A controversial term
I can’t think of a term nowadays that sparks so much debate as “political correctness”. People see it everywhere, from TV shows, to advertisement, to censorship laws, through virtual signaling… What I think should be highlighted in all of this is not the term itself but the implications behind using it. What are we really saying when we say something is “politically correct” ?
Mind your manners
It’s a habit of our civilized societies to want to police how people speak and direct offensive speech toward the back of discourse. A little bit like unfavorable traits that we try to keep hidden from view, so that our friends can only see that Facebook profile picture where we’re smiling in the company of our friends, our loved ones, our pets, etc… Everyone is living a life akin to a Disney movie, and everything is fine, up until you start asking controversial questions.
- Who is for and against abortion?
- Who thinks white people are in part responsible for the attitudes of minorities toward them?
- Who thinks we were in the right to invade Iraq?
- Who thinks islam is a religion of peace?
- Who thinks women should be equal to men?
If you ask these questions, among others, you will not get passive answers. Someone, somewhere will say something that offends another person or causes them to rise up and defend their opinion on the subject, because they know fully well it isn’t “politically correct”. The idea behind invoking an idea as being politically incorrect is that it must be true in some form because it speaks an unspoken truth, one that those who use PC language are trying to hide. That idea is of course originating from politics, wherein it is rare that politicians will say things that are politically incorrect (in theory), because it might cost them their elections.
Obviously, this means that whoever utilizes language that goes against this convention is risking something. Risking backlash from the community, for example. It’s sort of calling out a behavioral attitude to speech, in that certain things should be left unsaid in order not to offend or to disrupt social cohesion. There’s definitely a problem with that, more than one in fact.
For centuries we’ve asked of young children that they be “polite”, I.E. that they speak correctly, so as to not offend, typically to not make their parents look bad in front of other parents. As they grow old, this sort of hold on language, depending on the times, is not given as much of an importance. This habit is thus to help shape the behaviors that we desire or wish to uphold in our society. If only it were that simple.
We’ve referred to politeness as simply being respectful of other people, but sometimes politeness is used to hide the most insidious of secrets. Political correctness seems to be criticized due to this, as if the people who demand certain phrases be removed from common discourse are hiding something sinister. Some sort of truth that they don’t want to be heard about themselves.
As such, when people who oppose PC culture hear “fat-shaming”, what they understand is:
“I know I’m fat, but I don’t want to be called that.”
When they hear “slut-shaming”, what registers is:
“I know I’m a slut, but I don’t want to be called that.”
When they hear “ableist”, what registers is:
“I know I’m a retard, but I don’t want to be called that.”
Just like it could have been said that if Timmy was saying something mean about Miss Cosgrove, it was probably true, but best left to ambiguous language. In fact, ambiguity has a lot to do with the criticism of political correctness. There’s the presumption that by making language more ambiguous, we are no longer speaking the truth but half-truths diluted in meaningless phrasing. Something we Quebeckers refer to as “patiner” (ice-skating, or in this case, verbal ice-skating).
You can see that when politicians give a one minute answer to a simple question that does not even answer the question. Isn’t there some kind of error in this, though? Why do we think that changing the way we speak is in itself some kind of evil thing that will dilute language and force us to never speak the truth anymore?
Something I’d say a lot when I was younger and a boastful gamer on Counter-Strike is “this is so fucking gay”, whenever a situation was not going in my direction or I was losing the game. I didn’t think anything of it, heck I had done my fair share of homosexual things, as a bisexual. So why did I use that term? Simple: because everybody else was. These words that we ascribe minimal meaning can have enormous implications for other people. “So what?” I hear you ask, “if people are offended by what I say, they just have to not listen to me.”
You are right, and there’s also the issue of being able to hear what “the other side” has to say in every story. That’s always fruitful in some way or another, but you’re reducing a sociocultural question to an anecdotal level. It’s not what YOU say, it’s what EVERYBODY is saying. It’s not YOUR actions, it’s the actions of EVERYBODY. Because we humans are social animals, and if there’s one thing we’re good at as evolved primates, it’s imitation.
So when I heard my fellow dudes utter the phrase “this is so gay”, I would say it as well, and sometimes probably in presence of gay students at school. I thought nothing of them because they didn’t speak up. Why would they? Everybody was using it. They probably started using it themselves as well at one point, off of acceptation that their homosexuality was being used as an insult.
It’s cool to be independent and have a strong personality, hell I enjoy that very much myself. Yet, what trouble is it to you, as a strong and independent individual, to perhaps temper your terms when in the presence of people who you know – and you do – that those terms will offend them? You probably have friends who are minorities, yet you probably do use language that offends them, but they don’t tell you because they’re friends with you and they like you.
I still struggle with my own language at times and I say things that are involuntarily offensive, because I thought it’d make a good joke.
There’s no way to know whether what we’re saying is offensive unless other people tell us, and truthfully, we can’t be the judge of that unless we are in such a condition that those words hurt us. So when you’re with your friends, and you start making gay jokes or black people jokes, yeah they may laugh, but remember that your jokes are probably going to come off as offensive to folks who AREN’T your friends.
There’s a reason for that, and you know it: The Social Contract.
It works in a very simple logic: Your reach extends as far as where mine begins. Therefore, if you intentionally speak words that put prejudice upon my being, I should very well be allowed to call you out for it and vice-versa. It isn’t political correctness, at this point, it’s just human decency. (No you can’t make up reasons to be offended and then use them as some kind of knock-down argument: that’s silly, selfish and childish.)
Dear outraged people
I am turning now to those who are excessive with their usage of terms like “ableist” and “x-shaming”. While I agree that some things people say are definitely hateful and come from a place of bigotry, it is more worthwhile to educate people about why saying these things is wrong than just telling them they are and blocking them when they choose not to comply. If you don’t want to educate them, send them my way, it’ll be my pleasure to sit down and have a chat.
It’s absolutely understandable that because there’s so many people out there who just WON’T understand, that you no longer care to explain your condition and why for the 1000th time. There are people like me who will be glad to help if only to speak on a level-headed perspective. I’m not enabling these people to have this speech of theirs by accepting to speak with them, I’m allowing them to at least not act like they’re being stifled in their freedom of expression.
Because, like it or not, by telling every single potential misogynist out there to “just stop” whenever they ask one of their sealioning questions, what you do is you let those people conglomerate in little groups and become more and more convinced that there’s some kind of agenda. Those people turn into MGTOWs and MRAs and white supremacists, not by your fault alone, of course not, but just like the 1000th guy who asks you a question you’ve answered a 1000 time, these people eventually grow tired.
Nothing excuses hate, but nothing defeats hate better than love.
So if your heart is being tainted by all the hate you’ve received, delegate to people who are willing to chat with these guys.
Those willing to discuss with people who are opposite to you in a civil manner, speak up and take over when you see those conversations are getting out of hand, and invite the person to speak only to you, so you can exchange on the difficult subject with no risk of stigma.
I want to stress that if the movement for equality and equity wants to defeat hate, it must do so not with censorship but with overwhelming love. We need to put love in the market of ideologies, in order to trump hate. Love is not passive, it is active and it is wonderful. Those with hate in your hearts, learn to love. Our history is filled with hate, and we could do, as a civilization, with a bit more love.