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Columbia Spectator Staff

A few weeks ago, one of my professors made the seemingly off-hand suggestion that members of our class visit an exhibit at the Met on Japanese samurai art. He later received a complaint from at least one of the students in the class who claimed that his recommendation was not "politically correct" as it ignored the sensitivity of the Chinese to the samurai element of Japanese culture. This incident, which many may brush off as trivial, is a symptom of a much larger problem besetting American universities—that of political correctness. In our attempts to make everyone feel "comfortable" and "safe" we risk sacrificing the credibility and quality of our intellectual discourse by substituting logic for emotion, and reason for ignorance. The main problem with political correctness is that the concept itself is both irrational and diametrically opposed to the Western notion of free speech. In order to understand why this is the case, we need to first think about how something is labeled "politically correct" as opposed to being called offensive. Since people do not share all of the same views, it is impossible to obtain a definitive answer as to what constitutes political correctness. Rather, the designation is a subjective one, governed by individual opinions (which in turn are determined by emotion), not solid fact. Given that political correctness is by definition a restrictive concept—it attempts to prevent us from voicing certain words or opinions—we need to consider whether it is wise to sacrifice our freedom of speech upon an altar of subjectivity. Restricting our speech in order to placate the emotional sensitivities of others is not only foolish—it is downright dangerous. There are too many people in the world who lack the emotional maturity and/or the intellectual capacity to hear a differing political opinion without taking it as a personal insult. If we are to adhere to the tenets of political correctness—i.e. that communication can only occur as long as everyone is "comfortable"—then we risk stifling legitimate free speech. For instance, I believe that a benefit of illegal immigration is that it provides the United States with a pool of cheap labor. To some, this opinion may be insensitive. I may be castigated for being politically incorrect, but that doesn't change the fact that I make a legitimate economic point that should be a part of the debate on immigration policy. However, since political correctness places feelings above facts, it is easy for controversial, yet valid, opinions to be instantly dismissed as racist, sexist, or discriminatory. Ironically, political correctness is only able to make certain people comfortable by instilling a culture of fear in everyone else, since no one wants to risk being labeled a bigot. Unfortunately, the insidious nature of political correctness goes far beyond stifling legitimate opinions in the interests of coddling certain groups of people—it can also be used as a means of furthering one political opinion at the expense of another. What is and isn't deemed to be politically correct is a pure function of one's opinions—and with many opinions, there are corresponding agendas. When used effectively, political correctness becomes a weapon to silence opposition in the interests of achieving intellectual and political orthodoxy. For example, we all remember when Harvard's former president, Larry Summers, was proverbially crucified for hypothesizing that male and female populations may have different levels of variance in their IQ distributions. To many (including the majority of Harvard students) this seemed like a reasonably banal point, but to the left-wing Harvard faculty, Summers' conjecture that gender disparity may be caused by something other than discrimination by the white male hetero-patriarchy amounted to nothing other than heresy. As a result, Summers was forced to resign, and the left succeeded in both removing someone they despised even before the controversy, as well as sending a chilling message to anyone else who dared to express an opinion contrary to their own beliefs and agendas. Ultimately, the only way we are going be able to get past this notion of political correctness is if we collectively and individually develop thicker skins. At a school like Columbia, it should be considered a sign of intellectual disgrace if you cannot formulate a reasoned argument to defend your point of view and are instead forced to use labels like "racist" or "offensive" when someone says something that you find distasteful. Freedom of speech is a finely reasoned concept that provides a forum for vigorous discussion and debate. Political correctness threatens that freedom and asks us to sacrifice our intellectual well-being for the benefit of a few people who can't handle what we have to say. If we want to continue to live in a free society and enjoy the benefits of its freedom, we must eschew political correctness and the intellectual weakness it represents. Jon Hollander is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics. He is the director of intergroup affairs for the College Republicans. Reasonably Right runs alternate Wednesdays.

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