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We’ve fully entered the Second Great Age of Political Correctness. If we are to find a way out, we must understand how we got here and admit the true depths of the problem.
What follows is a cultural chronicle of the last thirty-to-forty years of higher education, which Greg breaks down into three ages. The “First Great Age of Political Correctness,” he writes, ended around 1995, when a speech code at Stanford University was struck down in court, a year after campus political correctness had become enough of a national punchline that the movie PCU played in theaters (and endlessly thereafter on Comedy Central, this bleeding edge millennial remembers well). What followed was a period he terms “The Ignored Years,” when the wider culture moved on from the issue, wrongly thinking we’d gotten it out of our system; case in point, despite myriad losses in court on First Amendment grounds, the use of campus speech codes dramatically increased after 1995. That period ended around 2014 or 2015, bringing us to the Second Great Age we now inhabit.
Here’s how Greg paints the dawn of our current age:
If a single piece of writing marks the end of the Ignored Years, it’s Jenny Jarvie’s “Trigger Happy,” a March 2014 New Republic article critical of campus trigger warnings—the practice of alerting students anytime a potentially sensitive topic is about to come up in class conversation if the teacher thinks it may “trigger” a trauma response in students or just upset them in some way. Jarvie’s piece presaged a marked increase in coverage of such issues beyond conservative media. Other milestones included Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine article “Not A Very P.C. Thing to Say” and Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, both published in 2015. Suddenly, people were paying attention to speech on campus again.
But it wasn’t just an increase in coverage. Something else had changed on campus. During the previous two decades, administrators were usually the leaders of campus censorship campaigns. Students, in turn, resisted those efforts. In late 2013, however, there was an explosion in censorship that was student-led. The infrastructure built during the Ignored Years was producing downstream effects.
(Note: the articles linked in the excerpt above aren’t linked in the Reason feature itself, but I’ve added them for any interested readers.)
Greg’s Reason feature views the current age through a wide-angle lens, taking in factors ranging from the the swelling ranks of non-academic administrators; the increased political and ideological homogeneity of faculty and administrators; the proliferation of campus bias-response teams; the increasingly activist programming of education schools; and the political backlash we’re seeing in, among other things, the wave of legislative attempts to (often unconstitutionally) ban a wide variety of teaching and trainings painted with the broad brush of “critical race theory.”
Having started at FIRE in 2008 (the late-period Ignored Years, as Greg might refer to them), it’s indeed remarkable what a changed landscape we’re working in. To get an understanding of why that’s the case, and why it matters, “The Second Great Age of Political Correctness” is a great place to start.Published in