Andrew Sullivan gloatingly describes a real cultural phenomenon as the emergence of the “post-PC era.” In his most recent post, he adds this caveat: “Maybe political correctness was indeed a necessary phase in our churning popular culture. I’m just glad it’s over.”
His error, as I see it, is simple: PC is not only a necessary phase in popular culture, it’s also an enduring necessity. It’s not over. If PC is ever over, then post-PC ceases to exist. You can’t have one without the other.
Don’t get me wrong. I think post-PC is real. It’s part of the emerging integral, post-postmodern sensibility. But the emergence of post-PC is fragile, and it’s not to be taken for granted. It is built on the foundations of postmodernism and PC-influenced sensitivity, inclusion, and acceptance of diversity. Destructively tear away the foundations–attack it mercilessly, unfairly, and ungenerously as so many of its conservative critics do–and post-PC falls. If you haven’t gone through a “PC phase,” whatever that looks like to you, here’s the bad news: you’re not post-PC, you’re pre-PC.
Let’s say you’re white and you want to laugh at a dog barking at a black man and saying it’s okay because he (the dog) is a Democrat. Funny, isn’t it? (This is an example Sullivan cites of post-PC humor.) If you’re PC, you’re not laughing. If you’re laughing you’re either post-PC or pre-PC. And that makes you either hip or a racist. Take PC out of the equation, as Sullivan hopes happens, and your options narrow. Laugh at the barking dog, and you’re just another sorry sap who thought he was hip when everyone around him was laughing nervously. You look over your shoulders and see all these white faces enjoying the sight of a dog barking at a black man, and start to worry that maybe y’all shouldn’t be laughing so freely. The laughter dies down.
Post-PC isn’t a stylish new purse you inherit because it’s a hip cultural fashion. You can’t put it on and then throw it off. It’s a state of mind, a way of being, an aspect of a level of consciousness, and it must be earned. In Sullivan’s naive gloat that the PC era is over, he raises the distinct possibility that he hasn’t quite earned what, perhaps, he thinks he has.