Tony Vagneur: Memes, political correctness getting in the way of open dialogues
March 2, 2018
You've had those days, I'm sure, when you're home sick and things that normally wouldn't pique your interest suddenly take on meaning and require investigation. Which is to say, at the suggestion of a friend, I cautiously clicked on a Wall Street Journal article. The WSJ wouldn't let me read the treatise without taking a paid subscription, so with the help of Google, I found what I was looking for elsewhere, plus many hours of additional reading I didn't anticipate.
If you've never heard of Dr. Amy Wax, University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, as I hadn't, it soon became clear that she has become the poster child of political correctness gone berserk, at least in some academic circles back East. Now, before you accuse me of treading into areas in which I have no qualifications, such as academia, let me assure you that an honorary doctorate from Aspen State Teacher's College gets me onto most academic "think tank" websites.
The Op-Ed piece she wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, with co-author Larry Alexander of the San Diego Law School, is entitled "Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country's Bourgeois Culture" (on philly.com) and it begins as follows:
"Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male, working-age, labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries."
Then, they take us back to the post WWII era, 1940s through the '60s, saying there was a certain "bourgeois culture" laid out during that time, that to paraphrase, suggested we get married before we have children, get a good education, be charitable, respect our neighbors, be patriotic and stay away from crime and substance abuse.
If you were moving to Aspen in the '60s and '70s, you likely can attest to the breakdown of the above tenets, particularly in conjunction with the Vietnam War, which created a huge distrust of government. Add in free love, rejection of society in general (long hair, drug use, living off the land, etc.,), and you get a different cultural mood setting.
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The authors state that not all cultures are equal, that some more than others are better equipped to raise men and women with the ability to successfully function in the advanced world of the 21st century and that perhaps a return to the values of the '50s and '60s might be a positive step in turning around many of the maladies that face our country today.
The above thinking seemed to ignite a firestorm of backlash; a protest by 54 Penn law students and alumni; half of the law faculty of the same law school (33) wrote a letter condemning Wax, and there were a few other snipers from hither and yon.
Interestingly, none of the protesters could, or did not, mount a good argument against what Wax and Alexander had said. One dissenting professor wrote an over 14,000-word reply to Wax, but never really managed to pull the trigger on his objections other than to say he didn't like what she had posited; he mostly parsed and dissected her words without really saying much of anything to refute her Op-Ed. That is my opinion, of course.
The lesson seems to imply that, even in academic circles of higher learning, particularly the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which should entertain all manner of discourse, there is a correct way to think, and then there is the other way. If you step out of the circle of politically correct thought, you will be bashed, discounted and harangued for your thinking, in language, of course, that uses big words, long sentences, and which tends to ease the sting of the invective. Wax was asked by her dean to take a year off from her teaching position, just "to let the air clear," after what were considered her "unpopular" remarks.
And on a more basic level, isn't this what we've taken to doing on social media and in our daily lives? If we disagree with someone, it is much easier to slur, bash, name call, deflect or misdirect the subject, than to construct an honest, factual disagreement. Letting Facebook memes do our talking for us does little but to distract from true communication.
In my mind, we would do well to be less politically correct and more willing to have honest and open dialogue with our fellow citizens and friends.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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