Notes on political correctness

A question that seems to arise frequently in my circles is whether or not the idea of political correctness is inherently evil. Perhaps I need new circles.

The thing about political correctness is that it is just a form of polite discourse. And some people resent any sense of obligation toward being polite.

Jen Sorenson, Slowpoke, 2005Viewed through a hostile critique, political correctness is simply a modern term for euphemism.

Most men can recall learning all sorts of nifty words, for instance, denoting women’s breasts. Titties, gazangas, melons, rack, and so on. But in my youth, if the question of a women’s breast size came up in the presence of elders, one might speak in terms of endowment. Large breasts were described as “well-endowed”. I would not, at age twelve, have used the phrase “mondo gazangas” in the presence of my grandmother. It’s not some yoke of social slavery, but, rather, being polite according to the company I was in, and also avoiding a distracting family scandal.

In this sense, I’ve known many who oppose political correctness to abide by it according to their desire. While a man might tell a woman, “I enjoy being with you,” or say something about making or sharing love, he might also tell his friends, “I rode that bitch somethin’ hard!”

It’s not rocket science in this context; your odds of “getting some tail” decrease in average company if you approach a woman by saying, “Bitch, I’m gonna make you call me ‘Daddy’.”

Likewise, one doesn’t use certain terms to describe ethnic differences because they have become, over the years, fighting words.

One might use “black” instead of “melanin endowed” or “African American” because it’s easier. To the other, is it really necessary to use the word “nigger”?

Political correctness arises as a form of etiquette. It is astounding how many people have problems comprehending that the use of certain terms in, say, the workplace, or a school, creates a hostile environment. Part of this is simply the psychology of empowerment. In the 1950s, maybe the boss didn’t see a problem with using the word “nigger”, or calling his secretary “honey”, but dark-skinned or female employees were constantly reminded that one should not expect fair treatment.

Over time, what classifies a formerly acceptable word as politically incorrect is the attachment of judgment and condemnation to it. On paper, one might wonder what is wrong with the word “Negro”, since it seems to work well enough. To the other, ask anyone who lived through the civil rights era. I was born later, but all it really takes is to hear the contempt packed into the word in order to understand why it falls into the incorrectness column.

In such an extreme context, the question of political correctness as dishonesty seems nearly laughable, as one can rightly wonder what is so honest about words like nigger, spic, wop, wetback, bitch, faggot, and so on.

To the other, the proverbial question of whether or not one looks fat in these jeans is not actually a matter of political correctness. If a relationship cannot survive an honest answer to the question, it is not the fault of political correctness, but, rather, the people in the relationship. Encountering various redefinitions of political correctness—invariably crafted to justify a hostile critique—one might actually wonder, and quite reasonably at that, about how and why such redefinitions come about. Or one might simply wonder about the company they keep.

One thing I’ve noticed about critics of political correctness is that those who choose to opt out of being polite are inevitably offended when someone calls them an asshole.

Of course, that’s sort of the new political correctness: If someone goes out of their way to be rude, we shouldn’t call them an asshole, but, rather, respect their “brutal honesty”.

It cuts both ways. In American politics, it has been conservatives—those who have traditionally lamented political correctness—who have benefitted greatly from strategic euphemization and the transformation of hurt feelings into straw men over the last couple decades. That is, the religious supremacists, racists, misogynists, homophobes, and other determined discriminators are loudly claiming to be the victims. You know, if you can’t kick someone out of your restaurant for the color of their skin, or throw them in jail for not being Christian, or use the law to establish the supremacy of your religious beliefs over someone else’s, your freedom is under attack.

It’s almost like a bad joke. Recognizing that they cannot defeat the need for civilized interaction within civilization, some instead seem to mock civility as some sort of awful burden. But I don’t think it’s deliberate. Rather, it seems a stock complex of ego defense mechanisms in response to neurotic pressures.

Everybody seems to want at least some degree of political correctness in the culture. Even sociopaths are offended if you call them inhuman.

The only real question is whether one’s antisocial neurotic symptoms are inevitable and indelible. If so, then the assholes should not be offended, but, rather, proud to be so branded. If not, then the antisocials need to decide whether they want to be respected in civilization or simply be proud of their self-imposed alienation; the one thing they shouldn’t do is try to convince the rest of civilization that they’re actually really nice, good, fair people, because then they’re only demanding a new political correctness for themselves.

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