On Friday May 18. 2018, a Munk Debates event was held at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall.  The title of the event was Political Correctness, but the title of the event does not convey the substance of the discussion.  Indeed Stephen Fry, one of the participants, commented “I’m still very lost about why we aren’t talking about political correctness, we’re talking about politics.”  A comment which earned applause from the audience.

It is a shame that most of the participants gave so little attention to the history and current function of political correctness.  They might, for instance, have given voice to details in Geoffrey  Hughes’  Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture or the work of some other scholar of the subject. That might have provided some insight into Fry’s question about the efficacy (ie. in terms of achieving progressive social reform) of these tactics.

The debaters might also have discussed what precisely they meant by “progress”. But, that didn’t happen either.

Instead, the dominant discussion of the day was the validity (or invalidity) of identity politics as a dominant tactic and theme of modern academic and public life.  During the course of  listening to, things the debaters had to say – or things that they refused to say – it becomes clear that public figures such as actors, journalists, preachers and academics are very nearly united in their approach to political disagreements:  they will not deviate from the particular rhetorical script they speak from.  There is extraordinarily little collegiality.  And precious little room to allow for the knowledge, experience and talent of anyone not vetted as card-carrying comrades of their particular dogmatism.

The debate may be viewed on the Munk Debates website or, of course, a variety of interpretations and analyses may be viewed on Youtube.  A simple search ought to do the trick.

 

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