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October 04, 1991 - Image 4

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-10-04
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*

Battle of the Orthodoxies

0

by Jesse Walker
A number of student groups,
including the Homeless Action
Committee (HAC), the Ann Arbor
Tenant's Union, and ACT-UP,
recently sponsored a "Disorientation"
as an antidote to the University's
orientation seminars. The slogan of
the series of events was "PC and
Proud."
"PC," or "Politically Correct," is
the buzzword of the year. Originally
used in radical circles to describe
progressives better at reciting the
party line than understanding it, it has
come to symbolize all that critics
ranging from Allan Bloom to Nat
Hentoff dislike about the modem
university. But beneath the hype and
the hot air, there ira phenomenon on
campus worthy of public discussion.
It is a conflict between orthodoxies, in
which the conservative views of men
like Bloom are challenged by a newer
wave of left-wing dogmas, with
neither side capable of accepting free
discourse.
I myself have no desire to be
caught up in a debate between
Politically Correct leftists and
Politically Pristine conservatives.
Critical thought knows no dogma;
freedom, no enshrined authority of
any political color. But with only a few
honorable exceptions (Hentoff,
various libertarians, the American
Civil Liberties Union), most
participants in the PC debate have
simply chosen their orthodoxy and
defended it blindly. Hence the "PC
and Proud" slogan; hence also George
Bush's ability to condemn political
correctness even as he attempts to
ban flag-burning. Either you want to
restrict Afrocentric scholarship, or you
want to suppress race-IQ correlation
studies. Either you try to ban

"obscenity," or you try to ban "racist
speech." Either you exclude non-
Western writers from the academic
canon, or you throw out Shakespeare
to make room for the new additions.
Those of us who are for free
speech, free inquiry, and the freedom
to make mistakes arwstheboadare
left out in the cold.
It is fashionable in left-wing circles
these days to pretend that there never
was a threat to individual freedom
from their side of the spectrum. The
record speaks otherwise:
* In 1987, the United Coalition
Against Racism (UCAR) and other
groups led an assault on student radio
station WCBN-FM. As a result, the
station came very close to being put
under the direct control of the
University administration and losing
all of its nonstudent dj's. Its crime:
playing a runaway slave song that
included the word "nigger."
* In 1988, the University passed
an "and-harassment" policy that
radically restricted students' freedom
of speech. Among the activities a
University pamphlet described as
"harassment" were "display(ing) a
confederate flag on the door of your
room in the residence hall" and being
a member of a student organization
that "sponsors entertainment that
includes a comedian who slurs
Hispanics." The policy was
eventually declared unconstitutional
in court.
* Twice during the 1988-89
school year, the Michigan Student
Assembly attempted to derecognize
student organizations for exercising
their freedom of speech. One, Tagar,
was attacked for painting the slogan
"Stop Arab Terrorism" on a shanty
they built outside the Graduate
Library, a slogan that implied that all

Arabs are terrorists. The attempt to
derecognize the group continued atn
afterAyapogidandpaitmlon a
nw slogan.
The other, the Cornerstone
Christian Fellowship, was denounced
for sponsoring a folksinger who sang
an (admittedly offensive) song called
"God Hates Queer." When that
attempt failed, the attackers changed
their approach and accused CCF of
discriminating against homosexuals in
its membership policies - despite
the fact that the group has no
membership.
Weekend
Essay
" That same year, a moderate-to-
liberal MSA member was accused of
racism for criticizing assembly
representatives who were minorities
more often than he did those who
were white. Whether or not his
criticisms were valid was not
addressed, but to accuser Bruce
Belcher that did not matter. What
mattered was the notion that, as he
wrote in the Daily, "Within MSA,
there has been an attempt to put
minorities into a position of
leadership. Therefore, it is clear that
attacks on minority members of MSA
should not be tolerated." The fact
that the accused man was potentially
a viable opposition presidential
candidate presumably had nothing to
do with the attack.
With the removal of the old clique
from power in the 1989 student
elections and the fall of the United
Coalition Against Racism, such
incidents became more rare, though
anti-freedom points of view continue

to be expressed by leftist sources. At
other universities, however, similar
activities continue to occur. Earlier
this year, a lindprofessor at the
University of Texas received constant
harassment, including threatening
phone calls, for his opposition to a
proposed course requirement, until
he finally had no choice but to leave
his job.
The conclusion should be
obvious: the left's hands are not clean.
But what of the conservatives?
How legitimate is their opposition to
PC?
"PC" was never anything more
than a convenient label applied to a
set of organizations and attitudes. It
was never an organized movement,
any more than "racism" is. But the
overwhelming majority of anti-PC
spokespeople have behaved as
though there was indeed such a
conspiracy, made up of "tenured
radicals" who attended college in the
Sixties and now hold teaching posts.
The charge is absurd. The
impetus behind compulsory classes
on racism, speech codes, etc. has
come from students, not faculty. The
victims of PC have often as not been
liberal professors who were active in
the civil rights and anti-war
movements of the Sixties. And most
importantly, until the recent "PC and
Proud" boom, nobody ever went
around calling themselves "politically
correct."
"PC" originated as a term of
derision among leftists. One
designated as "politically correct" was
a person more concerned with style
than substance, with fashion than
critical thought The earliest use of
the term I have seen is in an essay
written by Dana Beal in 169; from
the context, it is clear that the phrase
was well-established even then.
Clearly, the label fits many of the
latest crop of left-wingers, who would
rather "do something" visible,
regardless of unintended
consequences, than use the less flashy
means necessary to attain their ends.
But these people never thought of
themselves as "PC," any more than
the Federal Reserve Board thinks of
itself as the"white male
Establishment"
Now, in the hands of conservative
critics, "PC"means anythingunlikely
to be heard at a Rotarian meeting, be
it opposition to Operation Desert
Storm, suggestions that John F.
Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy,
or anything else outside of the
bipartisan consensus. Scholarship that
criticizes that consensus, they
proclaim, does not belong on campus.
Obviously, much of the new
scholarship is crap. I would not weep
if psychohistory were to disappear
from the scholarly map. But much of
the old scholarship is crap, too. And,

more importantly, much of the nw
scholarship is worth keeping, no
matter what the excesses of its worst
examples.
The point: some conservatives are
now using "PC" in the same way that
the PC used the word "racist' -to
smear any idea they don't like
without bothering with such
formalities as rational debate.
What we are witnessing is a battle
of the orthodoxies. On one side,
Official Reality. On the other, The
Left-Wing Opposition.
There is a cozy relationship
between those two. If all they have to
do is challenge the other, neither has
to deal with serious criticism. If one is
tired of one camp, the other awaits
with open arms as the officially
designated "alternative." Each side
uses the other to its own advantage, as
occurred when UCAR did the
Administration's dirty work in
attacking the genuine progressives at
WCBN. This should not be
surprising. Both sides are inherently
dogmatic and authoritarian, and thus
know how to deal with each other.
And are the noble goals claimed
by the left- tolerance, justice,
personal freedom - served by
intolerance, injustice and repression?
Undoubtably not, implying that what
PC claims to speak for is not at all
what it is. Jay Kinney wrote about
what we are seeing now over a decade
ago:
TAose awaiting another mast upurge
ofpoicalfommta lathe '60s willsoon
begranted thirmis, I redon, thoug
they'llalo quily depairatalthewdy
garAgeaanmpanyingsud an upsing.
Wifashionabzlky coma eslygrin of the
anointed, thoseho are "into"a
happ ingthing Ept#tatinpolitivthe
enotion-of- dangeis notagrin buta
grima-the shout ofangeroer
outrageous mifoine. The angeris
.justified, undmiably, but wkn fashionable
it ferfAi dforitsronsak.The
demonstraftonhammer the catharic aing
out of Aepridemoton. Usually, no goal
isreddotaerageradeand is
unleshedagain. Theaodswxls,ps,
anddirsipate. Fashion departsndthose
forwhom ithasromea way of hfestay
on, errageattheirown impO'en
increasdby thir newunfashionabilty.
The1a/asetsin-whidirnotingso
much as thefinally 0p sfrustradon of
the poorfool ho priously hadto put
up withthe righteous outrage ofthe
fashionable. ("Politics as Fashion as
Politics," CoEvolution Quartely,
Winter 1979-80.)
The fashion cycle is at its ebb
now, as it becomes chic to condemn
the PC crowd; and soon, no doubt,
the left will be hip again. But no
matter who is in charge, the problems
of war and bigotry will continue.
Without them, what would our
politicos do for a living?

The Ark
(761-1451)
Friday: Joel Mabus, dancing guitar.
Saturday: Mr. B, boogie piano. Sunday:
The Bobs, weird a capella. Monday-
Tuesday: Peter Himmelman, singer-
songwriter-musician-mystic.
Wednesday: Open Stage, you perform.
Thursday: Liz Story, piano with flair.
Bird of Paradise
(662-8310)
Friday-Saturday: Oasis, a great band

from Flint. Sunday: Paul Finkbinder and
Friends, Session night, no cover. Monday:
Bird of Paradise Orchestra, big band.
Tuesday: Paul Keller and Company, jazz.
Wednesday-Thursday: Ron Brooks Trio,
jazz.
Blind Pig
(996-8555)
Friday: Jeanne and the Dreams, local
rock. Saturday: Rationals, Scott Morgan
and co.'s reunion. Sunday: Voodoo Love
Party with DJ Jeffre L., spinning
alternative and progressive music.
Monday: Gary Detlef's Bad Attitude
Arts Ensemble, blues jams. Tuesday: The
Chanel Club, gay entertainment.
Wednesday: Loudhouse, Detroit rock.
Thursday: Southgoing Zak, Ann Arbor

0
rick.
Club Heidelberg
(994-3562)
Friday: Holy Cows with Dag Blasted,
rock. Saturday: Destruction Ride and
Eat, rock.
City Grill
(994-8484)
Friday-Saturday:Johnnie and the
Voomers, rock and covers.
Del Rio
(761-2530)
Sunday: Paul Voomhagen, Rick Burgess,
and friend, jazz.
The Earle
(994-0211)
Friday-Saturday: Rick Burgess Trio,
jazz. Monday: Rick Burgess, jazz piano.
Tuesday: Rick Roe, jazz piano.
Wednesday: Harvey Reed, jazz.

Thursday: Rick Burgss,jazz piano.
Mainstreet Comedy Showcase
(996-9080)
Friday-Saturday: Bill Toman. Tuesday:
Showcase Night. Wednesday-Thursday:
Best of the Midwest.
Rick's American Cafe
(996-2747)
Friday: Frank Allison and the Odd Sax,

rock
Sundc
Wedi

I

STEP BACK IN TIA
Visit Historic
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CIDER, DONUTS,
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orchestra
U S IC D IR EC T OR

:., _ £,

Opening Night
Celebrate the last full season with
Maestro St.Clair as AASO Music Director.
Saturday, October 5, 1991
8:00 p.m., Michigan Theater
Carl St.Clair, Conductor
Stephen Shipps, violin
Korey Konkol, viola
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante
Brahms: Symphony No.1

FORM
CRAFT
The Rock
Each carv
from a sin
piece of
Each a ur
different
masterpie
TiI
swis

roger's thesaurus

by benjamin holcomb

HE~Y ROGER[! ,
THERE.5 Ms.
ithRR CRARE 4~
T ACERf! j
L5HOPiNCO URSE.

HAT, OU'S
y T ACHER5 Age
'V Pop- TO

GOOD ONE, MO!
Now o
SA'YKNI

)

Tickets: $12, $15, $18 V
Michigan Theater Box Office
668-8397

u

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_ . . .

a E r

October 4,.1991

XWEKEND

Pap.+

Page9.

WtKENI .

Oct

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