Political Correctness and the Enlightened Ones

By | 2018-10-22T20:02:43+00:00 October 23rd, 2018|
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A story in the Atlantic recently bore the title “Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture.” A summary of the same subject in Reason magazine announced, “Study: 80% of Americans Believe Political Correctness Is a Problem.” Then Business Insider reported, “Political Correctness is widely unpopular with Americans of all ages and races, a study finds,” while the frankly-PC Vox stated, “People don’t like ‘PC culture.'”

But the population survey evoking such headlines isn’t as decisive as you might think.

It doesn’t matter that most people feel burdened and confined by politically correct norms of speech and thought because there is one demographic group that does favor political correctness, and they don’t care that they are far outnumbered.

The authors of the “Hidden Tribes” survey call them “Progressive activists.” While 97 percent of “devoted conservatives” regard political correctness as a problem, and 61 percent of “traditional liberals” do, too, only 30 percent of progressive activists worry about it. PC is their philosophy. The monitoring of words and opinions, particularly on issues of race, sexuality, and nation, is essential to progressive reform and policymaking.

For them to feel discomfort over insensitive pronoun usage and scientific findings that suggest natural—not socially constructed—differences between the sexes accounts for some disparate outcomes is precisely to be progressive. A traditional liberal would argue with a conservative over such things. A progressive doesn’t argue with conservatives. He simply stamps out all dissenters. He believes in his moral authority all the way. After all, no decent human being could possibly object to the progressive vision of a world without discrimination and exploitation. Why tolerate an opinion or an individual you know to be abominable?

And there is another reason why the PC-wielding progressive doesn’t give a hoot about the majority that has lined up against him. He is smarter and wiser than they are.

The survey found that people with a postgraduate degree were much less likely to disapprove of political correctness than were people with less education. While 87 percent of people who didn’t attend college think PC is a problem, 66 percent of those with a postgraduate degree agree with them. The progressive activists are three times more likely to have a postgraduate degree than the rest of the population.

It should be no surprise that more education tallies with more political correctness. People who’ve gone to graduate school did well in college, and that means they more or less accommodated themselves to the etiquette of political correctness whether or not, deep down, they fretted over it.

The college campus is a PC habitat, but it didn’t harm them as they made their way toward post-baccalaureate study, so they have no cause to renounce it in the broader society. They may not like the more savage expressions of political correctness, such as the treatment of Charles Murray at Middlebury, but they smoothly cast them as aberrations, moments in which political correctness crossed the line. They don’t believe that extreme occasions disqualify PC’s better purposes.

It’s a potent combination, moral fervor plus advanced schooling. People who have excelled in the classroom come to believe in their moral and political superiority as well. The world has rewarded them for their smarts, and so they naturally throw the virtue of correctness over their beliefs. They have acquired the discretion that keeps them out of trouble with the language-and-thought police, and they disdain individuals who haven’t.

Don’t waste your time debating them. Political correctness draws a line between the enlightened and the unenlightened, the humane and the inhumane. Either cross over to their side—or go away and die. You will never convince them they are wrong. Instead, tell a joke, make a meme, and vote against their representatives. Donald Trump put it best: “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap!”

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About the Author:

Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein is a senior editor at First Things and professor of English at Emory University, where he has taught since earning his Ph.D. in English at UCLA in 1989. For two years (2003-2005) he served as director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy, The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief, and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. His essays have appeared in PMLA, Partisan Review, Wilson Quarterly, Commentary, and New Criterion, and his commentaries and reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national periodicals.