Writer and philosopher Voltaire once said, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Once upon a time, this sentiment applied almost exclusively to oppressive governments, of which there were many, and the ways in which they protected themselves from outspoken citizens under their rule. More recently, yet still equally as concerning, this has become a method used in order to police the ways in which peers interact with one another. This, my friends, is political correctness.
Another quote worth noting came from actor Charlton Heston, who once stated, “Political correctness is tyranny with manners.” Never has this assertion been more true than today. The Atlantic recently published an eye-opening article about the growing infantilization of the educational system and the ways in which higher learning institutions are more concerned with protecting the feelings of students than with teaching them critical thinking.
The article, penned by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, details the snowballing trend of colleges and universities employing “trigger warnings” and warning against “microaggressions.” According to the article, “Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response… so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might ‘trigger’ a recurrence of past trauma.” The authors reference an article by Jeannie Suk, in which she writes about law students asking professors at Harvard not to teach rape law, and to even avoid using the word “violate,” in order to prevent the triggering of students.
Alternately, microaggressions are words, statements, or questions that – despite not carrying malice – are seen as acts of verbal violence. Examples of microaggressions in the article came from a faculty leader-training session that administrators provided to the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California school systems, and included phrases such as “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” The fact that such requirements are becoming institutionalized brings us back to what Voltaire said, and the applications in which his quote still applies to us today.
These phrases, and the movements that are attempting to push them into the classroom, are propelled by political correctness, which is the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived as insults against or the marginalization of people who are thought to be socially disadvantaged or historically discriminated against. These people are typically racial minorities, women, and those who practice certain religions. And this, my friends, is where author Anne Rice enters the discussion.
Photo by Beck Starr/WireImage
Rice has often spoken out about the abuse of book reviews online, particularly when they are used by people who have not actually read the book that they are reviewing, rather they are utilizing the review process in order to bully or silence an author with different social or political views. In June of this year, Rice spoke publicly against Randi Harper, the CEO of an anti-online abuse and harassment organization, who was ironically involved in the harassment and bullying of author Vivik Wadhwa.
In a post on Facebook yesterday, Rice focused her attention on the Amazon page for For Such a Time, where most of the negative reviews came following a scathing article about the content of the novel.
“Want to see the new censorship in action? Want to witness an internet lynch mob going after its target? Check out the Amazon review site for this novel and read the one star reviews. Note how many have been posted since August 4th,” Rice wrote. “I abhor censorship in all forms. I condemn those who abuse the Amazon reviewing system to ‘take down’ authors who books they have not read — for political or religious or ‘social’ reasons. What do you think? If you are an author, how would you feel if you became the target of this kind of campaign? This book was published in April of 2014. It was well received, and like most books published it received good and bad reviews. Then an article about it written over one year later on August 4th of this year, appears to be what (intentionally or unintentionally) incited the lynch mob. Your thoughts are welcome.”
“I think we are facing a new era of censorship, in the name of political correctness. There are forces at work in the book world that want to control fiction writing in terms of who ‘has a right’ to write about what,” Rice continued. “Some even advocate the out and out censorship of older works using words we now deem wholly unacceptable. Some are critical of novels involving rape. Some argue that white novelists have no right to write about people of color; and Christians should not write novels involving Jews or topics involving Jews. I think all this is dangerous. I think we have to stand up for the freedom of fiction writers to write what they want to write, no matter how offensive it might be to some one else.”
“We must stand up for fiction as a place where transgressive behavior and ideas can be explored. We must stand up for freedom in the arts. I think we have to be willing to stand up for the despised. It is always a matter of personal choice whether one buys or reads a book. No one can make you do it. But internet campaigns to destroy authors accused of inappropriate subject matter or attitudes are dangerous to us all. That’s my take on it. Ignore what you find offensive. Or talk about it in a substantive way. But don’t set out to censor it, or destroy the career of the offending author.”
“We have to be willing to stand up for the despised.” Never have truer words been spoken. Yes, indeed we must. Freedom of speech is a promise, and the defense of that promise is the responsibility of every person who wishes to enjoy it themselves. It is certainly easy to defend that which is popular. It is incredibly difficult, but nonetheless necessary, to defend that which is hated. Freedom of speech was certainly not introduced in order to protect the right to popular opinion. It was designed as a method of protecting those who go against the grain. Rice offered no defense of the book itself, as she too has admitted to not reading it. Her opposition is to the abuse of review systems in an effort to silence and censor unpopular works of art.
Political correctness has a place in today’s society, but only as a matter of individual choice. The concept of labeling someone “violent” who has unintentionally caused offense by daring to suggest the most qualified candidate should retain a job, or a law professor upsetting students by teaching the law to future lawyers, or writing a work of fiction, is nothing more or less than employing public shaming tactics in order to censor views different than one’s own.
Anne Rice was right. These are internet lynch mobs. And typing that phrase was probably a microaggression that needed a trigger warning. Whoops!
Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.
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