With rise in both the scope and prevalence of Matthew 24’s visits to the West Chester University academic quad, I felt that it is time to open a real dialogue on political correctness on WCU’s campus.
While I have personally never felt that my right to speak freely has been threatened, I do not have many, if any, opinions that need to be protected by the First Amendment. For me, the right to speak is more of a leisure, a protection that reinforces my ability to form my own thoughts, regardless of what any government, religion or other human says.
Before I formally begin this article, though, I feel that a definition of terms is in order. When I define myself as “progressive,” I do so with the knowledge that, to me, progressivism is about moving society forward in social, economic and cultural ways.
I champion social democracy, equal rights and free speech. I understand that many issues are more nuanced than “right and wrong” and have an open ear to alternative opinions, as long as they are argued from a place of genuine care for solving the issues.
The other definition of significance is “political correctness.”
This is a loaded word in discussion, and many will shut down any openness to conversation immediately when confronted with the topic. In the context of this article, “PC” refers to the use of things such as safe spaces, as well as the use of outrage as a form of censor or shield from opinions ranging from controversial to outright reprehensible. I must stress that I am not referring exclusively to the social justice movement.
Everybody has a sacred cow, an opinion that they seek to protect from dissent. It may be something as simple as, “This movie is the best and you are simply wrong if you disagree,” but it exists in all of us to some extent.
Let me also establish something regarding Matthew 24, the group I shall use as an example in this article. I believe that they are entirely reprehensible individuals, and I think that they are making their God very unhappy.
However, although I do not think they believe the things they say they do, this article will assume they are truly faithful in the way that they describe.
Now that we’ve defined those terms, let’s begin to discuss the implications that political correctness has on college life and culture.
Political correctness is, in theory, a good thing. Who doesn’t want a society free of hate, unified in goal and sure in purpose? The premise of PC culture, the idea that we should strive to be tolerant of those who have been subjugated, is a respectable one, but it is unrealistic.
Prejudice exists in the real world; people are a hateful breed. There are those whose ideals are hurtful for no reason other than ignorance and fear. But censoring these ideals will not solve the problem for reasons that will be made clear later on in this article.
But if that’s the case, you may ask, how do we ensure that our society is fair, just and tolerant? I don’t think the answer to this is as complex as many think it is. If you believe that someone with a toxic ideology is wrong, tell them. Argue reasonably and truly, in an open forum, and prove them wrong.
Even if their opinion doesn’t change, the opinions of those around you, or those who review the argument in passing, may. Instead of telling Matthew 24 to simply “leave,” do what one man did; read passages from the Bible, the very book that they defend their views with, to contradict them.
This is where the beauty of free speech lies. By allowing someone to speak their mind, you expose their ideological blind spots, and then may defeat them.
In a time littered with “fake news,” it’s integral to a proper understanding of the world around us. Shutting someone down without proving why they’re wrong does not help your own argument or hinder theirs.
This brings me to the issue with political correctness, and why I, as a staunch progressive, am perfectly content with Matthew 24 protesting on campus. If one silences the voice of a bigot, their bigotry is given a quasi-victim status.
They are able to rally support from moderate “non-contenders,” those who wish to have nothing to do with the entire issue. The debate itself goes from being one of ideas to one of free speech. This is why the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has defended both sides, from Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan.
As stated in an ACLU Ohio brochure, “The principles of the First Amendment are indivisible. Extend them on behalf of one group and they protect all groups. Deny them to one group, and all groups suffer.”
This is where all of these issues come together. When one denies anyone, even a bigot, the right to speak, they are able to use that denial as evidence of an oppression that might not even exist.
This will make it easier for them to gain power in the eyes of both the apathetic and the uninformed. Ensuring an open forum attacks the ideas, not the rhetoric, and as such is a much stronger technique to fight against toxic ideologies.
I mean, that’s what I’d say. Chances are you’re either disregarding this because I’m a “liberal regressive” or disregarding it because I’m a “privileged white male.”
I understand both criticisms, but responding this way to criticism just proves the argument I’m making. We all, regardless of politics, need to have a completely open dialogue on free speech and ideas, because what we’re doing now isn’t working at all
Dean Cahill is a first-year student majoring in English literature. He can be reached at DC884286@wcupa.edu.