“Political correctness is the idea that assumes that the worst thing we can do is offend somebody,” said actor
On the one side, you have Doris Lessing’s quotation that “Political correctness is the natural continuum from the party line. What we are seeing once again is a self-appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others. It is a heritage of communism, but they don’t seem to see this.” Yikes.
Self-described liberal Eric Alterman notes that “Conservatives tend to define contemporary liberalism in terms of its alleged opposition to individual freedom…. A visit to the definition of the word liberalism on the Conservapedia – the conservative alternative to Wikipedia – turns up the following putative liberal credo: Support of political correctness, Censorship of prayer in classrooms, Government-controlled medical care…. These are all poised in opposition to what its authors explain was the original meaning of liberalism in the classical sense. In the good old days, liberalism meant: Freedom of speech, Freedom of religion, Freedom to invest in and use private property….”
Doris Lessing again: “Does political correctness have a good side? Yes, it does, for it makes us re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful. The trouble is that, as with all popular movements, the lunatic fringe so quickly ceases to be a fringe; the tail begins to wag the dog. For every woman or man who is quietly and sensibly using the idea to look carefully at our assumptions, there are twenty rabble-rousers whose real motive is a desire for power over others. The fact that they see themselves as antiracists or feminists or whatever does not make them any less rabble-rousers.”
About 1/3 of the debate centers around comedians and commentators speaking in an unpolished manner – either as satire or as hyperbole. George Carlin, the king of political incorrectness opines thusly: “Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as ‘fairness,’ yet attempts to restrict and control people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to fight discrimination.” Carlin’s angle was basically to show the absurd side of trying to keep certain words out of appropriate usage, or to prioritize protecting the feelings of individuals in society. His point is well-taken, I think.
Here is a paean to the late, great George Carlin:
I’d like to talk about some things that bring us together, things that point out our similarities instead of our differences. ‘Cause that’s all you ever hear about in this country. It’s our differences. That’s all the media and the politicians are ever talking about—the things that separate us, things that make us different from one another. That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the fucking money! Fairly simple thing. Happens to work. You know? Anything different—that’s what they’re gonna talk about—race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank! You know how I define the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the shit out of the middle class.
Bill Maher, the comedian, has been talking in a politically incorrect way for decades. It’s basically his thing; he is down on liberals for going too far to restrict thought, or to fail to see something that is obviously true. Here is an article relevant to that end. I think Maher would quite agree with the late, mostly-great iconoclastic journalist, Christopher Hitchens: “Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.”
Here is a bit of funniness from former comedian-turned-Senator-turned-comedian-again, Al Franken. It would be a shame to miss all kinds of satire simply because the jokes aren’t squeaky-clean. “Popular Jewish Senator Joe Lieberman likes to cite a statistic which at first sounds alarming. He says that by the time a kid is eighteen years old in this country, he’ll have seen over twenty-six thousand murders on television. Now, that sounds like a lot. But if you do the math, it’s only six a day. So I don’t know what he’s got his yarmulke in a twist about. And by the way, an Afghan child will witness twenty-six actual murders by the time he is eighteen. And I think that’s a lot worse.”
“Why can’t anyone just shut up and listen anymore? Whatever happened to the genteel art of sitting back and letting someone go on and on, thinking he’s right, while you bask in the knowledge that he is completely full of shit?” quipped the inimitable
So I see political correctness as sometimes being merely about comedy and the right to joke around. You know, your typical “Asian drivers” and “Trump is an idiot” kind of stuff. Jerry Seinfeld, in this article, bemoans that aspect. Afraid to “play college campuses,” along with Chris Rock, he said that college students don’t understand sexism and racism: “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t even know what the f—k they’re talking about.” I think he is getting at the fact that many of the folks in Gen Y or who would be called Millennials have grown up differently than the Baby Boomers, and the children of the ’70s and ’80s – Gen X.
Here is a neat repartee between Alex Ortiz and the prince of verbal autonomy, Dennis Miller:
Ortiz: I know you like to talk about political correctness. I’m curious in this current era, has anything developed for you on that front?
Miller: Yeah, something came out of this political correctness. I got a job at the local college out here as a safe space lifeguard, and I jump in when the kids are drowning in their own (expletive).
Ortiz: Well, has the current administration maybe brought to light any more of that?
Miller: No. I believe that anyone who’s kept their antenna up could see that political correctness is not a thing of the last year. I think it’s a thing of the last 15 to 20 years it’s been growing. I pin it mostly on the education system. We have raised a generation of emotional hemophiliacs. The grievance is the new coin of the realm.
Ortiz: When’s the last time you performed on a college campus?
Miller: I would say it was that school on the “Little House on the Prairie.”
Philosopher Lou Marinoff adds this: “Some of the most politically incorrect people on the planet, such as David Letterman and Jay Leno, are staples of late-night TV. Enjoying the temporary immunity of the court jester, their job is to good-naturedly butcher everybody’s sacred cows. But you’d better not repeat any of their jokes on the job or in the classroom, in case someone takes ‘offense’ today at something millions of viewers laughed at yesterday.” Noted.
“They have a politically correct Bible now. They didn’t want Jesus to be killed by Jews, an ethnic group, so he dies of secondhand smoke.”
It’s not just about comedy; it’s also about people with proportionally more power and “status safety” talking in an uncultured and inelegant way. It’s saying that “Blacks are the ones who tend to be on welfare” and “These damned atheists won’t stop until we can’t even say the word Christmas.” It is worth noting that just because someone says something a bit “eyebrow-raising” doesn’t attest to the truth of the statement. Often it is just a display of prejudices, “armchair philosophy,” and ill-conceived notions. Misinformation. Stuff from our subconscious.
It’s usually conservatives saying what is in their hearts, and liberals in turn trying to stand up for minorities and propriety and truth. Scholar Eric Alterman analyzes how this came about in his book Why We’re Liberals. He considers the basis to be “the retreat of liberal intellectuals from the public debate.” He sees liberal intellectuals as “withdrawing into university departments and embracing an impenetrable, specialized vernacular that effectively cut them off from any larger public than similarly-trained specialists.” He is talking about an echo chamber.
Though this quotation about morality and social progress is a bit complex, it is also apt: “A public life empty of moral meanings and shared ideals does not secure freedom but offers an open invitation to intolerance. As the Moral Majority has shown, a politics whose moral resources are diminished with disuse lies vulnerable to those who would impose narrow moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread”
Sociologist Douglas S. Massey believes that “under the banner of postmodernism, deconstructionism, critical theory, or more popularly, ‘political correctness,’ what has become known as ‘the academic cultural left’ prosecuted their own private culture wars.” Alterman feels that in so doing, “liberalism was easily portrayed by its new enemies as an Orwellian parody of its former self.” He cites Massey as showing that “suppressing free expression to ensure liberal orthodoxy and seeking to instill through indoctrination what it could not achieve politically at the polls.”
It has also been said that liberals pushed politicians to take the fight for social justice and equality to the courts if the public couldn’t be swayed, resulting in decisions such as Roe v. Wade, that didn’t necessarily reflect where the public was in its thinking. It made conservatives nervous, and they began putting points on the board, making cultural liberals nervous in turn. Hence the culture wars.
The other aspect of the issue is that it’s not really, completely a glitch in progressive thought. Just because conservatives bemoan something doesn’t make it wrong. I mean, real stuff has gone on in the past and continues right up through today. Analyzing racism in Hollywood, former basketball star Charles Barkley said this on his very interesting Race in America: “Just as Hollywood was built on racism, America was built on racism. Stereotypes begin with the belief that we aren’t all created equal, and, sadly, those negative images affect the way other people see you. But more importantly, the way you see yourself. And that’s devastating.” So this isn’t just “much ado about nothing.” Today, African Americans are dying younger, gays are facing discrimination, Jews are still not absolutely accepted members of society, and atheists are below Christians in the pecking order.
W. Kamau Bell notes that “One of America’s biggest problems is that people of color are having conversations about racism literally every day. And most white people are only having them when they are forced to.” He continues in Stand, the magazine put out by the ACLU: “The biggest thing that I believe white people can do is to really get comfortable being uncomfortable having conversations about race and racism.”
Alterman notes that “the militant foot soldiers of ‘identity politics‘ began with what undoubtedly a worthy notion: that individual experience is shaped by larger structures of power and oppression, and that these therefore need to be identified and challenged. Unfortunately, this practice devolved into a parody of itself as proponents seized upon curbing ‘offensive speech’ on college campuses as the number-one priority of their political energies….” This, while Reagan and Gingrich and their ilk really were affronting minorities through actual policy. Think of police officers killing unarmed black men, or the diminution of voting rights, or the way jobs disappeared from Detroit and left an impoverished wasteland. In relation to these real issues, one’s manner of speech – and the truth or falsity therof – is small potatoes.
“We learned long ago that power and privilege never give up anything without a struggle. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty.”
Let’s make a deal between liberals and conservatives: Conservatives get the word Christmas and more border wall and can say whatever impolite and prejudiced stuff they want, but they will stop running interference of the wholesale transfer of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the top 5, 1, even .1% of Americans. The last few decades have shown the nasty effects of globalization and of Reagan’s America. As of 2018, three Americans own as much wealth as half of us do. That is serious and substantial, not just about hurt feelings. That is people dying with no health insurance; that is $12 an hour for 30 hours a week; that is kids not being able to go to college; that is having no nest egg besides $1,200 a month in Social Security to live on for 15+ years.
It is also noted, tragically, by Alterman, that “As the late philosopher Richard Rorty noted, academic leftists somehow managed to convince themselves that ‘by chanting various Derridean or Foucauldian slogans they [were] fighting for human freedom….’ Hence, when right-wing ‘experts’ took to the public airwaves to blame liberal programs for rising violence, inflation, taxes, racial animosities, and the like, they were often able to do so without opposition.” Indeed, “to complain about how the media are dominated by liberals, Rush Limbaugh has an hour a day on network television, an hour on cable, and a radio show syndicated by over 600 stations,” Michael Parenti points out. Limbaugh is really an obnoxious liar. Talk about offensively ignorant and dissembling! That’s the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine for ya.
Will Hutton draws a bead on the fact that this phenomenon has roots that are worth thinking about: “Political correctness is one of the brilliant tools that the American Right developed in the mid-1980s, as part of its demolition of American liberalism. . . . What the sharpest thinkers on the American Right saw quickly was that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism — by leveling the charge of ‘political correctness’ against its exponents — they could discredit the whole political project.”
Michael Parenti doesn’t pull any punches when thinking about how this became a thing: “Facing a campus that is not nearly as reactionary as they would wish, ultra-conservatives rail about how academia is permeated with doctrinaire, ‘politically correct’ leftists. This is not surprising since they describe as ‘leftist’ anyone to the left of themselves, including mainstream centrists. Their diatribes usually are little more than attacks upon socio-political views they find intolerable and want eradicated from college curricula.”
I can agree that college campuses tend to be relatively liberal institutions (politically), and I would easily see how this irritates cultural conservatives who don’t want to cede any territory to progressives. We are in a culture war, for all intents and purposes. Though professors sometimes share politically-left opinions, they also are teaching kids to go take their business majors and work for Goldman Sachs. I do get that gay marriage made major headway in the last 20 years, but that is about civil rights, for Christ’s sake! Who in their right mind can begrudge equality? What is much more important is gerrymandering, legalized bribery of politicians, and over two million (mostly black) prisoners behind bars (never to see their political rights again). So, at the risk of being politically incorrect, to those who bemoan the fact that their kid’s English professor is into justice, the social welfare state, and equality before the law, I would say: Calm the hell down.
Alterman also pushes back: “Liberals may want to live according to values that some Americans might find offensive, but they do not, as contemporary conservatives do, insist on the right to dictate the choice of others.” He offers the proof that “No one in America was ever forced by a liberal politician to undergo an abortion or engage in a homosexual partnership.” Touche.
However, I think with kicking that odious woman Ann Coulter off campus when she tried to speak at Berkeley was misguided. And as this article shows, simply the thought of her irritates some lefties to the point of protesting. And she really gets my goat. But not letting her speak? That seems extreme. I have seen her speak at a roast once and let me tell you it wasn’t very compelling. Nothing to be afraid of.
In this country, there have always been assholes, but they don’t wield as much power as they used to. Let them speak; they may sound stupid. The “Alt-Right” is more dangerous because they have an interest in not only bigotry, but power. Trump is horribly politically incorrect, and he is channeling a very gross strain of bigotry that is quite alive and well in his base. That is the real deal. Political incorrectness is less noxious, and quite different.
Below is an interview about political incorrectness between Dave Rubin and psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He is over this kind of stuff, and complains stridently. His website The Heterodox Academy is interesting and worth looking at.
“Trump’s dark vision of America may be clouding our future, but at every turn, we the people will be there, shedding light on his lies and standing up for the vulnerable — and making our democracy stronger,” wrote ACLU Executive Director, Anthony D. Romero. That is really progressivism with real guts. It seems to me that getting particularly worried about whether Aristotle was into slavery or Lawrence Summers is a fool isn’t in nearly the same ballpark. The environment is under assault by businesses and their Republican politicians; voting rights are facing major challenges and subterfuge by guess who: the GOP. Who is standing by and running interference while Trump does all manner of stupid shit and packs the Supreme Court with cooks, changing the fabric of our society for a generation or more? Yes, conservative Congresspeople. These are serious matters, rising far above whether a class on a campus is about Western civilization.
Coming back around a bit, intellectual Andrew Sullivan believes that “evangelical Republicans are not, of course, the only group susceptible to such corruption. Democrats are human as well, as we have so abundantly discovered. Many of them have also made their political struggle into a secular form of religion, and found myriad ways to defend the indefensible because the cause demanded it. I vividly remember Gloria Steinem’s op-ed defending Bill Clinton’s sex abuse at the time (she still refuses to disown it). I remember how many wanted to conflate sexual abuse with private consensual sex.”
Jonathan Haidt suggests we “[c]ultivate humility and open-mindedness. Read short quotations from wise thinkers—East and West—that will help you attain a mindset of humility and openness.”
Great idea! Here are a few thoughts about being “p.c.” in regard to safety, terrorism, Muslims, and the like:
“…opinions about terrorism are the new form of political correctness, and even hinting that this threat is not the all-consuming, existential danger to our republic portrayed by the White House is liable to draw questions about one’s patriotism and one’s sanity.”
“To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of the world—to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Quran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish—is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness.”
“[Something] insulting is the politically correct, kid-gloves view of how to deal with Muslims that is taking root in the West today. It goes like this: ‘Hushhh! Don’t say anything about Islam! Don’t you understand? If you say anything critical about Muslims, they’ll burn down your house. Hushhh! Just let them be. Don’t rile them. They are not capable of a civil, rational dialogue about problems in their faith community!'”
A bit of perspective from Fintan O’Toole: “We have now reached the point where every goon with a grievance, every bitter bigot, merely has to place the prefix, ‘I know this is not politically correct, but…‘ in front of the usual string of insults in order to be not just safe from criticism, but actually a card, a lad, even a hero. Conversely, to talk about poverty and inequality, to draw attention to the reality that discrimination and injustice are still facts of life, is to commit the sin of political correctness. Anti-PC has become the latest cover for creeps. It is a godsend for every curmudgeon and crank, from fascists to the merely smug.”
It is important that we all, especially journalists among us, say what needs to be said. Tell no lies, but don’t couch the truth in some kind of cute pink package that you hope will be well-received. “The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy,” notes journalist
“As an American liberal with impeccable credentials, I would like to say that political correctness is going to kill American liberalism if it is not fought to the death by people like me for the dangers it represents to free speech, to the exchange of ideas, to openheartedness, or to the spirit of art itself. Political correctness has a stranglehold on academia, on feminism, and on the media. It is a form of both madness and maggotry….”
I think there is some empowering stuff behind all the messiness, though. Here is how actress Asia K. Dillon puts it: “People on either side aren’t afraid anymore to say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I feel, this is what I believe,’ and I think that is a place from which we can actually have conversations. People are making themselves visible.” People are making themselves visible is a neat way to conceptualize the reactions to centuries of racism, sexism, and homophobia. It just needn’t be taken too far. One cannot make up for past and present prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry by out-shouting them. And certainly, “Antifa” is a horrible idea.
— or at least, courtesy or silence.“The rise of ‘political correctness’ in the universities, which has now spread to corporations, governments, the justice system, and the military, has robbed us of our common sense and ability to seek and speak truths for fear of stepping on someone else’s metaphorical toes.” I think truth is the highest value, but, again, just because someone believes something doesn’t make it true. Nearly half of Americans believe that the Earth was created by God in 7 days 6,000 years ago. That is why one’s truth ideally should be leavened with a big dose of humility
Anthony D. Kronman, scholar and former Dean of the Law School at Yale University, a hot-bed of student activism around political correctness, notes that taking a cue from Nietzsche and others and questioning and delegitimizing some phenomena can be useful. He writes the following:
“Given the pedagogical value of interpretive diversity and the particularly important role that race, gender, and ethnicity play in the formation of a person’s approach to a wide range of interpretive questions, it is educationally appropriate, indeed imperative, that in fields like history and literature teaching materials be chosen, themes and topics selected, and methods of instruction employed with an eye to focusing attention on the ways in which these factors conditions a person’s interests and values and hence interpretive point of view….”
He laments the fact that political correctness and multiculturalism have taken over the humanities. He does, however, note that “The humanities give young people the opportunity and encouragement to put themselves — their values and commitments — into a critical perspective. They help students gain some distance, incomplete though it must be, on their younger selves and to get some greater traction in the enterprise of living the lives they mean to live and not just those in which they happen to find themselves by accident.”
Kronman dedicates a section of the book The End of Education to political correctness, multiculturalism, and the like, so I can’t but offer a taste of his point of view. However, this might suffice: “The more a classroom resembles a gathering of delegates speaking on behalf of the groups they represent, the less congenial a place it becomes in which to explore the questions of a personally meaningful kind including, above all, the question of what ultimately matters in life and why.”
Professor Kronman notes that “The works they study are regarded more as statements of group membership than as the creations of men and women with viewpoints uniquely their own — with the depressing result that great works that have been unjustly neglected….” He cites, for example, that “The political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, with their easy acceptance of the natural inequality of human beings, offend [the] values [of political liberalism and diversity] at every turn. Likewise, the theological tradition that runs from Augustine to Calvin, with its insistence on church authority and its doctrines of sin and grace. And even much of poetry…is motivated by an anti-egalitarian love of beauty and power.”
So I suppose I would just reflect on the fact that egalitarianism, social justice, and diversity are worthy goals and should be given their due. However, in classrooms, truth, knowledge, wisdom, tradition, and critical analysis deserve their fair share as well. We shouldn’t let something like diversity scare students away from reading a play written by Sophocles entirely about Greeks, or to analyze Columbus from the perspective of sailor, change-maker, or Western values propagator (even if he was a horrible man in many ways).
One cannot substantially improve the lives of the downtrodden by naming a street after Martin Luther King Jr., ensuring that “Happy Holidays” is the official office greeting, outlawing words like gay and retarded, preventing men from asking women out on dates in the workplace (once, politely), or changing Columbus Day to Sacagewea Day. Let us not scratch the surface, but pick our battles and fight to win those that are truly substantial and needed.
Want to look at the original “politically incorrect” guy? Jefferson had a wonderful vision for liberty and education in America, but held slaves. And impregnated some of them. Talk about failing to be socially appropriate! Part of me loves the man, though. Here is a blog about Jefferson and liberal education.
Speak the truth, be humble, but don’t be uptight. I will leave you with this: