Over the past 10 years, the culture has shifted dramatically. What jokes you can make, what words are appropriate, what movies we’re allowed to hold in high regard, and what is demanded of each of us as individuals to avoid hurting others’ feelings has changed.
There’s no question about the validity of this shift – if you disagree, I’m begging you to crawl out of your humble little abode of a rock that you’ve been slumbering under and turn on a 10-year-old comedy special and observe for yourself. It truly was a different time. It’s not uncommon to see comedians, actors, directors coming out of the woodwork to apologize for past actions, particularly things they’ve said which are now deemed inappropriate.
Think the Way We Want You To Think
If you have the misfortune to be attending college right now, then you’ve probably experienced many instances of political correctness culture that are reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials. That might seem like hyperbole to claim PC culture is that extreme, but take into account the Charlie Hebdo murders. In 2015, political cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were shot and killed for publishing offensive depictions of Muslims. Keep in mind, they didn’t single out Muslims – the publication was consistent in mocking various religions.
While this shooting was a terrorist attack committed by Islamists, it’s fitting in demonstrating how social justice warrior culture is a fundamentalist religion. As Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at New York University, has put it, social justice has become a religion, and “the victim” is the most sacred thing in the world. Haidt describes this phenomenon further, "There is no nuance, you cannot trade off any other goods with it. So if you organize around fighting racism, fighting homophobia, fighting sexism, again all good things, but when they become sacred, when they become essentially objects of worship, fundamentalist religion, then when someone comes to class, someone comes to your campus, and they say the rape culture is exaggerated, they have committed blasphemy."
Anyone who’s attended university in the past nine years can attest to this, as there was a significant cultural shift around 2013. This is when we saw the rise of a more culturally sensitive college environment. What started as a desire to protect the most vulnerable groups in society turned into bullying tactics and ultimately, a game. Let’s explore what exactly that game is.
Social justice has become a religion, and “the victim” is the most sacred thing in the world.
What used to be “don’t be a jerk” turned into “don’t disagree with me or you’re committing aggression against me.” What began as “we shouldn’t be reading slurs in books” turned into “anything that could be interpreted as offensive should be preemptively banned, including harmless Halloween costumes.” For older Millennials reading this, I have to wonder if they truly know how bad it is. We sit in classrooms taught by extremely biased professors who have no qualms about pushing their own values on students or professing their hatred for opposing values.
You’re given assignments that essentially mandate what is acceptable thought. For example, instead of asking a student “Do you think the police are racist?”, the assignment will be more like “Demonstrate why racist institutions such as the police uphold white supremacy in the United States.” Then, you turn in an essay on why the Dirty Harry movies are problematic – yes, that happened in my last semester of college. Even if it’s true, why have professors, students, and educational bodies altogether abandoned the quest to nurture a young, impressionable mind’s ability to critically think for itself? Isn’t this the ultimate pursuit of higher education?
Something happened in the past 10 years that poisoned the well, and I’m not sure exactly where it began. What I do know is that we’re now far, far away from the original good intentions of the social justice movement.
College Students Can’t Take a Little Free Speech Anymore
It’s common to see petitions going around calling for certain speakers, political figures, or comedians to be banned from speaking at a certain university. These petitions, surprisingly enough, garner wide public support which then leads to the speaker being disinvited or having to communicate over a shouting crowd that attempts to disrupt the event.
Circa 2016, comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, John Cleese, and Joe Rogan swore off performing at college campuses because the audiences were so insufferable they couldn’t tolerate even benign jokes. People like Dave Chappelle and other celebrities were deemed canceled for offensive material.
When provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos held a speaking event at UC Berkeley during Free Speech Week in 2017, the campus erupted into violent protests, with students setting things on fire and pepper-spraying people who merely showed up for the event. In the ‘60s, UC Berkeley erupted into protests against the Vietnam War despite police crackdowns. The very same college that fought against conformity and stood up for freedom of speech then, forming what’s known as the free speech movement, was shutting it down now. This phenomenon is bipartisan. Where it was the Left being shut down in the ‘60s, it’s mostly conservative figures being shut down on campuses now. We must uphold freedom of speech as a virtue for all people, regardless of politics.
“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” - George R. R. Martin
According to the Wall Street Journal, from the beginning of the presidential campaign in 2016 to 2018, there were 25 incidents of speakers being blocked on U.S. campuses. A common justification provided for the disruption or the attempt to censor is that the speaker has made some offensive comment that could cause harm to others. This, of course, implies that you have the right to insulate yourself from the world so you never have to come into contact with opinions that don’t affirm your worldview. Tragically, this belief has become so mainstream and socially acceptable that it’s now used as a tactic to silence ideological opposition.
It’s not only those who are being silenced who are being punished. So many young people are being brainwashed into going along with these ideological beliefs so early in life. They often don’t realize they’ve never had the chance to genuinely contemplate if it’s something they believe in or something they were pressured to parrot.
The truth is you don’t have a right to avoid offense. We’re not going to remove offensive words from books, eliminate impactful films from our cultural memory, or assign guilt by association to people who have friends with less popular views. At least, I wish we wouldn’t, but they seem to be proving me wrong.
The Consequences of Suppressing Free Speech
It may seem like a good idea to insulate people from potentially harmful speech, but nothing good comes from coddling full-grown adults from the reality of the world that they now have to face. Much like participation trophies fail everyone (by lessening the reward of the winner and rewarding those who know they don’t deserve it), neither do safe spaces or trigger warnings. While it’s understandable to try to accommodate people who have trauma, the world outside of the walls of university aren’t going to accommodate you. When you walk into a cinema, read through a book at a public library, or turn on the TV, these ideas are still out there. The only problem is, you’re drastically unprepared to deal with them in an emotionally mature way.
Nothing good comes from coddling full-grown adults from the reality of the world.
We’re now raising an entire generation of people who are mentally and emotionally stunted. They can’t engage in a debate in a rational and respectful manner because the mere disagreement on a topic where passions are high is now akin to invalidating someone’s existence. Suggesting that it may be inappropriate to place children on puberty blockers that can leave them permanently sterile isn’t merely an argument anymore – it’s calling for violence against trans people. This is the thought police that George Orwell warned us about in his dystopian novel 1984.
The doublethink mentioned in 1984, where you profess one thing aloud yet think another internally, is far too familiar for many of us attending school in the current age. I’ve had so many conversations with people who say behind closed doors that the things accepted as fact in class strike them as cooky and ridiculous, but they wouldn’t dare challenge their professor or their classmates, for fear of being slandered as a bigot.
When we mandate impressionable young adults to think a certain way, that’s when dissent becomes all but outlawed and anything that challenges the status quo is viewed as the enemy.
When freedom of speech and thought is being impeded, your first response should not be, “Well, what were they saying?” People who concern themselves with others’ Halloween costumes or jokes they made on Twitter 10 years ago are simply unprepared to deal with real problems that require any sort of intellectual rigor. This is not the sort of discourse that is worthy of our attention. It’s worthy of our ridicule – even if they try to silence us on social media, penalize us in university, or ban us from speaking. We must continue to fight for open debate, offensive jokes, and independent thought, for the sake of those who offend and those who are offended.
I want to make it clear that not everyone who promotes political correctness is stupid, thoughtless, or evil. It’s because they’re not these things that they believe it’s a good idea to avoid hurting others’ feelings, but this robs them of the opportunity to be pressed on why they believe what they do and reassess these beliefs. College is supposed to be a monumental period of growth in which your beliefs are challenged and examined, not just reaffirmed.
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