In today’s bitter political climate, it has become increasingly common for those who disagree to maliciously label their opponents in a last-ditch effort to win an argument. Rather than engaging in good-faith erudite conversation or presenting well-reasoned arguments, these intellectual slouches find it much easier to sling pejoratives, call their opponents sexist, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, transphobic and so on and so forth—oftentimes without any justification or factual basis. As Columbia political scientist Mark Lilla once commented on the use of such labels, “That’s a slur, not an argument.” Mislabeling critics and flagging dialogue or statements as “problematic” gives them a de facto “get out of jail free card,” positioning them on the moral high ground (in their own minds) and shutting down further discussion. Not only this, but it reframes the debate while smearing the character of those involved and making assumptions about their intentions, creating difficulties for finding commonality in the future.
Furthermore, many of these same individuals feel as if it is their duty to shift the Overton window towards more “acceptable” speech. In their quest for political correctness, they have done all they can to silence the other side and constrain or dictate who “should” and “should not” speak on certain issues or use certain words. Many of this particular opinion are great believers in the world and our reality being “socially constructed,” yet they are just as intent on immutable characteristics a person is born with limiting or granting special privileges of speech—notice the irony? As a society American values assert that we are all equal, but perhaps these hypocrites want to move towards being more equal than others so much that they are willing to trample over individual rights in their pursuit of it.
GRAPHIC COURTESY OF THE DAILY BRUIN
More common still is assigning collective blame or guilt for historical wrongdoing to individuals in the present-day who did not contribute to such events. They create unrealistic and anti-first-amendment caveats for “hate speech,” yet their own ideology spews hatred towards “white men” and others in majority sects of the population irrespective of individual circumstances. There is no way to know what a person has been through in their lives upon first meeting, and so it is much easier to assume the moral high ground as a member of a protected class rather than learning more about a person or undertaking rational argument or discussion. These individuals even have dog whistles to make their stifling of discussion more innocuous—saying we should “listen” to certain voices means their opponents should quit talking because their opinions are not valued; believing we should be more “inclusive” simply means excluding their opponents or the majority.
Putting people in these groups and dividing them up doesn’t help to empower them, it only frays the common thread of humanity that binds us together. It is infinitely simpler to spitefully label someone and assume bad intentions than it is to engage with them and their opinions. And if their true goal is to educate someone in cases of truly egregious statements or misconceptions, name-calling only devalues these labels for cases where they are truly appropriate, stoking resentment and undermining their ability to change someone’s opinion through thoughtful conversation. People are largely products of their environments, and calling an individual names for beliefs they hold to be true can never lead to change or progress.
This righteous crusade to cleanse our society’s speech and move us in the “right direction” comes at the cost of perhaps the most important type of diversity—ideological. It marginalizes those with opposing views in order to create an echochamber for a uniform viewpoint. The liberal dream is a more open society that embraces all diversity and seeks to work through commonalities, but this zealous minority of bad actors is quickly monopolizing the left, especially on college campuses, and destroying any chances of that dream. Their hostility is manifesting itself not only in their approach to conversation, but in social movements such as cancel culture, where they seek to economically squeeze, shame and prevent the speech of those they disagree with, including campus speakers. These counterproductive trends reek of entitlement, and will only serve to stoke resentment. If we as a society are to address numerous multifaceted problems as we move forward and advance technologically, then we must hear all opinions and judge them on their merits. Discussion and well-reasoned debate are the keys towards creating a better society, and those who seek to stifle thought and hide behind name-calling in a cloak of moral virtue should be subjected to the utmost scrutiny.
Ryan is a sophomore Political Science and Philosophy double major with a minor in Law, Justice and Society.