What the charges against Laura Kipnis tell us about political correctness

The basis for the ideology is the belief that race and gender inequality both undergird nearly every major political question, and that they lie almost entirely beyond dispute. Relatedly, it assumes that people, especially students, are extraordinarily vulnerable to trauma, that pointed debate about race and gender (among other things) can set off this trauma, and that the ability to be “safe” from any such trauma is a primary right. Adherents of this ideology tend to view the distinction between actions and expression, which is a lynchpin of liberal thought, with skepticism. Of course, free speech theorists have always recognized extreme circumstances in which speech can become action (shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, fighting words, blackmail, etc.), but p.c. ideologists collapse the distinction into virtual nonexistence, at least on matters of identity.

One mistake some critics make is to interpret political correctness as solely taking the form of censorship. (The headline to my story, which I did not see before publication, may have contributed to this confusion by describing “language police.”) Sometimes, p.c. rules are enforced through official sanctions, like a Title IX investigation. More frequently, p.c. takes the form of social norms agreed to by members of a community. Formal censorship is the worst kind of p.c., but it’s not the only kind, and it’s a mistake to view it as the full extent of the problem with p.c. Rather, the issue is that the people within the communities dominated by p.c. deny themselves the benefit of liberal discourse.