A stereotype that one hears a lot when reading about and discussing political issues is that liberals and the politically correct crowd tend to place too much value on “feelings.” Those on the right-hand side of the political spectrum frequently accuse those on the left of being too quick to take offense, too obsessed with psychological comfort, and too concerned with making sure no one’s feelings get hurt.
But I don’t really agree with this. In a way, feelings are the most important thing in the world. It makes sense to place great value on them. Whether a person’s life is happy or miserable is a function of what types of feelings he or she has the majority of the time. Every event or life circumstance is judged as good or bad based on what type of feelings it causes in the people affected. I’m opposed to the politically correct attitudes of what has been termed “cancel culture,” but not because this movement is too concerned with feelings. Rather, this movement is concerned with the feelings of some people, but not others.
When banning the Confederate flag, NASCAR stated that it wanted racetracks to be more welcoming and comfortable places for fans. But no regard was shown for those fans who cherish the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, and whose experience at the track will now be diminished. The same goes for changing the names of military bases and streets that are named for Confederate generals, for banning controversial books, movies, and TV shows, for changing the logos of Aunt Jemima syrup and Uncle Ben rice, and for something as seemingly trivial as Disney World’s decision to change the Splash Mountain ride to something more politically correct. What about the feelings and preferences of those who like the Confederate names, who like the books, movies, and shows, who like the old logos, and who like the Splash Mountain ride as it is? Numerous cities and towns, when announcing their decisions to remove controversial statues, have cited the pain that the statues allegedly cause. But what about the pain that the removal causes for people who love those statues?
For example, after a despicable excuse for a human being decapitated the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston’s Christopher Columbus Park earlier this month, leaders of various left-leaning groups held a press conference in which they verbally bashed the statue, saying that they find it insulting and that it makes them feel unwelcome in the park. When I was working in my office downtown, I walked through that park nearly every day at lunch time. I chose this park as my walking destination not just because of its beautiful views and convenient location, but because I like Christopher Columbus and think it’s cool that the park is named for him. Seeing the statue brightened my day. Did the person who so cruelly vandalized him, or the leaders urging him to be removed permanently, ever take this into account? Does anyone care that I will likely not visit this park anymore if the statue is removed permanently? Or that my life will be made worse by the removal of the statue? Obviously not. Because to the devotees of the political correctness movement, my feelings do not matter, only theirs.
On a similar note, when San Francisco removed its Christopher Columbus statue, Catherine Stefani of the Board of Supervisors explained that the decision was “about showing love to our friends and neighbors who are hurting in this moment, to communities that have been hurting for centuries. It is about giving all of us the opportunity to heal.” Did she stop to consider the fact that removing the statue would cause hurt for those who appreciate the work of art and admire its subject, Christopher Columbus? Removing the statue shows “love” to some people while showing contempt and hatred for others. It might give some people the opportunity to heal but actively inflicts pain on other people. Why do those people, and their pain, not matter?
In an excellent article, Robby Soave of Reason Magazine calls this phenomenon “the 1793 project,” after the year when the Committee on Public Safety took over the French Revolution. He explains that many people on the left are so obsessed with emotional safety that they demand the firing of anyone who expresses an opinion with which they disagree. “Ironically, the same subset of people ostensibly exercised about emotional safety – the woke left – seem frequently inclined to level unsubstantiated accusations that inflict emotional harm,” he writes. “That makes it difficult to believe that these Twitter warriors’ true aim is the promotion of psychological comfort.”
Indeed, the politically correct crowd has inflicted tremendous amounts of psychological distress on people who express views of which they disapprove, of which Soave gives several examples: They have caused a political scientist to be fired for suggesting that nonviolent protests are more likely to succeed than violent protests, the editor of the New York Times editorial page to lose his job because he allowed the publication of an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, a lecturer to be suspended for not making a final exam “no harm” for students of color, and a journalist to be forced to apologize for interviewing a protester who criticized violent tactics. As Soave points out, “losing employment and social standing is no small matter… and being shamed online by thousands of people over a trivial offense is an unpleasant and exhausting experience, even if it doesn’t permanently impact your employment.”
Exactly. There’s nothing wrong with placing importance on people’s feelings. What is so objectionable about the cult of political correctness is that its followers only care about the feelings of themselves and those who are similar to them. Whether through online harassment, demanding that people be fired, banning flags, or tearing down statues, cancel culture sets out to make some people more comfortable while actively inflicting pain on other people. That is not fair, and it is not inclusive. People with dissenting views have feelings, too.