Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you offended? I know I haven’t said anything yet, but it’s never too early to be aggrieved. Studies I’ve invented, since we’re all entitled to our own facts these days, show that 4 out of 10 Americans are offended by something at all times. Ten out of 10, if they’re taking a course containing the word “intersectional” at Swarthmore.
Many of us who came of age on a college campus in the early nineties mistakenly believed that full-throttle political correctness was too insidious, not to mention too exhausting, to follow us into the new century. Person, were we wrong. See what had to be done there? Under the new rules, I had to insert “person,” a non-binary, gender-neutral noun, so as not to offend people with the expression “man,” the preferred signifier of oppression of a white heteronormative cis-male member of the Kyriarchy. (I only understood about half that sentence myself, but I’m assured that everything in it is bad.)
Like New Kids on the Block or high-waisted shorts—other ’90s relics we’d left for dead that didn’t quite stay that way—political correctness is back with murder in its eyes. In our newly minted Cocked Fist Culture, the question when confronting nearly anything—a book, a film, an overheard comment on a Privilege Walk—is “Is this problematic?” Though it would save time to simply ask, “What isn’t?”
So problematic have the problem-miners become that my former colleague Sonny Bunch, now of the Washington Free Beacon, launched his own “Everything’s A Problem” Tumblr. Written in the scolding voice of the problem-miners themselves, each news item/outrage-du-jour arrives pre-satirized. The blog is only six months old, and was supposed to be a toss-off hobby. Yet Bunch has cranked out 142 posts, so many that I find it problematic keeping up with them. For as advertised, everything is problematic: from Caitlyn Jenner being called attractive (“We’ve smuggled in the same old cis/Eurocentric narratives about womanhood,” huffed the HuffPost’s Marc Lamont Hill) to New Yorker cartoons (94.7 of their characters are white, according to the Proceedings of the Natural Institute of Science, it now being considered essential to count such things).
The Cocked Fist Culture has turned into an ouroboros, except the snake is well past swallowing its own tail. It’s eaten its way clean up to mid-sternum. Recent books across the political spectrum have extensively documented this turn, notably Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson’s End of Discussion on the right and Kirsten Powers’s The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech on the center-left. Though the outrage industrial complex shows no sign of shrinking, some thought a high-water mark had been reached earlier this year when Jonathan Chait, a New York writer and reliable liberal, broke ranks, accusing his own team of ideological repression through all the thought-and-speech policing. He charged that the hijacked left had adopted the modus operandi of old-line smash-mouth Marxists, who’ve always been contemptuous of mainstream liberalism’s tendency to enshrine dissent. The present left merely swaps Marxist preoccupation with economics for race-and-gender-identity fetishization.
While some on the right gave Chait a swat for sniffily arriving a quarter-century late to the anti-p.c. party, his comrades lined up to steamroll him. Amanda Taub, Vox’s self-described “senior sadness correspondent,” responded that there’s no such thing as political correctness. Even using the term is just a way “to dismiss a concern or demand as a frivolous grievance rather than a real issue,” a device “often used by those in a position of privilege to silence debates raised by marginalized people.” A sentence that sounded suspiciously like it had been written by a political-correctness meme generator. The kind that Orwell described as prose consisting “less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a pre-fabricated hen-house.”