Whitney Phillips (deren Troll-Buch hier rumliegt), Jessica Beyer und Gabriella Coleman (deren Troll-Buch hier ebenfalls rumliegt), über den Anteil der Meme-Magic bei Trumps Wahlsieg: Trolling Scholars Debunk the Idea That the Alt-Right’s Shitposters Have Magic Powers.
Ich halte ihren Meme-Begriff dabei für ein wenig zu eingeschränkt, niemand denkt wirklich, die Rightwing-Trolle hätten Trump den Sieg gebracht, aber sie waren die Bakterien im Acker von Goldenboy und haben sein Land zumindest mit fruchtbar gemacht und ich bin mir daher nicht ganz so sicher, ob sie nicht doch ihren Anteil daran hatten, „to create this energy“.
The first and most basic point to contest is the idea that "trolling" is an appropriate descriptor for the white nationalist alt-right. […] the term has been applied to so many different kinds of behaviors in so many different contexts over the last ten years that big and small, damaging and harmless, progressive and reactionary, are now flattened into one slippery category vaguely suggesting disruptiveness. […]
The second claim warranting pushback is the false assumption that alt-right "trolling" is equally interchangeable with 4chan and Anonymous, an assumption that posits static, ahistorical framings of both. Making this claim, either explicitly or implicitly, obscures the one basic, unifying fact of 4chan and Anonymous: that they change, both in terms of demographics and ideologically .
Certain vernacular norms have, of course, persisted over time; components of geek culture, meme culture, and rhetorical strategies associated with early trolling subculture and other forms of transgressive humor can still be found on contemporary 4chan and within groups of Anons, although the same could be said for many spaces and communities steeped in the broader category of internet culture, such as reddit (which itself is home to a number of pro-Trump alt-right boards—most notably r/the_donald—often discussed alongside 4chan's "politically incorrect" /pol/ board).
But beyond these more aesthetic—and sometimes rhetorical—through-lines, the 4chan and Anonymous of 2017 is not the same as the 4chan and Anonymous of 2008. On 4chan, this shift is most directly attributable to changes within its userbase.
That white supremacists from Stormfront decided to recruit on 4chan's /pol/ board, for example, in the process drawing new participants into the 4chan fold, speaks to this variability. So too does the exodus of many users in 2014 to places such as 8chan, when Chris Poole (aka moot), the site's founder and head administrator, decided to ban all discussion of the GamerGate hate and harassment campaign.
Even if the individuals using 4chan had remained absolutely invariable, however, those who were 20 in 2008 would be nearly 30 today, precipitating its own kind of change. […]
Contrary to Beran's account, which grossly minimizes Anonymous' role in Occupy Wall Street, the Anonymous of 2008-2015 displayed an ever growing commitment to social justice issues.
As Beyer's and Coleman's work chronicles, contributions made by Anonymous from this period were substantial, legion, and reverberated around the world: along with assisting every single occupation and revolution in 2011, from the 15-M movement gripping Spain to the first Tunisian flickering of the Arab and African Spring, members of Anonymous ruthlessly hacked governments and corporations, and eventually embraced domestic social justice, drawing attention both to rape culture and police brutality across North America.
These political behaviors, in full swing by 2011, even predated Anonymous' emergence as an activist force in 2008. In 2006, for example, Anons famously attacked the racist radio host Hal Turner, and over the next few years engaged in a number of proto-political raids that blurred the line between trolling and political action.
This faction was never a "skeleton key" to Donald Trump's Presidential ascension —but they sure as hell want people to think they were […] The idea that 4chan and its presumably interchangeable spawn Anonymous is fundamentally "united by a common culture and set of values, fuzzy around the edges, but solid at the core," as Beran argues, just doesn't hold up in the face of the verifiable historical record. […]
The third issue to address is the seemingly explanatory (and, admittedly, tidily appealing) idea that 4chan—and its alt-right trolls—were the lynchpin for securing Trump's Presidential victory.
It is certainly true that the alt-right's pro-Trump "shitposting"—the act of flooding social media with memes and commentary designed to bolster their "God Emperor" Trump—raised the public visibility of the alt-right and its memetic handiwork. And it is also true that this uptick in public visibility forced people to focus on Trump more than they would have otherwise. […] To assert that alt-right shitposters were a deciding factor in Trump's victory risks minimizing the broader cultural, societal, and media trends that influenced their influence. […]
"Trolls" and the alt-right may have played a prominent role in the 2016 election, but that fact is dependent upon and cannot be untangled from journalistic coverage that amplified their messaging—shitpost memes very much included. Phillips describes how media coverage—even coverage condemning alt-right antagonisms—helped conjure this monster, and how that conjuring, in turn, helped amplify Trump's overall platform (which itself was a series of memes).
The fact that alt-right participants received so much coverage speaks to an even deeper issue, perhaps the weightiest issue, influencing Donald Trump's rise. More than fake news, more than filter bubbles, more than insane conspiracy theories about child sex rings operating out of the backs of Washington DC pizza shops, the biggest media story to emerge from the 2016 election was the degree to which far-right media were able to set the narrative agenda for mainstream media outlets. […]
What Breitbart did, what conspiratorial far-right radio programs did, what Donald Trump himself did (to say nothing of what the silent contributors to the political landscape did), was ensure that what far-right pundits were talking about became what everyone was talking about, what everyone had to talk about, if they wanted to keep abreast of the day's news cycle. Alt-right antagonisms—their "trolling"—was one cloud among many in this gathering storm, one roaring towards the mainstream from the far-far right. Shitpost participants adeptly harnessed this energy, were thrust into prominence because of this energy, and were able to transfer greater attention to Trump through this energy. But they didn't create this energy.
Dritter Teil von Michael Seemanns Essay über „Das Regime der demokratischen Wahrheit“: It’s the Culture, Stupid. Ich bin gespannt, wo Michael mit seiner „Theorie der demokratischen Wahrheit“ insgesamt landet und werde da sicher nochmal länger drauf eingehen, denn mit allem einverstanden bin ich nicht, von Terminologie bis Schlußfolgerungen, aber der ist insgesamt auf ’nem guten Weg zur Entwirrung der Dinge.
Seine 1-Satz-Zusammenfassung von Gamergate als „gewaltsame[r] Abstoßungsprozess der vornehmlich männlich dominierten Hardcore-Gamerszene gegen den kulturellen Wandel in der Spieleindustrie“ halte ich übrigens für ziemlich treffend, weil sie die Komplexität der Vorgänge damals zumindest nicht ausschließt wie etwa eindimensionale „Hategroup“-Kampfbegriffe, siehe auch Pansy Kathleen Duncan über „Hate as a Political Category: „the genre of 'hate-attribution' has a rare rhetorical power. In identifying 'hate' as the source of a particular position, gesture or speech-act, we effectively drain said position, gesture or speech-act of political agency or representational power—reducing it from an at-least-potentially polemical action in or response to the world, to the histrionic expression of a reprehensible personhood.“
Zu einem der prominentesten Vorkämpfer und Idolen der Gamergater wurde Milo Yiannopoulos, der auf Breitbart News das Geschehen zeitnah und scharf kommentierte und die Gamergate-Massen wieder und wieder aufhetzte. Seitdem gilt er als “Meistertroll” und Wunderwaffe gegen Feminismus und alles Progressive. Jedenfalls bis zu seinem Fall vor ein paar Wochen. Man kann sagen, dass Gamergate das entscheidende Politisierungsmoment der jungen, amerikanischen Nerdgeneration war, das zum Aufstieg dessen geführt hat, was wir heute Alt-Right nennen.
Als dann im Sommer 2015 Donald Trump mit seiner Präsidentschaftskampagne an den Start ging, stand eine militante, rechts politisierte Nerdkultur bereits in den Startlöchern. Breitbart hatte sich früh auf Trump als favorisierten Kandidaten eingeschoßen und spätestens durch die euphorische Ironisierung auf r/The_Donald wurde er schließlich zum Helden der Gamergater erkoren. Dass Steve Bannon ab Mitte 2016 dann das Kampagnenmanagement übernahm, war nur noch folgerichtig. Trump war Profiteur von etwas geworden, dass er selbst gar nicht verstand. Aber das rechte Mediensystem und die rechte Netzkultur verstanden ihn, darauf kam es an. Sie verstanden sein Überschreiten jeglicher Normen, seine Ablehnung von Political Correctness, seine kaum getarnter Rassismus und seine öffentlich zelebrierter Sexismus. Ohne Frage: Er war ihr Kandidat.
Excellent Piece by Tim Harford on The Problem With Facts:
We need some agreement about facts or the situation is hopeless. And yet: will this sudden focus on facts actually lead to a more informed electorate, better decisions, a renewed respect for the truth? The history of tobacco suggests not. The link between cigarettes and cancer was supported by the world’s leading medical scientists and, in 1964, the US surgeon general himself. The story was covered by well-trained journalists committed to the values of objectivity. Yet the tobacco lobbyists ran rings round them.
In the 1950s and 1960s, journalists had an excuse for their stumbles: the tobacco industry’s tactics were clever, complex and new. […]
With this in mind, consider the Leave campaign’s infamous bus-mounted claim: “We send the EU £350m a week.” Simple. Memorable. False. But how to rebut it? A typical effort from The Guardian newspaper was headlined, “Why Vote Leave’s £350m weekly EU cost claim is wrong”, repeating the claim before devoting hundreds of words to gnarly details and the dictionary definition of the word “send”. This sort of fact-checking article is invaluable to a fellow journalist who needs the issues set out and hyperlinked. But for an ordinary voter, the likely message would be: “You can’t trust politicians but we do seem to send a lot of money to the EU.” Doubt suited the Leave campaign just fine.
This is an inbuilt vulnerability of the fact-checking trade. Fact checkers are right to be particular, to cover all the details and to show their working out. But that’s why the fact-checking job can only be a part of ensuring that the truth is heard.
Andrew Lilico, a thoughtful proponent of leaving the EU, told me during the campaign that he wished the bus had displayed a more defensible figure, such as £240m. But Lilico now acknowledges that the false claim was the more effective one. “In cynical campaigning terms, the use of the £350m figure was perfect,” he says. “It created a trap that Remain campaigners kept insisting on jumping into again and again and again.”
Quite so. But not just Remain campaigners — fact-checking journalists too, myself included. The false claim was vastly more powerful than a true one would have been, not because it was bigger, but because everybody kept talking about it. […]
There’s a second reason why facts don’t seem to have the traction that one might hope. Facts can be boring. The world is full of things to pay attention to, from reality TV to your argumentative children, from a friend’s Instagram to a tax bill. Why bother with anything so tedious as facts?
Last year, three researchers — Seth Flaxman, Sharad Goel and Justin Rao — published a study of how people read news online. The study was, on the face of it, an inquiry into the polarisation of news sources. The researchers began with data from 1.2 million internet users but ended up examining only 50,000. Why? Because only 4 per cent of the sample read enough serious news to be worth including in such a study. (The hurdle was 10 articles and two opinion pieces over three months.) Many commentators worry that we’re segregating ourselves in ideological bubbles, exposed only to the views of those who think the same way we do. There’s something in that concern. But for 96 per cent of these web surfers the bubble that mattered wasn’t liberal or conservative, it was: “Don’t bother with the news.”
In the war of ideas, boredom and distraction are powerful weapons. […]
There’s a final problem with trying to persuade people by giving them facts: the truth can feel threatening, and threatening people tends to backfire. “People respond in the opposite direction,” says Jason Reifler, a political scientist at Exeter University. This “backfire effect” is now the focus of several researchers, including Reifler and his colleague Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth.
In one study, conducted in 2011, Nyhan, Reifler and others ran a randomised trial in which parents with young children were either shown or not shown scientific information debunking an imaginary but widely feared link between vaccines and autism. At first glance, the facts were persuasive: parents who saw the myth-busting science were less likely to believe that the vaccine could cause autism. But parents who were already wary of vaccines were actually less likely to say they’d vaccinate their children after being exposed to the facts — despite apparently believing those facts.
What’s going on? “People accept the corrective information but then resist in other ways,” says Reifler. A person who feels anxious about vaccination will subconsciously push back by summoning to mind all the other reasons why they feel vaccination is a bad idea. The fear of autism might recede, but all the other fears are stronger than before.
It’s easy to see how this might play out in a political campaign. Say you’re worried that the UK will soon be swamped by Turkish immigrants because a Brexit campaigner has told you (falsely) that Turkey will soon join the EU. A fact checker can explain that no Turkish entry is likely in the foreseeable future. Reifler’s research suggests that you’ll accept the narrow fact that Turkey is not about to join the EU. But you’ll also summon to mind all sorts of other anxieties: immigration, loss of control, the proximity of Turkey to Syria’s war and to Isis, terrorism and so on. The original lie has been disproved, yet its seductive magic lingers. […]
The problem here is that while we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, our rationality didn’t just evolve to solve practical problems, such as building an elephant trap, but to navigate social situations. We need to keep others on our side. Practical reasoning is often less about figuring out what’s true, and more about staying in the right tribe.
Eher spezieller (und/aber kritischer und guter) Text über Identitätspolitik im Literaturbetrieb im 3AM Mag: (identity) politics & prose.
We can hardly help it: we belong to an age not of politics, but of politicization––not a country, but a set of “cultures” constantly in conflict with one another. Such that something as basically ethical as being vegetarian has been deemed Liberal. The twenty-four hour news cycle means that every second of life that is being lived is also being reported, debated, narrated. Indeed, between social justice movements like, “Black Lives Matter” and struggles of the LGBTQ, a GOP that obsessively tries to regulate women’s reproductive rights, a crotch-grabbing President who has threatened to deport millions of Mexican immigrants and place all Muslims on a national register, it is hard to be as apolitical as one would like. Our consciousness is inundated with reminders of injustice against any group, and one can’t help but feel forced to takes sides, or join in the fight.
George Orwell, in writing about the politics of his age––one of concentration camps, war and totalitarianism––observed that it was impossible to banish these thoughts from one’s mind, let alone one’s writing: “When you’re on a sinking ship, your thoughts will be about sinking ships.” A sinking ship is not a bad metaphor for contemporary culture, or at least, the view from the present, which is that things are always getting worse. Indeed, the word “culture” itself, wherever it is applied (pop culture, gun culture, rape culture, culture war, etc.) seems intrinsically bound to decadence and decline. And in a climate of such hyperawareness, the infusion of identity politics into the products of that culture feels like more and more of an inevitability.
„Wo siehst Du Deine persönlichen Stärken?“ – „Rhetorik oder Selbstverteidigung? – „Wie stehen Deine Freunde und Familie zu Deiner Einstellung?“ – „Wie ist Deine Positionen zu anderen Organisationen wie z.B.: III. Weg, NPD, Die Rechte, AfD“ –„Wo siehst Du dich in 2 Jahren innerhalb der Bewegung?“. Die Fragen aus dem Aktivistenfragebogen der Identitären Bewegung (IB) legen nahe, dass nicht alle Interessierten gleich Aktivisten werden können. „Politische Massenbewegungen“ neigten zum „Opportunismus“ heißt es auch in den internen Materialien, die der taz vorliegen.
Die Strategie- und Schulungsunterlagen der IB um den führenden Kader Martin Sellner offenbaren die straffe Organisation, deren finanzielle Unterstützer und einkalkulierte Reaktionen des Staates von Hausdurchsuchungen bis Verhaftung. Seit 2012 war die IB in Deutschland vor allem in den Online-Netzwerken aktiv, um die „ethnokulturelle Identität der europäischen Völker“ vor dem „demographischen Kollaps“ und der „Welle der Masseneinwanderung“ zu bewahren.
„Requiem oder Reconquista“ ist ihre immer wiederkehrende Losung, oszillierend zwischen Fatalismus und Heroismus. Als „radikale Avantgarde“ wollen sie, getreu des französischen Vorbildes der Génération Identitaire, mit Aktionen das „politische Fenster immer wieder erweitern und der „metapolitischen Hegemonie trotzen“, schreiben sie.
Zeit.de: AfD im Saarland: Die von ganz rechts außen: „Hakenkreuzverkäufer und Nazikontakte: Die Bundes-AfD wollte den Saar-Landesverband eigentlich verbieten. Doch jetzt macht sie für ihn Wahlkampf.“
Zeit.de: Bautzen: Unter Deutschen: „Raus aus Liberalland, rein in die national befreite Zone: Unser Autor ist für vier Wochen von Berlin nach Bautzen gezogen. Folge 2: Ich streife mit meinem kiffenden Mitbewohner Knut durch die Nacht und begegne der Angst. […] Mit Selbstverteidigung befasst er sich seit dem Tag, als sieben vermummte Nazis vor seiner Tür standen und die Polizei seinen Notruf mit 'Na und?' beantwortete. […] Angst habe ich hier immer. Das ist das Grundgefühl, mit dem ich leben muss.“
Dunja Hayali, Moderatorin des „ZDF Morgenmagazins“, Frau mit Migrationshintergrund, offen bisexuell und Vorkämpferin gegen den Hass von rechts, hat der Wochenzeitung „Junge Freiheit“ (JF) ein Interview gegeben. Das ist ein bemerkenswerter Umstand, da die „Junge Freiheit“ als „Mutterschiff“ der neurechten Publizistik gilt und Hayali – wen wundert das? – ein Feindbild für viele Leser des Blatts ist. Prominent hervorgehoben ist Hayali nun auf der Titelseite der neuesten Ausgabe zu sehen, in den Schriftzug der Zeitung hineinragend. Das Interview mit ihr trägt den Titel: „Wir müssen reden“.
Es hat schon vorab zu heftigen Reaktionen geführt – von allen Seiten. Kritiker der „Jungen Freiheit“ aus dem linken und bürgerlichen Spektrum werfen Hayali vor, sie mache ein rechtes Organ salonfähig. Radikale Rechte wüten in den sozialen Medien, ertragen nicht, dass ausgerechnet sie, die Frontfrau im Kampf gegen rechte Hasskommentare, in der JF ausführlich zu Wort kommt.
For Trumpistas, America is, by its very definition, white, and any attempts to make it anything else are seen as an existential threat. For Brexiters, national identity, as distinct from that of continental Europe and the EU, was the crux of the issue. But when one probes what exactly that national identity is, it becomes clear that the rocky island off the northwestern coast of Europe has its island status rooted in its self-conception: Britain, the island standing against the human tide.
As Dr. Tim Haughton, Head of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham incisively noted, “‘Take back control’ effectively combined not just a sense of a positive future albeit never defined or elaborated, but also suggested a sense of rightful ownership.”
Precisely. It is the sense of ownership that is really at issue on both sides of the Atlantic. For Trump and Brexit supporters, it is the white Anglo-European who ‘owns’ the country, and all the brown and black skinned people are mere infiltrators whose very presence taints and despoils the pristine nation.
Interessanter Artikel über die Gedankenwelt von Alain de Benoist, „der Kopf der 'Nouvelle Droite', der Neuen Rechten, die sich in Frankreich Ende der 60er Jahre gründete und seitdem gegen das 'Gift des Liberalismus' kämpft.“: Der Anti-Christ. Eine Reise in den Kopf der neuen Rechten.
Erstens: Europa muss als Einheit auferstehen. […]
Zweitens: Eine echte politische Alternative muss abseits überkommener politischer Lager entstehen. […]
Drittens: Der Kapitalismus degradiert den Menschen zur Ware. […]
Viertens: Materialismus macht Menschen haltlos und unglücklich. […]
Fünftens: Parteien, Medien, Gewerkschaften, Verbände und andere Funktionärskasten haben sich an die Stelle des Volkes gesetzt. […]
Sechstens: Der Islam ist unvereinbar mit Europa, denn er entspringt dem Geist eines Wüstenvolkes, das mäßigende Kräfte nicht kennt und zu „abgestuftem Denken“ nicht in der Lage ist. […]
Siebtens: Das Volk ist das eigentliche Subjekt des Politischen. Jedes Volk hat eine ihm gemäße Art zu leben, volksfremde Elemente wird ein Volk ausstoßen, sobald es „frei zu handeln“ ist. […]
Achtens: Leben ist Kampf. Jedes Volk hat ein „Recht auf Verschiedenheit“ […] Territorialverhalten ist Selbsterhalt.
Neuntens: Es ist die völkische Gemeinschaft, die dem Menschen Schutz und Würde verleiht. Deshalb hat das Individuum „an und für sich“ keine Rechte. […]
Zehntens: Das christliche Menschenbild hat ausgedient. Der allmächtige Gott des Juden- und Christentums hat ausgedient. An seine Stelle sollten wieder von Menschen geschaffene Götter treten.
Interessante Untersuchung einer koordinierten, teil-automatisierten Twitter-Kampagne für Le Pen: Le Pen’s (Small) Online Army – How a French far-right group tried to break into Twitter’s trends.
The social media operation supporting Le Pen is, indeed, sophisticated, aggressive and well prepared. It also appears to be effective, driving its hashtags to the top of the trends through the use of large quantities of material and a significant number of automated accounts.
However, it is also small. All three campaigns were launched by the same handful of accounts, and amplified by a consistent group of hyperactive supporters. They owed their effect not to massive online support, but to the calibrated use of automated accounts, active enough to make the hashtag trend, but not so active that they were detected.
Above all, they were shortlived. None of these “patriot” actions achieved an impact on Twitter beyond the initial spike: they faded away within hours of being launched. Le Pen’s online army is not a grassroots movement, but a small group trying to look like one.
Das wird man doch wohl noch sagen dürfen! Political Correctness – quasi der Antichrist der Meinungsfreiheit! Zensur! Tarik Tesfu berichtet aus seinem Alltag mit rassistischer Diskriminierung und spricht mit anderen Betroffenen. (Uns ist ein kleiner Fehler unterlaufen: Orkan Özdemir ist Mitglied der BVV Tempelhof-Schöneberg, nicht des Bundestags.)
Racial Profiling ist eine Fremdzuschreibung nur wegen äußerlicher Merkmale und ist nicht legal, meint Orkan Özdemir. Tarik hat mit ihm über alltäglichen Rassismus, Silvester 2016 in Köln und Recht und Gerechtigkeit gesprochen.
Andrew Dobbs analysiert Bannons Lenin-Verständnis, ein bisschen alarmistisch, aber nicht falsch: You Must Understand Vladimir Lenin Like Steve Bannon Does.
Bannon’s theory of history is the opposite of materialist. His view is expounded in his last film, Generation Zero, released not long before he joined Trump’s campaign. In it he promotes the views of William Strauss and Neil Howe, who rather than rooting their theory in something material like the system of production or, you know, any empirical evidence whatsoever they based it on “generations.”
They even coined the term “millennials.”
“Every four generations constitutes a ‘saeculum’ that passes through four predictable stages of development, each lasting approximately 20 years,” Cornell University professor Alexander Livingston wrote in Jacobin in February 2017.
“A saeculum begins in the wake of a great crisis. Conformity and self-denial reign, and energy is channeled into building and protecting stable institutions. This first generation, or ‘turning,’ eventually gives way to a subsequent generation where the social order begins to erode. Stultifying conformity is thrown off in pursuit of spiritual discovery and individual freedom.
“The second turning leads to a third, where corroding skepticism unravels stable institutions and social trust breaks down … This cycle of unraveling is followed by a cataclysmic ‘fourth turning’ into the new saeculum. The complete collapse of social institutions plunges society into chaos, and individuals are forced to embrace a common purpose in order to rebuild society.”
Bannon believes that we are in the “fourth turning” of the fourth saeculum of U.S. history and that a massive war against the Islamic world is imminent. He is using his position in the White House to make this happen. The Muslim ban sought to close down travel — and by extension cultural, economic and political exchange — between the United States and much of the Muslim world.
The federal budget “deconstructs” the liberal state that has emerged from the eras of weakness and heedless individualism that came before this moment of national glory. It removes support for the weak, eradicates subsidies for liberal culture and drives those resources instead towards a massive new military build up.
They have dismantled the architecture of diplomacy, gutting the State Department, and are gearing up for a generation-defining world war because this is what his theory of history dictates.
Pretty damning Article critisizing the whole PC-Kerfuffle: American Scholar: On Political Correctness – Power, class, and the new campus religion. Read the whole thing, especially if you think, like me, that PC is a good thing by principle. That „Cult“-Thought is actually not wrong tho, just look at some of the terminology (especially „woke“, „awareness“ are pretty cult-like if you ask me).
I recently spent a semester at Scripps, a selective women’s college in Southern California. I had one student, from a Chinese-American family, who informed me that the first thing she learned when she got to college was to keep quiet about her Christian faith and her non-feminist views about marriage. I had another student, a self-described “strong feminist,” who told me that she tends to keep quiet about everything, because she never knows when she might say something that you’re not supposed to. I had a third student, a junior, who wrote about a friend whom she had known since the beginning of college and who, she’d just discovered, went to church every Sunday. My student hadn’t even been aware that her friend was religious. When she asked her why she had concealed this essential fact about herself, her friend replied, “Because I don’t feel comfortable being out as a religious person here.”
I also heard that the director of the writing center, a specialist in disability studies, was informing people that they couldn’t use expressions like “that’s a crazy idea” because they stigmatize the mentally ill. I heard a young woman tell me that she had been criticized by a fellow student for wearing moccasins—an act, she was informed, of cultural appropriation. I heard an adjunct instructor describe how a routine pedagogical conflict over something he had said in class had turned, when the student in question claimed to have felt “triggered,” into, in his words, a bureaucratic “dumpster fire.” He was careful now, he added, to avoid saying anything, or teaching anything, that might conceivably lead to trouble.
I listened to students—young women, again, who considered themselves strong feminists—talk about how they were afraid to speak freely among their peers, and how despite its notoriety as a platform for cyberbullying, they were grateful for YikYak, the social media app, because it allowed them to say anonymously what they couldn’t say in their own name. Above all, I heard my students tell me that while they generally identified with the sentiments and norms that travel under the name of political correctness, they thought that it had simply gone too far—way too far. Everybody felt oppressed, as they put it, by the “PC police”—everybody, that is, except for those whom everybody else regarded as members of the PC police.
So this is how I’ve come to understand the situation. Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion. […]
Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.
Dogma, and the enforcement of dogma, makes for ideological consensus. Students seldom disagree with one another anymore in class, I’ve been told about school after school. The reason, at least at Whitman, said one of the students I talked to there, is mainly that they really don’t have any disagreements. Another added that when they take up an issue in class, it isn’t, let’s talk about issue X, but rather, let’s talk about why such-and-such position is the correct one to have on issue X. When my student wrote about her churchgoing friend, she said that she couldn’t understand why anyone would feel uncomfortable being out as a religious person at a place as diverse as Scripps. But of course, Scripps and its ilk are only diverse in terms of identity. In terms of ideology, they are all but homogeneous. You don’t have “different voices” on campus, as these institutions like to boast; you have different bodies, speaking with the same voice.
That, by the way, is why liberal students (and liberals in general) are so bad at defending their own positions. They never have to, so they never learn to. That is also why it tends to be so easy for conservatives to goad them into incoherent anger. Nothing makes you more enraged than an argument you cannot answer. But the reason to listen to people who disagree with you is not so you can learn to refute them. The reason is that you may be wrong. In fact, you are wrong: about some things and probably about a lot of things. There is zero percent chance that any one of us is 100 percent correct. That, in turn, is why freedom of expression includes the right to hear as well as speak, and why disinviting campus speakers abridges the speech rights of students as well as of the speakers themselves.
Elite private colleges are ideologically homogenous because they are socially homogeneous, or close to it. Their student populations largely come from the liberal upper and upper-middle classes, multiracial but predominantly white, with an admixture of students from poor communities of color—two demographics with broadly similar political beliefs, as evidenced by the fact that they together constitute a large proportion of the Democratic Party base. As for faculty and managerial staff, they are even more homogenous than their students, both in their social origins and in their present milieu, which tends to be composed exclusively of other liberal professionals—if not, indeed, of other liberal academics. Unlike the campus protesters of the 1960s, today’s student activists are not expressing countercultural views. They are expressing the exact views of the culture in which they find themselves (a reason that administrators prove so ready to accede to their demands). If you want to find the counterculture on today’s elite college campuses, you need to look for the conservative students.
Which brings us to another thing that comes with dogma: heresy. Heresy means those beliefs that undermine the orthodox consensus, so it must be eradicated: by education, by reeducation—if necessary, by censorship. It makes a perfect, dreary sense that there are speech codes, or the desire for speech codes, at selective private colleges. The irony is that conservatives don’t actually care if progressives disapprove of them, with the result that political correctness generally amounts to internecine warfare on the left: radical feminists excoriating other radical feminists for saying “vagina” instead of “front hole,” students denouncing the director of Boys Don’t Cry as a transphobic “cis white bitch” (as recently happened at Reed College), and so forth. […]
The assumption on selective campuses is not only that we are in full possession of the truth, but that we are in full possession of virtue. We don’t just know the good with perfect wisdom, we embody it with perfect innocence. But regimes of virtue tend to eat their children. Think of Salem. They tend to turn upon themselves, since everybody wants to be the holiest. Think of the French Revolution. The ante is forever being upped. The PC commissariat reminds me of the NRA. Everyone is terrified of challenging the NRA (everyone in a position to stop it, at least), so it gets whatever it demands. But then, because it can, it thinks up new demands. Guns in playgrounds, guns in bars.
So it is with political correctness. There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.
You were also always under surveillance by a cadre of what Jane Austen called, in a very different context, “voluntary spies,” and what my students called the PC police. Regimes of virtue produce informants (which really does wonders for social cohesion). They also produce authorities, often self-appointed authorities, like the writing director at Scripps who decreed that you aren’t supposed to use the word crazy. Whenever I hear that you aren’t supposed to say something, I want to know, where did this supposed descend from? Who decided, and who gave them the right to decide? And whenever I hear that a given group of students demands this or says that, I want to ask, whom exactly are we talking about: all of them, or just a few of them? Did the group choose its leaders, or did the leaders choose themselves?
Let me be clear. I recognize that both the culture of political correctness and the recent forms of campus agitation are responding to enormous, intractable national problems. There is systemic racism and individual bigotry in the United States, and colleges are not immune from either. There is systemic sexism and sexual assault in society at large, and campuses are no exception. The call for safe spaces and trigger warnings, the desire to eliminate micro-aggressions, the demand for the removal of offensive symbols and the suppression of offensive language: however foolish some of these might be as policy prescriptions (especially the first two), however absurd as they work themselves out on the ground, all originate in deeply legitimate concerns.
But so much of political correctness is not about justice or creating a safe environment; it is about power. […]
Political correctness creates a mindset of us versus them. “Them” is white men, or straight cisgendered white men—a.k.a. “the patriarchy.” (The phrase “dead white men,” so beloved on the left, would have little force if its last two words were not already felt to constitute a pejorative.) “Us” is everybody else, the coalition of virtue (virtuous, of course, by virtue of an accident of birth). Which means that political correctness not only treats “them” as a monolith—erasing the differences among white people, like those between Jews and Mormons or English and Irish, thus effacing the specificity of their historical and sometimes also their present experiences—it effaces the specificity of everyone’s experience.
Political correctness expects us to plot our experience on the grid of identity, to interpret it in terms of our location at the intersection of a limited number of recognized categories. You are a lesbian Latina, therefore you must feel X. You are a white trans man, therefore you must think Y. But identity should not precede experience; it should proceed from it. And experience is much more granular, and composed of a vastly larger number of variables, than is dreamt of in the PC philosophy. I myself am a youngest child; I was raised in the suburbs; I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family—but more to the point, my consciousness and way of being in the world have been shaped by an infinite series of experiential particulars, a large proportion of which are not reducible to any category.
That, by the way, is one of the reasons to read literature, and to place it at the center of a college education: because it captures the complexity of lived experience, and of enacted identity, in a way that the categories of a politicized social science can never hope to match.