Mottes, Baileys, and the Contemporary Scene

As the Yalies in the process of being educated beyond their intelligence have been throwing their recent tantrums, I’ve heard more than a few people argue that this is the sort of thing PC has wrought. Indeed, the sort of nonsense we’ve seen at Yale, Claremont, and Amherst seems like a fine case of chickens coming home to roost, as Jonah Goldberg has noted:

Outside of the actual headquarters of the Democratic party itself, no major institution in America today is more thoroughly run and controlled by the Left than academia. For several years now, whenever I’ve visited a college campus, I’ve tried to make the following point. It basically goes like this:

You kids think it is somehow rebellious to be liberal. So let me see if I get this right. The administrators at this school are liberal. The professors are liberal. Your high-school teachers were probably liberal. Your textbooks are, for the most part, liberal. Hollywood is liberal. The music industry is liberal. The fashion industry is liberal. Publishing is liberal. The mainstream media are liberal. Silicon Valley is liberal. Believe it or not, most corporations and the overwhelming majority of charitable foundations are liberal. And yet, you think you’re sticking it to the man by agreeing with them?

Moreover, it’s been like this for generations. It was true when most of these administrators and faculty were born — they have grown up inside a universe where this fact was simply taken for granted. With the Left given total control of these oases of tolerance and citadels of progressivism, what do we get? We get pampered and coddled students screaming that these institutions are hotbeds of racism, homophobia, sexism, and the rest of the 31 Flavors of Oppression.  I’m sorry, but over here by the hibachi in the parking lot, that’s just frick’n hilarious.

So anyway, I’ve noted more than a few people who conveniently want to ignore their little Red Guards, preferring to argue that slagging PC (and PC-ness — which includes the insane notions that speech equals violence and that students are entitled to “safe spaces” —  and which, make no mistake, is the rationale behind the junior Robespierres on campus) is nothing less than showing disdain for basic courtesy and politeness. Now, the most reasonable response to such a claim is, and I quote, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!” However, since I’m in the education racket, I suppose I should point out the fact that these folks are at best, committing a fallacy, and more likely arguing in bad faith. And there’s even a medieval component!

Let’s do that part first. Back in the Middle Ages, the community around a castle could be divided into two main sections, the motte and the bailey. The bailey would be the courtyard area within the walls of the castle’s territory, where one might find smithies, parade grounds, and other places where ordinary life might take place. The castle proper — what we might think of as the keep — would be centrally placed on a raised earthwork called a motte. In the event of an attack, the defenders could retreat from the bailey into the more secure, defensible keep on the motte. The idea was that under normal circumstances, one could conduct life in the bailey, retreating to the motte as needed only to sally forth again after the threat was gone.

This strategy has given its name to the type of argument we’re now discussing. The claim that political correctness is simply a synonym for politeness is the motte, the point to which its advocates retreat when challenged. Under other circumstances, however, the advocates of PC will claim every square foot available, not only making it a bailey but (to extend the analogy of battle) mining the area in the manner that dejobbed the dean at Claremont. They will then conflate both bailey and motte, claiming a disagreement at the extremes (some of PC’s neo-puritanical elements) is an attack on the central idea (politeness). We can see a similar strategy in some sectors of the feminist movement. When excursions into the bailey (rape culture, for example; gender feminism, for another) alienate people, the response is the retreat to the motte, in the claim that all feminists “really want” is stuff like the right to vote and equity feminism.

I say this is spinach, and I say to hell with it. If you believe that people who disagree with you — even people who offend you — should be mobbed, hounded from the workplace, re-educated/”sensitivity trained” or otherwise punished, you aren’t arguing for politeness. You’re arguing for fascism. Own it and defend it if it’s what you believe, but don’t pretend that politeness is all you really want. If you can’t defend the bailey, maybe its not worth the fight.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Medievalia, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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