There are few things in life as exquisitely pleasurable as watching the terminally silly fight among themselves, and, for those of us who have turned the practice into a spectator sport of sorts, this week certainly did not disappoint. On Tuesday, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait decided that he was tired of watching people he dislikes use the tactics on which he himself likes to rely, and, with 4,700 words of deliciously biting criticism, set off something of a firestorm. “The language police are perverting liberalism!” griped Chait. “The new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence.” And then, right on cue, came those knocks at the door.
Over at Crooked Timber, Bell Waring reacted precisely as her target had predicted that she would, proposing that Chait “has a skin so thin that he cries when someone gets the butter knife out of the drawer anywhere within six blocks of his apartment, and is also so allergic to his own tears that he then needs to use his EpiPen and ARE YOU HAPPY NOW BLACK FEMINISTS1/1//!” At Gawker, Alex Pareene lamented repeatedly that Chait was a “white man,” and, among other things, accused him of “operatic self-pity.” In the pages of In These Times, meanwhile, Sady Doyle leveled a charge of “blatant racism” and suggested without embarrassment that Chait’s begrudging call for a less totalitarian political culture represented little more than a cover for his “white male tears.” It was, as one might expect, drearily predictable and depressingly stupid — just one more blood-stained grudge match between the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, and, when he can be bothered to show up, the Popular Front as well. I loved every minute.
Providing a nice overview of the contretemps, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto wrote that he would primarily be “rooting for casualties.” This strikes me as being the correct approach. It is enormous fun for conservatives to write long essays that rail against and mock the scourge of “political correctness,” and yet, as I am coming to learn, it is also a monumental waste of our time. As a genuine “liberal” in the classical sense of the word, I have no particular objections if people wish to descend into surrealism and intolerance. But I am under no obligation to indulge them either. Rather, I think that the best way of responding to somebody who tells you that they are “offended” is to first ask, “so bloody what?” and then to go and do something else. The most effective means of dealing with those who want to talk about who you are and not about what you have said is to repeat your proposition clearly, and to ask kindly if they have an answer to it. The most sensible way of reacting to the sort of ridiculous word-salad that the Left’s sillier emissaries have now perfected is to cackle derisively in their faces. Most people are pretty busy, and they do not have time to start each and every discussion with a re-litigation of whether or not there is such a thing as objective reason, or with a knock-down brawl on the subject of whether the Enlightenment was a Good Thing. If your interlocutor’s opening gambit is that conversation itself is a tool of the oppressors, why not just go get a drink instead?