election in 2002: When several women have come forward publicly to state that a man has sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them, to call all of them liars (as so many did to the at-least six women who came forward about the past deeds of the future Gov. Groper) very most often is a misogynist, patriarchal thing to do.
I have little to no doubt in my mind that Bill Cosby (and Baby Daddy Schwarzenegger) serially sexually harassed and sexually assaulted women.
But actual victimization is diminished when victimization is falsely claimed or is claimed whether or not there is any evidence to support the claim of victimization — usually out of identity politics. Perversely, many if not even most members of an historically oppressed group very apparently want the latest example of possible victimization (such as the shooting death of Michael Brown) to be true victimization because, in their eyes, it strengthens their political power as claimants of oppression.
It’s perverse that oppression has morphed from something that no one wanted into something that so many cherish to the point that they’ll happily fabricate it if they deem that to do so will advance themselves somehow.
(In his piece, Chait correctly notes that “It [identity politics and its concomitant claims of perpetual and ubiquitous victimhood] also makes money. Every media company knows that stories about race and gender bias draw huge audiences, making identity politics a reliable profit center in a media industry beset by insecurity.” Indeed, both Slate.com and Salon.com, two of my favorite websites, have resident identity-politics writers, taking the feminist and the black angles, mostly, and I routinely read these writers’ pieces, and often if not usually I agree with them [Slate.com’s Jamelle Bouie rocks], but sometimes, yeah, it’s apparent that they’re really milking it. [Sorry, Salon.com’s Brittney Cooper, but in his article Chait calls you out on your frequent hysteria and hyperbole fairly fairly.])
This professional “victimhood,” is, I suspect, what has eaten at Chait, but that he perhaps did not articulate well enough in his now-infamous article.
And of his article, this paragraph, I think, is the money shot:
If a person who is accused of bias attempts to defend his intentions, he merely compounds his own guilt. (Here one might find oneself accused of man/white/straightsplaining.) It is likewise taboo to request that the accusation be rendered in a less hostile manner. This is called “tone policing.” If you are accused of bias, or “called out,” reflection and apology are the only acceptable response — to dispute a call-out only makes it worse. There is no allowance in p.c. culture for the possibility that the accusation may be erroneous. A white person or a man can achieve the status of “ally,” however, if he follows the rules of p.c. dialogue. A community, virtual or real, that adheres to the rules is deemed “safe.” The extensive terminology plays a crucial role, locking in shared ideological assumptions that make meaningful disagreement impossible.
The emphasis there is mine. In the most rabid “p.c. culture,” indeed, “There is no allowance … for the possibility that the accusation [of an act of oppression or victimization] may be erroneous.” Within this toxic, tightly closed-off atmosphere, facts and evidence have no place at all; the politics of group identity rules supreme. Woody Allen molested his adopted daughter. Period. If you disagree with this, then you hate women and/or you are a pedophile yourself. Michael Brown was a “gentle giant” (never mind the very inconvenient video footage of him roughing up a convenience store clerk while he stole cigarillos from him on the day of his death) who was gunned down in cold blood by a white supremacist police officer. Period. If you disagree with this, then you are a white supremacist.
And indeed, as Chait writes, “A white person or a man can achieve the status of ‘ally,’ however, if he follows the rules of p.c. dialogue.” Yup. That means going along with all manner of blatantly bullshit groupthink in order to get along, lest you be called a misogynist or racist/white supremacist or worse.
The goal of “p.c. culture” as it stands today indeed so often seems to be to push all white men into a corner, indeed, to destroy all white men or, minimally, to make all white men feel perpetually guilty (and thus perpetually disempowered) because, of course, merely by their having been born white and male, they inherently are the evil victimizers and oppressors of others (of women and of black people, mostly, but of other groups, too, of course). It’s not their individual deeds that make white males automatically-guilty victimizers and oppressors, but their mere membership within the group of white males, you see.
This is the sorry state of affairs even though the origin of “p.c. culture” was the fact that white men were pushing too many others into a corner due to those others’ immutable differences from white men, and pushing others into a corner based upon their immutable differences from oneself is a bad thing to do.
To such a large degree, the victims (well, in so many cases, the “victims”) have become the victimizers, and today the victims don’t even have to be actual victims to call themselves victims, and their actual victimization of others isn’t victimization because they are victims, and a victim cannot also be a victimizer, you see.
Get it? These are the new rules.
These new rules have got to go.
Jonathan Chait got it (mostly) right, which is why we’ve seen the reaction to him that we’ve seen.