Jonathan Chait explains why political correctness and the bully pulpit of demanding silence from those whose ideas you oppose is creating a reign of terror on freedom of speech, and the worst offenders are those who should know better.
The p.c. style of politics has one serious, possibly fatal drawback: It is exhausting. Claims of victimhood that are useful within the left-wing subculture may alienate much of America. The movementâ€™s dour puritanism can move people to outrage, but it may prove ill suited to the hopeful mood required of mass politics. Nor does it bode well for the movementâ€™s longevity that many of its allies are worn out. â€śIt seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing,â€ť confessed the progressive writer Freddie deBoer. â€śThere are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. Iâ€™m far from alone in feeling that itâ€™s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.â€ť Goldberg wrote recently about people â€śwho feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in [online feminism] â€” not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.â€ť Former Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay told her, â€śEveryone is so scared to speak right now.â€ť
That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use. Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.
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