“I’m not politically correct,” says the person who is racially, sexually and anatomically correct. The 1990s’ favorite straw man is back, possibly for real but definitely as something to fret about. For the last several days, Yale has been embroiled in debate over an email professor Erika Christakis wrote suggesting campus administrators not supervise students’ Halloween costumes. Students were outraged, calling for Christakis’s resignation and demanding that Nicholas Christakis, her husband, apologize. “You should not sleep at night,” one student shouted at him. “You’re disgusting.” It is pretty disgusting when a man refuses to apologize for his wife saying kids should get to wear what they want. This seems like another troubling indicator that today’s college students are less interested in free speech and more interested in enforcing a simplistic ethos of identity. But what if they’re not?
One of the signal pleasures of reading Jonathan Chait’s essay on political correctness in New York Magazine is being glad you didn’t write it. Chait makes some good points, one of which is that social media will probably excoriate him. He’s right. My personal favorite is the tweet that accuses him of mansplaining the term mansplaining, which includes a shrugging emoticon but does not say how his explanation is wrong. Perhaps the implication is that anyone but a white man should explain what that term means, which seems right. It is certainly a bitter irony that a man should establish the definition of pedantic man-talk. Something about that sentiment seems illiberal, though. Must Chait be wrong in defining mainsplaining even if his definition is correct? Here we encounter the crux of his argument, and the complicating realization that he is the wrong person to make it.
In all the rush of moving, celebrating our nation’s independence from Britain, and getting on a plane at six in the morning to go to Iowa—plus keeping up with our drinking—Combat! blog missed this gem about the New York Times and the word “torture” in Salon. Overdue props to Pete Jones for the link. The Times, like most newspapers, had used “torture” to refer to waterboarding until shortly after the September 11th attacks, when the Bush administration quietly explained to editors that A) it was waterboarding the shit out of everybody and therefore B) waterboarding was obviously not torture. After that, the Times started referring to waterboarding as “intense interrogation techniques” or “the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks.”
Remember when racists had to resort to totalizing theories about hygiene and dietary habits that could be easily debunked? “Barack Obama only wants to be President so he can increase his access to grape soda,” your grandpa would say from the couch, and everyone would leap to correct him while your mother burst into tears in the kitchen. Those were the salad days, before A) Xanax and B) political correctness, the phenomenon so vague that it explains any minority’s success better than an extra calf muscle ever could. Consider the case of recently-crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih. To the casual observer, she’s just an insanely hot chick—albeit one with six to ten male relatives who, when they see you talking to her on the train, will insist with terrifying intensity that you come to their barbecue. She’s also a Muslim. To a trained eye like Daniel Pipes, that makes her the latest example of political correctness run amok. And thus do we return to the best theory that ever happened to contemporary racism.