Jonathan Chait’s latest column for New York Magazine is getting a ton of attention for its deliberately provocative thesis: that political correctness within the left has run amok and poses a serious threat to liberalism. Which: lmao.
Chait has come under frequent criticism from the left before, most notably by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. The reason for this has mostly been Chait’s shortcomings when it comes to talking about racial matters and how the white liberal establishment shares some of the blame for upholding white supremacy.
So perhaps this is his way of punching back at his critics. If so, I’m not impressed, and I can’t imagine his critics will be.
Chait argues that the left has embraced political correctness to a fault, and uses it as a weapon to cull dissent within its ranks. I disagree strongly. Much of what he argues against can be blamed on the immediacy of social media, which makes it easy for people – normal people, not just those with social capital – to weigh in on the controversial topics of the day. Naturally, with little to no filter, some people will be a little overzealous in their criticisms. This can undoubtedly be annoying, but that’s about it. As Chait notes, the left doesn’t have all that much power, especially when compared to the far-right. The problem, you see, is that the far-right can’t hurt Chait’s feelings, but the left evidently can.
As is the norm for thinkpieces of this ilk, there’s a lot of self-pitying going on. Witness (emphasis his):
I am white and male, a fact that is certainly worth bearing in mind. I was also a student at the University of Michigan during the Jacobsen incident, and was attacked for writing an article for the campus paper defending the exhibit. If you consider this background and demographic information the very essence of my point of view, then there’s not much point in reading any further. But this pointlessness is exactly the point: Political correctness makes debate irrelevant and frequently impossible.
He is arguing that many on the left, especially minorities, automatically tune him out because of his color and his gender. This is nonsense. What many on the left have said is that him being white and male and well-off means that his words come from a place of great privilege, a privilege that most of his minority and leftists critics lack, and which makes it harder (but hardly impossible) for him to understand their concerns and where their coming from.
This piece is unfortunate because, among other things, it reinforces the absurd and lazy notion that minorities and the left are somehow anti-white, or at least resentful of whites. In his quest to strike back against his leftist critics, Chait is doing the right’s work for them. Not that he would ever see it that way.
I’ll end by saying that you should absolutely read Alex Pareene’s take on this over on Gawker. It is tremendous.