Political correctness and the fallacy of the straight talker

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, in Asheville, N.C. (Evan Vucci/AP)

This generation, specifically those attending university during the past decade, have developed a reputation for being overly sensitive and coddled. Much of this criticism has been directed at ideological suffocation on college campuses, labelled political correctness, where debate is often stifled and smothered.

Syracuse University entered this discussion earlier this month after a professor rescinded her unofficial invitation to the Israeli filmmaker Shimon Dotan to screen his film “The Settlers” during a conference in March.

Haaretz characterized the film as having “won accolades for its detailed illustration of the lives of Jewish settlers in occupied territory, providing a frank and critical picture, some reviewers say. It has also been criticized as presenting a one-sided picture for offering barely a mention of Palestinians, who are a majority of the West Bank population, living under Israeli military rule.” 

Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer for the Atlantic, highlighted the role of a “perceived risk of ideologically motivated retaliation by campus activists” as being critical to the decision to disinvite Dotan. Professor M. Gail Hamner, who extended an offer to Dotan to screen his film, reneged on the offer once concerns regarding the sensitivity of the student population were raised. Hamner apologized to the filmmaker, distraught at having felt “caught in an ideological matrix and by my own egoic needs to sustain certain institutional affiliations.”

This is the aspect of ideological asphyxiation most focused on, as seen during these tense months leading up to the November election. There is a sense that students will use whatever means necessary to halt actions and ideas from crossing in front of their eyes or ears if those ideas are deemed unsavory.

When students at Oberlin College protested the serving of inauthentic foods from certain regions of the world, it appeared this phenomenon reached a farcical peak. However, the desire to paint this generation as incapable of responding to divisive ideas is muddled with alternative, more nefarious arguments, which have hijacked the pro-intellectual freedom base of the anti-politically correct. While one can maintain hesitance toward or reject egregious political correctness, this is increasingly used to promote a clear lack of decency and respect, which is referred to, duplicitously, as sincerity.

When GOP nominee Donald Trump refers to himself as a “straight talker” who is “tired of this politically correct crap,” those who rally against millennial-sensitivity cheer. Though Trump and the “Alt-right” have hijacked the language of those who criticize today’s college students and promote intellectualism, the arguments are distinct.

Some who reject political correctness do so in order to legitimize vile positions. For instance, Donald Trump, when questioning the moral character of Mexican immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, earned praise from supporters as a “straight talker.” This, however, is not straight talk, nor is it a legitimate reaction to political correctness. It is hateful fear mongering. Reacting negatively is not political correctness gone mad, but a reflex of decent human beings.

Similarly, cancelling the screening of a documentary film due to the politically-sensitive nature of the material diminishes the role of the university as a place of debate. The campaign against campus censorship should be in favor of debate over the dark aspects of history, controversial matters and exposing students’ minds to every reasonable position. Refusing to even recognize opposing views handicaps the mind fatally.

Arguing against political correctness, in the true form, is rejecting ideological rigidity and maintaining a diversity of ideas. This is a pro-intellectual, pro-academic mindset, and one that is vital to education. Those who have leveraged the anti-political correctness position to trumpet their hatred and bigotry do so from an anti-intellectual, anti-academic stance.

This paper, The Daily Campus, is a forum for the students of the University of Connecticut to share their ideas and promote intellectual diversity. While those ideas might challenge or, potentially offend, it is far more productive to offer a response than to simply denigrate the newspaper, a writer or the ideas expressed. That, in itself, is another form of campus censorship. All students are welcome to send in a letter-to-the-editor to refute a position; or, if you have confidence in your thinking, to attend meetings and publish your views.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu. He tweets @ChrisPSacco.