“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Donald Trump said.
Ah, that is the problem in America. All we needed was Mr. Trump to articulate it so clearly.
What a meaningless, cheap bout of demagoguery.
Last week, I encountered an article claiming that “political correctness” is not practical or preparatory. The article was well written; its premise was unrealistic.
“Political correctness is a misnomer” means that we have constructed a pejorative term suggesting that its supporters want to diminish free speech; “political correctness” is a straw man. The term is not adequate or precise, but it is popular and usable. Therefore, I will use “PC” as a representative of understanding, professionalism, and consciousness rather than the slanted term it has come to mean.
The premise of last week’s opinion piece that political correctness does not prepare individuals for real life is absurd. Replace “political correctness” with “having respect for others,” or “understanding others.” Political correctness IS the real world; having respect for others IS professionalism. Do not be so naive to assume that people purposefully water down language to weaken our culture. Language is modified to fit our increasingly acute understanding of reality. There are no legal consequences for calling an individual an “asshole” and rightfully so, but it would be unrealistic to expect no social repercussions for such an action.
Ardent defenders of free speech often suggest that “PC” just seeks to subvert thought into a filter through which speech is catered to an “offended” crowd. Rather, I contend “PC” is actually an indicator of a conscious audience accounting for the natural blunders and shortcomings of free speech. In this sense, “PC” is not so much an enforcer as it is an adviser.
What we call “offensive” is fickle and inconsistent. Free speech diehards often twist this into a slippery slope which argues that anybody can take offense to anything; thus, everyone will take offense to everything. Not only is this disingenuous, but it is impractical. The great irony is that those who whine about “offended individuals” are implicitly condemning what they outwardly claim to protect: the exploration of ideas and free speech. These individuals are often surprised by mere reactions to their expressed position: ” George Bush was negatively criticized.” Who is begging for silence in this circumstance? ” American Sniper was cancelled.” We are upset that people reacted persuasively enough to remove such an event? Ben Carson silenced himself because of argumentative protest. This is too easy. Reaction and refinement are what happen in real life. PC is too often used as a scapegoat for mere reactions.
Of course colleges are “breeding grounds for free speech and person [sic] ideas.” This is not incompatible with PC. PC is about working toward a more accurate and inclusive narrative. This is how meaningful discussion proceeds. Essentially, do not waste time with words and phrases that will detract from real meaning or discourse. Individuals, AKA the “offended reactionaries,” are not bothered by language as much as reality especially mischaracterized reality. Poorly used “offensive” language can be the consequence to a misunderstanding of plight. When individuals are “offended”, it is often because there is a harsh reality associated with the offensive term or statement. Nobody would seriously consider a family on welfare lazy leeches if he or she understood the systemic issues that placed the family within that context. These terms, too, are contextual. Nobody would outwardly call a future employer a “fat pig” because the potential employee has come to understand the repercussions and context of their free speech exercise. We get upset because the individual referred to as a “terrorist” was offended? Try being asked to step aside at an airport after being deemed “hazardous.” Terms do not exist separately from their realities. We modify our language through our individuals and institutions to become more diplomatic because it is advantageous and courteous to do so. “PC” is respect. “PC” is understanding.
Admittedly, I used to eschew the same sentiments as the “antiPC” crowd. The mentality was I can say whatever I want, nobody can stop me, and I should expect no repercussions for my words. In hindsight, this is absurd and redundant. Of course I can say what I want it is legally guaranteed to me. Did I expect those around me to accept my babble without responding negatively to me? For whatever reason, yes; my right trumped my reasonability. In this sense, I was not professional, responsible, or refined. I am PC because I genuinely do not care what others say, however, if that person is mischaracterizing a person or argument, they will be accordingly told so. PC is worried about inclusion and accuracy.
Indeed, this is not a binary issue. We should not simply support PC to the disservice of free speech. Likewise, undermining PC to glorify free speech also misses the point. Rather, these ideas work in conjunction with each other: we are allotted legal freedom to explore the social boundaries of language. PC is the logical consequence to an understanding of how language shapes interaction.
“Respect my free speech” is a banal catchall with ceaseless support. The implied backhalf of the statement “with no social repercussion to me” is too often forgotten. We love to reaffirm our right to free speech so much that, often, we deliberately omit the responsibility attached to it. Thus, the exploration of others’ boundaries becomes secondary. If we are to fully embrace free speech, we must accept the social implications that come with it.