Noted online leftist Freddie deBoer has seen some shit. No lie. And though he once weirdly castigated me for being paralyzed by political correctness — indeed, for being exemplary of the self-hating white man terrified of offending anyone — it seems, as Angus Johnston points out, that our dear Freddie is so paralyzed himself that he can’t bring himself to intervene when college kids use p.c. rhetoric as a weapon against each other. What should he have done in those cases? I don’t know in detail, since I was thankfully spared the profound trauma of witnessing those horrific events, but I think the baseline is, you know, something. Something in keeping with his role as a teacher and mentor of young people.
I’ve spent a lot of time with college-age kids in my day, and I too have seen them be mean to each other. When I was in college, I was mean to people and had others be mean to me as well. That’s because college is a really intense period in most people’s lives. In college, you’re trying to stake out your own identity while navigating complex social situations in a setting that is most likely much more diverse than you’ve experienced in the past. The whole process is pretty stressful, especially when we note that most college campuses are also extremely competitive environments — academically, socially, etc. In that context, it should not be surprising that some individuals will reach for any weapon at hand to police boundaries and show themselves to be better or more in the know than someone else. “Politically correct” rhetoric unfortunately fits the bill sometimes, but so do traditional gender expectations or class markers — indeed, I would venture to guess that the latter two are resorted to much more frequently at almost every college in the world.
If we can still embrace leftist politics despite the Gulags, I daresay we can still embrace the concerns behind what is pejoratively called “political correctness” despite the fact that college kids sometimes express their jerkiness and insecurity through the misapplication of half-digested “politically correct” rhetoric. I would even go so far as to say that if we’re concerned about people being turned off of leftist politics by such abuse, we should actually step up and intervene in the (likely rare!) cases when we see such abuse getting out of hand.