Short Take: Reform Was The Price of Political Correctness

In a Medium post, Cathy Young provided a detailed and exceptionally kind vision of political correctness. She began with its definition by the ever-dubious Sally Kohn:

Political correctness is simple idea everyone should be treated with equal dignity & respect. It’s not cause of terrorism. It’s antidote.

Warm, fuzzy, vague and meaningless. As a wag replied, “Pretty sure you mean “The Golden Rule”. Political Correctness is a form of language-control.” Of course, language control doesn’t sound nearly as warm and fuzzy, so it was left off the bumper stickers. But Cathy goes on to provide examples of how the scolds of political correctness work in real life, how it eats its own and treats no one with dignity and respect who doesn’t adhere to the orthodoxy.

So far, nothing you don’t already know.

A couple of years ago, about six years into the Obama administration, there was serious talk of criminal law reform. Tepid reform, for sure, but reform. And it died a silent, brutal death with nothing accomplished. The reform grew out of the realization of and concerns over the confluence of cop killings and prison nation, two blights on our nation that gave rise to widespread recognition that something was very wrong.

What’s the connection? The same confluence of circumstances empowered the social justice movement, but rather than focus on the issues at hand, at creating actual change that would save lives, they went down the political correctness path. This created two problems that impacted serious efforts for reform.

The first impact was that focus shifted from cops killing black guys to names on college buildings that hurt people’s feelings. Microaggressions became a thing. Speech became violence. And the battle for the support of mainstream America was lost. While most people could agree that cops killing innocent people, children, was a problem that demanded change, they weren’t all that moved by the horrifying and exhausting problem of a guy running a dormitory being called “headmaster.”

It was politically incorrect. It sucked the life out of reform. When this became the focus of concern, the reform movement momentum was lost.

The second impact was that serious reform demanded real answers, and real answers demanded an honest understanding and assessment of what happened on the mean streets and how reform could be accomplished in such a way as to eradicate needless harm without creating needless risk. For this to happen, serious people needed to have some serious, and painful, discussions.

This meant that real life had to be on the table. But political correctness precluded any ideas that were inconsistent with unicorns prancing on rainbows. There could be no talk of what gave rise to crime and who was at fault. Political correctness precluded any consideration of marginalized groups being marginalized for a reason. The mantra that whites are just as likely to do drugs, sell drugs, as blacks became a truism to the politically correct, which meant that no reform could accommodate what police claimed was happening on the mean streets.

This isn’t to say it’s untrue that blacks were profiled, targeted, by cops, but that it couldn’t be addressed. This meant that the people who sought reform were thwarted by the absolute refusal to deal with those who opposed it. Despite the feelings of the deeply passionate, there were serious questions about the roles race and poverty played in the root causes of crime, recidivism, and even fear by cops. This isn’t to say that the politically correct view was wrong, but stomping one’s feet and refusing to discuss these problems made it impossible to convince those in power to change things.

But isn’t “dignity and respect” worth silencing the efforts to create actual change, real reform, when it means dealing with the unpleasant issues of crime and punishment? Well, you can no longer find a headmaster at an Ivy League college, but cops are still killing black guys in the streets and prisons are still full of them. That may be a trade-off you can live with, but it’s not doing much to help those in prison for life plus cancer.

13 thoughts on “Short Take: Reform Was The Price of Political Correctness

    1. SHG Post author

      Motte and Bailey is “bait and switch,” which is how some characterize the generic problem with PC. It is, to some extent, but that’s not the subject of this post. Then again, I get bored after the first 10,000 words a Slate Star Codex.

  1. Ross

    As you may have heard, we’ve had some wind and rain here in the Houston area. The townhomes down the street from me had 8 feet of water in them, with residents swimming out of some units when the water started going into the second floor. No one was concerned about political correctness, just helping each other.

    Here’s some political incorrectness from the storm. One of my colleagues sent pictures of his neighbor’s house with an alligator on the porch, and another on the driveway, escaping the floods. My brother, ever the comedian said “Look, it’s Jehovah’s Gators, here to talk about Godzilla. They offer a choice, listen to the religion spiel, or be eaten”.

    Once again, SJ offers a refuge from the immediate issues of the world.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      If you know real, normal, trustworthy people, who might need a refuge in Austin for awhile, my door could be open.

  2. B. McLeod

    Trying to dictate others’ pronoun usage, even contrary to the established English language, is not treating them “with dignity and respect.” It is despotism, on the part of the tin-plated, little, would-be gods who seek to do it. These people are the height of superficiality, and masters of calling something what it is not.

    1. SHG Post author

      Et tu, Brute? Does no one care about the impact this has on serious reform issues? Helllooooo. Am I here by myself?

      1. Grum

        I have something to tell you, and it’s going to make you sad…
        (Ok, crap intro, but you do it to us often enough).
        I’m cynical enough to think that this tactic; get all the useful idiots agruing among themeslves over who cleaves to the purest form of whatever orthodoxy du jour, is the oldest and most reliable way for whoever has, and wishes to maintain, privilege to keep it. There’s bucks and votes in the status quo and it’s unlikely that the beneficiaries want to give that up real soon now. I suspect that their counter-strategies have become so ingrained and reflexive that even they are not entirely aware of them. Seems to have worked ok for a few millenia in many differing circumstances, so no real incentive to change a winning formula.
        Of course it’s then a massive bummer when there are things which really do need some change and your otherwise supporters start arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but so far as people are concerned, I think that might be a feature rather than a bug.
        For what it’s worth, risking the inevitable snarky reply, what you do here is well worth the effort to read and to try to think about (and you have a link to Charon QC and he knows Nick, who lent me his Bentley when I got married for the first time).

          1. Grum

            Too many dead bodies and beatings over the years to not think it a feature. Pity that. We could do so much better if we weren’t collectively such idiots.
            I think we might be slowly getting better but it seems an uphill struggle a lot of the time. The prize is there people. Stop taking your eyes off it, because feelz (and the hard to avoid desire for the adulation of the mob)…

  3. VD? Next...

    Oh, a nooner is even more special.

    You got this all figured out? Put some paragraphs down.

    It isn’t odd that you and I get the work done.

    You and I are odd though.

    Could be our “church” thing…is what it isn’t-s is.

    Can you just imagine if the Jews and Lutherans got together and put their feet down?

    More please. That’s your hang up.

    P.S. fuck you. Paragraphs! Cogent, caves are full of “consise” these days.

    O. O, think I know… cheers don’t be you.

    It’s hard.

    Pots and pans. It’s just a kitchen?

    Toddlers. Temperament. Just because isn’t you.

    Trick out a trike. Just for the show.

    It might matter…

  4. Tice with a J

    It’s like these people heard that Frederick Douglass saying (“Power concedes nothing without a demand”) and concluded that the solution to getting power to do what you want was to demand it as loudly and as long as possible. If this is your plan of attack, then compromise of any sort is a terrible idea because it means you have to stop demanding for a moment.

    Remember “The Demands” from college students? They seem to take the same approach. I wonder how that’s working out for them.

    1. SHG Post author

      The demands are untenable, as should be apparent to anyone who thinks instead of feelz, but putting aside the authoritarian aspect, they’ve made it impossible to achieve serious change. Each time a black guy gets killed by a cop, I wonder whether they realize their screaming over bad words prevented the creation of a consensus that could have saved a life.

      The demands seem to work somewhat on campus. In the real world, meet President Trump.

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