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Comments: Week of February 9, 2015

1. Trigger Warning,” Jonathan Chait’s critique of the culture of political ­correctness, sparked heated discussion (January 26–February 8). At issue was whether political correctness counters ­liberal values by suppressing free speech, as Chait argued, or whether calling out ­perceived racist, sexist, or otherwise ­offensive subtexts in our speech in fact allows for the flourishing of ideas. Those who sided against Chait included The Atlantic’s Megan Garber, who wrote that p.c. culture “is a way of ­adjusting—­fitfully, ­awkwardly—to an ­environment, ­political or ­otherwise, that gives so many of us ­newfound ­exposure to each other. Some of the mechanics of this adjustment may be overcorrections: We can be too quick to dismiss otherwise valid arguments as coming from places of privilege. We can be too sensitive. We can be too reliant on categories—white, black, cis, trans—that focus on what we are rather than who.” And yet, Garber continued, “identifying oneself as ‘cis’ rather than ‘straight,’ or offering a trigger warning on a Facebook post, or frowning at the use of an outdated adjective, or stepping aside so that someone with a more relevant experience can speak: These are cultural shibboleths … made, generally, in good faith.” Comedian John Hodgman expressed a similar sentiment: “I acknowledge the phenomena he is describing is an actual thing. I was on a campus in the 90s and am on the Internet now,” tweeted Hodgman, “but I will say that the ‘PC’ ­critiques, even at their most infuriating to me, almost always make me think and yes check my privilege.” Chait, Hodgman added, “offers very little evidence against this form of contentiousness other than anxiety/hurt feelings of some ­colleagues … when expression of opinion is met with real world attacks, the occasional harangue of the politically correct feels small to me.” New York commenter tuhaybey drew the distinction between “liberal intellectuals being overly uptight about their particular school of thought” and the more general application of political ­correctness, in which it is “the natural disgust-reaction people have to overt ­bigotry.” Many critics felt that Chait—a self-described “liberal white man”—made himself out to be a victim. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote, on this score, “Being aggressively, even unfairly, ­criticized isn’t remotely tantamount to being silenced.”

Other readers expressed gratitude and admiration for Chait’s nuanced articulation of p.c. culture’s pitfalls, including Ross Douthat of the New York Times: “A lot of the responses are just sidestepping the key question—which is, basically, in what contexts and how frequently should it be permissible to end an argument by either shouting it down or ruling it out of order? Is the vocabulary that the contemporary left increasingly uses for this purpose, to condemn arguments instead of answering them … worth embracing and defending? And does this vocabulary, this strategy, actually serve the causes that it’s associated with—liberation, equality, social ­justice? Chait’s mostly unrebutted conclusion is that it doesn’t.” Commenter Chris_Lynch voiced the frustrations of those who find themselves the targets of political-correctness purveyors: “I understand that various minorities feel oppressed, and I believe they all have real grievances that need to be addressed. But nothing makes that goodwill evaporate faster than their assertions (or insinuations) that my sex, my skin color, my parents’ income, and/or my age automatically cast doubt on anything I have to say.” Writing as a “person of ‘the left,’ ” commenter Maplewoodian summed up the argument of Chait’s defenders: “The PC culture is both terrifying and small-minded … it has a flavor of religious fanaticism, without the religion. It is also entirely counterproductive to any liberal or sane left agenda. Our country is failing not because of ‘micro-aggressions’ and ­insensitivity, but because we have increasing income disparities and a class war waged by the ultra-rich on the middle class and the poor.”

2. “The high cost of housing is a vexing issue for New Yorkers at almost every income level,” wrote Andrew Rice in his piece on Brooklyn’s real-estate land rush (The Red Hot Rubble of East New York,” January 26–February 8). “What’s a frustration for middle-class buyers amounts to a desperate crisis for poor renters.” Commenters responded with alarm that low-income Brooklynites would, once again, fall victim to gentrification. “My mother and I were forced out of Williamsburg for the same nonsense,” wrote commenter prodr. “There is no real-estate vision for New York City,” wrote PaulSS. “There is only a ­violently discriminatory economic environment in which people who are actually middle class and below are purposefully being driven to extinction within the borders of the city. This isn’t just horrible politics or horrible business practices—it is simply inhumane and perverted.” Though some readers were less bothered by the changes afoot in the borough. “It’s terrible to think of someone being forced out of their home, but if other people can afford it and you can’t, then why should you get to hold on to it?” asked commenter salter7. “Plus, why is it so acceptable to be bigoted against ‘hipsters,’ or ‘stroller moms?’ Why should they not be able to choose where they want to live if they can pay the rent?”