Thursday, January 29, 2015

cathedral: the coercive system of discourse supported by institutional power now wants to be called empathy culture...,

theatlantic |  For Chait, though, what’s at stake in all this norm-happy rhetoric is American liberalism itself. Political correctness, he writes, “is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism.”

Here’s a more optimistic—and I also think more realistic—view: We might also think of “p.c. culture” as “empathy culture.” The culture Chait describes, to the extent it can be called a culture at all, doesn’t impede progress. To the contrary, it helps progress along. It is a way of adjusting—fitfully, awkwardly—to an environment, political and otherwise, that gives so many of us newfound exposure to each other.

Some of the mechanics of this adjustment may be overcorrections: We—and the whole point is that there is a "we" at stake here—can care too much, it’s true, about identity as a function of authority. We can be too quick to dismiss otherwise valid arguments as coming from places of privilege. We can be too sensitive. We can be too reliant on categories—white, black, cis, trans—that focus on what we are rather than who. Categories in general can be terrible, brutish things.

But categories, expressed as language, can also be, in their way, expressions of empathy. They are proxies for curiosity, which is itself a proxy for sympathy. Identifying oneself as “cis” rather than “straight,” or offering a trigger warning on a Facebook post, or stepping aside so that someone with a more relevant experience can speak: These are cultural shibboleths. They are awkward, maybe, but they are made in good faith—and that is not a small thing. They say, basically, “we’re trying”—to see things from each other’s viewpoint. And to understand, if not agree with, each other.