Spiked Magazine Panel – "Is Political Correctness Why Trump Won?”
Is political correctness why Trump won? Watch the Unsafe Space Tour panel discussion at Harvard University, featuring Steven Pinker, Wendy Kaminer, Robby Soave and Brendan O’Neill. Moderated by Tom Slater (of Spiked Magazine).
- Making Sense Of “Trumpism” (video): Donald Trump is part of a much bigger phenomenon, explains Professor Steve Davies.
- The Difference Between Trump and Brexit (video): Brexit and Trump’s election were both ways of “sticking the finger up to the establishment,” says the UK’s Dr. Joanna Williams — but the two votes were very different.
- Donald Trump: The avatar of democracy (blog): Prof. John Hasnas writes on the question of whether Trump has undermined democracy in America.
[Tom Slater] – Hello, everyone, and welcome to this very special Spiked U.S. Unsafe Space tour event, “Is Political Correctness Why Trump Won?” My name’s Tom Slater. I’m Deputy Editor of Spiked, the online magazine. I’m coordinating this tour, and I’ll be moderating this evening. Thank you all for coming, and thank you, of course, as well to Conor Healy and all of his team at the Open Campus Initiative for making this happen against all odds, it’s fair to say. So, thank you very much to them. For those of you who might not know, Spiked is a radical humanist magazine, and we argue and campaign for more freedom in all areas of life. It’s because of that and the fact that it seems like freedom, and in particular freedom of speech seems so under attack, not just on campus but throughout society, that we launch this tour. But the question that all begs is what does that have to do with Trump, and really that’s what we’re going to be discussing here tonight ’cause one year on from Trump’s inauguration I think it’s still fair to say that a lot of commentators and pundits are still grappling with what the rise of Trump, the support for him, really means. Amongst people who campaign for freedom of speech, who care about freedom of speech, a common explanation is that it had something to do with political correctness, however defined, the kind of demonizing of certain viewpoints, the kind of hysteria that often confronts people who might transgress P.C. etiquette, had something to do with fueling the desire for someone who would just break all of those rules. What we want to discuss tonight is did P.C. get Trump elected, or is there something more going on, and is, indeed, that just one of the many kind of pat explanations that we want to fall down on rather than actually grappling with this problem. Also, looking at the question of whether Trump’s rise represents a real challenge to political correctness, or, indeed, whether it’s the case that considering this backlash has delivered President Trump, someone who blithely dismisses the First Amendment and who is probably as thin-skinned as any Women’s Studies major or have we just replaced one form of authoritarianism with another. So, all of those things we’ll be getting into tonight. I’m delighted to say that I’m joined by really the perfect panel to be discussing this with. I’m gonna introduce them in the order in which they’ll speak, and then we’ll get going. First off, to my immediate left we have Wendy Kaminer. Wendy is a lawyer and social critic. She’s written about law, liberty, feminism for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Spiked, also, I’m pleased to say, and the author of eight books, including, “Free For All: Defending Liberty in America Today.” Speaking after Wendy, we have Robby Soave. Robby is the Associate Editor at Reason Magazine. He’s also a columnist for The Daily Beast. He’s written for The New York Times, New York Post, CNN, many others, and, most pertinently for this evening, he’s currently on sabbatical writing a book about protest in the age of Trump. So, it’ll be fascinating to hear his thoughts. After Robby, we’ll be hearing from Brendan O’Neill. Brendan is the Editor of Spiked and a regular columnist for Reason, as well as The Spectator. He’s written for The L.A. Times, The Sun, The Australian, many more. This year he was named Best Online Columnist at the MAGGIE Awards, and he’s the author of the book, “A Duty to Offend,” which we’ve got some copies of here as well. Finally, on my far left there, we have Professor Steven Pinker, known to many of you, I’m sure. Steven is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology here at Harvard University. He’s written for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, and is the author of ten books, but, most excitedly, he’s got a book coming out very soon called, “Enlightenment Now,” which is out February next year. Each of the speakers are gonna speak for about eight to ten minutes max, and, panel, I’m gonna be quite tight on those times ’cause as soon as possible we’re gonna bring it out to the audience for questions and comments from the floor. So, without further ado, Wendy, would you like to kick us off?
[Wendy Kaminer] – Thank you. I’d like to start us off with a caveat. At the risk of stating the obvious, elections are over-determined. There are multiple reasons for Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat, not the least of which are their respective personalities and reputations. Even for people who try to isolate one factor, one controlling factor, like, say, Comey’s last minute letter of intent to re-open the email investigation, they still have to contend with quite a lot of what-ifs. What if Clinton had simply been a better candidate, a more polished candidate, a more appealing candidate? What if she had campaigned harder in Wisconsin? What if she hadn’t given talks at Goldman Sachs for lots of money? What if she hadn’t used a private email server? What if voters on the Left paid as much attention to federal court appointments, especially the Supreme Court, as voters on the Right? What was the role of sexism in the election? There was a fairly substantial gender gap, and I think you can talk about sexism, not just in terms of possible resistance to a female President, but also in the embrace of a retrograde notion of masculinity that Trump embodied. What was the role of racial tensions that was evident in controversies over Black Lives Matter, over police shootings, and the festering resentment of the Obama presidency? What do we think about Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg’s critique of the Clinton campaign for focusing too much on identity and not enough on economics? Now, of course, that ties into our theme here. If she focused too much on identity, that might have something to do with a backlash against political correctness. What was the role of Russian propaganda in social media, which we now learn also reached into very respectable mainstream publications like The Washington Post. So, there are a great many factors that contributed to this election. I expect that historians will be debating it years from now. That being said, I still think that we can confidently speculate about contributing factors. I do believe that a backlash to political correctness from the Left to progressive notions of offensive speech and identity politics played a not insignificant role in Trump’s election. I do want to note, though, that I think this term political correctness is decreasingly useless. I prefer to talk about political phobias because I think we’re now seeing real phobias about hearing certain words uttered or even quoted in any context about hearing disagreeable ideas, just hearing these ideas, hearing these words is considered traumatic. Expressing them might be considered an act of violence. As I say, I prefer to talk about political phobias and language phobias. I think that’s what we’re dealing with now, but I’ll use the term political correctness simply because it’s the one that we are all familiar with. Now there is some polling evidence about attitudes towards political correctness, and I’ll read you just a few of the findings, if you’ll excuse my reading for a moment. I should add, though, another caveat, which is that if polls were reliably accurate Hillary Clinton would be President, but let’s go with what we have. A recent Cato survey on free speech and tolerance, which I recommend to all of you, it’s got a lot of very interesting findings in it, found that some 70% of Americans agree that P.C. is a big problem and say that it silences important discussions. 58% of people surveyed felt that they couldn’t say what they believed. Cato found striking differences between the impulse to self-censor among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. A small majority of Democrats, 53%, said they did not feel the need to self-censor, as opposed to a strong majority of Republicans, 73%, and 58% of Independents, who said that they do self-censor, keeping some of their political opinions to themselves. Maybe these are the people to whom Trump was speaking when he said, I’m so tired of this politically correct crap. The Pew Research Center has also some survey evidence on attitudes towards P.C. It found that most Americans, 59%, say too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use. Like Cato, Pew found some notable differences between Democrats and Republicans, and also between Trump voters and Clinton voters. 78% of Republicans say people are too easily offended, as opposed to 37% of Democrats. 83% of Trump supporters say people are too easily offended, as opposed to 39% of Clinton supporters. Pew also found that Democrats with more education were more worried about offensive speech than Democrats who are less educated, which is not surprising considering trends on campus. Finally, and how much time do I have? How am I doing on time?
[Tom Slater] – You’ve got a whole three minutes.
[Wendy Kaminer] – I’ve got a whole three minutes. I wanna provide just a little context for political correctness. Keep in mind that, while it’s gotten a lot of attention in recent years because it’s become, I think, quite extreme, it dates back 25 years easily. There’s a book on my shelf called, “Debating P.C.,” which was published in 1992. But, as I say, it’s gotten extreme. Now it applies to civil expressions of what might be mainstream opinions, opinions that a lot of Americans harbor, like America is a land of opportunity, America is a meritocracy. Statements like that were considered microaggressions by the University of California, though Cato found that a majority of African-Americans and Hispanics weren’t actually offended by them. But, again, a lot of people harbor these opinions. They probably don’t like being called racist. Trump told them that they were not racist. Now I do think, though, I just wanna add one more, a couple more, points that when people complain about being censored by political correctness, or when they talk about being self-censored, I think that we should ask whether or not they are abdicating their own responsibility to speak up, instead of quietly submitting to the loudest voices or to whatever they consider the majority view. I think we should consider whether P.C. and a backlash to P.C. is, in some ways, being scapegoated for individual timidity, and I think we should also consider that while Trump made his attack on political correctness it was central to his campaign, probably resonated with a lot of people who also felt sick and tired of this politically correct crap. But I think we should ask what were they tired of not being able to say. What was it that they felt constrained to say? At the end of the day, I think it might be difficult to separate progressive notions of offensive speech and the backlash to that, that I think contributed to Trump’s election, from the white identity politics that also fueled it. Thank you.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you, Wendy. Robby, your thoughts, please.
[Robby Soave]- I agree very much with almost all of Wendy’s comments, but I have some different sources, some different evidence to make the case, which I believe that political correctness did certainly play a role in helping Donald Trump become President. I think it’s helpful to try to define political correctness, though it’s very hard to do. Some people will define it in such a narrow way that you would say, well, maybe that didn’t actually have much of an effect on the election. I think one way that many Americans who don’t like political correctness think of it is articulating an idea, the content of the idea, the message of the idea, might actually not be insensitive or offensive. It might be a perfectly fine message, but the way you said it, there was something about the form of how you articulated it, that isn’t current, that isn’t considered polite or acceptable amongst the highly educated or the media or our societal elites, and you don’t know that. So, what you say is politically incorrect, even though the message might be fine. It’s probably useful to try to have an example here. A member of my grandfather’s generation might make a statement about racial equality, but say it like, “The blacks are okay,” or something. The sentiment is actually fine. I’m glad that that person thinks that people of different races are a-okay, but the way they would say it, obviously, is tin ear to me. I would kind of groan. I would go, “Well, don’t say it like that.” But then, you know, if you call out someone like that, they feel like you’ve made them feel racially insensitive, not with the times, behind, and it creates a definite sentiment of dislike. I think this has happened to a lot of people, to a lot of Americans who were really fed up with it, and I think that because many of them told me that when I asked people why they voted for Trump. So many of them have said this to me. It’s probably helpful to share a little bit more of my background. I’ve been writing about college campuses, the free speech issues on college campuses for many years now, and many of you in here are students and have probably encountered incidents like these, but it certainly seems to be the case that over the last few years there have been increasing numbers of incidents that touch on political correctness that involve people being punished, either formally or, in many cases, informally for saying something that was just not quite perfectly right or articulated. Many times from a position of ignorance, from coming from a background that is less privileged than the people who said that’s insensitive, that’s politically incorrect. An incident that really brought my thinking, made me think that this was much worse, that kind of encapsulates what I’m talking about, at Oregon, I was going through a list of things that students had reported to the university using its bias reporting system, which is a new tool in place at a hundred different colleges and universities for students and professors and people on campus to basically report politically incorrect statements called microaggressions, which you were talking about. This one was someone had reported a sign in the cafeteria that had triggered them, that had made them feel microagressed. The sign said, “Please clean up after yourself. “We are not your mother.” Can anyone guess why this was offensive? It was offensive because it relies on the patriarchal assumption that only mothers clean up after people, that it would not be the equal father’s right. I’m sure the person who posted this flyer was a minimum wage paid, perhaps not college educated cafeteria worker who has more things to worry about than learning the latest P.C. lingo to appease the very privileged students of Oregon. That and hundreds more incidents like that made me think that, hey, there might be a political correctness problem on college campuses, and then there was a backlash to it on campus. In fact, the people who didn’t like this increasingly began relying on people like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter and Lauren Southern and bringing them to campus and wanting to hear from them solely for the reason that these people were against political correctness, and really for almost no other, not for the depth of their ideas, not for their interesting conservative philosophy. These are empty characters who are solely defined by their opposition to political correctness. I watched this happen very inaugurally on college campuses, and I wondered, could the same thing happen to the nation at large if political correctness is also a problem in the lives of people who are not on college campuses. I very much think, I thought, at the time last year, that that helped explain why Donald Trump was elected. I wrote an article right after the election elaborating on the parallels between this and the campus situation, and it was the most popular article I’ve ever written. People emailed me, dozens of people. People never email me about articles. Dozens of people emailed me to say, you’re right. That is why I voted for Trump. I will read you a few of their emails. They’re fascinating. This was from somebody who emailed me. My reasons for voting for him were as you stated. Political correctness is one term for it. Lying is another. If people can’t use plain language and honesty to refer to things, we are done. Another said, I too am sick of the antics of the P.C. crowd telling me what to think while they cheerfully dismantle freedom of speech. Best regards for a Merry Christmas, happy holiday, or whatever our betters tell us to call it. It goes on and on. Another person said, I am not by any stretch of the imagination your target audience. I am old. I’m a Tennessee hillbilly. I’m not affluent. So, what I say has no real value in your world. That said, your article hits the nail on the head. I try to be a good person, to treat everyone I meet with respect. The problem is I did not grow up the way young people did, and I do not know the things they know. I don’t have the time to educate myself. I have three jobs. Another said, I am always kind. I have impeccable manners. What political correctness is to me is an unreasonable expectation on your fellow man to expect him to arrive where you are, while having had completely different experiences. It says that it’s okay to be different in the way they are, but not in any other way. I’ve taken these things to heart because when enough people tell you that that’s why they voted for Trump, you have to concede, okay, maybe that’s why you voted for Trump. There is evidence beyond just the anecdotes. A mathematician, Spencer Greenberg, found that people who thought we are too P.C., people who thought we are too P.C. as a country, that was the second most reliable indicator for whether you were likely to vote for Trump. The only more powerful indicator was whether you were actually Republican. It’s also important to note that Trump was the candidate of resistance to political correctness, not just as a general election candidate, but as a primary candidate. He was the one who tells it like it is. His response to the horrific Pulse shooting was to say we can’t afford to be politically correct anymore. He complained that he was named Person of the Year, rather than Man of the Year. The woman who emailed me about not being able to say Merry Christmas, that’s the kind of, you know, these are similar things. We’re talking about tens of thousands of voters in two states, essentially, that changed the course of the election, in Michigan and Pennsylvania. I’m from Michigan. I’m from Macomb County, a county that voted twice for President Obama, and this time for Trump. This is the county that both Eminem and Kid Rock are from actually. The kinds of voters that Trump did better with, the white working-class, are the exact kind of voters I would expect to like the appeal to destroy political correctness. I cannot claim that this is the sole factor or even the most important factor, but in an election that was very close in, essentially, just two states, I think the evidence strongly suggests, we can certainly make the claim that politi
cal correctness is among the four or five reasons, most important reasons, for why Trump was elected, and this should inform how we, for those of the audience, myself included who don’t like President Trump and didn’t vote for him, it should inform the resistance to him because if you’re going to send Lena Dunham to white working-class voters to tell them why they’re racist for voting for Trump, we will have him in office a lot longer.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you, Robby. Brendan, your thoughts, please.
[Brendan O’Neill] – Yeah, I still think that if you want to know why Trump won, you only have to look at the response to Trump’s winning. You only have to look at the meltdown of the media, the ongoing meltdown of the media that descend into daily hysteria. They’ve slightly given up on the return to fascism, return of Hitler thing, which they indulged for months. They’ve kind of drifted away from that, but they’re still staying quite hysterical. You only have to look at the Twitterati, which every day is pumping out endless hand-wringing tweets about Trump and his voters and how ridiculous they all are, or you only have to look at the constant search by Hillary, her team, and all those people who like Hillary for some neat explanation for why Americans went so mad and voted for someone so unpalatable. There’s this real mystification among those who are supposed to know about politics, this real sense of confusion among those who are supposed to have their pulse on the political realm about why Trump won. I think that tells us a lot about why Trump won. They have no ability to read the public, no sense of connection with large sections of the public, no understanding of what might be driving some of these people and what they might be thinking. The very tone in which they ask that question, how on Earth did this happen, actually starts to explain why this happened. I think this has got to be the longest hissy fit in history, and it so grating. It is so incredibly grating, and you can just imagine. I don’t support Trump. I would never vote for Trump, but can you imagine how this sounds to people who did vote Trump and who do support Trump? This ceaseless, daily Nazi talk and the return of fascism, and the worst thing that’s ever happened in America, or the worst thing. He’s the worst President ever. Worse than the people who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Worse than Richard Nixon, who decided at three o’clock in the morning to bomb Cambodia and kill thousands of people? We need some perspective, and their lack of perspective is, in itself, incredibly revealing. I think the most revealing thing about this longest hissy fit in history is their search for an explanation for why people voted for Trump, and it’s very interesting. If you read the media coverage, if you read the kind of pro-Hillary hand-wringing over what’s currently going on, they will say thinks like, well, the nation is still beset by misogyny. Lots of people just don’t like the idea of women being in power. There’s lots of sexism. Or, they describe the support for Trump as a white-lash, all these white people lashing out against Black Lives Matter, or all the developments of civil rights, or whatever else it might be. Some commentators refer to internalized misogyny as their way of explaining why women voted for Trump, this deeply disturbingly patronizing idea, Victorian idea, in fact, that women don’t really know their own minds and have kind of been brainwashed by the culture to think that they’re inferior, and then they kind of just follow their men into the voting booth and do as they tell them. This argument, ironically, was being made by feminists, and it’s most anti-feminist argument you can ever think of. Of course, they say we live in a post-truth era. All these people have been sucked in by post-truth. They believe demagogues. They believe lies. They’re gullible, and so on. What all these explanations have in common is this incredible instinct, this constant instinct, to pathologize what people think, to pathologize people’s political beliefs, to pathologize their voting habits. It was really summed up for me by someone on one of those anti-Trump demos that happened shortly after his inauguration. Someone held up a placard that said, your vote was a hate crime, and I thought that really summed up where we’re going with this, which is that, you know, this sense that you suffer from a pathology if you like Trump or you vote for Trump. It’s the only explanation. You’re effectively mentally ill. You have some deep-seated racial or psychological disturbance, and that’s what you’re expressing, and, in fact, we’ve seen with all these analyses of the psychological personality of the Trump voter, as if they were an indistinguishable mass of people whose brains could be investigated like rats in a laboratory. That kind of commentary has been going on for a long time, and I think that really cuts to the heart of the problem with political correctness and of the problem with the way in which the Trump phenomenon is being understood, or, in my view, misunderstood because I think both Wendy and Robby have touched on the fact that it actually is quite difficult to define what political correctness is. I completely agree with Wendy that the phrase is not particularly useful, and the way it’s used can differ from one person to another. We tend, often, to focus on the extreme expressions of political correctness, like, for example, in Britain there was recently a new publication of nursery rhymes, and the old classic, what should we do with a drunken sailor, was changed to what should we do with a grumpy pirate on the basis that you couldn’t possibly have children singing about drunkenness. That would be terrible. It’s those kind of things we focus on because they’re hilarious and actually do tell us something about the society we live in, but it’s so much more than that. The policing of language is never just about the policing of language. The policing of language is always, and you can trace this back to what Orwell wrote and even before that. The policing of language is always about the policing of minds. It’s always about the policing of attitudes, and it’s fundamentally about the policing of behavior. The transformation of words or the invention of new words or the outlawing of certain phrases is always about controlling how you view the world itself and how you interact with the world. It’s never so straightforward as simply replacing bad words with good ones. There’s always something else going on, and I think that something else going on, in my view, is pathologization. If I had to sum up what I think P.C. is, I think it is the increasing, growing, long-standing pathologization of certain people’s views, which means the pathologization of their beliefs, their values, and their lifestyles, and I think that’s the kind of thing that Trump voters are reacting against. I think the two definitions of P.C. we are normally given, which is one comes from the Left and one comes the Right, and particularly from the alt-right, both are unsatisfactory. So, the one from the Left, and particularly the apologetic Left, is that P.C. is simply good ideas gone wrong. So, it’s anti-racism and feminism and so on gone too far or gone a bit off track, and good intentions are at the roots of it, but it’s a bit too over zealous. I don’t buy that definition of P.C. because, in my mind, P.C., in terms of identity politics, and certainly the kind of stuff we’re seeing on campus at the moment, runs entirely counter to those values. It runs entirely counter to anti-racism and feminism. Identity politics, the celebration of difference, particularly racial difference, the institutionalization of racial difference, the way in which you can be described as a white man, or the way in which black people are said to suffer from some kind of historical burden, historical determinism. Identity politics rehabilitates the racial imagination in a very ugly way, whereas anti-racism, those good values of the old Left or the old Liberals, was about destroying the racial imagination or overcoming the racial imagination. Then the Right’s description of P.C. is not very useful either. The Right’s description is that what we have is basically pinkos marching through the institutions. They use the phrase cultural Marxism, which is my least favorite phrase in the whole world, as I say to every single person of every friend of mine who’s on the Right. If it’s Marxism you’re worried about, you should be delighted by what’s happening on campuses right now because this celebration of female fragility, this stoking up of diff
erences between the races, this is the overriding of any question of class so that everyone is just described as white or black of whatever it might be. That is the opposite of Marxism. That is proof, hard proof, of the death of the Marxist imagination, so you should be happy if it’s Marxism you’re worried about. So, neither of those definitions are satisfactory. What I think P.C. really represents over time through politics, through institutions in everyday life, is the increasing alienation of a whole sway of the society and the pathologization of what they think and what they believe. You can really see this with Trump voters on various different issues. So, the three issues I think are most telling in relation to this are climate change, gay marriage, and concern about terrorism. Those are three issues on which Trump voters have different views to Clinton voters. They are a bit more skeptical about climate change. They are more likely to be opposed to gay marriage, and they are more concerned about terrorism and the threat it poses to America. What happens if you discuss these issues now? If you’re skeptical about climate change or a climate change denier, you’re pathologized as anti-expertise, anti-intellectual, anti-science. You’re wrong. You should be expelled from public life. If you oppose gay marriage, or rather defend traditional marriage, you are homophobic, a bigot. Instantly. No discussion. It couldn’t possibly be down to religious views or something legitimate. It’s utterly illegitimate. If you’re concerned about terrorism, or if you’re concerned about Islamism, or if you’re concerned about Islam, you’re Islamophobic. You’re instantly written off as someone who has this phobic, i.e. mentally ill, take on the world. So, I think a lot of the support for Trump is a reaction against not simply the extremes that us guys write about all the time, the extreme expressions of P.C., but it’s a struggle against the relentless pathologization of an entire sway of American society and an entire sway of Western society by a new technocratic elite that is increasingly intolerant of not only other people’s point of view, but points of view in general, and now wants to run everything in an incredibly technical, managerial, supposedly expert-led fashion. That’s really what this revolt represents, but the great tragedy, as Tom indicated in his opening remarks, is that if they think Trump will challenge this culture, then they’re in for a rude awakening, and that’s where, I think, those of us who still do hold onto enlightenment values need to step in and provide them with some of the arguments that Trump certainly won’t.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you, Brendan. Finally, Steven.
[Steven Pinker] – A number of the points that I intended to make have already been made, so I’ll try to just stick to some ideas that have not been voiced so far. One of the reasons that I think that Trump’s victory was legitimately shocking to many of us is the degree of contempt for accuracy, objectivity, facts, often common sense, ordinary norms of civility, and decency. I don’t think this is an overreaction. I don’t think it’s a hissy fit. Organizations that try to monitor the simply number of lies and false statements have shown that Trump is quite an outlier. All politicians lie. That’s ’cause all human beings lie. All politicians bend the truth. All humans bend the truth, but Trump is clearly an extreme outlier. The question is of the people who might be persuadable, that is, the people who are not already bound by political tribalism to the Democratic or the Republican tribe, and most of the variance is simply accounted for by whether people consider themselves to be Republican or Democrat. The actual figures from the 2016 election are not a whole lot different from those from the 2012 election. I mean, a couple of states flipped by margins of a few tens of thousands of votes, but generally the vast majority of people, the positions that are advanced by candidates made no difference whatsoever. Most people, when asked, have no idea what positions their favorite candidates espouse, but they know that a particular candidate represents their kind of people, and that’s really what pushes the numbers around. The question is in those few tens of thousands of people who are not already committed to voting Democrat come what may or Republican come what may, what pushed them in this particular election over to the side of a candidate who is by many criteria patently unqualified to be President. Imagine, and I would never want to overestimate the overall level of rationality or respect for truth or objectivity of homo sapiens, but just imagine that there are some small number of people who are really affected by common sense, ordinary norms of respect, civility, decency, fact, respect for truth, and so on. You’d think that it would be kind of a foregone conclusion to what they would vote for. On the other hand, when you have these outrages on the Left that match, at least superficially, the outrages from Donald Trump, it makes it kind of a toss-up for those people who are simply going to vote for the less crazy tribe. So, when you have the Chief Economist of the World Bank who is dis-invited from giving a commencement address or Ayaan Hirsi Ali called Islamophobic, when you have statements like America is the land of opportunity branded as microaggressions, when you have a residential dean at an Ivy League College circulate a memo saying maybe we should all chill out about Halloween costumes, and then you’ve got an angry mob that confronts her and her husband, Erika and Nicholas Christakis, screaming obscenities at them, when you have examples of white people taking Yoga classes being denounced as cultural appropriation, then these are all risible. They’re patently absurd. They’re not as consequential as having a vindictive mendacious bully with nuclear codes. So, I actually don’t mean to equate them in terms of the seriousness. For all of the silliness on campus, the old saying that academic debates are fierce because so little is at stake, when it comes to politics, a great deal is at stake, and so, ultimately, we should be far more concerned with the absurdity of Donald Trump than we are of campus follies. But, nonetheless, in the eyes of people who are trying to decide which tribe they want to affiliate with, I think the politically correct Left has made it a toss-up. You think that it would be impossible to out-stupid Donald Trump, but a lot of the politically correct Left has been doing their best. It should’ve been a slam dunk. They’ve made it into a toss-up. The other way in which I do agree with my fellow panelists that political correctness has done an enormous amount of harm in the sliver of the population that might be, I wouldn’t want to say persuadable, but certainly whose affiliation might be up for grabs, comes from the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right, internet savvy, media savvy, who often are radicalized in that way, who swallow the red pill, as the saying goes, the allusion from The Matrix. When they are exposed the first time to true statements that have never been voiced in college campuses or in The New York Times or in respectable media, that are almost like a bacillus to which they have no immunity, and they’re immediately infected with both the feeling of outrage that these truths are unsayable, and no defense against taking them to what we might consider to be rather repellent conclusions. Let me give you some examples. Here is a fact that’s gonna sound ragingly controversial but is not, and that is that capitalist societies are better than communist ones. If you doubt it, then just ask yourself the question, would I rather live in South Korea or North Korea. Would I rather live in West Germany in the 1970s or East Germany or in the 1960s? I submit that this is actually not a controversial statement, but in university campuses, it would be considered flamingly radical. Here’s another one. Men and women are not identical in their life priorities, in their sexuality, in their tastes and interests. This is not controversial to anyone who has even glanced at the data. The kind of vocational interest tests of the kind that your high school guidance counselor gave you were given to millions of people, and men and women give different answers as to what they wanna do for a living and how much time they wanna allocate to family versus career and so on. But you can’t say it. A very famous person on this campus did say it, and we all know what happened to him. He’s no longer, well, he is on this campus, but no longer in the same office. Here’s a third fact that is just not controversial, although it sounds controversial, and that is that different ethnic groups commit violent crimes at different rates. You can go to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Look it up on their website. The homicide rate among African Americans is about seven or eight times higher than it is among European Americans. And terrorism, go to the Global Terrorist Database, and you find that worldwide the overwhelming majority of suicide terrorist acts are committed by Islamist extremist groups. If you’ve never heard these facts before and you stumble across them or someone mentions them, it is possible to come to some extreme conclusions, such as that women are inferior, that African Americans are naturally violent, that we all ought to be Anarcho-capitalists and do away with all regulation and social safety nets, that most terrorism in this country is the fault of Muslims. These are unwarranted conclusions because for each one of these facts there are very powerful counterarguments for why they don’t license racism and sexism and Anarcho-capitalism and so on. The fact that men and women aren’t identical has no implications for whether we should discriminate against women for a number of reasons. One of them is for any traits in which the sex is different, and two distributions have enormous amounts of overlap, so that you can’t draw a reliable conclusion about any individual from group averages. Number two, the principle of opposition to racism and sexism is not a factual claim that the sexes and races are indistinguishable in every aspect. It’s a political and moral commitment to treat people as individuals, as opposed to pre-judging them by the statistics of their group. Third, we know that some of the statistical generalizations about races and sexes change over time. So, what is true now may not necessarily be true in 10 or 20 years. These are all reasons why you can believe that the sexes are different and be a very strong feminist, why you can believe that differences between the races exist and be very strongly opposed to any form of racism. In the case of, say, rates of violent crime, it used to
be, go back 100 years, the rate of violent crime among Irish Americans was far higher than among other ethnic groups. That obviously changed. There’s no reason that that can’t change in the case of current racial differences. In the case of terrorism, the majority of domestic terrorism is committed by Right-Wing extremist groups, not by Islamic groups within this country. Of course, through much of its history Islam was far more enlightened than Christendom. There was no equivalent of the Inquisition. There was no equivalent of the wars of religion in the classical history of Islam. Finally, in the case of the fact that capitalism is really a better system than Marxism, every successful capitalist society has regulation, has a social safety net, and, in fact, some of the countries with the strongest social safety nets are also the countries that are most market-friendly, that have the greatest degree of economic freedom. These are all reasons why you can believe all of these and not necessarily drift toward extremist positions. In fact, why you can be a Progressive, a Centrist, a Liberal, even a Leftist, and believe all of these because you’re exposed not only to the facts but how to put them in context. Now let’s say that you have never even heard anyone mention these facts. The first time you hear them, you’re apt to say, number one, the truth has been withheld from me by universities, by mainstream media, and, moreover, you will be vindicated when people who voice these truths are suppressed, shouted down, assaulted, all the more reason to believe that the Left, that the mainstream media, that universities can’t handle the truth. So, you get vindicated over and over again, but, worst of all, you’re never exposed to the ways of putting these facts into context so that they don’t lead to racism and sexism and extreme forms of Anarcho-Libertarianism. So, the politically correct Left is doing itself an enormous disservice when it renders certain topics undiscussable, especially when the facts are clearly behind them because they leave people defenseless the first time they hear them against the most extreme and indefensible conclusions possible. If they were exposed, then the rationale for putting them into proper political and moral context could also be articulated, and I don’t think you would have quite the extreme backlash.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much, Steven. At this point, whilst we rearrange Steven’s microphone, we’re going to go out for audience questions. I’m gonna take a handful at times, so, panel, don’t feel the need to jump straight in, even if something’s addressed to you, and then we’ll bring it back. So, let me see some hands. Who wants to be– Cool, so, mic man, let’s go to this gentleman here. Have we got someone on this side? There’s someone also there in a black shirt.
[Wendy Kaminer] – The guy in the back was the first person to raise his hand.
[Tom Slater] – Going back, cool. Yes?
[Audience Member] – Wendy, you mentioned political correctness had a previous peak in the 90s, and I was just wondering if there’s any pattern you see why it’s back, and why is it social media?
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. Let’s go here, and then can you just take the mic up to the gentleman up about there. Yeah? Shoot.
[Audience Member] – My question is where do we go from here? I’m already convinced that this was the reason and you guys just said the same thing. You know? So, I’m like, where do we go from here? What is the next step?
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. Yep, up there. You, yeah.
[Audience Member] – Thank you. What I find more and more these days is the sorts of people who you mentioned who might state that one of the reasons that they voted from Trump was political correctness. Often, the critiques that they applied to the culture of suppression and of thin-skinned snowflakes can be very easily reflected back on them. Do you not think that a lot of the time when people identify political correctness as the source of their grievance they’re often people who resort to the same protections against offensive speech, and that it can often be used as a cover for naked identitarianism? You know, people on the Right are often offended by speech that offends their, say, white male, red-blooded American identity too.
[Tom Slater] – Excellent. Thank you. I’m gonna grab two more quickly. So, let’s take this gentlemen here and then this gentlemen here, and then we’ll come back.
[Audience Member]- Hi, so, sadly I don’t think that most voters in the Midwest were working-class read Spiked.
[Tom Slater] – It’s a pity.
[Audience Member] – Maybe some read Reason, not many probably read Campus Reform. So, my question is of all these controversies on campus, how much of it filters out into the consciousness of the average American? Some of us may be concerned about political correctness on campus ’cause we experience it, but how much does that affect the average voter, who we’re talking about? Related to that, what has changed with the internet and social media? Has that allowed, say, the consciousness of what’s going on in campus to migrate to people who otherwise would’ve been unaware, perhaps because they didn’t even go to college, for example.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much, and just here.
[Audience Member] – I’m curious about how norms around political correctness bleed into the conversation. I’m sorry, bleed into the conversation around free speech, and there’s this sort of natural politicization of free speech whenever it’s brought up in a politically correct context and that’s already sort of student, different travel directions, and so there’s this also sort of unfortunate fragility to it where free speech is only brought up in a context where it’s defending a position that somebody thinks is unsavory. So, there’s this question around how to avoid its politicization so that it can be maintained, as well as sort of propagate better norms. So, I guess from a practical point of view I wanna know how to sort of improve that.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. Right, so there’s a lot there, panel. Most of these come back on everything, but, Robby, I wanna start with you, particularly this question about how much does this actually fuel as a feud. Does your average Rustbelt trucker actually know there’s people with blue hair running around calling him privileged. I mean, how much does that actually–?
[Robby Soave] – I actually think the answer to that is yes, not because they read Spiked or Reason or Campus Reform, but they listen to Talk Radio, they watch Fox News, and these two outlets in particular have been blasting this issue out to their listeners for the last few years at a volume you could not possibly understand, unless you ask grandpa what he’s listening to these days. Then it becomes a question of, well, is political correctness only a problem because we’re telling people about it, and they’re so outraged, and maybe if we would censor ourselves we wouldn’t get into it. But I think it’s worth covering anyway because I do think it’s a problem on college campuses, but then it’s over-hyped by these people, and, also, there are people who, you’re right, have never heard of any of this but then encounter it in their daily life, encounter it with a neighbor or with a client or customer or a boss or a coworker. You don’t hear about those incidents because there’s not a corporate life reform website. I absolutely do think the voters are more educated on this issue for these reasons.
[Wendy Kaminer] – Can I answer that?
[Tom Slater] – Yeah, of course.
[Wendy Kaminer] – I think that the Cato and the Pew surveys, which I cited, also give you some evidence of that. They really do find a lot of awareness in the general public about political correctness, and I think what was most interesting to me were the differences in the way Democrats and Republicans thought about political correctness and the need to censor themselves. There was a question directed to me about political correctness in the 90s. I think you asked why it reemerged recently. I don’t think it reemerged. It never went away. I would date what we now think of as political correctness or speech and language and idea phobias back to the late 1980s, early 90s. We saw the notion that speech is the equivalent of an act of violence coming out of popular therapies, popular personal development movements in the 1980s. We saw, to some extent, reflected in the anti-porn movement, the feminist anti-porn movement of the 1980s, and then in the early 90s we have universities beginning to experiment with speech codes and beginning to implement and enforce speech codes. We also see them trying to welcome much more diverse student populations and not really knowing how to do it, and I think speech codes were partly a reflection of the move to diversify American campuses. So, we start off with, I would say, more contained notions of offensiveness in the 1990s, but as this grows over a decade, the notion of what’s offensive becomes broader and broader. The notion of what constitutes bigotry or racism or homophobia or sexism becomes broader and broader, and starts to embrace a lot of mainstream ideas. This list of microaggressions that the University of California issued, it involved criticizing affirmative action. It involved saying things like if in America you work hard, you can get ahead. It involved asking people where they’re from. It’s now considered offensive to ask someone where they’re from, and it’s interesting the way people react to that question. I was in a hotel in Miami recently, and there was this very nice guy helping us out. I said, where are you from, meaning what part of the country of you from. Where did you grow up? Did you grow up in Florida? Did you grow up in California? He said something like, well, I’m an American. Well, that was my assumption was that he was an American, but that question, where are you from, has become so loaded now. Political correctness has never gone away. It’s just gotten worse and worse for a number of reasons, not the least of which are probably the proliferation of Student Life Administrators on campuses.
[Tom Slater] — Definitely, and Steve, sorry, was there something you wanted to say?
[Steven Pinker] – As someone who’s plotted an awful lot of graphs tracking things quantitatively over time, I’m always suspicious of any argument that something is bad now, therefore, it’s worse than it used to be because often those claims don’t survive fact-checking. I’m not getting any younger, but I have a good enough memory of what things were like in the 1970s when I was a college student, and things were pretty bad then as well. I remember my first week on campus at a junior college. I was only 17. This was 1971. There was a guy behind a table, several people selling or giving away some sort of the Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, People’s Workers United Manifesto Party circular with a picture of Mao and Stalin and Lenin, and he was getting into an argument with someone who was trying to engage him in argument, and I remember him shouting him down, screaming, “Fascists don’t have the right to speak.” This was 1971. Most people here weren’t born yet. So, this syndrome goes back a long way. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of psychologists who mentioned claims that by now are fairly unexceptionable, like evolution might have something to do with behavior, like there may be some genetic differences among individuals, were shouted down, often assaulted. E.O. Wilson, Emeritus Professor, still here, was shouted down by chanting students who said, “Racist Wilson, you can’t hide. “We charge you with genocide.” Dick Herrnstein was shut down when he tried to lecture on pigeons back in the 1970s because of his Atlantic Monthly article, which did not mention race. This was well before the bell curve. These attempts at shutting down unpopular beliefs goes back at least 40 years. I think one of the things that happened is that the generation that first tried to shutdown speech, namely, we Baby Boomers, got into power. We expanded the Student Life bureaucracy, and we created something of an invitation to students who I believe are getting far too much blame for this movement. The idea that millennials are snowflakes that can’t handle unpopular beliefs I think is totally wrong. It’s really our generation that has kind of welcomed this, rewarded it, and used it. I think a better analogy than snowflakes who are traumatized might be the cultural revolution in China in the 1960s in which one faction of the adult generation mobilized the students to attack another faction of their generation. A lot of the enabling was done by, not by the students, but by the factions that egged them on. So, what’s to be done? I would certainly like to see, I would like to find out how much we are seeing a case of pluralistic ignorance, where everyone assumes that everyone else is offended, and no one actually is offended. Everyone assumes that everyone else has these dogmatic politically correct beliefs, but it may not necessarily be a majority who do, and to crack this pluralistic ignorance you really do need people who announce that the emperor has no clothes, who say in public what everyone else might be believing in private. That’s gonna be a crucial step in making it happen, in response to your question.
[Wendy Kaminer] – I wanna disagree with you just a little bit, Steven, your description of what it was like on campus in the 60s and 70s, ’cause I was there too. I’m probably a little older than you, even though my hair isn’t gray, and will never be.
[Steven Pinker] – But I can’t ask you your age.
[Wendy Kaminer] – You can ask me my age. My age is not a secret. Of course, there are always people who are extremely intolerant of speech. That’s human nature, and there are always probably only a minority of people who are really strong free speech advocates when it comes to protecting the speech they don’t like. There are always people who indulge in heckler’s veto. I think the difference on campus is that there are now administrative systems that are devoted to shutting down whatever somebody complains of as what we might think of as a minor offense.
[Steven Pinker] – I agree.
[Wendy Kaminer] – You didn’t used to get disciplined for telling a joke that offended somebody.
[Steven Pinker] – The guy who said, “Fascists have no right to speak,” is now a dean.
[Wendy Kaminer] – But I also think that it’s not our generation as much as it is, you know, most of these Student Life Administrators are not in their sixties. I think most of them tend to be, I don’t know, what? In their forties? What I’m seeing is a real generational divide that, I don’t know, I think the cutoff is probably 45 or 50, and that younger faculty, and by younger I mean under 45, and administrators are people who were raised under these speech code regimes. They were educated under speech code regimes, and that’s why it’s important to remember that they date back to the early 90s. So, the people who graduated from college in the early mid-90s are now middle-aged, and somebody can shut that phone off. And they’re the people who are enforcing these things. I also wanted to–
[Tom Slater] – I just wanna quickly bring Brendan in, little bit of Robby, and then we’ll go back out ’cause I wanna get some more questions in.
[Brendan O’Neill] – Yeah, so, I agree actually that this is not particularly new, and looking at the British context, the exact thing that you described, Steven, in relation to people wanting to ban fascism was happening on British campuses since the 70s onwards. That’s really important because it really proves the argument that if you don’t challenge censorship at the very start, then it will swallow you up eventually. When I was at university in the early 1990s, I spent a lot of my time arguing against the censorship of fascists, and you were called a fascist for doing that. You would be branded a racist and so on, even if you were involved in anti-racist campaigns at the same time. The argument that we made, students made at that time, was that if we allow the campus police or the university administration or student unions to ban fascists, then we’re opening the door to censorship more broadly, and we were proved right on that because as soon as it was okayed for them to ban fascists, then they moved on to banning Zionists. That was their next target because Zionism was seen as this racist ideology. Then they moved on from Zionists to banning homophobes, and then misogynists and all the other people that the student campaigners and certain university workers don’t like. A really important turning point in Britain was in 2002, I think it was, when a campus banned Eminem’s music. They banned Eminem’s music on the basis that he uses the word faggot. So, the fact that they had a policy that meant that they could ban homophobia meant that it was perfectly logical that they could ban Eminem. You can trace it historically, this spread from censorship that was targeted just on fascism to one that now can ban Germaine Greer because she thinks there are men and women and a man can’t become a woman, or Maryam Nemazee because she escaped the Iranian regime and is very critical of Islam. All these people are being swallowed up by a logic that was there at the very beginning. I think the logic is the key thing. Just one quick point on what to do next, I mean, it’d be really interesting to hear other people’s views on that, but I think, I completely agree with Steven. I dislike this word snowflake so much and, in fact, we recently banned its use on Spiked, not that we’re in favor of censorship, but it’s such an useful term in terms of describing what’s going on, and this idea of uniquely fragile millennials and so on, I think that’s a real cop out because what we really face is not simply a new generation that’s quite intolerant, and not simply campus craziness, in fact, but it’s really a counter-enlightenment, and then the challenge to all the ideals of the enlightenment, the ideal of universalism, the ideal of self-government, the ideal of freedom of thought and freedom of speech, of course, the ideal of using moral reasoning to negotiate your way through the world. It’s all those things that are under attack. You can’t blame that on some 20 year-old who thinks you shouldn’t wear a costume of Bruce Jenner on Halloween. They’re not responsible for this. It goes back much further than that. The reason they express it so keenly is because they’ve been socialized through childhood in school and so on into this new counter-enlightenment, into this new culture that devalues freedom of speech, devalues due process, sacralizes self-esteem, and so on and so on. So, they are only the end products of a culture that I think has been growing probably before the 70s, going back maybe even to, you know, I’d like to blame everything on the 60s ’cause I’m quite anti 1960s, but maybe even before that. These students strike me as the foot soldiers of the West’s own self-doubt, and I think unless we grapple with the origins of that, then we will just end up shouting at young people, which is not very productive.
[Tom Slater] – So, Robby.
[Robby Soave] – I actually have a slightly different perspective than that. I am constantly struck by how un-ideological the opposition to speech is on campus, that it is purely psychological. This is an enormous difference and a very recent one among college students that their hostility to speech is based in discomfort to harmful emotions, and this you can measure. I have students report feeling anxiety and depression and trauma at off-the-charts higher rates than even ten years ago, even among kids who aren’t even yet in college, who are in high school. Jean Twenge has some fascinating research on this and how smartphone usage might correspond with it. But when I talk to students, they describe their hostility to offensive ideas in that it’s not really a deeply philosophical opposition. It’s this idea hurts me or maybe it hurts people in my community. It hurts them emotionally, and emotional harm is the same as violence because it triggers my trauma, a trauma I’ve been taught to think I have by this enormous campus bureaucracy that really weaponizes this trauma, or permits you to weaponize it because then you can shut someone down if you have it. So, there’s an incentive to make yourself be a victim when you really aren’t or you’re no more than anyone else that it is increased, I believe from looking at the data, is new and increasing and powerful and is the main driver of censorship.
[Tom Slater] – I think at this point I’m gonna take it back out to some questions. We will return, I’m sure, to many of those points. So, who else wants to speak? Let’s see some hands. Mic people, where are we at? Let’s take this lady in the front row there, and then do you wanna take the mic to this gentleman here?
[Audience Member] – Thank you. I’d like to take it back out of the campus and into the country at large again. I totally agree with everything people are saying about the issues around being too P.C. in the campus context, but I’m wondering how we make a return to civility because what has happened, and I’ve seen this both, you know, having just come from living in the U.K. I saw it as a result of Brexit, and I’ve seen it here where now, thanks to these surprise votes, people feel like they have a license to say things that they wouldn’t say before. So, whether it’s attacking someone at a bus stop and saying, “So, when are you going back “to where you came from,” and things that can escalate into quite frightening levels. So, I just wonder how do we get that level of civility and a sense of the civic, if you like, and respect for our fellow human back without going into these extremes that the political correctness takes us?
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. Uh, gentleman there, yep.
[Audience Member] – Hi. What role do you think, perhaps, the first generation immigrants might play in bringing some sense back to the political correctness conversation, given that many of them come from countries that may not have a tradition of political correctness, and certainly many of them come from countries that suppress free speech, and, therefore might be more likely to protect it, want to protect it when they come here. I myself have to tell many people wearing a bindi as a fashion item is fine. Recently, the M.F.A, actual Japanese woman, when there was a protest against having kimono tryouts and actual Japanese women came there to say really it’s okay, and white people and Asian Americans were protesting against them. So, yeah, that’s my question.
[Tom Slater] – Definitely. Can I see some more hands quickly? Yeah, do you wanna pass the mic to this gentleman down here. I do wanna go up there, but you first, sir. Just in the middle there.
[Audience Member] – Thank you. We’re sitting in the university that from its beginnings used to send people to Rhode Island if they didn’t agree with the principles being maintained by the university. So, this goes back probably beyond the 70s, and my own pet theory, and I wonder if it’s stupid or if you’d agree with it is that political correctness in some sense is the redefinition of blasphemy for a secular age.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much.
[Audience Member] – I think a significant number of persons who voted for Donald Trump were very, very aware of his warts, but I think they felt that there were some fundamental problems with what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama wanted to change America towards. One of those is that if you look in a newspaper you will see priority given to women and minorities for jobs, for example. This is just an example. Well, what does that mean? That means everybody gets a push up except if you’re white male, and if you go around, you can see women power, Latino power, black power, LGBT power, but if you say white power, then you’re labeled a white supremacist, and I would hope the panel would address these comments that I just made.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. I’m gonna bring it back to the panel now, but I’m gonna ask you guys to be brief ’cause we’ll try and pick up the last ones here before we close, but, Wendy.
[Wendy Kaminer] – On the last point, there was a political scientist writing in The Washington Post, analyzing the election, who said that the perception that white people are treated unfairly relative to minorities was a particularly strong predictor of support for Donald Trump. That, I think, goes to your point, briefly.
[Tom Slater] – And, Brendan, on this point, which we’ve heard here, but also at the top there is to what extent does political correctness and the backlash against it become a cover for what is just old-fashioned bigotry potentially, or how do we de-mystify those two things, I guess.
[Audience Member] – Not seeing if we’re going to be limited resources, and it’s just a powerful symbol.
[Tom Slater] – Yeah, so, just on to that point.
[Brendan O’Neill] – Well, political correctness is bigotry. That’s what it is. The dictionary definition of bigotry is intolerance of someone who has different views to you. It doesn’t actually mean racism and misogyny. That can be encapsulated in bigotry, but bigotry is intolerance of people who do not share your views, usually your religious views, but all views. So, political correctness is bigotry. A lot of the reaction against Trump is bigotry because of the way it talks about Trump voters and so on, and the intolerance it has for their views. Whenever I hear people calling someone a bigot, I always instantly think, hm, maybe that person’s the bigot ’cause that’s often what’s– Under the guise of anti-bigotry, a lot of bigotry is currently being expressed right now. I think in relation to– First, I wanna defend Brexit. Brexit is not the same as Trump. Brexit was the largest vote in British history against an institution, the European Union, which is incredibly undemocratic and illiberal and racist. It has a two-tier immigration policy, which grants freedom of movement for largely white Europeans, while paying African dictators to keep their people away from our pristine shores. So, this is not a nice institution, and it’s certainly not one that anyone on the Left or on the Liberal side should support. Brexit is a good thing. If Brexit licensed anything, it was the contempt of the technocrats for the idea of democracy and for ordinary voters. The bile that is being poured upon people who voted for Brexit in recent months is extraordinary, and that’s another form of bigotry that we don’t talk about enough. One very quick point, I agree that P.C. is like blasphemy for a secular age, but it’s kind of worse because blasphemy protected God or Jesus or the Bible. What P.C. does, it turns all of us into little jumped-up Jesuses. So, we all deserve our own blasphemy law. We all have that protection that used to just be afforded to one book or one church and so on. So, it makes it entirely unwieldy and subjective, and anyone can say, well, that offends me, and, therefore, I don’t think it should be allowed anymore. So, I really agree with Robby that the censorship we have now is therapeutic censorship. We had religious censorship. We had political censorship. Now we have therapeutic censorship, which is censorship demanded to protect my self-esteem and my feelings and my mental health.
[Wendy Kaminer] – We also have therapeutic justice, which is very dangerous. The notion that the justice system ought to be considering and privileging the feelings of these self-identified victims. Where does this notion “believe the women,” “automatically believe an accuser” come from if not from the world of therapy. It may well be appropriate for a therapist to believe somebody’s story or a friend, but it’s really not appropriate for the justice system. Can I very quickly just respond to the guy up there who talked about political correctness on the Right. I think that’s just important to keep in mind that while we’ve been talking about progressive P.C. that there’s just as much censoriousness on the Right. Cato found, for example, that majority of Republicans would strip the citizenship of people who burn the flag. Now that was something that was proposed by Donald Trump. Donald Trump is an instinctive practitioner of P.C. and identity politics. That was a big part of his campaign, and, of course, he’s also extremely thin-skinned.
[Tom Slater] – Definitely, and just on that point, I’d be interested as well to pick up on this kind of identity politics issue, which was also raised there, which is if the currency in politics becomes all about this group, that group, that group. Are you not gonna generate on some level some kind of backlash?
[Robby Soave] – I wanna address the “back to civility.” I think our watchdog institutions of our society, our education system, our media institutions, need to check themselves before they wreck themselves and bring us all down with them. The media institutions need to be much more responsible. They should call out Trump’s bad policies and explain why they’re bad. They can’t overreact. They should not treat him like Hitler because even in cases where it’s justified, it turns people off. These institutions have to do a better job of having regular Americans believe that there is truth and there is value in what they’re saying. Our school system should foster enlightenment values, multiculturalism, tolerance, and not just our college systems, but our K through 12 system. There is some evidence that the Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled. I don’t necessarily trust everything that they’ve suggested that people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are hateful figures, but they have found that there does seem to be maybe a minor bullying in schools relating to incivility and Trump to kids bullying Latino students and black students. I’m skeptical that it’s necessarily this huge jump based on the election because kids always are mean to each other, and this might just be the flavor, the way they’re mean to each other right now.
[Steven Pinker] – The rates of bullying have come down.
[Robby Soave] – Right, rates of bullying come down over time. But schools can identify that. It’s perfectly fine to do something about that, but we have to remember that the purpose of education is to make people better human beings, not to shame them or scold them or suspend them or expel them or put them in jail for not getting everything right the first time.
[Wendy Kaminer] – To teach them how to think and how to argue. I think technology is one of the biggest obstacles to civility. Call me a Luddite, but I think in order to bring–I think civility requires human contact, person-to-person contact. People are much more civil when they have to face each other as they speak.
[Tom Slater] – Completely, and Steve, is there anything you wanna respond to before we go back out?
[Steven Pinker] – No.
[Tom Slater] – No? He’s good.
[Wendy Kaminer] – You’re good.
[Tom Slater] – On that note, let’s go back out. Where are my mic people? Let’s go this gentleman here, and then, other person, there’s two guys in the middle there. Start with the guy with the beard.
[Audience Member] – Yeah, I just wanted to talk to regarding the civility issue. I think actually P.C. probably gets in the way of it. I’ll go back to when I was a child growing up in Britain. The area in which I grew up was kind of mixed. It was quite mixed. It was a working-class area, but there was outward racism. I mean, people would call you all sorts of things. The thing is, though, we kinda had it out with one another. Someone would say something to me. I would say something to them. We would sometimeS even scuffle, but we had it out, and we kind of had the space to have it out. I think to some degree what P.C. does is it gets in the way of that, gets in the way of you being there to– Pardon?
[Audience Member, Interjecting] – That’s not good though.
[Tom Slater] – We’ll take you in a minute, but just finish your point.
[Audience Member] – I don’t know because I think we ended up in a better place by having it out.
[Tom Slater] – Okay, excellent. Thank you. Yes.
[Audience Member] – Is this on?
[Tom Slater] – Yes, we’re good.
[Audience Member] – So, with the idea of political correctness, I just wanted to point out I think there’s a philosophical idea that’s sort of at war here between certain groups, between the Left and the Right, is the idea of collectivism, which, I think, political correctness and a lot of these ideas, you know, feminism and Black Lives Matter, is this idea that we must treat individuals in a collective manner, and I think that that conflicts a lot with the first-hand American ideals of giving power to the individual, pursuing the American dream, and if you buckle down and if you fight hard and you fight through all of the different types of, I guess, oppressions or whatever you wanna call it in your life that you will succeed. As we’re kind of moving forward, these terms like cultural Marxism, sort of this parallel between post-Modernism and all these different thoughts are starting to enter our society, and I think that really it’s, like we said, it’s an ideological battle between these two fields, and just something I think would be interesting to address.
[Tom Slater] – That’s great. Can I see some more hands? Right, there’s quite a lot. First of all, do you wanna pass the mic to the gentleman behind you, and then can you, sorry, just come down here. So, just go jump in. Yeah, shoot.
[Audience Member] – I just wonder how you think Democratic candidates in the future might thread the needle between maybe attracting voters who are opposed to political correctness, but also satisfying the voters who demand political correctness, ’cause it seems to me, I think in The Virginia, it seems to me the Left is walking away from the Democratic candidate for not being politically correct enough. I think the whole thing might collapse.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. Take this gentleman down there.
[Audience Member] – Professor Pinker, you’ve said that it’s important to talk about facts. As I’m sure you know, Charles Murray recently spoke on our campus, and one of your fellow faculty members said, “Charles Murray is like the Confederate flag. You can invite him if you want, but doing so says a lot about our values.” So, I’m wondering how that squares with your perception that it’s important to have dialogue on college campuses.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much. I’m gonna grab two more very quickly. This gentleman who’s been waiting to speak, semi-patiently, but there you go.
[Audience Member] – I just kind of shared my view, and an altercation, I looked at that as progress but that’s just my perspective. I was just thinking of political correctness. Is it a symptom perhaps of a larger idea or a larger– I mean, there seems to be an emergence of other economies in the context of globalization and tactile divide here. Could this just be a proxy battle and political correctness is actually the symptom, and the true cold is just not enough resources, not enough income, not enough growth and better quality of life. Is it just that it’s easier to have these discussions ’cause the others are so complicated? You talked about kind of a rational act or doing a cost benefit analysis, the voters or the undecided that could be won over. So, you’re talking about them doing an equation. I don’t know how egregious political correctness has come, but I gotta believe there’s something substantial about political correctness on a college campus that is beyond just having a sign that says mother or father and it has to be something fundamental that makes it a proxy battle, why it was so powerful to have other people who are usually logical decide to vote for Trump despite all his flaws in reason and rationale.
[Tom Slater] – Okay, excellent. Thank you very much. At that point, I think we have to bring it back. We’ve got about five minutes left. So, panel, I’m gonna ask you to just offer a final thought, a minute or two, either to answering these questions or just to ignore them and say what it is that you think is important. So, let’s do reverse order. So, Steve, do you wanna kick us off?
[Steven Pinker] – In response to the question that was directed at me, I’m not sure which colleague you are referring to but, obviously, I strongly disagree with him or her. A great irony is that Charles Murray’s most recent book, “Coming Apart,” was very much about all of the issues we’ve been discussing this evening. Namely, there is a cultural divide in America, two sides that barely understand each other that have different political affiliations, and that it behooves us to understand them. The ultimate irony is that Charles Murray is the one who’s shouted down, given that he’s the one who had tried to explain these very cultural phenomenon that we’re discussing today.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much, Steven. Brendan.
[Brendan O’Neill] – Yeah, on how to convince Democrats or Left-Wingers to oppose P.C., I don’t know about the Democrats. I think they’re probably a lost cause, and I really agree with the point Wendy made at the very start that there are many reasons for Trump’s victory. One is the crisis of the Democrats. I think there was a New York Times piece a few months ago saying the problems faced by the Democrats are worse than you think, and it broke down the extent to which they’ve lost working-class support. My view is that the Left or Liberals, however you want to refer to them, should be at the forefront of challenging political correctness, and it’s a shame that they vacated the field and left it to the Right, and the Right is not, in my view, a particularly convincing defender of liberty. But it’s because the Left has turned freedom into a dirty word that the Right can pretend to be that. The Left should be at the forefront. Liberals should be at the forefront because P.C. represents, in my view, P.C. is very reactionary. It sounds very Right-Wing to me. I always go back to the values of the enlightenment, which are the values of universalism, the values of self-government, the values of freedom of thought and freedom of speech, which are the values that P.C. attacks. One of the great ideas of the enlightenment was the idea of universalism, the idea of everyone had a shared capacity for autonomy and a shared capacity to advance in life. A famous French reactionary, who was very anti-enlightenment called Joseph de Maistre responded to that by saying there is no such thing as man. He said there is Italian men, French men, black men, white men, rich men, poor men. There’s no such thing as man. That was his reactionary cry. That is the cry of the P.C. That is the cry of identity politics. There is no such thing as man. It’s a reactionary movement, and everyone who considers themselves Liberal or Progressive or Left-Wing or however you want to describe it should be fighting against it every day.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you, Brendan, and Robby.
[Robby Soave] – I’ll just make two points on the identitarianism that the man in the hat mentioned and Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is the best example of a group whose goals I support almost wholeheartedly to the extent that they’re to reform the criminal justice system, to end mass incarceration, to end the war on drugs, goals that I support that this group has, I think you could make a very compelling case set back very badly, that we were closer to having criminal justice reform several years ago. Now we have a law and order President and a Republican party pivoting massively away from the kind of Libertarian ideas of criminal justice reform. I think Black Lives Matter has to shoulder some blame for that. It shows the dangers of making it about racial identity in a non-unifying way. Their goal had to be to convince people who are right leaning or white that they should support criminal justice reform. If I was going to do this, I would say it’s wasteful the amount of money we spend locking people up. It doesn’t work anyway. We don’t have the money. I would also say that it’s racially problematic how we do it, and there’s racism in the system. My lead argument wouldn’t be you are complicit in structural racism if you support this because that turns people off. Unfortunately, I think Black Lives matter is sort of emblematic of the problem we’re talking about, even though I wish they had succeeded in this. What can we do to change political correctness or stop it? Trump has shown that surprising things can happen and that if there’s anything that better explains how he was elected it is simply the cult of celebrity in this country, the love of T.V. stars, of reality T.V. I think a lot of journalists didn’t understand this because they watch highbrow television, prestige dramas. They don’t watch Kim Kardashian and The Real Housewives, which are closer to Trump’s temperament and his celebrity personality. So, we could have a T.V. personality that is well-known to all of America the way Trump was or movie star who challenges political correctness but in a respectful, non-horrifying way. I sound like I’m fantasizing about this, but it could happen. It is possible, and so I’ll leave it there.
[Tom Slater] – Thanks, Robby. Kardashian 2020.
[Wendy Kaminer]- Yeah… God save us.
[Tom Slater] – Wendy, your final thoughts.
[Wendy Kaminer] – To the question of how Democratic candidates can balance the need to appeal to tribal politics on the Left and at the same time appeal to people who are disgusted with political correctness, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be making a gazillion dollars as a political consultant, and, of course, the answer’s going to be different in every race, and it’s always the challenge of a political candidate to try to persuade the greatest number of people while offending the least number. It’s a real challenge, and I think part of the challenge is that, and this is, I think, related to the problem of political correctness, is that there’s an awful lot of purity out there on the Right and the Left, you know, an awful lot of political purity, which I think is very dangerous. I think it leads to political nihilism. If you can’t get exactly what you want, you’ll just accept nothing. You just won’t vote. We haven’t talked about the numbers of people who don’t vote. That is a huge problem, and, by the way, we have an election in Boston tomorrow, and I think probably something like 10% of people, of eligible voters, are expected to vote. It is a serious problem. I also wanted to just comment on the spread of this idea, the remarkable spread of the idea that speech is violence. I think in one of the surveys I’ve looked at recently, and maybe it was Cato, I think they found majority support for that notion, and that, to me–
[Robby Soave] – It was Cato.
[Wendy Kaminer] – Yeah, that to me is just remarkable, and it speaks to this failure to distinguish between metaphor and reality. I understand saying I feel assaulted by your speech. If you’re saying it metaphorically, you expect it to be understood metaphorically, but people don’t use it metaphorically anymore. There’s no distinguishing between metaphor and reality, and I think in some ways the sense that, this failure to distinguish metaphor and reality is the Left-Wing version of alternative facts.
[Tom Slater] – Thank you very much, Wendy. Will you join me in thanking our panel?
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