‘People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying’
The political correctness movement that has swept college campuses, corporate America and mainstream life can be traced back to a few psychological trends.
Howard Schwartz, professor emeritus of Oakland University, has for years studied the psychology underlying political correctness, and in his new book Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self, he offers some clarity on why the term “snowflakes” is now synonymous with college students today.
Schwartz, who taught classes in social and behavioral science within its business school, said the term stems from what he calls “the rise of the pristine self.”
Schwartz writes in the book that “this is a self that is touched by nothing but love. The problem is that nobody is touched by nothing but love, and so if a person has this as an expectation, if they have built their sense of themselves around this premise, the inevitable appearance of the something other than love blows this structure apart.”
He added in his interview that “the oversensitivity of individuals today, including political correctness and microaggressions, all stem from this idea that people operating under the notion of the pristine self view you as evil because you are showing them something other than love.”
Schwartz points to the rise of helicopter parents and capitulating campus administrations as contributing to this phenomenon.
“People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying. The helicopter parent protects the children from real dangers but also fantasy dangers. These precious snowflakes are the children of political correctness, their parents and schools lead them to believe that the world is perfectly moralistic — they don’t live in the real world, it is a fantasy,” he said.
Schwartz said the pristine self is a sort of narcissism – individuals who regard themselves as pristine selves cannot handle the unlovingness of the world, even if it manifests itself in indifference rather than malice.
To them, everything is an act of offense.
“The university is the setting in which this narcissism is nurtured and the university becomes a sort of protective figure. Universities have become maternal institutions in which the patriarchy, embodied within any authority, is hated,” he said. “This phenomenon is developing at corporations as well.”
Schwartz said political correctness issues will pose great difficulty for organizations in the future.
“Weber famously discussed the impersonality of organizations, and people have to know that organizations are places where they are not necessarily outwardly loved. Their jobs are where they are going to have a hard time,” he said.
“The one exception is certain social justice jobs, because they give you work that insists in hating the patriarchy and perpetuate political correctness as right and good,” he said, but added “we can’t have an economy based off of these, though.”
At the end of the book’s introduction, Schwartz sums up his project by noting “there is clearly an element of irrationality in political correctness. It is a form of censorship without a censor; we impose it on ourselves. Yet, it keeps us away from the reasoned discussion of social issues which everybody can see are important, consequential, and desperately in need of wide-ranging analysis. It does so through an emotional power that is rarely gainsaid and which anyone can see is ultimately against everyone’s interest.”
He told The Fix he does believe the tide is turning away from political correctness, however, and points to the presidential election campaigns as evidence.
“The fact that we have Trump campaigning as the ‘anti-political correctness’ candidate is really interesting,” Schwartz said. “It shows how far we have come and that this movement has lost control of itself.”
A free PDF of Schwartz’s book is available for download through Springerlink, an online distributor of published material to which many colleges and universities have subscriptions. The print book is available on Amazon.