A Degree in Hypersensitivity

Colleges have become giant petri dishes for an intellectual experiment seeking to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. A foundation for this malady took root in the 1980s when the politically correct (PC) movement was embraced by activist liberals. Ostensibly the PC regime is obsessed with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. But PC often fails reality by blocking statements of fact that are not intended to offend. It seems the emotional reaction of the victim trumps objectivity:

Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now… defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well. Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.

The PC movement has longtime critics such as John Leo in his “Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police.” But PC has a cabal of professors who practice it in US colleges. PC sentiment has been extended by college courseware for a variety of “faux disciplines such as Women’s Studies, Black Studies, and Queer Studies…  these “studies” dismiss the concepts of objective truth and aesthetic value, depict the West as evil and non-Westerners as virtuous victims, and encourage students to see themselves and others not as individuals but as members of groups…  these “identity studies,”… find racism, sexism, and classism everywhere they look.

Students in these majors are prone to asserting that they are under attack from all corners and see themselves as victims. They will feel aggrieved and entitled to restitution. Such restitution is unlikely to ever come.

Innocent questions in the classroom are now construed by campus policy as being “microaggressions” and are unacceptable. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where they were,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American.

To most of us, it is acceptable to ask the same question of a person with a vaguely “British” accent (could be from Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, or Ireland). But under today’s PC regime, campus thought police might judge your question unacceptable if others are listening — some might feel excluded that you avoided asking them the same question even if they are Asian American or Latino American. It doesn’t matter what your intention was – what the self-appointed victim feels matters more.

Anticipating the potential for offense from ordinary words in ordinary conversation or in academic texts, professors have taken to issuing “trigger warnings” that alert hypersensitive students to upcoming topics or words that might send them into an emotional tizzy. On some college materials and texts, the blizzard of trigger warnings can become an annotation cancer that hides important points better than would redactions in declassified NSA documents.

The surface message from trigger warnings and microaggression regulations is that college affords students a cocoon where everyone else must anticipate and accommodate a student’s self-indulgent insecurities. The deeper message is that the study of personal feelings is far more important than the study of science and philosophy. The academic tradition of exploring great thought, new theories, research and evidence, and especially that of speaking plainly, is subject to an omnibus PC filter.

The students who take the PC / microaggression regime seriously will find they are ill-equipped to obtain and hold a well-paying job (except of course as a professor preaching from the bottomless PC catechism). Students of sufficient wealth may be able to ignore this cold splash of reality, but most students will discover that 4 years of wallowing in the PC regime has left them with a serious chip on their shoulder, with no desirable skills and with a small hill of debt. At one time they expected and deserved better.