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The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education Paperback – October 24, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Wilson, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, began this persuasive tract when he was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. Here he debunks the ``myth'' that ``political correctness'' has taken over our nation's colleges and universities; he goes so far as to assert that political correctness as defined by conservatives such as Dinesh D'Souza barely exists. Using hundreds of highly detailed examples of real campus conflicts over issues such as free speech, affirmative action, multiculturalism in the curriculum, and gender and race relations, Wilson convincingly argues that comparisons between liberals and Nazis, Joseph McCarthy and Saddam Hussein are ludicrous, cynical hype. He is similarly effective in demonstrating that conservatives still hold most positions of real power and influence in American higher education. At times Wilson's thesis seems a tad facile and wide-eyed; further, he often shuttles too quickly from example to example--more developed discussion of certain cases (particularly those in the chapter on ``The Myth of Speech Codes'') would have been more satisfying. But given that most effective political statements are at least slightly overdetermined, the simplicity of Wilson's thesis is oddly refreshing in--and perhaps a necessary response to--an especially murky debate.
Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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One component of the myth of political correctness is that all people on the left are entirely lacking in humor or any sense of proportion, particularly about themselves and their politics. According to the popular mythology, someone who is PC can be identified by his or her habitually grim expression and belief that saying "pet" rather than "animal companion" is a crime equal to, say, disemboweling live puppies. Wilson shows the irony of this, as the term "politically correct" originated on the left as humor, "used sarcastically among leftists to criticize themselves for taking radical doctrines to absurd extremes." In addition, The Myth of Political Correctness never takes itself too seriously and is at times very funny.
Wilson looks at many of the widely told stories about political correctness, countering them with the solid documentation of facts that tends to be missing from the internet forwards you've all been reading, and exposing distortions and outright lies in the versions you've probably heard told by people like Dinesh D'Souza, William Bennett, and George Will. The book also contains a great many valuable statistics disproving common beliefs, such as that, due to affirmative action, qualified white men can no longer get jobs.
In addition to retelling -- and refuting -- the standard repertoire of stories about leftist political correctness (my favorite is the one where it was reported that a professor had been driven from his department by politically correct colleagues for saying something they didn't like, but really the guy was still in his job and the only problems he had experienced as a result of what he said was that some people were annoyed with him and didn't talk to him in the hall anymore), Wilson gives (well documented) examples of much more grievous behavior by the Right. These are included throughout the book, though they are especially concentrated in the second chapter, "Conservative Correctness."
I don't mean to suggest that the entire book is one anecdote after another. There are a lot of them in the book, but interspersed with excellent analysis of the ways that the myth of political correctness has been used specifically against higher education, reasons for the myth's acceptance, and reasons for the left's inability to answer accusations against itself. Wilson is not afraid to critique specific programs, such as affirmative action, or the left in general, and does so very sensibly.
The Myth of Political Correctness is worth reading cover to cover, but each chapter also stands on its own for those who are interested in a particular issue but don't have time to read the whole book (which, for the record, is not that long and goes pretty quickly). This book really should be required reading for all of you who want to declare yourselves rebels against political correctness. Chances are, you wouldn't want to spend time with most of the people who made sure you know about it and dislike it (unless of course you are a member of the Rick Santorum-Trent Lott fan club).
It is one tought competition, with many people vying for the top spot. Here, our intrepid author has penned a serious attack on free speech and in defense of repression everywhere. For this, we are grateful to him in a way we proletarians will never be able to repay.
While not as good as some attack on free speech (Richard Feldman comes to mind), I have to give Mr. Wilson some credit for several areas:
Brazenness- that Mr. Wilson has the braveness and stoutheartedness of character to argue that political correctness doesn't exist in the same country that is sending Joe Rocker to a re-education camp for "insensivtivity" requires an ability to stare reality right in the face and deny it with hand on heart. I give Mr. Wilson my sincere admiration for his bravery in the face of annoying reality.
Our other reviewer pointed out that claiming that political correctness doesn't exist or is "distorted" is a thankless job. I agree. We must learn to thank people like Mr. Wilson for their tough job in trying to convince people of the dangers of believing in real things, and learn to see the importance of not believing in uncomfortable concepts that fly in the face of our ideological convictions and nostrums. I for one will never forget the dear lesson our brave teacher has given us: namely, that reality is no impediment to our well being and that freedom is terribly overrated.
What do I rate this book? Double Plus Good!
Books such as this one indicate that it is more difficult to challenge the notion that our nation is in the grips of "PC" than it is to challenge the "PC" monster itself. This is evidenced by the number of "conservative" pundits and "controversial" comedians who have employed the latter strategy to build successful careers.
If "PC" truly pervades our culture. . .
-- Why are a slew of demagogues permitted to make their livings through "fighting the politically correct left-wing machine"? Slaying straw dragons, they are.
-- Why are commentators allowed to characterize any "free speech" controversy (notably the Larry Summers affair) or, for that matter, any instance in which their own views are not thoroughly represented as evidence of the power wielded by "totalitarian PC forces"?
The overblown sense in which "PC" is often spoken is an unfortunate, self-serving rendering of a phenomenon that deserves rational evaluation. If nobody is (yet) quite up to that task, Wilson at least provides food for thought to those who would otherwise only hear the equally biased voices of his opponents.