I’ve written in this space many times about the cult of political correctness and the rise of speech codes. There are many idiotic aspects of the push to create “safe spaces” in our society where people will never ever be offended (as long as they’re not Christian or something) and only hear approved (liberal) speech. But one aspect I’ve rarely written about is this:
It will never work.
It will never work because there is no possible way to construct a speech code so that no one will be offended. The push toward speech codes, free speech zones, “safe spaces” and an end to “microaggressions” will founder because the politically correct are creating a rhetorical minefield that can never be safely navigated.
For all of 15 minutes last weekend, Patricia Arquette was a progressive hero. Arquette, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar Sunday evening for her role in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, used the final few seconds of her acceptance speech to deliver a stirring plea for female equality. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights—it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” Arquette declared, to enthusiastic cries of approval and passionate finger-pointing from fellow celebrities Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep.
We’ll put aside whether the pay gap is a myth or not and the received wisdom that pay equality should be mandated by government. We will note, however, that the very liberal entertainment industry is one of the worst in terms of pay equality.
But in the time it took for Arquette to move from the Academy stage to answer questions from the press, she went from a liberal champion who used her two minutes of fame to speak passionately on behalf of a cause that she believed in to the latest target of the left’s ritualistic Two Minutes of Hate. Her offense: “It’s time,” she said, “for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
“Twitter got into a rage over Patricia Arquette’s Comments in the Oscar Press Room,” is how Buzzfeed described the ensuing online outcry. “It is definitely not time for ‘all the gay people’ and ‘all the people of color’ to set aside their own battle for equality in order to fight for straight, white women now,” thundered Amanda Marcotte in a piece for Slate titled, “Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women.” A blogger for Fusion.net accused the actress of “feminist whitesplaining.” Arquette stepped in it. By seemingly prioritizing the struggles of one historically disadvantaged group (women) over those of others (blacks, Latinos, gays, etc.), Arquette ran afoul of the rules of the identity-politics game foisted upon our political discourse by the self-appointed, Twitter-enabled arbiters of the “national conversation.”
It’s been a week and I’m still trying to figure out what was so offensive about Arquette’s later remarks. It seems to have something to do “intersectionality” — the egghead idea that we all live in various forms of oppression. White women are oppressed but not as much as black women, who are not as oppressed as black lesbians unless they are wealthy black lesbians unless they are Republican wealthy black lesbians with a slight limp. Arquette’s “crime” was forgetting where she was in that matrix of oh-woe-is-meism and therefore falling into the gears of the left wing’s perpetual grievance engine.
(As an aside, I’ve never known a conversation that was ever improved by discussion of “privilege” or “intersectionality”. Yes, sexism and racism exist. Bravo for realizing that. But people’s lives are their own. Our lives are influenced by our race, gender, sexuality or whatever but they are not defined by those things. Yes, it’s sometimes hard for men to understand what women deal with or for whites to understand what blacks deal with. But the idea that you never understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes is an old one. And, as a general rule applied to everyone, it is better path to insight than pointy-headed academic-speak about “intersectionality”.)
This is one of many reasons why the far Left will never be taken seriously in this country. While they hate white male cisgender oppression or whatever, they don’t hate it nearly as much as they hate each other for insufficient ideological purity. Feminism, in particular, has been prone to this in recent years, jumping all over a feminist who dared to question the misandry that occasionally manifests itself or making an enemies list that is topped by two prominent feminists deemed to be insufficiently militant.
But this also illustrates why speech codes and hate speech laws could never work because there is nothing you can say that won’t end up offending somebody. There is no way to navigate this “intersectionality” nonsense without stomping on someone’s real or perceived grievances. That would go double if you expanded “being offended” to groups the Left wing tries to pretend can never be offended — conservatives, men, whites, Christians or that Apotheosis of Oppression, Sean Hannity.
Look, you should try to not to offend people if you can avoid it. You should try to understand where other people are coming from. But that’s not some new-fangled progressive idea; that’s just good manners. And we can’t and shouldn’t try to police people’s speech in a vain effort to spare a protected groups’ feelz. Because, as the reaction to Arquette’s tiny non faux pas illustrates, it is literally impossible to do so.