Commentary on Special Issue of Canadian Psychology Devoted to Political Correctness

Article excerpt

The term "politically correct" (PC) has the connotation of superior social and moral virtues over other political points of view. Stark and Favreau both reinforce this claim in different ways, Favreau by describing PC as "prosocial", Stark by describing PC as promoting "courtesy, respect, fairness, openness," etc. Were PC merely a self-righteous political position, we might tolerate it as a tedious fact of life. Unfortunately, that is not the case. What especially marks the PC philosophy and deservedly brings it under attack is its extreme intolerance for other positions, to the point of not allowing them to be heard. The fact that "zero tolerance" has been gleefully adopted as a slogan by many PC activists is a truer indication of the PC agenda than is its claims to the higher moral ground.

To ensure that alternative viewpoints are not heard, PC activist groups have successfully installed in most academic institutions, tribunals which should horrify us. Under the guise of protecting persons from discrimination and harassment (who would argue against such laudable aims?), Race Relations and Sexual Harassment policies and the like have been passed and are being used as clubs to dictate how we should speak, how normal male-female interactions may occur, and so on. Dobson appears to suggest that the mere existence of such policies (most of which are in conflict with respected legal traditions), is a sufficient basis for adhering to them. However, the controversy surrounding these tribunals indicates that they pose a serious threat to academic freedom.

Favreau's claim that recently publicized "isolated extreme" events at universities, where faculty have been unjustly charged, chastised and even dismissed are unfairly connected to PC philosophy, is disingenuous. Such events have in nearly all cases stemmed directly from the imposition of PC principles through extra-legal tribunals. So far from these being isolated events (see Furedy and Klatt for examples), they represent only the tip of the iceberg. Many similar less media-attracting events go on every day. The effect on professors who are not yet charged inevitably is to stifle free expression and discussion. Moreover, in the opinion of some, such policies, by nature of their intolerance and their vague wording, and when combined with unfair equity practices, have caused a deterioration in the collegial relations between men and women.

Virtues like "merit" "honesty" "objectivity" "dedication", etc., do not seem to appear in the PC catalogue. Yet the stated purpose of universities is the pursuit, creation and dissemination of knowledge. These aims can be achieved by individuals who are not especially "prosocial" or "courteous", but they cannot be achieved without intelligence, hard work and a dedication to searching out the truth. Whatever the priorities prevailing outside the university, within it the chief aim and test of success is whether knowledge has been advanced, not whether the atmosphere is warm or chilly. A critical factor in such success must be the selection and rewarding of individuals who do this best, disregarding sex or race. …