During the past two weeks, between Great Britain and France, there has been a unified agreement that Europe, and the West in general, is facing a serious problem concerning political correctness and healthy adversity. As a student in France, I have made it my goal to understand the francophone approach to complicated and alarming issues such as islamophobia and extremism. However, with French citizens joining ISIS forces in Syria, Jewish families revoking their French citizenship in favor of claiming right of return, and the recent act of aggression at Charlie Hedbo resulting in twelve casualties, understanding is becoming more difficult. Questions of political correctness now hold human lives in the balance. Questions of whether political correctness undermines honest debate is an inquiry of striking importance when contextualized in the problems of the contemporary world.
Although multiculturalism and constructivism are significant factors within the structures of how knowledge is formed and discussed, silencing the privileged, offensive ideas, or Western axioms in debate hinders true discussion. Furthermore, I have witnessed a serious lack of understanding in relation to the services satirical magazines provide society. Especially in France, satire is not only a method for exposing the wrongdoings of governments, religions, and individuals, but satire is obligated to display aggressive, offensive, disturbing humor. This is the country where Voltaire first penned Candide, one of the most essential philosophical and satirical works in all of human history. Certainly when he used the Juvenal, or volatile, biting and brutal form of satire, to criticize kings and ideals, there were those who disagreed. However, it is the role of these magazines to be contrarians to every type of institution and idea accepted by society, especially within French culture.
This is not to assert that racism is fine so long as it is provided by a satirical point of view. In fact, this idea is completely separate from a fierce cultural defense of a censor-free society. Particularly, in the classroom, political correctness must be set aside by each student now more than ever. It is academia’s place to question the justification of morals and values and their contextual ideologies, even if that method is hurtful. The university is not intended to clarify any feeling-based value, but rather exists to distrust accepted beliefs and ideas. The humanist must separate beliefs and ideas into falsifiable notions that can be used to combat censorship and acts of violence equally. When students separate themselves from the collective to which they normally identify, actual solutions can be discussed and created. To place participants in a classroom or a democracy on unequal footing because of race, gender or religion, removes the point of both.
When attempting to make sense of the acts of violence in France and around the world concerning race, religion or gender, classrooms desperately require the type logic used in nineteenth century cricket: both laypeople and gentlemen engaged in matches against one-another despite difference in class in order to provide a rousing game. Imagine if the layperson players were given advantages from penalties gone unpunished in the previous match. When a minority or a majority is given more or less of a voice in the debate, it throws every participant’s personhood into question and creates future misunderstanding and even animosity. Although other cultures and ideas must be explored through the most thorough and equal means possible, it is unrealistic to approach history or philosophy without open, at times offensive or humorous discussion of transcendent ideas.
Despite the idea that grave inequalities in the past cause contemporary problems, avoiding any debate that may be deemed offensive or privileged is a detriment to honest progression in academia and, ultimately, the future of the international community. In complex, and increasingly violent times, society must embrace diversity, offensiveness and honest debate. As expressed by the late Charlie Hedbo Officiel, “Without humor we are all dead.”