Teaching with Political Correctness Victorious

In a writing sample from one of my students this terms, I read a convincing argument that young people are nice and pleasant today because they have no option not to be. Any hint that you don’t accept everyone and everything, that you aren’t a paragon of liberal tolerance marks you as a pariah. Punishment follows in the form of being marked unhirable. Although they did not use these terms at all, the student was arguing that the once controversial project of fighting hate speech had emerged from the nineties’ culture wars victorious and that political correctness was now orthodoxy.

So this got me thinking about my LGBT lit class. I taught it as if the primary goal was to communicate the importance of non-discrimination. But if what my student wrote is true then non-discrimination is an out-dated, potentially destructive message. If my students are already-always required to be accepting and non-discriminatory whether they wish to be or not, whether they are or not then me saying “Don’t discriminate” is just reinforcing (a felt) repression.

Most of my students have never been confronted with non-straight sexualities outside of movies, television and the internet. Queers live in these fanciful spaces, but in their own lives, everyone they know is straight. Fine, but the problem is that tolerance requires some knowledge of what you are accepting and respecting. Without any personal experience, your tolerance is just a wish or a rule.

So a better goal for my class might be to offer exposure and knowledge organized as a path toward empathy and compassion. My course then becomes about anti-exoticism, not anti-discrimination. I also wonder if I should maybe create well-bounded spaces for people to express non-acceptabel reactions or feelings. …It’s hard for me to imagine what this would look like, or to understand how I could manage these moments, but I do wonder…

In a general way, the literature of the twentieth century is essentially psychological; and psychology consists in describing states of the soul by displaying them all on the same plane without any discrimination of value, as though good and evil were external to them, as though the effort toward the good could be absent at any moment from the thought of any man.

–Simone Weil

Republican Terrorists: In their own words

From The New York Times, a startling and frank description by a Republican of what he sees as the tactics his caucus have embraced:

The only time you shut down the government is when you shut it down and refuse to open it until you accomplish what you want. We’ll fold like hotcakes,” said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. “You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot, and we will not for sure shoot this hostage.

So the tactic is a terror tactic, hostage-taking, and this Republican criticizes it because he’s not convinced his colleagues are as committed as they need to be for it to work. How far do they need to commit? They need to be willing to shoot the economy in the head. If they are going to blink rather than shoot, they shouldn’t have taken the economy hostage in the first place. And Republicans he fears just might be chicken.

This comment is too long and too developed to be misunderstood, and it is livid proof that Republicans are unfit to govern.

I am the New Woman whose astonishing history is a poignant amalgam of vulgar dreams and knife-sharp realities.

–Myra Breckinridge

…the greatest challenge a man can meet is that of forging his own destiny. Because here, amidst the multitudes that surrounded me and rushed madly and submissively, I saw many faces and few destinies. And this was because, behind these faces, every deep desire, every act of revolt, every impulse was hobbled by fear.

–Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps

We think we know the world. Now we must imagine it.

–Carlos Fuentes

Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not he had ever, really, been present at his life. For if he had ever been present, then he was present still, and his world would open up before him.

–James Baldwin, Another Country

A magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost…upon picking up a pea…

–H. G. Wells on Henry James