I watched with anticipation the Munk debate a day or two ago on political correctness: “Be it resolved: what you call political correctness, I call progress.” The con side was represented by two major stars, Jordan Peterson and Stephen Fry. The pro side was represented by two relative unknowns—literally unknown to me: Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg.
The fact that the con side had two big names, and the pro side two unknowns, is telling. This suggests they could find no big names who were prepared to defend political correctness. As it was, at different times during the debate, both Dyson and Goldberg themselves more or less declared against political correctness. This made it a rather odd debate.
And the audience—in Toronto, generally one of the world’s bastions of political correctness—was also surprisingly strongly against the proposition. They do a poll of the audience on the question before the debate begins. The numbers were 36% for the proposition, 64% against.
Then, in the actual debate, as Stephen Fry kept pointing out, nobody except he ever actually addressed political correctness. It was all instead about race, "gender," and who was or was not privileged.
This is all tremendously telling; and what it tells us is that everyone is fed up with political correctness. It has very little constituency, and no good rational defense.
It ought to disappear tomorrow. Why is it still with us, and so powerful? Indeed, still seeming to grow more powerful and more demanding by the month?
It dominates and tyrannizes, because by the nature of the beast everyone is kept terrified of being the next one lynched. This is an important reason why such political correctness or censorship is so harmful. If anyone stands up to it, they become the next target. And everyone else joins with simulated eagerness in the mob when it forms, simply to avoid being singled out as the next target. It is always safest to go along and help with the lynching. This is how mob rule works and witch hunts work. With them, a small group can hijack a democracy.
Of the speakers, Fry came out best: for one thing, he was the only one to address the proposition.
Peterson was ineffective, because he foolishly ran after every red herring tossed out by the other side. It must have been tough for him, because some were at the level of personal insults and taunts. What I wished he or someone would do was clearly define what he meant by political correctness to start with, and then explain why it was wrong (or right). I was especially disappointed because he did just this, briefly, in the famous Channel 4 Cathy Newman interview in England. Here he left the essential point unstated: political correctness makes it impossible to honestly and openly debate an issue. You cannot make an important point without offending someone.
Instead, Peterson gave vent to his general hostility towards the ideology of the left. Unfortunately, Peterson is not a clear or systematic thinker. He is always all over the place. He is always going with the moment, and his current impulse.
Fry, of course, also might have brought this up. He did, at least, mention 1984 and Newspeak. But mostly he made a different point: that political correctness does not work as intended. A valid point too, but much less important.
On the other side, Dyson was appalling and offensive. He was a textbook racist, of an extreme sort. His argument was, in essence: “I’m black. I’m black. I’m black. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. Never forget this. Black is good. White is bad.”
Not quite to the point; and pretty morally depraved. It was all racist insult, ad hominem, and no argument. And it was hard to listen to him insisting that “black” and “white” group identities were things foisted unwillingly on him as a black, for which he bore no responsibility, at the same time that he was insisting on his blackness and Peterson’s whiteness, and that nobody had a right to deny they were white, or to deny that race was important. He was demanding to have it both ways.
It was more ironic when you looked at him. By his appearance, I could not have identified him as “black.” He was obviously of very mixed race. This was an identity he was insisting on for himself, no one else. And insisting on because it gave him special privileges.
For example, both he and Goldberg were able to blithely and repeatedly assert that they knew what Peterson or Fry were thinking or feeling as white males, better than they knew themselves. But, at the same time, as white males, Fry and Peterson could not possibly understand what it was like to be either black or female. It was insulting for white people even to speculate.
I wish Peterson had called either of them on it. He never did. Fry was not going to, because he was of the left too, and often played the identity politics game personally, as a gay. Instead, Peterson made the fair and interesting point that you cannot speak of group rights without also assuming group responsibility, and this demonstrably goes bad places. True, but a bit too abstract to make much impact. Goldberg was able to simply respond “I don’t see the connection.” It would have helped had Peterson given an example or two: Jewish blood guilt, or saying all gypsies are thieves, all Muslims are terrorists, or racial profiling. Again, can’t have it both ways here.
Peterson objected sharply to Dyson dismissing him as a “mad mean white man,” and “bringing race into it.” I would have felt better had I heard the correct term, “racist,” or “bigot,” here.
At one or two points, Dyson went on about how equality was not possible when “we have been oppressed for three hundred years.” Note the automatic assumption of group identity. Peterson responded “Who is ‘we’ here?” I wish he had responded, “My God, three hundred years. You must be older than I am!”
In the real world, slavery in America, affecting blacks, ended in 1865, 153 years ago. “Jim Crow” laws ended in the 1960s, 53 years ago.
So how much oppression has Dyson actually experienced? Is he really 300 years old?
No doubt Dyson would respond that the effects live on, from generation to generation, so that he is still a victim.
Okay, if so, how about all those immigrants who have arrived in America since 1865 almost literally penniless? They too started from base zero, often well after local blacks had had a few generations to build. Why are their descendants not considered similarly handicapped? What about the Jewish refugees who arrived since the Second World War, having just suffered a far worse discrimination than the blacks had known even in distant slave days? Or the Armenians? Or the Ukrainians? What about the Irish? The last penal laws against them in the UK were rescinded only in the 1920s. Yet all these groups are “whites,” presumably with “white privilege.” Is there really something unique about the black experience here?
Other than black privilege?
Goldberg, by comparison to Dyson, only sounded confused. She kept saying the opposite of the obvious truth. She asserted right out of the gate, and then repeatedly, that political correctness was a matter of letting more voices be heard. It is the exact opposite of that: it tries to silence points of view. But nobody called her on it. She claimed that nobody actually lost their jobs due to the “me too” accusations. Any one of us could name several very famous men who did. She ended by asserting that we only get upset with political correctness because white feelings are hurt. We should not care only about the feelings of white people. Yet “not hurting someone’s feelings” is actually the standard justification for political correctness.
This is what you usually hear when someone knows they are morally in the wrong: instead of just telling a random lie, they will consistently assert the exact opposite of the truth. It is a kind of backhanded confession that the opposition’s arguments are compelling.
We are left to speculate on why Goldberg wanted to publicly defend a position she apparently knows is morally and logically indefensible. Perhaps the professional exposure is sufficient explanation.