Do you still enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, being aware of his sexual preferences?
Is a book better or worse if the author has ovaries?
Can a heterosexual male make a credible movie about a lesbian teenager?
The answers depend on the level of your political correctness and that should better be low, Sebastien Valkenberg writes in his new book. Political correctness subverts intellectual freedom and thus endangers scientific progress, resulting in a lower level of intelligence overall. “How political correctness makes The Netherlands stupid”, is the subtitle of the book. Valkenberg is a Dutch philosopher, teaching at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, writing for newspapers and magazines and speaking for a variety of audiences.
Politicial correctness smothers controversial thoughts, with their potential hidden gems, under a blanket of conformity. Science needs free thinking, the author writes; universities should remain sanctuaries for the freedom of thinking. Searching for the truth comes under pressure if the desirability of arguments becomes more important than their added value. A discussion should be decided on the quality of arguments, regardless who contributes them; he calls this the virtue of indifference.
Political correctness is a poisonous mix of moralism and intolerance, Valkenberg writes, propelled by three forces: diversity, identity and safety.
Diversity policies are aimed to break through current power structures because these favor dominant groups. The danger, according to Valkenberg, is that differences in society might indicate injustice but not by definition; it is not always aggressor versus oppressed. Only appointing female faculty might result in missing the next male Einstein, leaving aside that quota are becoming complicated with the 117 gender identities that are currently counted at American universities. Valkenberg advocates pluriformity – diversity in views – over diversity in gender, race, nationality or other external characteristics.
Identity policies give minorities or oppressed groups a platform. Valkenberg writes that individuals deserve respect, cultures do not. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the title of a book of British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge. Needless to say that Valkenberg thinks that white people are able to add value to the discours about racism. In politically correct circles you cannot be much worse than Dead White European and Male at the same time but the author explains why philosophers like Nietsche and Kant are still relevant.
Finally, safety measures are taken, primarily but not only at American universities, to protect the feelings of students against being hurt by expressions they could experience as threatening. Grow up, Valkenberg tells them. A painless, risk-free existence is not only impossible but also undesirable.
Valkenberg’s book focuses on universities because they educate tomorrow’s decision-makers, who will design our future society. But corporates should heed his warnings too. As the author writes: they are allergic to fuss, so inclined to goodness. They should be aware that political correctness comes at a price.
Sebastien Valkenberg. Policor in de polder. Hoe politieke correctheid Nederland dom maakt. Ambo/Anthos, 2021