George W. Dent
August 23, 2018
olitical correctness thrives despite its contradictions. Its practices, like identity politics, are disastrous in elections to the left and a boon to conservatives. Its programs, like racial preferences, sometimes injure the very people political correctness purports to champion.
Public choice theory shows that public servants often act against the public’s interest for their own economic benefit. Similarly, the otherwise anomalous behavior of those who make their living on political correctness (social justice professionals, or “SJPs”) makes sense if see we them collectively as an industry—the social justice industry (“SJI”)—acting for its own financial gain.
If political correctness is more an industry than an ideology, what would we expect to see? Industries seek to expand their markets and create new ones. One tactic they use is “planned obsolescence”—the creation of products with artificially limited lives. The SJI’s main product is discovering and fighting oppression (real or imagined), so we would expect it repeatedly to conjure new forms of oppression. We would also expect old products of the left (like feminism, class struggle, and non-discrimination) to be drastically revised or dropped altogether and replaced with new products.
We would also expect competitors to employ limited, or managed, competition. A good example is a professional sports league. Teams compete for victory, often violently, but all promote the sport. Players may “badmouth” rivals, but they never urge fans to stay home, and they savage anyone who criticizes their sport.
All of these features are found in the SJI. The baffling features of political correctness make sense when we realize that the conduct of the SJI is profitable. Of course, this is also true of other industries and professions, but SJPs claim to be motivated by social justice, not money.
The social justice industry uses public relations to elicit demand for new products. For example, having exhausted the theme of overt racial discrimination, the SJI marketed the concept of microaggressions, which must be countered with its product, diversity training.
Are microaggressions a real problem? Many seem harmless. The University of California lists as one “microaggression” the statement “There is only one race, the human race.” A survey found that minority students weren’t offended by 70-90% of commonly listed microaggressions.
Does diversity training do any good? One study found that “the positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can actually activate bias or spark a backlash.” But the lack of a real problem and the uselessness of the proffered solution haven’t stopped an explosion of diversity training programs—programs staffed with teams of well-paid SJPs.
Planned obsolescence requires companies to belittle old products, including their own. The SJI denigrates traditional fields of scholarship like military, economic, and diplomatic history, or changes them to suit its needs. Thus, we’re told that literary scholars should focus on racism sexism, homophobia, and transgenderism in Shakespeare because, to quote University of Pennsylvania professor Damon Linker, there’s “probably nothing” left to say about subjects like love and God in Shakespeare.
These attitudes lead to academic hiring and promotion that are doubly political. Of course, a scholar who expresses politically incorrect views is anathema, but simply writing about traditional subjects is enough to torpedo an academic career, even if you say nothing politically incorrect. With outside competition disqualified, only SJPs are eligible academics.
Business marketing stresses product differentiation. The social justice industry markets an ever-expanding inventory of identities based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical disability. Under the doctrine of intersectionality, each combination of identity factors is unique and requires its own programs, centers, and conferences. The SJI insists that only members of an identity group can understand its oppression and prescribe remedies; others are ipso facto unqualified to work in these areas.
The social justice industry limits internal competition while working to exclude outside competition. SJPs disagree among themselves, providing new fodder for scholarship and debate at conferences. External competitors, though, are deemed not just wrong but unworthy of civility. Conservatives are rarely asked to speak on campuses and, if invited, face such hostility that they’re either disinvited or shouted down and prevented from speaking. Harassment codes ban speech deemed “offensive.” In practice, this means anything critical of political correctness.
The fragmentation caused by identity politics makes bad electoral politics. It alienates many people who would otherwise vote Democratic. But fragmentation fosters demand for new centers of gender, ethnic, and queer studies, each needing scholars, administrators, support staff, conferences, research stipends, and offices. And political defeat may actually benefit SJPs. The election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress did not cause any SJPs to lose their jobs; rather, it breathed new life into their charges that women, LGBTs, and people of color are oppressed and unsafe.
When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The social justice industry’s product is exorcising racism, sexism, and homophobia, so every problem must be viewed as caused by these forces and be addressed with courses, programs, and institutes—staffed by battalions of SJPs.
As PC propaganda spreads and infects all society, a demand for programs staffed by SJPs develops outside academia. SJPs within academia have acted to meet this demand that they have created by offering courses to train students to be “Social Justice Peer Educators,” “Social Justice Advocates,” or “Diversity Peer Educators.”
Since political correctness hasn’t triumphed by the strength of its ideas but by clever marketing and political agitation, it follows that combatting it requires not just a battle of ideas but a political campaign to shut the spigots of funding.
SJPs have a stranglehold on our universities. They won’t give up power voluntarily; reform must come from outside. Our universities have enjoyed extraordinary freedom from accountability on the theory that academics are apolitical experts who know best how to manage their own institutions. However true that might have been, it is true no longer. Our universities today serve as huge political action committees for the left.
Lenin allegedly said “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” The SJI has done better than that—it has contrived to get the governments of our capitalist nation and philanthropists made wealthy by capitalism to finance our SJP-dominated universities. Two-thirds of our state legislative bodies are controlled by Republicans. You would think they would be eager to end taxpayer funding of their enemies. They are not. Why, and what could be done?
A first step is simply to publicize what’s going on. Most lawmakers and citizens would be appalled if they knew about the politicization of higher education. Boards of trustees, chancellors, and boards of regents hold legal power over public universities, but they’re traditionally supine. State legislatures should tell these officials to undertake major reforms.
State governments can also demand that public universities reverse the cancerous growth of administrative staff that is driven in part by the SJI and is a major cause of the rising cost of higher education. A reduction of bloated university bureaucracies would shed many SJPs.
Arizona took an interesting step by creating the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. This school is intended to provide balance to the severe PC tilt of the rest of the university. How about 100 such schools?
There is also much that the federal government can do. For a school’s students to qualify for federal financial aid, the feds should, at a minimum, insist that the school observe constitutional protections for due process, free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from racial discrimination. The monopoly of the accreditation process should be broken up.
The economic success of the social justice industry is hugely ironic—these scourges of capitalism have proven themselves outstanding entrepreneurs. Shrinking the social justice industry will be hard. There’s no magic bullet to slay the beast; the campaign must be waged in many small battles. Most Americans, however, loathe political correctness. With sufficient publicity and persistence, the SJI can be beaten.