Political Correctness or What

Where does language and action intersect to create a society in which individuals are no longer seen or heard?

I can agree that some language has the power to cause harm, however this does not mean that it should be removed from our vocabulary.  In fact, it should not.  The ridiculous lengths that we go today too not offend stifles creativity, individuality, and in some cases reality.  The ability to express one’s self with language is one of the highest proofs of our humanity.  In the world today, we have many roads to political correctness (PC) each with their own shrill leaders.  The most frightening part of this race to PC is that if and when we achieve a sanitized society free from language and behavior that offends, what will we be left with?

I believe the answer to that question is we will be left without history or the language to express it.  That eventually we will be left frustrated with our inability to realize the richness of a truly diverse culture or the ability to express it fully.  That we will no longer be able to define the world around us in terms that are factual or reality based.  I believe that we will sanitize our language and our behavior to the extent that we will give up our personal freedoms in favor of not offending.  Oddly, we are so afraid of offending today we will not stand our ground and say that we also must be heard, we also are here, and we have value – whoever we might be.

We are so busy trying not to offend we accept offense for ourselves without so much as blinking our eyes.  We fear giving offense so we disregard the truth that is before us.  We accept lies as truth in the hope that by doing so we will be safer and others will accept us; this too is a lie.  Let’s face it some things are simply what they have always been changing what we call them doesn’t change their basic construct or make the thing different.  A juvenile delinquent is a criminal simple and straight forward; they are not socially maladjusted or socially challenged.  They a might be these things too, but they are first a criminal.  A rose by any other name is still a rose.

There is a bigger problem though than just the obvious offensive language of racism and sexism removed from our everyday lexicon.  It is the removal of normal language and normal conventions for fear of offending the hypersensitive among us.  Consider the following example[1]s:

  • Black Sheep: either the four-legged animal, considered rare for its production of black wool or the odd family member or group member considered different from the norm; rebel, outcast, renegade, maverick, prodigal, individualist, non-conformist[2].
    • Suggested change: Outcast.  Of course, this doesn’t address how to refer to the four-legged animal with the black wool production.
  • Manhole: you know the hole in the street covered by a large and heavy metal plate?  Yes the one that gives access to maintenance for sewers and other wonderful things below the surface.
    • Suggested change: Utility hole, Maintenance hole, Access Chamber.  In 1990 Sacramento, California renamed all their Manholes out of concern for equality of the genders.  They settled on the gender free Maintenance Hole in part to save money since the initials were the same and thus the city grid maps would not have to be changed.
  • Uneducated: the meaning here is clear to me and should be to most others.  The person being referred to is without education.  Why is this politically incorrect?  The lack of education is an easily corrected thing, something fully within the power of the individual.  It seems however, this is another word that I am to lose from my vocabulary.
    • Suggested change: Lacking a formal education.  Isn’t that what I just said?  Uneducated!  It isn’t as if I called them ignorant, right.
  • Flip Chart: Yes, that trivial chart used in presentations, workshops, and classrooms now has a more oppressive meaning; indeed, it has joined the “ism” ranks as a racism slander.  Because the word “Flip” can be a derogatory word for a person from the Philippines, no longer should we use it in any other logical or meaningful way.
    • Suggested change: Easel
    • Now am I going too far but how about these as well?
      • We won’t flip burgers anymore
      • We won’t flip our hair
      • Never again to flip a coin
      • Nope, no more flipping through a report or a picture book
      • Gymnasts will need new language as well, no more Flips for them
      • Politics and those who report the news will need to stop telling us about Flip Flops; course it would be nice if politicians would simply stop Flip Flopping but that is an entirely different issue.

Do you see the problem here, and I have only addressed the really silly word games not the more important ones.  Not the words that are ingrained in our language and have real meaning.

Political correctness is nothing less than tyranny.  Societies that embrace political correctness are in fact embracing fascism and thus their own loss of freedom.  The term, political correctness, itself comes from Marxist-Leninist vocabulary and was used to define the accepted party line[3].  Beginning in the 1970’s political correctness has infiltrated our society to the extent that in some cases we are afraid to order black coffee for fear of offending someone.  One linguistic concept in the use of “inclusive” or “neutral” language claims that we can change our thinking and even our actions based upon our use of grammatical categories’[4].  In its strong form, this hypothesis claims that thoughts and actions are formed by the use of language and thus limitations on language would in fact change behavior over time.  In a more moderated form, the hypothesis supports the idea that the way in which we view the world is influenced by language.

The ’inclusive’ versus ‘exclusive’ language we are faced with today is a learning experience and frankly I am to old to relearn the English language to satisfy others need to feel validated. Your need to be something other than what you are is likely not going to be met by me today. Your humanity I will gladly and happily acknowledge. Your ‘he’ or ‘she’, whether born or later defined, I will gladly embrace, but darlin’ beyond this I am likely not getting there in this lifetime. Some of my difficulty is purely a matter of what is before me that my eyes can see and some is simply good grammar.

Do I believe that by removing the use of offending words we remove thoughts?  No, I don’t believe this at all.  The truth is that no matter how we try to change the history of offenses, real or perceived of the past, they remain.  The offending words remain in our lexicon whether they are now proscribed or reclaimed, they linger.  As a society, we continue to move towards a model that gives less offense to the few while the many are left to wonder what happened to their standards and social values.  So as not to offend we celebrate the “Holidays” but not Christmas.  To not offend we can require Spanish speaking in our job advertisements but beware demanding English speakers.  To avoid offense we should avoid calling those who enter the country Illegal Aliens, rather we should call them Undocumented workers.  Yet in all this avoidance of offense, we are left with an aftertaste that something is terribly wrong; something is missing.

Should we condemn racism?  Should we condemn sexism?  Of course, we should condemn these antiques of the past.  Nevertheless, the “isms” of the past will continue to exist in one form or another with or without the language to express them.  Excluding the language of racism and sexism does not eliminate its existence within society.  Reclaiming the language of racism and sexism, changing it to the language of urban hip-hop does not remove its sting or truly change its meaning.  The language of exclusion and inclusion will continue to exist so long as humans form social groups.

The danger today is that we are attempting to remove freedom of expression and thought through political correctness.  Rather than allowing society to mature naturally we are stifling independent thinking in favor of acquiescence with social orthodoxy and the loss of personal sovereignty.  In the name of social acceptance, we are giving away our individuality.  Personally, I am saddened by this loss.


[1] http://www.sideroad.com/Business_Communication/politically-correct-language.html

[2] http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/manhole

[3] Ellis, Frank (2004).  Political correctness and the theoretical struggle. Auckland: Maxim Institute

[4] Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

http://politicallyincorrect.me.uk/banned.htm

Comments

  1. PC is a cultural disease infecting everything. One absurdity after another. It’s driving normally tolerant people further and further right.

  2. Yes, someone will always be offended by something. Taking all measures available to avoid controversy leads to nothing but a vapid environment. There are some things we each like and dislike, and we all just have to act responsibly and work around it.

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