Heather Mac Donald, author of The War on Cops, recently gave a talk at Claremont College. Or rather, she tried to give a talk. The event at which she was speaking was shut down by a PC mob. When I use the term “PC” or “political correctness,” I am referring to constraints placed on speech in the name of advancing the interests of marginalized communities. The illiberal PC project is futile at best and destructive at worst.
The rabid anti-liberalism of the PC project is on full display in this letter, written by students at Pomona College and the Claremont Colleges. The letter is mostly incoherent, poorly written, and filled with cancerous pseudo-intellectualism. Like other pieces of writing in its genre (i.e. melodramatic rage-babble), it characterizes its target as a white supremacist and a fascist, without justification. The low point may be when its authors demand that the school take action against the Claremont Independent, a conservative campus publication, because of its “continual perpetuation of hate speech.”
From what I gather, the main idea behind the letter is that western civilization is hopelessly corrupt, because it is founded upon the racist, sexist, classist, etc. concept of “objectivity.” The authors write:
Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.
To put it simply, all claims to objective truth are inherently racist and imperialist, because some of the people who championed the pursuit of objective truth were racist and imperialist. When you strip away the superfluous post-structuralist rhetoric, it’s not hard to see the flaw in the argument. Just because oppression has been carried out in the name of truth does not mean that the pursuit of truth itself is inherently oppressive.
To be clear, I’m skeptical of claims to “objectivity.” It is, indeed, possible to use specious truth-claims to further an oppressive agenda, and we should do our best to guard ourselves against that. Moreover, we have limited capacity to grasp the truth. It is impossible for us to escape our biases, and as a result, we will often, perhaps always, fail to see the whole picture. John C. Calhoun defended slavery on the grounds that it was a positive good for both whites and blacks. The problem was not that he was making a truth-claim per se, but that his truth-claim was egregiously wrong.
This is what’s ironic: these students who decry Ms. Mac Donald cannot denounce her ideas (or Calhoun’s) on the grounds that they are wrong. To do so would be to make a truth-claim, which, as we all know, is inherently racist, imperialist, cissexist, etc. Instead, they judge Mac Donald on the basis of the way they feel about her, even though they obviously haven’t read anything by her. Much like actual fascists, these students consider their own views to be inviolable and think it is their right and duty to impose their views on everyone around them. In short, their behavior is based entirely on irrational prejudice, the real culprit behind the oppression of marginalized groups.
A high view of truth is the antidote to injustice, not the source of it. If we consider the truth to be something that is too great for us to grasp in its entirety, then we will be less hasty to impose our beliefs on the world. Instead, we will proceed with caution. On the other hand, if we think we know the truth exhaustively, then we will forge ahead with our world-changing agenda without a second thought. Likewise, if there is no truth at all, then the only thing stopping us from remaking the world according to our desires is the presence of those who would prevent us from doing so.
Activists like the authors of the Pomona letter tend to assume that we face a dilemma between the tyranny of objective truth and the anarchy of no truth at all. Neither of these options is appealing. But there is actually a third option: We can accept the reality of truth while acknowledging our inability to totally comprehend it. The result of adopting such a posture is skepticism of sweeping claims, whether positive or negative. Ideology feeds on closed-mindedness, which itself is rooted in intellectual arrogance. By reminding ourselves of our fallibility, we cut off ideology at its root.