A Declaration of Independence by a Princeton Professor.

It’s open season on public letters at the moment. First there was Harper’s “Letter on Justice and Open Debate”. Then, a few days later, came a counterletter, which attacked the original not so much for what it said but for who agreed with it.

And now this letter by Joshua Katz, itself written in response to yet another (!) letter which was signed by hundreds of members of the faculty and students at Princeton university.

The most alarming part of this particular letter, as Joshua points out, is a call to create a faculty run committee that would oversee the investigation of all “behaviour, incidents, research. What qualifies as racist and what the consequences should be, would, of course, also be defined by the committee. Here’s the full quote from section 11 of the “faculty-level” demands:

Constitute a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.

Having never studied at Princeton, I can’t, with any confidence, offer an opinion on what it’s like to be a black student or faculty member there. What I can say, with great confidence, is that this le el of overreach, and the fact that it’s being demanded so brazenly at a university with the standing of Princeton, is actually pretty terrifying.

It’s difficult to say if this was just posturing, or whether there was even the slightest hope that this demand would be met, but either way, I would be deeply concerned with having staff that thought this way influencing generations of young, soon to be influential minds.

Is Political Correctness A Force For Good?

Political correctness feels like a no-brainer to its advocates, and it would be really great if it was. But sadly this confidence, and the tendency towards absolutism to which it tends inevitably cause more problems than solutions. As Stephen Fry points out:

I’m standing next to someone with whom I have…differences in terms of politics and all sorts of other things, precisely because I think all this has got to stop. This rage, resentment, hostility, intolerance. Above all, this “with us or against us” certainty.

Regardless of which side of the debate you stand, you’ll almost certainly be able to point to the rage, resentment, hostility and intolerance of “the other side” as evidence of their misguidedness. But even if you’re right, this isn’t an end point. The day has to come where we choose to stand beside those with whom we disagree and talk to them. The language we use is secondary to the fact that we speak.