Stop Being a Stupid Liberal: Against Politics

By David Boehnke

Politics in this country is currently a means through which certain people mask their own interests through the language of the common good. Worse, this is done to intentionally prevent others from being heard or speaking at all. This article will discuss this at two levels: 1) the hypocritical discourse of political correctness and 2) last week’s open faculty letter.
Political correctness is a hypocritical discourse because it pretends to support racial equality while preventing any action that would support such equality. Inaugurated in the 1960s to replace an equality of result with an equality of what-can-be-said-in-polite-conversation political correctness has been mobilized by liberals to attack the overt racism of conservatives and cover up their own lack of real commitment to racial equality. Originally used to prevent increasing investment in deep inequalities, this language of covert racism has over the past 25 years been used to deepen inequalities.
And while political correctness is unpleasant, responding by being politically incorrect is a hurtful and privileged way to cope with its existence; it celebrates the racism on which PC is founded, as we who attended the forum last Tuesday learned for ourselves. Destroying PC without legitimating racism requires destroying its roots in political economy, not the deceptive speech that misdirects us from institutional racism…and our own.
I think about my high school and its celebrated liberalism, its sincere multicultural mouthing, while at the same time running a tracking system that sent upper (middle) class whites or Asians to schools like Mac, sent middle class whites and blacks to state schools, and sent the large group of lower class blacks as well as lower class whites, Asians, and Latinos nowhere, or to prison. And I grew up in a “liberal bubble.” Then I think of Macalester.
Macalester has the same false liberalism, the same sincere, empty talk. But, due to an event that allows us to begin to learn what this means, we have an opportunity to make significant institutional (and personal) changes to transform this hypocrisy. We will now turn to the faculty letter and the hypocrisy on which it stands.
Ridiculously enough, this letter was supported by the MacWeekly’s editorial board. I quote “[the faculty letter] eloquently and correctly establishes what has gone unsaid for too long: pursuing pre-eminence has always been integral to Macalester’s mission, and that pursuit and social consciousness are by no means mutually exclusive.” This is bullshit. Let us explore why.
The first clue is that the professors associated with or engaged in social activism did not sign this letter. Those who did are well served by the status quo and wish to expand it, to make Macalester a “pre-eminent institution.” When used in this way, pre-eminence or excellence in education means elitism in education, a maximization built on current oppressions and inequalities, and a refusal to challenge them—an embodiment of the hypocrisy that is political correctness.
Worse, the faculty admonished students for speaking their concerns, first, by calling them part of a disease that gets rid of presidents, without mentioning that these presidents were booted for things like arguing that women are inherently inferior at math and science, as was the case at Harvard. Second, the letter said that the clear and direct arguments from students are beyond the realm of appropriate discourse. In such a logic only what is sanctioned is appropriate. This is not acceptable. Only ideological self-interest could so blind these faculty to their letter’s ridiculousness.
Last but not least, to demonstrate a history of commitment to pre-eminence as the faculty does is a historical argument, not an ethical one. Just as one cannot justify the continued oppression of the lower classes by mentioning serfdom, slavery, and sharecropping, so one cannot argue for the ethics of pre-eminence by citing its existence in previous administrative documents.
If we are going to move away from the elitism and PC in which we find ourselves, the unacknowledged racism and classism (etc) that found the status quo, if we are ever going to consider what real excellence in education might mean we need to 1) acknowledge our hypocrisy and 2) begin asking different questions.
Instead of asking: how many sweet speakers can we pay boatloads of money to provide us with ‘prestige’ and a smidgen of education, let us ask what type of school would make sweet speakers volunteer to speak, or want to teach? What type of school with what type of students might incite passionately ethical people like Kofi Annan, Toni Morrison or Spike Lee to inquire about speaking or teaching for a semester?
Luckily for all of us, ethics is not only constituted after the fact. We have an opportunity, here and now, to do what it takes to begin dismantling the hypocritical notions of political correctness and educational excellence as they now stand. We have the opportunity to learn from those who know more than ourselves and help as we are able, to do good on the suffering from which we have benefited and the oppression with which we collaborate when we do nothing. We have an opportunity to participate in creating a place like what Macalester was supposed to be, and discover real educational excellence in the process. We have an opportunity to be part of a movement that has begun here at Macalester to make good on the promises of ideologies…by destroying them.