Chait Responds

Michael Drew

Michael Drew is a Wisconsinite currently residing in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He enjoys thinking and writing about politics, history, and philosophy, listening to music and podcasts of all kinds, watching and occasionally playing sports, and playing the cello.

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136 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Chait doesn’t mind the tools of PC at all. He minds when they’re used against him.


    • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      Perhaps. He certainly doesn’t claim in general to care what happens to the Right. OTOH, the worst example of PC immoderation he provides concerns a conservative whose apartment is vandalized by the scandalized left.

      I wonder exactly what your basis is for saying this.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Because his inspiration to write what he did was not the principles of what he was writing about but the principals involved in inspiring him to write.

        It’s difficult to not see him calling out “brothers! We shouldn’t use these weapons!” only because they’re being used against him when they are weapons that he has used himself in the past.

        When someone is making an argument not because he believes it but because he suspects you’ll believe it, it’s difficult to not have hard feelings about that.Report

      • What weapons is he saying should not be used that he has used?

        What are the weapons you are saying have been used against him?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        The thing where, when someone is worth your time, you focus on what they said, define terms, discuss premises, see where the argument breaks down (and if they made an unfortunate word choice, you point out “Dude, we don’t say X anymore. The preferred nomenclature is Y because it can be hurtful to Z’s to hear that outdated (and now ugly) term”). Where someone is not worth your time, you engage in mockery, impugn motives, and pretty much ignore the argument that they may be making (and God help them if they made an unfortunate word choice).

        But, to answer your questions, the weapon he’s decrying is the taking the argument to him, himself, rather than to the points made… despite the fact that he, himself, has done a great deal of the taking the argument to others, themselves, rather than to the points made. (He mentions Joe Lieberman as an example of him, himself, doing such a thing.)

        (And, for the record, he’s absolutely right. In any given argument, you *SHOULD* be discussing the principles rather than the principals.)

        As for the weapons being used against him? They are as above. Taking the argument to him, himself, rather than to the points being made.

        Which would all be well and good if the only example of him doing such was the one example of Joe Lieberman. Do you need me to find examples of his sneering taking arguments to principals now? How many will you need? I don’t want to play the “okay, you’ve found three. That still doesn’t make a trend” game.Report

      • I don’t think his argument is that any ad hominem is out-of-bounds PC. OTOH, as he makes clear, whatever it is exactly he’s talking about is not something he claims to be entirely innocent of, either. I wouldn’t think we would hold someone to that standard in order not to be completely unwilling to hear his thoughts about something he finds troublesome.

        So, I guess the answer is, you can feel free to do whatever amount of documentation of his history of doing whatever the thing is you think he is saying is wrong to do, that you want.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Oh, I’m more than happy enough to hear his thoughts. Heaven forbid that he be silenced!

        I just disagree with the implied assertion that I’m not allowed to say “what a self-serving dude” after hearing his thoughts. (See what I did there?)Report

      • Not really.

        You’re the one who said “Because he’s done X, therefore I think Y.”

        I don’t really care what Y is. I’m interested in examples of X if you want to share some, but like I say, however many you want including zero beyond the one he admits to.

        If there was some behavior that everyone was pretty guilty of, would it really matter that it would be self-serving for someone who was guilty of it one time to say, “You know what, this has gotten out of hand”? Would everyone be especially justified in writing that off because he’d done it once? They’d be more justified if he had done it a lot more (though really, if he had a point, not so much). So I would think it would kind of matter to you, but it’s up to you.

        I also wonder about the genesis of your belief that this is about the tools of PC having been used against him. That’s what everyone is saying – that it’s about his beef with TNC and the fight over TNR’s legacy. He denies that explicitly; presumably that’s just not good enough for you. With his critics on the left, that’s an important point, because it would mean a lot to them if it was really about that and not about concern on his part for Michelle Goldberg or Hanna Rosin. I’m just wondering, when you say “used against him,” are you referring specifically to arguments where he was personally accused of racism – that that is uniquely the reason he wrote this, and if not for that, no piece, or by him do you mean “people more or less within his political faction”?Report

      • …Btw, I’m not challenging that these instances exist. I’m just interested in getting a sense of what you view them to be, to get a sense of how you are understanding his critique, how you view the way he operates rhetorically, etc. I broadly agree that he is frequently unfair to some on the right in ways that might harm debate. I definitely think there is a good case to be made that he fairly explicitly only thinks the left shouldn’t do this to liberals, while it’s fine to do it to the right. (I also think he would put up a spirited defense to that claim, trying to narrowly define what his critique is, which is why I’m so troubled by the fact that his critique is so poorly defined.)

        I’m just trying to get a sense of what you think would be good examples to establish this.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Well, how’s this? We’ve played the prisoner’s dilemma before with Chait and he’s defected a handful of times. Now he’s complaining about defectors and his example he gave about, yeah, he may have defected once way back when does not communicate that he sees a problem with defection but with people defecting against *HIM*.

        It’s one thing to say “look, if we’re going to be playing this game for a long, long time, we need to do a better job of co-operating” when you’ve done a decent job of co-operating. It’s quite another to say that when you haven’t done a decent job of it and, only recently, has it come back to bite you in the behind.

        In the latter case, one needs to follow some of the 12 Steps and pay close attention to 4,5, and 8.

        If that doesn’t happen, one should not be surprised as if one’s argument is interpreted as “it’s like you people can’t appreciate that I’m not the enemy here!”

        Now, it seems to me that you’re saying that he’s done a good job of 4, 5, and 8. Fair enough. I hope that you can consider whether there are others out there who might have justification to suspect that, instead, he’s hoping for cheap grace.Report

      • I’ve gotten your point the whole time. I’m interested in specifically cited examples of what it is you’ve seen him do that constitute not cooperating in this way, so that I can get a sense of what you have in mind as being the kind of cooperation he is now asking for. Again, however, you don’t have to provide them.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Um, how’s about his fight with Ta-Nehisi? His fight with Naomi Klein? (Let alone his responses on the whole Israel debate thing.)

        I’ll link you to some of those responses, if you’d like. Here’s Ta-Nehesi:

        Here’s Naomi:'shock_doctrine'_book

        Now, keep in mind, that I am very much to the right of everybody involved in these squabbles (indeed, I’m a bigger fan of Chile than of Cuba… mostly because Chile overthrew its dictator but nevertheless). I’m not here saying “Klein was right and Chait was wrong! Same for Ta-Nehesi!”

        I’m here saying that his response to their arguments didn’t have kernels of stuff that I really agreed with. Hell, his PC argument has a kernel that I really agree with!

        It’s the whole jerky thing that he’s got going on when he’s not calling for civility that I find less than persuasive.

        But, you know what? I’m willing to take him at his word and say that, sure. Let’s co-operate.

        How long before he re-adopts the same tone and tricks that these folks were complaining about?Report

      • @jaybird

        I don’t see how Chait’s arguments with TNC support the argument you’re making. Throughout that debate, Chait’s underlying argument was quite similar to the one being made here – the jumping off point being whether, in short, and as a general matter, Republican conservatives needed to be treated as though arguing in good faith even when the Left believes that they are concealing malign or “objectively white supremacist” positions. The “culture of poverty” question was a side note. Chait insists here that even TNC acknowledged at one point being under the spell of such a culture or what people who use the term intend to indicate by it. Chait did so in order to reply to a claim that the position, since it was completely untenable, could be treated as disqualifying for anyone proposing it.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        And how did Ta-Nehesi feel Chait treated his argument?

        I appreciate that we’re down the rabbit hole when we’re not arguing about the arguments being made but the emotional responses engendered when those arguments are made but that’s what this argument is, I thought, about. It’s not whether Chait has a good point.

        Again: I think he does. It’s just that, a month or so will pass, and he’ll be doing his thing again with a particular subset of the folks he’s arguing against and they’ll, once again, feel like Chait’s doing it again, and they’ll blow up again, and they’ll attack Chait again, and he’ll bemoan the lack of civility again.

        To use Ta-Nehesi’s anecdote, he does a good job of making his lessers want to punch him in the nose. When they do, he gets to crow about how they’re so uncouth. Except we’re not talking about punches in the nose, but internet speech.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


        Thanks. This gives me a better idea of your thinking here.Report

      • Unfortunately, the evidence – for instance in his discussion of the Torture Report and the CIA’s defenders – suggests that he will, as he has in the past, “adopt the same tone and tricks” when he returns to adversaries on the right, and he will then be cheered on by many of the same people he is criticizing now, though perhaps more hesitantly.

        But I still don’t understand why you think the argument reduces to “emotional responses.” I never took that to be Chait’s point at all, and he has denied all along that he was complaining on his own behalf. I don’t consider that position completely credible, but his argument is that his or, ideally, anyone’s underlying or objective motivations for making an argument should be treated as irrelevant to assessing it. That’s the point of the rejection of “ad hominem,” not hurt feelings.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        “Seriously! I’m not arguing on my own behalf! It’s the principle of the thing!”

        I appreciate that there are circumstances under which this argument should not be seen as immediately suspect.Report

      • @jaybird

        How long before he re-adopts the same tone and tricks that these folks were complaining about?

        I was going to say “How about you let me know when it happens?”

        But then I realized that it said “these folks,” not “Chait.” So we’re suggesting that what they were complaining about is what Chait is complaining about. And I don’t see that. Just because some people had a problem with the way Chait has argued, (and for that matter, I don’t see where TNC has a problem with tone or tricks in that piece; it looks like straight-up respectful substantive rebuttal to me, not complaints about Chait’s argumentative ways) doesn’t mean they have a problem with the same things Chait is complaining about now.

        So how about this. How about you let me know when you believe Chait (re-?)adopts the same tone and tricks that these folks were he complains about in the piece we’re critiquing here? Then we can examine your assessment of the ‘sameness’ in question, which, if you do it correctly, will (would) be the relevant sameness that we should be interested in.Report

      • @michael-drew

        As I noted above, Chait has adopted a version of political correctness quite recently in relation to the Torture Report, where he wrote two pieces – applauded by many of his current adversaries, consistent with their illiberal attitude toward political discussion – attacking Republicans in particular and CIA defenders more generally even for offering a defense. It is PC to accuse the CIA of torture. It is incorrect to treat the Yoo-Bybee defense as even conceivably tenable, or to consider other questions concerning the character of specific accusations. It is especially un-PC to use the term “Enhanced Interrogations,” when all right-thinking people use the word “torture.” So, we have many well-meaning right-thinking people attacking media outlets who refuse to use the correct expression, and well-meaning right-thinking people to denying a defense to the accused or insisting that discussion itself is intolerable – and Chait among them.Report

      • It’s my contention that Chait is not complaining about any and every argument about language use that could fall under the heading of PC. My sense is that his complaint is about examples of that that effectively shut down debate. Refusing to conduct debate on the terms that an interlocutor would prefer to conduct them on is not the same as trying to completely discredit them as interlocutors for their misuse of language.

        I haven’t read the Chait pieces on torture you mention. But just because Chait insists that any defenses they offer be understood in terms that label what he views to be torture as torture does not mean that he means to discredit any attempt to justify the actions by means of discrediting the interlocutor. It just means that he is trying to require that what he view as torture be justified per se, not by another name.

        Now, maybe he does work to discredit the interlocutor that way, but that’s a distinction from the way of arguing above that would have to be demonstrated.Report

      • Wrote a long piece on the Torture debate with Chait’s contribution as exhibit A. For various reasons, I have not published the piece, but am tempted to publish it, warts and all, just for you. In the meantime, I’ll give you the links to the Chait articles – I’ll see if I can get away with two and not trip the spam filter.

        The second one is especially notable for its convoluted defense of a policy of denial of defense to the accused.

      • As I feared it might, putting two links in a comment tripped the spam filter – comment stuck in moderation.Report

      • I would say publish it. But keep in mind: the key to persuasion here will not lie in a primary focus on what he’s done in the past. It willl ie in determining exactly what it is he is complaining about now – and only then trying to establish that he has regularly employed those very tones and tricks in the past.

        And, returning to my main objection to Chait’s article: the former will be a difficult task. Because it’s not really clear what it is he’s complaining about, whether we call it PC or don’t try to place a category-name-fence around whatever behavior he thinks is objectionable. It’s not even clear if he thinks that PC is per se objectionable, or if PC is only objectionable when it does _________. And his Redskins example in his follow-up, where he endorses the campaign to force the name-change (which to me is an example of PC if anything ever was PC ever) in an attempt to clarify what the object of his critique is (and isn’t), suggests it is the latter.

        But I want to get the best case for why your example lines up precisely to what it is he now decries that you can give. I consider myself fully willing to be persuaded, and don’t feel like I have a baseline resistance to concluding you are right. OTOH, we are basically accusing the man of gross hypocrisy here, so there should be some burden of proof. As you’re saying to Jaybird, it can’t just be that someone once had an emotional response of unhappiness to the way he argued on a topic – that they just felt he was being a jerkface. There has to be some specificity to the establishment of basic likeness between what he’s done in the past and what he’s talking about now.

        So please publish your piece when you feel it might approximate that best case.Report

      • Objective of the piece is not to indict Chait. I don’t care about Chait – much. I enjoy much of his work and was grateful that he linked my defense of his position in relation to the race (non-)discussion. I think his problem is that he is an opinion journalist with a left-liberal bent running against political-philosophical as well as real-political contradictions that beset the left-liberal coalition, going back probably to WWII and the origins of the Cold War – in other words, the same moment that “liberalism” took on the familiar American hybrid character, or became “social liberalism,” a process even longer in development whose main challenges were already visible at the inception of the modern liberal idea. It’s hard enough to sort these matters out for an audience prepared to be generous with their attention spans, much less for a disposable political-cultural journal like New York magazine – so, I don’t blame Chait for encountering difficulties, and I don’t consider “hypocrisy” a terribly useful criticism in this context, since it simply replicates the same paradigm of judging an argument according to the arguer rather than according to its intrinsic validity. I don’t care if Chait’s a hypocrite. It is said that there has been only ever one true non-hypocrite, and he was crucified, and even he, or He, was known to adapt his commentaries for the needs and abilities of real people involved in real struggles, not according to the strictest standards of philosophical consistency.Report

      • IOW – Chait is located or locates himself straddling the crack in the left-liberal facade, with different observers or different issues putting him on one side or the other, while more significant questions as to the fate of a movement with a cracked facade and questions over how deep the rupture goes remain harder to address. TNC, Belle Waring, and Chait’s leftier critics on this or other issues can, of course, be found one to several steps over, some of them doing their best, consciously or not, to break the thing apart, others trying to cover it over or add another layer of political duct tape.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      This version’s about 20 years old now, but most of the jokes still work:

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:


        Ah that damn stupid radical song which is probably most often played by upper-class radicals who think they are being oh so chic.

        The reason why it is galling for someone like Ronan Farrow to defend rioting by tweeting that “a riot is the language of the unheard” is that Ronan Farrow lives far above the fray and doesn’t have to clean up the mess. He also seems to be vastly igoring the large amount of times when authorities incited riots to deflect blame from them unto minorities in their own communities. Riots against Jews in Czarist Russia fits the bill here.

        But it is totes cool to be a radical from 25 stories up at Central Park West in a doorman building, no irony with this, folks!Report

      • Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

        You know who said that a riot is the language of the unheard, right?Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Rufus F. says:


        Yes I know who said it originally. Martin Luther King Jr.

        That doesn’t change the fact that there is something damn annoying and damned not-thinking about someone like Ronan Farrow tweeting it without realizing that he is not a first generation American or immigrant business owners who will need to pay a lot of money to deal with property damage to their business or home. It isn’t just Starbucks that gets damaged but dry cleaning businesses and small groceries/food stores.

        Don’t you see anything problematic with someone tweeting that while residing in a doorman tower on Central Park West or otherwise literally being above the fray and far away? What is it about so many really rich (not merely middle class or upper-middle class people) talking about revolution while not actually giving up any of their wealth or privileges? Isn’t there something ironic about potentially being a corporate lawyer or Wall Street guy by day and being a social revolutionary on-line?

        I’m a plaintiffs lawyer and I know that I get sneers for merely being liberal but at least I am not out there working in corporate defense or mergers and acquisitions while being a chic radical. I’m actually trying to get something for people who were injured by products. I’ve actually worked on wage and hour cases for people who were not paid properly and I’ve worked on pregnancy and other employment discrimination cases.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F. says:

        You know who said that a riot is the language of the unheard, right?

        Karl Rove.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Yes, it’s certainly a bad thing when rich people get invested in liberal causes. I mean, imagine if a member of one of the most powerful families in America became President right after an economic collapse, and won 4 elections while governing somewhat radically?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:


        There is a difference between a liberal cause and a radical cause. A big fucking difference. To be liberal is to realize the horribleness of the Ferguson and Garner grand jury decisions but also to realize that it is counterproductive to riot 3000 miles away (not I said riot, not protest or demonstrate) because violent rioting is counterproductive. How does it increase social justice to smash the shop windows of hard-working immigrants or first generation Americans who own a little dry cleaning business? Why is this acceptable collateral damage? Do you have an answer or just unmitigated sarcasm and willful misreadings of what I wrote?

        The Jewish relation to riots is partially those of a language of the unheard but it was the unheard having their rage misdirected by the authorities to another disenfranchised group. That is basically what a progrom is, Eastern European peasants rioting against Jews because the Czarist authorities deflected attention somehow. Or does this fact need to be deflected for the greater cause?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Chait doesn’t mind the tools of PC at all. He minds when they’re used against him.”


      On the one hand, it’s lovely fun to see the chickens come home to roost.

      On the other hand I doubt that any of these people will learn a useful lesson. One could hope that they’d say “hey, maybe declaring people evil because they used certain words and attacking them for it was a bad thing to do, maybe we should have focused on attitudes and education more than action”. What they’ll probably say is “well there’s a lot of assholes out there, but good people like you and me certainly won’t act that way, all we have to do is be ever more ideologically pure to make sure the assholes stay away”.Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    I have to admit that this Internet debate is going on longer than I expected. I guess everyone is just resigned to the Koch Brothers spending nearly a billion dollars on elections throughout 2016. Maybe Lee is a bit right that the reason this is such a hot issue is that it is something the left can do something about without feeling completely powerless. I’ve seen other people mention the same thing.

    Can we do anything about climate change? No? Income and Wealth Inequality? I wouldn’t bet any money on it. Campaign Finance? Ha! In enact true gun control or universal healthcare? Is your name Pollyanna? Can we have huge twitter wars about people who don’t use the correct cultural signifiers? You betcha!

    Dana Stevens expressed the view on the Slate Culture Gabfest that the Left has a hard time finding agreed upon end goals. The right-wing probably does as well but you are more likely to notice this on your side.

    I think PN was largely right in Freddie on Chait writing:

    “But regardless of where students learn this language, it becomes a marker of cultural capital in liberal institutions. So I think it’s no surprise that this language is sometimes spoken most fluently and policed most fiercely by white, highly educated elites. We must be careful that we do not let the language of standing up to privilege become another language of privilege, another way to silence those without privilege.

    Believing that those who do not use this language perfectly are therefore necessarily horrible people is, in my opinion, about as ridiculous and offensive as believing that atheists simply cannot be moral. Yes, discourse should be critiqued. But to ruthlessly excoriate and silence people who are speaking without malice is to discount their humanity out of hand. Browbeating people like this doesn’t educate them — it alienates them. It often only accomplishes exactly what it purports to fight. And it makes liberal ideas into little more than dogma. Liberal ideas deserve better.”

    There is a big difference between saying people shouldn’t use vile and insulting terms that express rank bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, etc and demanding that everyone be perfectly informed about things like intersectionality (a term I’ve never used), be lockstep on what is and is not a microagression (or whether they exist), and have PhD levels of fluency in the minutae of genderquerness. This came up on the Sullivan thread about the difference between liberals and radicals. North and I agreed that the real sign of making it in a society is when it becomes perfectly acceptable for outfits like Tiffany’s and the Fort Lauderdale Tourist Board to pitch products at you (both have had noted for having ads with Same Sex Couples in the past few weeks). But if a person think that concepts like gender and sexuality/sexual preference are going to be completely tossed out the window along with capitalism, that person is probably mistaken. There are some people who do seem to think that “You can’t be X (insert whatever X is here) and want to be a bourgeois upper-middle class type” but I imagine lots of people would disagree with that statement.

    So I agree that Freddie picked better examples but I still think Chait is largely right and so is PN and if a ruthless policing of language and needing to know really specific academic terms is a sign of being on the Left, the Left is never going to win. Most people do not go to college and this is the kind of culture capital stuff that makes it easy for the Republicans to call liberals snobby.Report

    • So much politics happens on the internet and on campus these days that I think it’s no surprise Chait’s piece would be discussed a lot. We can critique that so much of politics happens in those venues, as some here have wrt to this issue, but since It does, I do think this debate has merit.

      What if it’s the case that, by and large, the kinds of ostracizing responses that happen on Twitter when someone steps out of line on an issue of insensitive language use, or attitudes are pretty much entirely appropriate? Or if it is completely failing to prioritize the right instances of mistreatment to credit complaints about them even when they are worthy of criticism? It seems worthwhile to take an internet-moment to think about that and try to figure that out.

      We’re still at less than a week’s worth of discussions on this, and I don’t think that’s surprisingly long nor too long for them to go on. I assumed we would discuss it quite a bit here, as it does I think fit into long-running discussions (less long running than they could have been…) about how ideological groups self-govern and avoid spinning off into insular communities of like-mindedness.

      I knew I would want to have my say on it, in any case. So here it is.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Another reason why this is a big deal, besides for the fact that this is something that the left can exert power on, is that the American political landscape forces the liberals and the radicals to work together in an often uneasy alliance. The same is true for the Right. The mid-20th century Republican party was probably a very awkward place for the same reason the early 21st century Democratic Party is. Having Rockefeller Republicans and Goldwater Republicans working together probably leads to a lot of tense moments. In multi-party countries, the liberals and radicals would be working through separate political parties and mainly associating with like-minded people rather than people who are similar yet very different at the same time.

      As to the progressives not agreeing about goals, the strength of the right is there ability to link the goals and priorities of their different factions into one narrative and work together. Leftist goals tend not to be linked together. You usually don’t see the priorities of the environmentalists connected to those of the LGBT activists in the way that social conservatism and law and order conservatism walk hand in hand together. A person can be both an environmentalist and and an LGBT activist but the ideas never mesh in an organic fashion. This leaves liberals with a bunch of political desires but each one is worked at separately rather than as a unit.Report

  3. Chris says:

    Well said. I keep going back to one of Chait’s most prominent examples, the Facebook group for women writers. In that example, a woman politely suggests that people be mindful of how people unlike themselves see their threads. That woman is not taken seriously, and told to take it private. Other women then get upset that she was not taken seriously. And this is the only part Chait finds problematic: the anger at jokes and shushing at a polite request.

    If that is PC as much as shouting someone down for using the word “disabled,” or tearing down flyers, then PC is a meaningless concept that should be tossed out. Chait makes it meaningless in that way. Better he try some listening now, instead of making it even more muddled.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

      Well, my view would be exactly that a line would need to be drawn somewhere in there. Maybe Chait should find fault with those who didn’t take the person seriously, or maybe the line was crossed only in the reaction to that. I think that’s a matter of personal judgement. I don’t think that PC should be tossed, however, because I would even define the initial, polite request as PC – just not a problematic instance of it. I think you mean it’s meaningless to the extent we are saying PC = bad. If PC can be good, then we can keep PC around to describe milder, unobjectionable instances of it.

      But I don’t think it really undermines the argument that much that Chait used the example even though perhaps there was legitimate provocation for the behavior. There’s always a chain of action and reaction. You can almost always get to a place where people’s reactions look reasonable by taking their perspective, almost no matter what they are. To me, the exercise needs to be more about stepping back and looking at the scene impressionistically from the outside, looking at effects, and saying, do we have a problem here or not? Maybe we don’t.

      I would agree that probably Chait should have gone with fewer examples and really looked closely at them. Obviously there are a lot of things he could have done better.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Chris says:

      Very much is being made of that “take it private” bit.

      Which I interpreted as “please work this out with the person involved, between the two of you, so that you can both fumble through your misapprehensions and come to a place of agreement without us getting involved by accident”.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    Semi OT: But it always surprised me when people get accusing of doubling down on debates especially Internet debates.

    This how it usually happens:

    1. Writer publishes a piece that says X

    2. Twitter storm and lots of counter pieces that say the writer is wrong for saying X

    3. Writer might make some modifications and concessions but says X is still essentially true.

    4. Writer gets accused of “doubling down.”

    Why do people think that merely writing disagreement or doing a grand twitter slamdown is going to get someone to change a belief if that belief is sincerely held? I think J. Bryan Lowder was right on another point in this debate:

    ‘”Here, Chait (and Sulllivan and Dan Savage, who all echoed him on this point) picks up on what is truly the most self-defeating part of contemporary PC culture—the refusal to distinguish between ignorance and genuine disagreement. We are not talking, to be clear, about disagreeing over, say, the value of trans lives or the fairness of gay marriage; those are no longer things seriously up for debate. But plenty of legitimate contentions remain.

    Take, for example, one of my own (fairly rare) run-ins with the kind of digital pile-on Chait abhors. Years ago I wrote a post considering the demand by some queer people for bespoke gender pronouns, by which I meant unique replacements for him, her, or the all-purpose use of they that were invented by an individual who then expected others—including publications with grammatical responsibilities to readers—to use them without question. Though I felt this was a careful and limited point, I received a great deal of criticism from some members of the trans and genderqueer communities, some of which was useful (my parsing of standard “preferred gender pronouns” and the invented variety was admittedly imperfect), but much of which accused me of being an ignorant transphobe in need of re-education. If only I would just listen to genderqueer people instead of running my privileged cis mouth all the time, I might advance to further enlightenment. Sullivan aptly describes this leftist call-to-repent: “The only ‘dialogue’ much of the p.c. gay left wants with its sinners is a groveling apology for having a different point of view.”

    Here’s the problem with all this: I am actually not ignorant or unenlightened as to why a genderqueer person might think a special pronoun is desirable. (And indeed, I support that person’s right to ask their family and friends to use their preferred pronoun.) I have read and listened to explanations for this small point of social justice etiquette many times, considered it at length—and still I maintain that it is not an appropriate thing to demand of strangers and publications. On this point, I and those critics will have to disagree, and considered disagreement delivered in good faith does not make me a conservative bigot, nor does it necessitate an apology or “further reading” or silence on my part.

    The problem with identity politics—in this particular manifestation, anyway—is that it assumes that just because a person claims a certain identity label, that person is necessarily empowered to be judge and jury on all issues pertaining to that category. The truth is, identity grants experience (and experience should be valued to a point); but it does not automatically grant wisdom, critical distance, or indeed, unassailable righteousness. To forget this is to turn individual people who possess a range of intelligences, backgrounds, self-interests, and flaws into two-dimensional avatars for the condition of humanity in which they happen to share. And, by corollary, to assert that it is impossible on some fundamental level for those who don’t share that condition to ever relate or speak to that person as merely another human being with ideas and opinions.

    That logic is real, it is ridiculous, and it is truly tiresome. It deserves all the criticism it gets.”‘

    I think part of what Chait is picking up on is the old “Someone is wrong on the Internet” That little cartoon came out years ago and it still seems to be true. The idea that someone published a piece that you disagree with seems to be treated as an H-bomb level threat that needs to be dealt with in immediate and brutal mockery. I agree with Julia Turner when she says that pieces like Pareene’s “Punch-drunk John Chait takes on the Internet” are cheap and easy. Gawker’s stunt about buying Chait a trip to a spa is cheap and easy.Report

    • Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      ” “The only ‘dialogue’ much of the p.c. gay left wants with its sinners is a groveling apology for having a different point of view.””

      It’s actually worse than that. It’s the attitude of “if you don’t change, you should be sent to the camps”. For example, there’s a lot of talk with the moms demand action, and similar groups, to call the cops if they see someone “open carrying” in various stores. This is, frankly, no different from SWATing someone in the hopes the cops will shot the individual. I don’t give zealots like that time and I don’t give them an inch…ever. They don’t deserve it.Report

      • zic in reply to Damon says:

        For example, there’s a lot of talk with the moms demand action, and similar groups, to call the cops if they see someone “open carrying” in various stores. This is, frankly, no different from SWATing someone in the hopes the cops will shot the individual.

        So the Mom’s Demand Action wants these people shot by police? Or you interpret their calls to that? Because there is much wrong here, and about half of it is attribution of stuff that’s just baloney.Report

      • greginak in reply to Damon says:

        Damon actually brings up, inadvertently, an important point. PC has become such a bogey scare word on the right that the meaning has become so clouded. I mean here he going towards PC= calling the cops in hopes of getting someone shot or sending people “to the camps” duh duh dunnnnnnn. How can any two word phrase hope to hold much meaning when it is used by some people is such an over the top and silly manner.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Damon says:


        Good point. Ck MacLeod does the same thing below a bit but it a more complex and academic manner. It is too simplistic to call Chait a Lockean liberal because Chait does believe in the welfare state and other things which don’t fit neatly into Lockean classical liberalism but in some or many ways he is closer to Locke than Marx obviously.

        “Reeduction camps” is almost exclusively a fever dream but because this is the Internet you can probably find a handful of people to talk openly about them (these people have absolutely zero political power). Right before we were talking about Chait, we were talking about a Thought Catalog essay by a woman named Tanya Cohen who wrote this very earnest seeming piece on “Why is America so backwards compared to the rest of the world on Hate Speech?” and her second essay on the subject mentioned something about reeducation camps.

        We were debating about whether the essays were a hoax or not because they seemed too on the nose. But there were people here who did take it seriously and took some of the liberals on this site to task for downplaying the Tanya Cohens of the Left. No the tables are turned because a bunch of us are saying “Chait has a point.”

        I suppose that Damon could be trying to woo Chait fans to the libertarian side.Report

      • Chris in reply to Damon says:

        At the risk of being pedantic, the welfare state is definitely consistent with Lockean classical liberalism, at least as Locke himself espoused it.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Damon says:

        @chris I think you mean “consistent with classical liberalism as Locke himself inconsistently espoused it.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Damon says:

        That’ll work.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        The conclusion is pretty obvious, and yes, that’s it. Call the cops, have the cops arrive. At a minimum it’s a harassment tactic directed at someone who isn’t violating the law. At worse, it’s designed to try and maneuver cops into shooting civilians.

        One doesn’t need to “attribute” when one can read the tweets and postings oneself. Would you like a few samples?

        ““Why hasn’t someone called 911 so the cops can gun him down?” ”
        ““Every time I see someone with a gun in a store I will call 911.”
        “You see a GunFilth waving its penis substitute, exit, call police. Armed robbery in progress.””

        Yah….then again, it’s all just a bunch of baloney right?

        @greginak Yah, it’s not that the term has become a “scare word”, it’s that people advocating for things under the umbrella of PC support positions like I quoted above. Yah…this is “silly”. Sure. Maybe you’d think differently if you had 4 cops confront you at Target with their weapons drawn?Report

      • zic in reply to Damon says:


        There used to be this thing, back in the day when commerce happened at the market: you left your weapons sheathed or at the edges; you didn’t bring them into the marketplace.

        I don’t think I need to see someone carrying in WalMart.

        But I’d tell you any day that someone who says, Why hasn’t someone called 911 so the cops can gun him down? is every bit as crazy as someone who’s carrying in Walmart.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        Crazy aside, one’s abetting assault if not attempted or full on murder. The other is in compliance with the law.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Damon says:

        As you may recall, there was a case not too long ago where John Crawford was carrying a gun at Walmart (because he was buying it), and some jackass called the police, who then proceeded to shoot him.Report

      • Malarche in reply to Damon says:

        Remind me again, what color was John Crawford?

        What color is zic?Report

      • zic in reply to Damon says:

        zic is rainbow.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Damon says:

        Remind me again, what color was John Crawford? What color is zic?

        What am I, a painter?Report

      • Malarche in reply to Damon says:

        What does the “B” in Roy G. Biv not stand for?Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Damon says:


      • zic in reply to Damon says:

        @damon calling the cops to report an armed person in a public place is not against the law, even if the armed person is acting lawfully. I think there’s a link between capitalism, free markets, and not going into a marketplace armed worth considering? Markets, the place where people took their goods to trade, worked because traditions and culture usually dictated people go unarmed — I actually asked Jason K. about this here, and he said it’s true. So consider that arms restrictions in the marketplace may well have been one of the founding tenants of successful capitalism before you get all uptight about limiting their gun-toting freedoms to carry in Target.

        @brandon-berg blunderbuss is an excellent answer.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Damon says:

        Zic, let’s look at this sentence: calling the cops to report a/an (adjective) person in a public place is not against the law, even if the (adjective) person is acting lawfully.

        While this sentence is no less true, I’m suddenly creeped out.Report

      • zic in reply to Damon says:

        Yes, @jaybird but that’s a problem of current cop culture, no? It does reveal the fact that people who feel concern for a threat to public safety of some sort might feel they have no place to turn, also. But calling the cops over that concern is a problem because of, you know, cops armed and trained to shoot to kill, not because we shouldn’t have policing for public safety.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        It’s not about capitalism or arms free shopping. It’s the fact that these people are willing to call the cops and report a crime or potential crime (most folks know which states are open carry) to summon the cops to endanger the open carrier. If you can’t see how dangerous and twisted someone has to be to participate or encourage such behavior, you’re part of the problem.Report

      • zic in reply to Damon says:

        @damon did you deliberately try to misread what I said?

        First, I agreed that if someone’s intentionally attempting to get cops to shoot someone, that’s horrid.

        But there are, going back at least to the ancient Greeks, social norms of leaving weapons outside the market. I’m suggesting that much of what you embrace as freemarket capitalism actully rests on that norm, and that idiots who (while it might be completely legal) think it’s okay to wonder around a modern store obviously armed are, in fact, posing a threat to free-markets. What they’re doing might be legal, but it’s worth considering if it’s a threat to social norms that helped foster something else that seems awfully important to you.

        Now I know you smart enough to grok that conundrum, and I really apologize if it discomforts you in any way. But from ancient Greece to OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ, the norm was to leave your weapon behind while in town and in the marketplace. And that rule, I suspect, helped free markets thrive. And idiots who don’t get that are really damaging that social compact in ways maybe you ought to consider. Just because it’s legal, in some places, to open carry on Target or Chipotle, does not mean it’s respectful, wise, or prudent. And it is legal to call the cops if you suspect danger; people do thousands of times every day in this land. Ironically, those calls are okay, I suppose, when they’re George Z., calling about someone in a hoodie, but not okay if they’re moms in a store?

        Plus, free speech applies here; the 1st amendment. Tweeting that someone hopes something bad happens means what? They hope something bad. Sure, it’s not nice. But it’s not a direct threat, either. It’s just idiotic, and not much different then if I said something like, “I hope that anti-vaxer’s kid gets polio and dies.” That’s mean, awful, and a whole host of other disrespectful things; but it is also lawfully protected speech, no matter how rude.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        Z, If I misread when you said, my apologies. I never intentionally try to do that. You did read some of the quotes I posted yes? I’ll repeat the best one:

        ““You see a GunFilth waving its penis substitute, exit, call police. Armed robbery in progress.””

        Sorry, that’s not free speech. That’s incitement to murder by cop. It’s plainly obvious. Open carry may not be a good idea, it may not be socially acceptable, etc., and I’m happy to debate that, but it’s legal and people do it. Calling the cops and claiming an armed robbery in progress is not acceptable in any form.Report

      • zic in reply to Damon says:

        @damon I did not, ever, in anyway, condone that, if anyone actually did that. I said, repeatedly, that it’s idiotic. Do I need to repeat that again? It’s idiotic. But typing that and tweeting it is not illegal. There’s a difference. Sadly, I know way too many women who’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of stuff; “You should be raped,” crap, etc., and there’s not a whole hella to do about it.

        But: Those dudes thinking it’s important to exercise their 2A rights in Target? They’re no better; do you get why they’re violating not a law, but a social norm dating back to the beginnings of humans trading; the very fundamentals upon which free trade and capitalism are built? Don’t be so quick to encourage their behavior and fail to recognize how, while legal in some places, it’s seriously egregious and offensive. They don’t deserve any more sympathy than someone who’d tweet that tweet. They’re no more representative of most responsible gun owners than those women are of most gun-law advocates, either. The fringe =/=the middle.Report

      • Damon in reply to Damon says:

        @zic I’m a libertarian. MOST of what I see going on offends me in some way 🙂

        But frankly I have a bit more patience for those offending “social norms”, many I object to anyway, than for these tools. I hear you and I understand your point..and it’s a valid one, but I put these anti gunners a step or two below the 2A open carry tools.Report

  5. CK MacLeod says:

    Reducing “PC” to a neologism for “being polite” is straw-manning Chait’s argument.

    The problem with the latter, and even for the versions of it from thoughtful second-taking would-be improvers of it like F deBoer, R Douthat, and Saul above, is that proponents want to point to the underlying conflict between the liberal concept and illiberal leftism – between, in shorthand, Locke and Marx – without following it to its logical consequences, precisely because those logical consequences are inherently de-stabilizing to the left-liberal coalition and harmful to its real-political prospects.They want to preserve areas of left-liberal consensus – all those “hard-won victories” especially on “social” questions they’d like to view as settled – but in their efforts to police discourse they reinforce their failures as well, most evidently in the extent to which they make themselves appear ridiculous where not frightening to all of the normals out there.

    If you look into the actual origins of “Political Correctness,” you will see that it doesn’t just happen to point to a conflict between philosophical liberalism and, not to put too fine a point on it, socialism, it was a “cultural revolutionary” term whose precise purpose was to combat liberalism understood as center right deviationism, retrograde and decadent petit bourgeois intellectualism, and wrongthink of every type. There is nothing in Freddie deBoer’s tales of insanely self-destructive leftwing ideological excess just yesterday, of the Revolution eating its own, that wasn’t old hat by around 1794.

    That’s where the frightening part comes in: Speech-policing is the Reign of Terror in microcosm or early stages, Tone-Policepersons in group-thinking committees of iron self-righteousness given responsibility for Public Hygiene and operating instructions for the Guillotine. The ridiculous part comes in when one considers the greatest success of all achieved by the modern radical left: keeping itself distant from meaningful power. Political correctness was supposed originally to purge decadent obsessions with secondary questions from the Revolution. It succeeds, under whatever name, in reinforcing precisely that obsession among the same revolutionaries, amidst the general reduction of politics itself to competitive snobbery.Report

    • Don’t you think the broad Left has to drag itself forward with regard to improving its attitudes and expressions that perpetuate unjust power structures at least to some extent? Isn’t what’s needed to be relatively humane and reasonable about doing so? Or if someone who’s a member of the left likes to call people cripples in this day & age, should nothing be said, with no matter how much patience and understanding, because that would be an instance of Speech-policing?

      It seems to me that what’s important is the way this is done, not that it not be done at all. It seems to me that it needs to be done.Report

      • Sorry, comrade, but “relatively humane and reasonable” is language of the petit bourgeois running dog lackey of the fascist insect. How can you speak about relative humanity and reasonable language when the wretched of the Earth are being ground into bloody dust beneath the bootheels of the um pigs, in their big pig boots, which isn’t intended to be anti-pig, pigs are people, too, I know, I was just.. um… Don’t have anything against dogs or insects either. Sorry to be so humanist. What’s that? Not “lackey,” but “service worker”? OK. I’ll make a note of it and check my privilege.

        That “attitudes and expressions… perpetuate unjust power structures” is a highly criticizeable statement, and also a counterproductive and possibly dangerous one, not because there is no obvious truth to it – back to the point where “speech” becomes “act” – and not just because it contains certain presumptions about the nature of justice, power, and structures, but because as offered it is highly imprecise or in another sense falsely over-precise (I’m self-appointed precision cop today as on most days, thus my overuse of the term in the prior comment – apologies).

        The statement as offered is unclear about what amount and type of causality it assigns to the subject, but could be taken to mean, and in common dysfunctional practice is often taken to mean, that “attitudes and expressions” all by themselves can perpetuate unjust power structures, or are one very important means of such perpetuation, or even that “attitudes and expressions” are in themselves the sole or only significant problem, or perhaps for us limited hopeless denizens of the youthful campus fringe, the only addressable problem.

        No one who says it means it in the last way, yet in actual practice of the contemporary far Left, they might as well. An insistence on qualifiers seems justified to me at minimum, even presuming a Leftist critique of “unjust power structure”: “Attitudes and expressions that sometimes may help to reinforce perpetuate unjust power structures.”

        So, the question, but only for the rest of us, would be “what really needs to be done, and would be worth doing given whatever theory of political change or praxis we are embracing, that isn’t adequately covered under be polite – or be humane and reasonable – and don’t get bent out of shape over occasional missteps”?Report

      • “Be polite” is good, but can you ask for that? Can you be at all specific about it in cases where there is specific impoliteness? “Hey, it’s really uncool to call people cripples.” Or would that be to get bent out of shape?Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Michael Drew says:

        ““Hey, it’s really uncool to call people cripples.” Or would that be to get bent out of shape?”

        Well, one obvious way to be impolite is to insist that there’s no such thing as being polite.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Isn’t “bent out of shape” insensitive to people with scoliosis?

        What the hell is wrong with you?Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Speech-policing is the Reign of Terror in microcosm or early stages,

      But opposing it is the first stop towards treason in defense of slavery.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      While I get and agree with some of your underlying points, I don’t think that twitter is going to give birth to a new Robspierre any time soon if ever.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I stand corrected!

        That being said, I am not expecting a reign of terror anytime soon.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        No one expects the Reign of Terror!Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Also, the Twitter guy is called that because he’s always buying new French bathrobes.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Right, it stays mostly at the ridiculous stage, which is exactly where the normals and the enemies of the Left like it – except where people lose their jobs or are hounded out of a position or can’t get tenure or can’t publish the conclusions of their research for reasonable fear of its effect on their livelihood, at which point it’s not beheadings, it’s just effective proscription. To complain about it is to invite further punishment or ostracism, of course. Around this time, the normals get a little more reasonably concerned, then turn out in adequate numbers to ensure things don’t get too crazy, for which the left will vilify them, reinforcing the willingness to turn out the next time in adequate numbers, and the next time…Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        On the one hand, you can say “forget it, Jake, it’s the Internet”.

        On the other hand, what happens when you try to move it from the internet to the real world? Do you completely recreate your entire movement into The Art Of The Possible, despite spending years marinating in the idea that the only possible response to disagreement is violent extremism?Report

    • Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Perhaps appropriately, socialists and later feminists and theory types basically invented the concept as an intra-left mocking criticism.

      The language of the left is constantly policed, sometimes quite pointedly, by the right, the center, and center-left liberals. If a center-left coalition is threatened by policing from the left, it is only because those who already dominate the culture and that coalition are threatened by the power play such policing just barely entails.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        To see what I mean, consider Saul getting all ansy about a black feminist complaining about such policing from the center/right, specifically other black people. The center has hair trigger anxiety where the left is concerned, because the left represents a threat, real or imagined, to their cultural, economic, and conceptual complacency and comfort.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

        Don’t think you have your left history “correct” here, Chris. The notion of “correct” speech and thought was first introduced quite seriously, not ironically or “mockingly.” It has precedents throughout history, of course, and not just on the Left, but the Left and especially the Marxian Left is virtually defined by the notion of correct and incorrect ideas understood in relation to a theory of social-historical progress. Even at a still vaguely free-thinkery site like this one, it’s mostly rather clear what are and aren’t correct thoughts in that sense.Even to name them is to place oneself under suspicion, and, since I have work to do, and since I, OF COURSE, fully agree about them completely and without reservation, I’ll leave that exercise to some other time. I also promise an hour of self-criticism even for seeming perhaps to imply the bare possibility of any divergence in thinking on those subjects not to be named.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        The general process you describe is at the heart of culture, not just “the left.” It’s based in the concept of taboo.

        However, “politically correct” specifically was used as a socialist critique of right/totalitarian communists, and in the 70s and 80s academic and activist left as an internal criticism. That concept, and that phrase, specifically.Report

      • greginak in reply to Chris says:

        It impressive CK can type with those spikes in his hands and while up on a cross. I mean the thought of even considering mentioning those thoughts which cannot be mentioned… gets me the willies and the such a fright.

        When people go on about “thoughts” that must not be mentioned in polite company it usually ends up being one of two things: commonly spoken and discussed ,although sometimes, controversial topics but nonetheless things that are frequently discussed and full out racist/sexist/etc ideas. I’m not saying CK is would mention the second of those at all, just that is my experience of what people are referring to when they talk about thoughts that must not be mentioned.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

        Those people you call “right totalitarian communists” – esp Maoists – were very busy beavers from the late ’60s forward, Chris. Mocking them while adopting toned-down aspects of their approach is par for the course, and leads, 40-50 years later, to this situation where PC is being seriously defended by much the same people, or their heirs, whom you would like to credit for their sense of irony. So is it or isn’t it politically correct to seek or enforce political correctness? Is it serious or ironic? Is it incorrect to ask?

        Good work, @greginak , accusing me of Chaitism and related crimes, both the crime of considering the possibility that Chatism and related crimes might even conceivably not be treated as obviously criminal, and the further crime of implying even the possibility that my considering the possibility that Chaitism and related crimes might even conceivably not be treated as obviously criminal might conceivably not be treated as obviously criminal. I look forward to your next proof and, masochistically, to your next punishment, for the crimes of considering the possibility of the possibility of the possibility of the possibility and possibly the misdemeanor of describing the level of regressive progressive indictability incorrectly.Report

      • greginak in reply to Chris says:

        @ck-macleod Chaitism isn’t a crime, its more like a traffic ticket. If you get enough points on your intertoob license you can only post on Facebook until you go to classes to learn about proper Internet mud slinging. You know stuff like PC is a sin but general righty type callign people traitors, enemies of america, plotting to destroy the country etc is spirited discourse.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Adopting it? I don’t see that in that period.

        You seem to see sort of policing as exclusive to the left, but it is not even primarily of the left. The left’s policing only sticks out because it is slightly divergent from the dominant stream. Meanwhile, your policing, say, or Chait’s, or the dude at the gymn or the woman in the Junior League, or the politician’s? Status quo.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

        @chris We have a different view of history. Can’t tell whether the left in your view is and was just like everyone else – interesting “policing” – or somehow above it, and whether being just like everyone else would be a good thing or a bad thing for a movement that otherwise seeks difference or pretends to.

        One reason the Left’s discourse-policing sticks out, aside from the provenance of its terms and methods, and the stated intentions of the chief speech cops, is, of course, that it occurs within the very citadels of free-thinking – academia and left-liberal media – where the commitment to “letting words always pass free” among other things has sustained the practical possibility of pursuing radical or illiberal Leftist discourse. As repeatedly noted, the result is hilarious, ridiculous, and pathetic up until the moment it’s not anymore. The liberal’s also oft-noted problem with refusing to tolerate intolerance, in the name of tolerance, which you implicitly put against Chait and against me, is symmetrical, but not the same.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Chaitism isn’t a crime, its more like a traffic ticket.

        With a Chait-crime enhancement.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I think the left is Madge up of humans, humans are cultural beings, and monitoring speech, implicitly and explicitly, is a large part of what culture is.

        The left sticks out because it is only over the last 50 years that many of the things they’re saying have been, to use a term for Saul, allowed.

        In academia, this sort of culture has been, in one form or another, prominent for two centuries, maybe 20. Look at the nihilists in 1860s St Petersburg, or the conscientious objectors of London in 1916, and so on to the anti-Russian movement in Ukrainian universities that’s resulted in the changing of the geography of Eastern Europe in the last year.Report

  6. j r says:

    I get the claim that the claim that political correctness is just about respecting other people and facilitating positive social change, but I just do not find that to be the case. Consider this statement:

    he doesn’t seem interested in drawing lines between tactics that are positive and ones that are harmful within the broad societal effort to advance awareness and sensitivity to people with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds…

    Imagine that as a line being spoken in a movie. Who is delivering that line? In all likelihood it’s not someone who is actually from one of those diverse viewpoints and backgrounds. No, it’s most likely to be some killjoy school administrator or sycophantic middle manager. Whoever it is, it is not someone for whom you’re likely to be rooting, and with good reason.

    Imagine going to a parent-teacher conference and some wide-eyed twenty-something teacher tells you that your son does not seem interested in drawing lines between tactics that are positive and ones that are harmful within the broad societal effort to advance awareness and sensitivity. Is your immediate response to run home and make up for the fact that you’ve obviously failed to indoctrinate the proper level of sensitivity in your child? No. Your immediate response is probably to wonder what the heck this teacher is actually trying to say. Maybe what that teacher is saying is that your kid is a little sh*t bully who gets off on pushing the weaker and less popular kids around. Maybe, but if that’s the case, then why wouldn’t the teacher just come out and say that? Wouldn’t that get us to the point of the conversation much quicker and with much less chance for confusion.

    That is, if we really cared about maximizing sensitivity and awareness among individual human beings, then we’d probably choose to voice those concerns in a way that most individual human beings could understand and absorb. And yet, political correctness is so often couched in the language of jargon and euphemism. It is often administered with a healthy dose of you don’t get it! And it should be quite obvious that is not an accident.

    I read Jonathan McLeod’s Richard Sherman piece right before reading this one. And they both struck the same note for me, if from opposite ends of the keyboard. When you dig into it, the language that the NFL and hack sports writers use to condemn Sherman sounds an awful lot like the politically correct language that bureaucrats and hack political/cultural writers use to condemn those who don’t toe the politically correct line. Political correctness, as differentiated from basic human decency, is part of the signaling game that people play to let everyone else know on which side of the culture war they stand.

    In sum, almost all of my experiences with political correctness have been less about respecting individuals and more about respecting some form of the authoritah.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

      Yeah, Drew, the words you write when trying to tease apart something complex don’t sound like movie dialog, so you lose.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

      So I should have said, He’s not interested in drawing lines between PC bullies and people who are just trying to raise a little awareness and ask for some basic decency?Report

    • j r in reply to j r says:

      Don’t ever change. I mean that, because then I might have to take the time to take your comments seriously.

      I’m not saying that you should or should not say anything about Chait. I am pretty indifferent about Chait and about progressive infighting in general. What I care about is how that spills over and pertains to everything else. What I am reacting to is your characterization of political correctness. It is incomplete and a bit misleading.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        If you promise to keep saying things that are impossible to take seriously, I’ll promise to keep not taking them that way.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        Right @mike-schilling. My comments are impossible to take seriously. I am an obvious troll. Move along. Nothing to see here.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        When you criticize Mr. Drew’s analysis because of the sort of person you picture saying that kind of thing in a movie, there are two possible conclusions to be drawn. The charitable ones start “He’s not being serious.” If you insist you were being serious, we can go the other way.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        That’s just it Mike, I’m not sure you can go the other way. I think sniping is about the best that you got.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        Anyone who said that in a movie would be just about to get one between the eyes.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        It was certainly a typically (for me) infelicitous phrase. I thought about just going with “within PC.” Somehow that seemed to completely beg a question to me, though. Some type of description seemed necessary there. OTOH, that wasn’t really the place to offer a full description of PC as I see it (something that;s inexact and in flux as we speak in any case IMO.) A different point was being made.

        Further, I was consciously trying to emphasize a positive account of PC there, not as a compete description of it, but as something that it seems to me Chait does view as valuable in a generic way, if perhaps by another name. E.g., the Redskins. So I was alluding to my main point that holds that, perhaps if we tabled the term, we would find in Chait some sympathy for the thing that we might call PC in certain contexts/forms, if we then agreed to an expansive domain for the term. The problem being that he seems unwilling to draw any lines to identify those things once.if they somehow fall under the heading of “PC.” (So he has to be sure to keep any PC-ish efforts he supports clear of that category.)

        I seems to me you;re getting hung up on the name there. For you, PC isn;t encompassed by my shorthand description there. That’s fine; I wasn’t necessarily insisting that that was PC, or all that PC is there. I was appealing to values that it looks very much like Chait holds to some degree, pointing out that rather than working to draw substantive lines about behavior pursuant to those values, he prefers to lean on a category name that he can place instances of behavior he doesn’t like into case by case.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

        …That;s pretty incoherent, but it’s the best I can do right now.

        I will say that I think you’re just overstating the inaccessibility of that language. It’s straightforward, and it’s not jargon. I just came up with what I thought were the best words for what I was trying to say. Not even the best, really just some that would do. And further, you’re confusing the act of promoting sensitivity with the act of talking about and analyzing promoting sensitivity. The latter will employ different, probably more abstract language.

        Ultimately I think it’s basically ridiculous and probably bullshit (i.e. you don’t really believe it) to say that analytical discussions about PC should be conducted in the same kind of language that would be best used to promote PC (or sensitivity). What other form of communication would we say that about? Analysis of language use should be as accessible in its language as the most effective form that the language being analyzed would take in order to achieve its purpose? I don’t think you think that.Report

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    The view that political correctness is a good thing where done in some circumstances in certain ways and a bad thing when done in others seems rather obviously self-evident. But also seems like a bit of a dodge, since it itself can be used as cover for any sort of behavior. It’s sort of like saying, “the use of violence is forgivable in certain circumstances but unforgivable in others:” almost everyone will agree with you, but it still doesn’t really get us anywhere.

    The more interesting (and nettlesome) task, it seems to me, is defining the boundaries of those circumstances.

    I am beginning to wonder if the real divide in the PC-criticism debate isn’t one of political sensibilities (Right v. Left, Liberal v. Left, etc.) so much as it is personal and deeply ingrained internal motivators. When we talk about “PC,” we tend to conflate these two statements, but they are obviously quite different:

    “The problem with disenfranchised people historically being silenced is that no one should be silenced.”

    “The problem with disenfranchised people historically being silenced is that the wrong people were silenced.”

    Your quote from Belle Waring is, not surprisingly, one that I not only agree with entirely, but would cheer rather loudly. Where I would feel less comfortable cheering is other things I have read this week where the criticism of Chait’s piece is set upon on the fulcrum of his race and sex.

    Now, there are of course many reasons why I might feel this way, and not all of them are particularly flattering. I, too, am a straight white male of privilege, after all; all of my perception is influenced by this reality, even when I try hard to see past it. A large part of the current PC debates we have (and I’m talking about pre-Chait article here) ultimately seems to come down to this: When the rest of the community/twtter-verse/intertubes reads what I say, should my viewpoint therefore be adjusted for context, merely downgraded, dismissed out of hand, or should I in fact be punished for having dared to even speak? I’m not arguing that either of these responses is better or worse than the other; I am suggesting that how we answer them has something to do with which of the above statements is a greater motivational driver. We are all, I believe, pro-PC; but with the choices listed just above, we are all over the map.

    Or to put it another way:

    For as long as there have been minorities to keep down in our democratic society, we have always found ways to casually dismiss the terrible things we have done to them when those things have been pointed out to us. Similarly, we can now find ways to casually dismiss the anti-PC observations of Chait (poorly worded!) or Freddie (on campuses far away, too small a trend to have to discuss!) or really anyone else.

    The root of PC, I would argue, is the intertwining ideas that power over others against their wishes is wrong and that all humans should be treated with compassion and dignity. I suspect that where we all land when these PC-criticism debates come up has a lot to do with which of those two threads tug at our hearts the hardest.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I don’t think it’s so self-evident that PC is sometimes good. That doesn’t seem at all to be the assumption Chait is working from; for him it seems that once it’s good it becomes something else. Moreover, I think this new re-embrace of PC is very suddenly old news if it’s old news at all. It was pretty clearly not regarded as a potentially positive term for a quite a long time, and up to a time pretty close to “right before Chait wrote that” (though I’m sure that can be extensively debated).

      You’re totally right that actual line-drawing is much harder work; I’m pretty much just willing to say that it’s probably too hard for me. In any case, it’s explicitly beyond the scope of this piece. My point here was really just point out that PC isn’t just bad per se, that if we want to say it’s bad, we need to identify what’s bad in it (because to me it seems like it’s done a lot of good), and draw the lines necessary to say why those things are bad. I’m not claiming to be up to actually doing that line-drawing (right now).Report

  8. Stillwater says:

    Finally got around to reading the Chait response to the criticisms of Chait’s views about other people views on actions undertaken in the name of what he views as their adoption of strategic “political correctness” in shutting down folks who those folks disagree with. It really seems like a bunch of eta nonsense to me, but this quote seems as close as anything I could find to expressing where I think people disagree with him correctly:

    The response partly reflects the p.c. culture’s inability to evaluate arguments about identity as abstract arguments rather than reflections of the author’s own identity.

    Yglesias already commented on this, tho, so there isn’t much to say. If he can’t see where this logic breaks down, and why people are ticked off both by the assertion that their views are subjectively based as well his belief that his are objectively determined. It’s really just an example of the ole “above the fray” nonsense so many people (like me!) get so upset about.

    Maybe the above is wrong, but I’m pretty lazy about this topic since it doesn’t seem like there’s really any there there.Report

  9. trizzlor says:

    I am beginning to wonder if the real divide in the PC-criticism debate isn’t one of political sensibilities (Right v. Left, Liberal v. Left, etc.) so much as it is personal and deeply ingrained internal motivators.

    Well put! I think this is what Chait is trying to get at with his distinction between PC1 and PC2. Unfortunately, he chose to explain this distinction by example, and those examples often conflate values with tactics. The way I see it, both kinds of PC are about cultural reaction to speech. PC1 (which Chait sees as good, or sometimes considers not PC) is about ensuring that everyone is equally respected: don’t use racial or homophobic slurs, give everyone a chance to express their perspective, etc.

    PC2 argues that this is not enough, that our culture is rigged against minorities, and that simply treating everyone as you would want to be treated allows the inequality to persist. In other words, equal treatment in a rigged system is not actually equal treatment. To some extent it’s the idea expressed in this cartoon ( ), that it is unfair to “just treat everyone equally” after you’ve been on the receiving end of privilege yourself. As Tod notes, this implies that certain people – the traditionally privileged – need to be policed more than others. It’s where the idea of “micro-aggression” comes from: e.g. that even though asking someone with an accent where they’re from is not *in and of itself* a racist or disrespectful action, if that person is on the receiving end of many such questions daily, they will start to feel alienated and put down. Likewise with Chait’s examples: a privileged teacher should defer to a student who chooses to write “Indigenous” with a capital “I”; the members of a message board should defer to minority opinions and not tease (even if they are equal opportunity teasers); etc.

    So the question is whether PC2-style thinking is wrong, as Chait argues. His examples certainly make it seem draconian, but we actually accept PC2-style thinking in a lot of other areas. The difference between PC1 and PC2 is the difference between neutral action and affirmative action for college admissions. It is the difference between a flat tax and a progressive tax for income redistribution. These are traditionally left-wing policies, and though I don’t know where Chait stands on them, I’m sure he at least understands their motivation. So when is it appropriate to treat people unequally and when is it not?Report

    • j r in reply to trizzlor says:

      As Tod notes, this implies that certain people – the traditionally privileged – need to be policed more than others.

      The thing about certain people needing more policing is that it necessitates more police. I suppose that is a feature or a bug depending on your point of view.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        “When I called for more police, I didn’t expect them to spend more time doing the stuff I was complaining about before I called for more police!”Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        And by “police” I mean people who feel entitled to criticize other people. I hate those people and I wish they’d shut up.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        Nobody is saying that Chait shouldn’t criticize folks. (Well, there were a couple of comments wondering why he wasn’t criticizing the Republicans instead and speculating about that.)

        The problem is that Chait spent so much time being uncharitable and now is complaining about the uncharitability of others. Hey, for what it’s worth, I’ve seen a lot of the things he’s complained about.

        I just kinda wish he’d have spent more time on how, yeah, he’s seen the light about his past mistakes and less time on how, seriously, this is what those people are doing to me.

        I agree with the kernel of his argument. I agree with it. I just kinda wish it didn’t feel like he was making his argument because he knew that folks like me agree with it.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to j r says:

        But the thing is, what Chait is claiming is the same thing the progressive left always ends up claiming about their ideas. The system is fine, the system is good, the system works, it’s just that this one time the wrong people were involved and there was a bad outcome. The notion that Alinsky-style arguing is just inherently bad isn’t something they’re willing to consider.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to j r says:


        The notion that Alinsky-style arguing is just inherently bad isn’t something they’re willing to consider.

        …which is an Alinsky-style argument against this set of supposed Alinskyites, though the sources of disqualifying corruption of the adversary have been re-located.

        Chait is in fact and very evidently quite willing to consider that ad hominem argument is bad argument, or not really argument at all. So are many of the people with whom he is currently arguing, and so are many of the other people with and against whom he can be expected to be arguing next week. We are all happy to consider it, and then throw it out the next time we feel our needs and interests are sufficiently engaged, or the question well enough settled, for us to place ends above means.

        I also think few on the “progressive left,” including Chait, will recognize their concept in “the system works.” Most of them have a very different definition of “the system” and of their own relationship to it than you seem to be using, DD. I’m not sure what you mean by “the system” here. It seems to stand for some idea of bi-coastal left-liberal media-government-academia culture-state, but maybe you had something different in mind.Report

      • greginak in reply to j r says:

        lol- yeah progressives/liberals think our ideas work. How rude of us. I’m guessing everybody actually thinks their ideas work though so i’m not sure how much that tells us.

        Alinsky- solid win. Liberals do need to learn and be told about him since none of us seemed to have every heard of him until conservatives discovered his insidious influence and that he died like 40 years ago. Guess thats why i don’t see his blog updates.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to j r says:

        “I also think few on the “progressive left,” including Chait, will recognize their concept in “the system works.” ”

        Making it personal, group-hate, assuming that language implies intent, rage substituting for reason; this is the system. Of course, when it’s done by people who agree with us, it’s “calling out privilege”, “creating a safe space”, “passion”. Chait et al aren’t willing to follow the road to the end; not willing to ask whether it’s a good idea to reduce your interpersonal toolbox to a hammer and then treat every disagreement as a nail.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to j r says:

        And it’s not even Chait arguing with people he dislikes. It’s anything. Whatever you pick, however it failed, it always turns out that the failure was in the people and not the plan. Stimulus spending would have totally worked if only we’d done more of it faster. Common Core education will totally work if only we have teachers who are smart enough and paid well enough. And so on.Report

  10. Doctor Jay says:

    It’s all very well to note that there have been past injustices, and agitate for redress of those injustices. It’s why, after consideration, I support the call for reparations, particularly in the case of housing policy. It’s an injustice that

    1) the government perpetrated in our name
    2) we could plausibly calculate the economic value of the damage, and
    3) we could pay out the difference, and it would make a difference.

    I think that this is probably better than some sort open-ended affirmative action program, which more or less admits to nothing specific, but just vaguely hints at, “well, we must have done something wrong”. Now, I could maybe get really excited about the idea of “Let’s practice affirmative action in college admissions up until the point where the IQ scores of black converge with the IQ scores of whites. (They are headed that way, certainly)

    Granted, it’s not very likely to happen right now. But maybe patience and determination is called for.

    The problem with focusing on identity is that no clear indicator that the injustice has or has not been remedied. If you stole money, the obvious thing is to pay it back. Of course, you punish thieves, but it isn’t very practical to punish the holders and traders in slaves.

    Time and time again, I’ve watched people who are relatively weak and powerless be motivated to get stronger, and become very powerful, while still retaining the mindset that they are weak and powerless. This leads to a very broad category of misdeeds. I think Microsoft in the late 90’s was like this. At their inception, they were little more than a bug compared to IBM. The instincts developed in response to this situation turned them into bullies and monopolists when they became powerful.

    This is common, I think.

    That is why identity is probably not a good basis for justice.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      The Nineties called, they want their tech-industry narrative back.

      I always love seeing people complain about how Microsoft was “monopolist”. Maybe they had the desktops, but that’s never where the money was in the computer market; that was servers and the backend, and that was owned by Sun and its ilk. And Microsoft has never had more than a tiny sliver of the smartphone market. You might see Windows when you look at the screen, but if you came in tomorrow and saw Linux you wouldn’t care less so long as Facebook still ran.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Not so much. Microsoft owned the desktop OS and also “office productivity software” [1], which were both huge profit centers, since they sold in huge volume and the marginal cost of each item sold was zero. There’s a reason that for a while it had the largest capitalized value of any corporation in the world. When it wanted to crush a potential rival like Netscape, it did so easily. (Not that Netscape was hard to compete with; the only product it ever made that much of anyone liked was its browser, which it at first tried to sell but eventually just gave away.)

        Sun owned the server market for only a few years, before the move to commodity hardware (i.e. PCs) running Linux. And Sun had no talent for making money on software. Even after Java became ubiquitous, Sun gave away the only Sun Java products that were much used (Netbeans and the JDK.) So when the sales of expensive servers declined, Sun had no answer.

        1. An ironic name as you know if you’ve every seen someone spend an hour fiddling around trying to get the fonts just the way he wants them.Report

      • Malarche in reply to DensityDuck says:

        When it wanted to crush a potential rival like Netscape, it did so easily. (Not that Netscape was hard to compete with;…. And Sun had no talent for making money on software

        New England Patriots beat Little Sisters of the Poor, Critics Complain They Don’t Play FairReport

      • Yeah, the dominance of Office annoyed me more, since having a copy was a requirement if you were going to deal with most of academia or business, and that meant having a Windows box around. The Mac version was always incomplete to some degree, since it was a completely different source tree and the Mac team had to roll their own VBA instead of using the one shared by the rest of the corporation. Also, the nonlinear optimization algorithm in Solver has some… peculiar behavior patterns that can be difficult to reproduce in other code.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck says:

        And, typically for Microsoft products, Office introduced a new kind of virus: a macro file that redefined Word commands to be either ineffective or actively harmful.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

        The writers for Friends called, and they’d like their “The nineties called” chestnut back.Report

      • Thus far, I’ve found it easier to rid myself of Office than to rid myself of Windows…Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Maybe they had the desktops, but that’s never where the money was in the computer market; that was servers and the backend, and that was owned by Sun and its ilk.

        Which explains the obvious observation that Microsoft made very little money.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

        “Which explains the obvious observation that Microsoft made very little money.”

        The claim, back when, was that Microsoft was clearly a monopoly that was clearly going to use clearly underhanded tactics to control all the computers everywhere. The only possible response was for the Federal Government to Do Something so that poor little tiny companies like Sun Microsystems could have a chance, even a chance to compete.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I’m trying to figure out what definition of monopoly you’re using that makes the fact that Microsoft had competition in the server market an argument against Microsoft being a monopoly in the desktop market. If that’s not the argument, is the argument, “Sure, MS had a monopoly on the desktop market, but there were other markets, so it wasn’t a big deal?”

        It seems to me that MS has had a stranglehold on most of the desktop market for a very long time and has made a tremendous amount of money largely because most people and businesses basically had to buy Windows and Office. That’s just starting to change now, years and years after their monopoly was at its strongest. It’s great that there were companies making servers and telephones and candy and stuff, but there’s a good reason everybody knows what the Microsoft Tax is.Report