Ed Driscoll

Political Correctness is the Essence of Leftism

“In a widely praised piece for New York Magazine, liberal writer Jonathan Chait says the leftist language police are perverting liberalism,” Sean Davis writes at the Federalist. “Chait is wrong. The politically correct language police don’t pervert modern liberalism; they embody it. And amateur leftist thought cop Jonathan Chait himself is proof.” Read the whole thing, including this passage:

Now, some will say that Chait has been unnecessarily provocative in his writing. That he should’ve made a better effort to reach out to the people he’s criticizing. The problem with this framing is that it presumes the angry rage mobs roaming Twitter in search of someone who has insufficiently checked his or her or its privilege are open to debate, to having their mind changed. That they’re interested in having a calm, rational discussion. This is a faulty presumption. It’s impossible to have a polite discussion on this topic because the outraged don’t want to have any discussion on this topic. As Chait puts it:

If a person who is accused of bias attempts to defend his intentions, he merely compounds his own guilt. (Here one might find oneself accused of man/white/straightsplaining.) It is likewise taboo to request that the accusation be rendered in a less hostile manner. This is called “tone policing.” If you are accused of bias, or “called out,” reflection and apology are the only acceptable response — to dispute a call-out only makes it worse. There is no allowance in p.c. culture for the possibility that the accusation may be erroneous. A white person or a man can achieve the status of “ally,” however, if he follows the rules of p.c. dialogue. A community, virtual or real, that adheres to the rules is deemed “safe.”

Actually, there’s been a term for this since at least 2010, when Eric Raymond of the Armed & Dangerous blog coined the portmanteau “Kafkatrapping”:

One very notable pathology is a form of argument that, reduced to essence, runs like this: “Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…} confirms that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}.” I’ve been presented with enough instances of this recently that I’ve decided that it needs a name. I call this general style of argument “kafkatrapping”, and the above the Model A kafkatrap. In this essay, I will show that the kafkatrap is a form of argument that is so fallacious and manipulative that those subjected to it are entitled to reject it based entirely on the form of the argument, without reference to whatever particular sin or thoughtcrime is being alleged. I will also attempt to show that kafkatrapping is so self-destructive to the causes that employ it that change activists should root it out of their own speech and thoughts.

My reference, of course, is to Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”, in which the protagonist Josef K. is accused of crimes the nature of which are never actually specified, and enmeshed in a process designed to degrade, humiliate, and destroy him whether or not he has in fact committed any crime at all. The only way out of the trap is for him to acquiesce in his own destruction; indeed, forcing him to that point of acquiescence and the collapse of his will to live as a free human being seems to be the only point of the process, if it has one at all.

This is almost exactly the way the kafkatrap operates in religious and political argument. Real crimes – actual transgressions against flesh-and-blood individuals – are generally not specified. The aim of the kafkatrap is to produce a kind of free-floating guilt in the subject, a conviction of sinfulness that can be manipulated by the operator to make the subject say and do things that are convenient to the operator’s personal, political, or religious goals. Ideally, the subject will then internalize these demands, and then become complicit in the kafkatrapping of others.

But it’s all moot anyhow, since the blunt force of the mob doesn’t arrive en masse to discuss an issue, but to pummel the soon to-be-unperson guilty of doubleplusungood thoughtcrime into submission, or at least into silence, as Davis writes in his response to Chait, and as Ace writes in his:

Mobs do not “argue.” They intimidate or humiliate (or both). Mobs do not engage in an enlightened, reasonable dialogue. They shout ritualized chants. Mobs are not interested in persuading someone of their wrongness of their claims; they only care about shutting the speaker up, whether he’s changed his mind or not.

An argument from a single author (or group acting together to write a single paper) is an instrument of reason; a mob which selects a target and then attacks that target with wolf-pack like tactics is an instrument of emotion.

Human beings are in fact hard-wired, as an evolutionary matter, to cringe before the baying mob; and they are further hard-wired to feel empowered by being part of an angry, screaming mob.

So it’s not quite true that joining up with a mob is “speech” just like any other speech. The “speech” of a mob is emotionally abusive and personally intimidating — and it is hardwired into our brains to find it such, when directed at we ourselves.

On the other hand, we’re also hard-wired to really enjoy leading a mob against someone. It feels good. There is no denying that; I’ve felt damned good everytime I’ve joined up with a mob.

And it is precisely because it Feels So Good to engage in coordinated mob cruelty that thoughtful people must resist the lure and call out mobs where they see them.

And of course, it’s not like Chait himself is very pure in this department, but as Steve Hayward quips at Power Line, “A Foolish Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Chait’red Minds”:

Except that Chait doesn’t seem to live by his own principles.  Because last week he wrote a column in which he argued that climate skepticism ought to disqualify someone from holding public office:

The Republican Party confidently and forthrightly rejects the firm conclusions of science on a major public-policy question. Isn’t that a completely disqualifying position? If a candidate for a managerial job at your office insists that two plus three equals seven, it wouldn’t matter how well-qualified this candidate may be at any other aspect of the job. Even if you agreed with everything else the Republicans stood for, how could a party so obviously unhinged be entrusted with power?

Never mind Chait’s completely tendentious rendering of the climate debate in those three sentences: I guess there are limits to Chait’s embrace of free expression.

And as Kevin D. Williamson adds at the Corner, Chait’s main beef is that the leftwing mob is now using PC “as a cudgel against white liberals such as Jonathan Chait, who had previously enjoyed a measure of immunity”:

Chait isn’t arguing for taking an argument on its own merits; he’s arguing for a liberals’ exemption to the Left’s general hostility toward any unwelcome idea that comes from a speaker who checks any unapproved demographic boxes, the number of which — “cisgendered,” etc. — is growing in an appropriately cancerous fashion. “White males” is a category that includes Jonathan Chait and Rush Limbaugh, and Chait, naturally, doesn’t like that much.

As Williamson notes, Chait still hates the right far more than he does any activity by the left. His piece in New York magazine even mentions:

liberals are correct not only to oppose racism and sexism but to grasp (in a way conservatives generally do not) that these biases cast a nefarious and continuing shadow over nearly every facet of American life. Since race and gender biases are embedded in our social and familial habits, our economic patterns, and even our subconscious minds, they need to be fought with some level of consciousness.

Nice. Is this a subconscious attempt at the old Marxist trope that those who aren’t true believers are suffering from “a false consciousness?” Or that those on the right have no conscience at all? Additionally, Sean Davis has a screen shot of Chait calling those who oppose Obamacare not just wrong but both “denialists” and “insane” a year ago, which simultaneously dovetails with his aforementioned wish to blacklist those who don’t tow the global warming orthodoxy, and mashes up a callback to Holocaust deniers with the classic Soviet political psychiatric style of declaring your opponents insane.

Of course, madness is a trait Chait has some familiarity with himself; 12 years ago he explored “Why I Hate George W. Bush” in a piece published by the New Republic.

P.C. M.D., heal thyself.

Recently, Ace’s sidebar linked to a piece by a left-leaning journalist at Splice Today.com who found himself caught up in the middle of the Socialist Justice Warrors  and the GamerGate brush wars.  He described himself as being “Swiftboated on Twitter” by the SJWs, which, of course, he described as a pejorative:

John Kerry started off as a war hero but then got swiftboated by the opposition with lies. As a result, an honorable soldier who had risked his life in the service of his country came to be seen by many voters as having a compromised military record.

Oh to be a fly on the wall if he was ever asked how exactly did Kerry’s fellow vets lie about him, especially Kerry’s own “JJJJenggggghis Khan” moment where he launched his far left political career by selling out his fellow vets in the Senate.

I don’t want to rehash the history of 2004 — or 1971. But as with Chait inserting his imagined superiority over the right at a moment where he could use their help in his defense, why use a phrase that instantly alienates half of your potential allies on the right?

Because being attacked by the left apparently isn’t as bad as facing banishment to the complete intellectual Siberia of being declared an apostate, which seems to be Chait’s fear as well.

At least for the moment. Don Kilmer, an attorney and, like me, a fellow conservative denizen behind the Blue State lines of Silicon Valley argues it’s just a matter of time for Chait to really have second thoughts. On Twitter, at least one person attempted to disabuse Kilmer of this notion:

I agree — and it’s difficult to be sympathetic to someone who will probably resume attacking conservatives and the right in general even more vociferously now, if only to tacitly beg for admittance back into the (alas) PC club. I’d like to be more sympathetic to Chait’s current plight, but until he stops attacking the right, I’m inclined to agree with Michael Walsh at the PJ Tatler when he declares Chait’s current predicament “a Laughing at the Death of Little Nell” moment.

Though to be fair, if anyone would accuse the right of having a heart of stone, it’s Jonathan Chait.

Update: Dispatches from the Manichean left: