The thing about tone policing that is so galling to liberals particularly is it only goes one way. Even while the tone police cluck their tongues and accuse “both sides” of lowering the level of discourse, the only examples they ever give a crap about are the ones—often straw examples, of course–coming from the left. We saw this in Ron Lindsay’s speech at CFI, where he devoted time to the apparently world-shaking phenonemon of college-age anonymous blog commenters abusing the concept of privilege in arguments with trolls, but gave nary a nod to denouncing the bad faith arguments, stalking, and harassment that characterize the anti-feminists in the “debate”. (I use the scare quotes, because as demonstrated in the comment section, feminist detractors whine endlessly about being “silenced”, but refuse to actually produce the killer anti-feminist arguments they claim to have that they devote years and years to defending from imaginary oppressors without ever articulating them.) I call it the Grandpa’s Making Racist Jokes Againg problem. Nine times out of 10, if someone is saying something horribly offensive, and someone else calls them out for it, everyone will turn on the person calling them out for it. You see this every time people get more up in arms because someone used the term “racist” or “sexist”, but not so much over the racist or sexist shit that caused the word to be articulated.
Basically, I think the problem is everyone knows that progressives are the good guys and reactionaries are the bad guys, and so the onus to take the high road is always and forever on progressives. The problem, of course, is the “high road” is a constantly shifting target. If you refrain from overt jokes about conservatives, the next thing you’re told is too far is sarcasm. If you cave into the intense pressure to stop using terms like “racist” and “sexist” accurately, as we’ve witnessed, even talking about the concept of privilege is considered a bridge too far. You begin to realize that speaking at all from the position of moral authority as a progressive is what is offensive, because you make people feel bad for, well, being bad people.
Indeed, the entire term “political correctness” relies on this unarticulated understanding that the only person who can ever be rude rendering judgment of the opinions of the other side is progressives. Conservatives bitch about liberals constantly, usually in much nastier fashions, but are pretty much never accused of trying to enforce their political correctness on liberals. Refraining from having an opinion about the other side’s opinions is strictly a moral obligation of the left in mainstream discourse.
This knee-jerk assumption that progressives are being rude for simply speaking, coupled with a permissive attitude towards overt nastiness from conservatives is all over Michael Kinsley’s piece in The New Republic where he complains that pro-gay marriage people are, to be blunt, partying too hard in the end zone. (Which they haven’t actually reached.) Sure, gays are being bashed and denied their rights in this country every day, but the real problem is that pro-gay people make anti-gay people feel bad for being bad people. He talks about Ben Carson, who is a homobigot who runs around on TV advocating that gay people be denied their basic human rights, and whose fear of having to face down the people who aren’t as awful as him caused him to withdraw from speaking at Johns Hopkins. Kinsley openly characterizes progressive discourse about conservative opinions as an affront to free speech rights.
But it was wrong for the university, once the invitation had been extended, to make Carson feel unwanted to the point of withdrawing. (In fact, it was wrong of Carson to let Hopkins off the hook in this way.) Behind the First Amendment is the notion that good ideas have a natural buoyancy that bad ideas do not. In fact, the very short (as these things go) debate about marriage equality demonstrates this. Denying Carson the right to speak was not just unprincipled. It was unnecessary. The proponents of marriage equality have not just won. They have routed the opposition. It’s a moment to be gracious, not vindictive.
It is worth noting that Carson routinely criticizes pro-gay people in ways that would probably make them feel uncomfortable speaking, say, in front of his church’s congregation. But only one kind of criticism of ideas is an assault on “free speech”: Liberals criticizing conservative ideas. Conservative ideas are so delicate that to criticize them is the same thing as banning them from being uttered allowed, and the fact that Carson seems to be able to go on TV routinely and share his point of view shouldn’t distract us from the fact that it’s a big meanie-head meanie thing to do to point out that the wrong people are wrong. Needless to say, his claim that pro-gay people have won is ludcrious in a country where anti-marriage states outnumber pro-marriage ones.
It is a little odd that a person who has spent his career disagreeing with other people’s ideas in print (and, for a while, arguing with other people on television) should be confused about the difference between the “right to speak” and the right to speak without being criticized, the latter of which is what the jackbooted Gay Thought Police were actually denying Carson. How do good ideas float up above bad ideas, in Kinsley’s formulation, if not through people speaking in favor of the good and against the bad?
He then points to gay people who have been murdered and beat up in just this month alone as contrast. Those are actual assaults on your right to exist, much less speak. Being too embarrassed about what an asshole you are to speak up amongst people who see you for what you are is not actually an assault on your freedom of speech. Liberals don’t owe it to conservatives to feign approval of their ideas. But Kinsley is completely up in arms about liberals supposed denial of conservatives their sacred right to be complete dickheads without anyone arguing back. Of course he is! That double standard is shot through our society, so much a part of the water that various people have complete meltdowns the first time anyone challenges it.
Note: As with previous comment threads, I will not allow this comment thread to be taken over by inarticulate assholes trying to tone police while refraining from making substantive arguments against liberal ideas. If you don’t have a specific liberal/feminist idea (examples include the right to choose, the right to go to conferences without being harassed, the right to live without violence) to argue against, but are only here to whine about your belief that liberals/feminists are too critical of conservatives, please go somewhere else with that.