Before the Munk Debate on political correctness began, the moderator interviewed each participant individually. This is a paraphrased summary of Michelle’s pre-debate interview.
I was originally hesitant to participate in this debate because there are a lot of things that people consider “political correctness” which I disagree with. However, when I saw that Jordan Peterson was going to be here, I decided to come, because nearly everything he considers political correctness, I consider to be progress. I’m not sure about Stephen Fry.
How would you respond to the idea that the core idea of the enlightenment is the ability of the individual to assert themselves, and to speak their minds, regardless of the harm?
I believe that we are the intellectual heirs of the enlightenment because we look to expand human freedoms and are not beholden to traditional structures. Peterson’s idea that the social order is fragile and must be protected at almost any cost seems to me to be at odds with enlightenment thinking.
Additionally, I consider the dichotomy between individual assertion and the rights of groups is false. In the United States, groups had to fight for the right to assert themselves individually.
It will be interesting to see how this will play out, because of the fact that there will be three countries with different cultures represented here. It’s possible that we will have different ideas about free speech and hate speech, especially considering that the hate speech laws in Canada and UK would never be accepted in the US.
Do you think that identity politics is dangerously tribal, that it removes our ability to find common ground?
Politics is the contention of opposing groups with different interests. The question is: “which groups?” In the United States, identity politics has been criticised as replacing class-based distinctions and therefore undermining the New Deal coalition. But the problem with that is that the New Deal coalition fell apart in response to the Civil Rights movement.
Do you feel the #MeToo movement has turned into a cultural panic?
It’s interesting to me that this is a question we are asking. Only a few weeks after the movement began, people had already begun to ask the question. If you look at who has been affected, it’s been men who have a large number of women making very serious allegations. It took two trials to send Bill Cosby to prison. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, women had evidence that they had been paid to silence them. No one has faced a Stalinist inquisition or lost their job based on McCarthyist rumor.
People are panicking because men are finally being held accountable for their actions, which is something we haven’t seen before.
Do you think men need to move aside and make room for women and other historically disadvantaged groups?
What we’re asking of men is actually simpler than that. For example, never take your penis out at work. And if you have an all-male panel making decisions about women’s issues, maybe stop.
But, there’s a big disconnect between what we’re actually asking men to do, and what they think we’re asking them to do. We’re not asking anyone to go through some sort of Stalinist re-education camp.
Do you think that, in a certain way, this issue boils down to people wanting more civil public discussions?
Yes, I think people want better manners. If you look back at the requests made in the name of political correctness in the 80s and 90s, many of them just seem to be common decency now. You wouldn’t really even think of using these words anymore.
We went through a process where at first people were upset, and balked at using new terms. Over time the useful terms became natural, and the awkward ones fell out of use. I think the same will happen again.
You can read a transcript of Goldberg’s interview here. It has been edited for style, meaning that things such as “um” and “you know” have been removed, and grammar corrected.
This is part of a larger series focusing on the Munk Debate on Political Correctness.