More Than One Thing Can Be True

This is a pretty typical left-liberal sentiment, that drives a lot of people, myself included, crazy:

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Look, it’s not 1932 anymore. There’s a black President, a black Attorney-General, a black Supreme Court Justice. The creation of a multicultural elite has been one of the key successes of liberal ideology and policy of the last fifty years, if not century. It is also true that black outcomes along a number of measures have stagnated or even deteriorated for much of those fifty years.

Political correctness is about the enshrinement of one set of ideological principles into elite institutions, and the exclusion of others. Political correctness is the reason that Larry Summers and James Watson and Tim Hunt were fired, not because they used nasty words or groped a colleague but because they were potentially convincing to other members of the elite. It is ideas that are at issue, not n-words, not speech.

When black teenagers get shot by the cops in flyover towns in Missouri, we often hear that we need to double-down on clamping-down on offensive speech (and ideas) at Harvard and Yale. But the reason cops are shooting kids in Missouri isn’t because the Harvard African-American Studies department doesn’t have enough power. If there is one thing the last century should have taught us, it’s that Harvard knows what is good for Harvard, and that clearly includes multiculturalism and a healthy dose of political correctness.

Whether Harvard knows what is good for the rest of the country is much harder to know. I think Trumpism (at least in its current, racist form) is a terrible remedy for what ails non-elite America. But when Trump supporters rail against political correctness, they are correctly identifying the power that elite institutions hold over thought, policy, and everyday life in the country. Are those the only powers in the country? No, of course not. All the people that liberals hate- the oil companies and private prisons and union-busting Governors- also have power, though each of them, even if conservative in their policy preferences, is probably more conditioned by the dominant ethos of the age than is generally said.

But political correctness also has power, and does not use it in the interests of all. The anger over those uses is often misplaced, and may yet be enormously destructive. But it isn’t wholly stupid, or motivated solely by hate.

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