Corinna Fales’ 2020 book This Book Is NOT a Safe Space is a refreshingly honest rebuttal to what Glenn Greenwald rightly identifies as the new religion of political correctness. Many people might be thinking this is a total 180 for me as I have been dialed in to embracing the politics of political correctness. Part of this I acknowledge is playfully producing theory around the production code. Weren’t Hollywood films so much better when there were bans on what one could say about sex? The innuendo and role play was extraordinary arousing and ambiguous. Now sex is purely a commercial vehicle for Hollywood and we get no sex behind the code, just money behind the sex.
This too is what is worthwhile about Fales’ work. She identifies a peculiar politically correct take on sex, namely that anything goes. She accurately identifies this shift as a total turn away from a biological understanding of reality into one of pure automation. Indeed, the pro-sex argument today sounds just the same as the pro-capitalist argument. You are free, you have choice, be who you want to be! How horrifying an argument it is. The reason sex is the most enriching thing in life (from my vantage point as a young horny male) is that it is an overwhelmingly constricting source, almost authoritarian in the way it binds you to the desire of the Other.
What compares to sex, more so than a hungry child on the side of the road? Do we not become overtaken by a form of authoritarianism within ourselves to give everything up for this child? Is this not what freedom is, in its exact form? The freedom to bind ourselves to something greater than ourselves?
What do we do when we make this person a victim in a politically correct way? How do we narrow their horizons as well as our own? Trust me I am not giving anything away about Fales’ book here. The personal narrative drives the story, both her own and that of communities of the Other that she is bound to by experience. Such is a kind of paradox, although it may be a necessary one, of writing this book about political correctness in a politically correct era.
One must prove to the world that they too, have suffered, in order to be properly qualified to speak about the world. Donald Trump used this framework to talk about himself as a victimized outsider in his rise to fascist leadership. Is the reader thinking how is this politically correct prude now endorsing sex and subversive behavior? Well, while I am a prude and conventional man when I see such things as subversive or sexy I fully endorse the authentic challenging of the dominant narrative being weaponized.
Let’s expand further. Fales is navigating a certain code we all know to exist but for reasons none of us quite know why, we can’t or won’t question. Why don’t we acknowledge that each of us have experiences that give us gratitude? Why are we supposed to continually confess our trauma to the data collectors and the greedy people looking on, pretending to sympathize, while getting a high out of hearing the dirty details of the Other?
Fales deals with the real material violence of jail, of the Holocaust, of rape in the family, of ways of coping of these experiences, and of ways society tries to hold you down within them. Marked within a space the dominant can recognize the safe space keeps one class down, as a place where the powerful can place their virtue. From here the politically correct way of discussing violence and suffering enters into a blender where real abuse of children can’t be separated from the kind of pizza at an office party.
Fales deals with modern society with the humor necessary to understand it. I was planning on writing on this book a while go but when I first read it I simply had nothing to say. I was paralyzed within a certain code of proving myself, ignoring the real experiences I had that contradicted the new religion of wokeness. However I would challenge us to ask what the new God in the safe space can give us. Can it create a community in this time of social isolation? Can it create a universal set of rituals that bind us to a higher purpose? Can it stimulate a dialogue about ideology that is worthwhile?
Anyone who has been reading my turn against populism knows I don’t consider wokeness to be the single narrative of the ruling class but rather as the Trojan Horse to defeat genuine Marxism, feminism, etc. This is why embracing the safe space as a sort of what Gayatri Spivak would call strategic essentialism is still a necessary step especially when one does not own the means of production. In other words, being politically correct in order to get your broader message of egalitarianism across is a small price to pay.
We do have serious questions to ask about the power of private companies to censor voices who they deem politically incorrect. When Greenwald or Fales defends free speech the political left doesn’t even bother to listen to them, and dismisses them out of hand as fascists simply for being consistent. Such is the need to abandon ideology immediately and stand in solidarity with all those deemed outside of the sanitary space.
In the age of COVID-19 we have to continue to think of the way in which space is policed as being through the politically correct language of sanitation. A Derek Chauvin trial (here I will gracefully bow to the PC and not call it the George Floyd trial, even though I keep thinking why should we say Chauvin’s name at all?) That aside, my point here is that the Chauvin trial relies on the smearing of Floyd as an unclean drug laced victim. We must defend George Floyd on these grounds, because these are the grounds in which he is on trial. To be politically correct and claim him as some sort of holy victim that will save us from our sins is simply hallow because everyone says police are evil and racism is detestable.
Black Lives Matter had a great series, the left wouldn’t buy it, but it was astute, where they trolled every person who criticized the police or whiteness with a simple political demand: “but what about defunding the police?” Such was the tepid self-righteous nature of the left, posturing in the most tedious ways of shaming police and white people while never addressing the demands of activists to defund the police and fund economic and social programs for poor communities of color.
Could this all be part of the same project? Could shaming the powers that be lead to real action? Perhaps, if it changed people’s minds. What Fales traces is the imagined tyranny of wokeness being a new dragon to slay for the right and how it can become a substitute for addressing real power. If the left could present itself as something opposing power rather than a group that gains victories from Democrats or corporations pretending to enforce it perhaps the left really could become the sort of vanguard that it frames the Other as. However one of the problems today is that in the Information Age everything is put forth in its totality relentlessly and despite constantly creating hierarchies between class allies we end up losing track of any way to collectively track how power is actually operating, and we are left tracing a string of symbolic conspiracies.
We remain trapped in a way of speaking about the world, hidden behind a series of rules created by the halls of power. When we address comrades, we must continue to replay their worst humiliations for them in order to appear to be woke enough, to virtue signal our care. This is the ultimate safe space. Corinna Fales is unafraid to fail. She imagines a world in which each of us has the potential to achieve agency, no matter what life has thrown at us. We need not ask if Fales is authentic, if her struggle is “real”, we need only to ask her how she broke free from the chains that bind us long after we have broke free from our physical chains.
Why do those privileged enough to have safe spaces seek to make the world into an ordered space when they could be the ones leading us out of it? Perhaps to be charitable most people still have colonized minds and want to establish an ordered class of traumas which keep people stagnant and block all revolutionary tendencies. Now is the time to read and share this terrific book by Corrina Fales! Soon our world may become one big safe space. Beware! Trauma, while being constantly recycled and weaponized, will forever be framed as continuous, and therefore both watered down and completely determinative.