Politically Correct

Let’s have a little discussion on what the term “politically correct” means. Fair warning: I don’t normally resort to (much) profanity in my posts, but this one is going to break that soft rule.

If you’re the sort of person for whom “political correctness” equates to cowardice, overly sensitive new ageism, hippie shit, liberal shit, or any variation thereof in which shit enters your calculations, please pay attention very closely, because this is written with you in mind. If you’re the kind of person who scoffs when someone endeavors to be politically correct, please pay attention. If you’re the kind of person who says, “I know it’s not politically correct of me, but. . .”, please pay attention.

If you fall into any of the above descriptions, it’s very possible that you are an asshole.

Here’s what you think I’m doing when I say something is or is not politically correct:

“Stop being a cog in the wheels of the oppressive, feminist, white-hating, pinko, anti-male matriarchy. Be a REAL man.”

Here’s what I’m actually doing:

“I am trying very hard to not be a spoiled, privileged, self-absorbed, entitled, ignorant, narrow-minded asshole.”

If you think that deriding something as politically correct is an example of cutting commentary, it’s very possible that you are an asshole. If you think it’s stupid to be so sensitive and that people should “lighten up,” it’s very possible that you are an asshole. If you don’t see what the big deal is, you may not be an asshole, but it’s very possible that you are somewhat ignorant of the world outside yourself.

Politically correct isn’t a neutering of language. It isn’t caving to some cabal that exists only to strip away all the joy of “being a man” or whatever.

Politically correct is recognizing that there are other people in the world, people who are different than you. It’s recognizing that words have power. It’s recognizing that only ignorant fuckwads wield words without considering their consequences or their implications. It’s recognizing the perniciousness of privilege and how goddamn much privilege needs to go away so we can have equality. Actual equality, not this “hear no evil, see no evil” shadow version that the privileged pretend is the real thing so they don’t feel bad about themselves.

So here’s my message to you, if you’re the sort of person that thinks it’s funny, cool, interesting, or amusing to laud your “I’m not politically correct” nature. Just stop. You’re being an asshole. If people around you are amused, it’s very possible they’re assholes, too.

Would you like to stop being an asshole? Great! All you need to do is realize that differences of genderracereligionethnicitysexual orientation and disability should be treated with respect. Show respect by using respectful language (i.e. politically correct). That’s it!

But what about the jokes, you might be wondering. Hey, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys telling racist jokes, go ahead and keep telling racist jokes, so long as you do so while accepting that this makes you a racist. If you aren’t sure whether a joke is racist, consider whether you would say the joke while a person of that race that you did not know was standing in the room with you. Would you feel uncomfortable? There you go.

Insert the other -ists here where appropriate (sexist, chauvinist, etc).

I’ve written before about a need to engage in diplomacy with those who disagree with you so that you can more effectively win them over to your way of thinking. “Pick your battles, catch more flies with honey, etc.” Those are still valuable policies. They’re valuable when the person you’re talking to is capable of listening. Assholes generally don’t listen; if they did, they wouldn’t be assholes.

More and more, I’ve seen that there are some who don’t want to listen or can’t or won’t. So, here you go: my honest opinion and my honest anger. I’m anti-asshole. People that are assholes should stop being them.

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8 thoughts on “Politically Correct”

  1. I tend to agree with you, but here’s a thought: Political correctness is a form of exclusionary language.

    For any given group, knowing the language is a way to determine the in-crowd from the out-crowd. Generally this is jargon, like MMO players saying “DPS” or “mob.” Sometimes it’s very specific usage of common words, like “accuracy” vs “precision” in engineering, or the idiosyncratic use of “privilege” within feminism and other egalitarian movements.

    Likewise, the use of a politically correct word is shorthand for how tightly a person is connected to a certain cause. Using gay-rights as an example, you would tend to expect someone who uses the abbreviation “LGBTQIA” to be more invested in gay-rights than someone who uses the word “faggot.”

    That said, if someone told me, “People should just leave faggots alone. Why bother messing with someone who happens to be a faggot? That’s just who they are.” I would find it hard to disagree with anything other than their word choice. But if the person was simply ignorant of what the accepted word was, it’s hardly constructive to berate them for their mistake.

    Matters get worse when you consider how politically correct words change. “Gay” was once a bad word, but it got reclaimed and is now considered good. “LGB” was good enough for a long time, but now it’s considered exclusionary to transexual, intersex, asexual, and gender queer individuals. I, personally, don’t know the current status of “faggot” and “fag.”

    That said, you made a lot of good points about the importance of politically correct language. Good word choice really does go a long way towards tearing down oppression. But be sure that you are wielding politically correctness the right way, making the world more inclusive for everyone. Don’t use it as a way to identify and dismiss those who are not already part of your cause.

    1. True, there’s an element of exclusion in knowing what the “right thing” to say is. You can’t be part of the in crowd if you don’t know the lingo. And we should always work to bring people into the fold through reason and inclusion.

      But we do live in a society where people can declare “I’m computer illiterate” or “I’m not very politically correct” and say these things as though they are badges of honor, rather than admissions of ignorance. It’s a social incongruity; nobody walks around proudly saying “I’m illiterate” because literacy is equated to social worth and ability to function. If you can’t read, people assume you’re an idiot, even if the illiteracy might be caused by a cognitive disorder or dyslexia or some other understandable circumstance. Illiteracy = idiocy.

      I don’t want to turn the discussion into something different (forms of illiteracy) but I will note that my position regarding digital literacy is yet another form of privilege; I was born on the right side of the generational digital divide. I got into the “digital native” generation through the happy accident of when I happened to be born.

      Back to political correctness; there are people who trumpet their lack of political correctness as another badge of honor, who are proud of the fact that they don’t worry about offending or hurting other people. It’s just another form of illiteracy: social illiteracy. But it’s not stigmatized and that’s a problem. It should be called for what it is.

      I would never get angry at a person who says “I don’t understand this social literacy thing or this digital literacy thing” or whatever other permutation it might be, because that’s a person who recognizes that ignorance is not something to be proud of. That’s a person one can work with, one who is willing to work on overcoming that illiteracy.

      It’s the person who says “I can’t read and I’m proud of that fact” or whatever other version that makes me angry, and I believe is deserving of verbal censure for those beliefs.

      1. Reading through your comment I’m distinctly reminded of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where a person is so uninformed that they’re unable to recognize their own lack of knowledge.

        For example, generally if someone says either that “Gay sex is unnatural” or that “Sex with women is simply better than sex with men,” they feel like they’ve had some deep insight without realizing that they’ve just stumbled into the assumption that everyone else experiences the world the same way as them. They look down on people who have “overcomplicated” things because they think that their simple logic is unassailable in its beautiful simplicity. The answer is “obvious,” and anyone who misses it is “dumb.”

        You also have to keep in mind that even within the US there are many sub-nations (Look up either “American Nations” or “11 American Nations”) each with their own cultural values. Its very easy to look at a culture with different values and distort them simply because of your own standpoint. For example, a veneration of simplicity and tradition could be viewed as a hatred of thought and progress. On the flipside, acceptance of others regardless of creed could be viewed as willing collusion with evil.

        1. I think Dunning-Kruger can explain a lot of it. I wish I’d thought to refer to that back in the original post.

          Regarding differences in cultural values, certainly some things can be subjective to cultural norms, but what of values that are considered objectively true, regardless of culture? Then you’re in a cultural relativism discussion.

          It’s tricky. How do you weigh the norms of the dominant social group against other cultural values without referring back to that first social group’s norms?

          I think that one can be respectful of cultural differences while arguing that some cultural traditions may be harmful or less desirable. There is an authority that I feel supersedes culture, which is the human condition itself. If we believe in true equality, that men and women of all races are equal, it stands to reason that we share universal commonalities as humans: essential survival needs, a preference for what is pleasurable over what is painful, etc.

          But one could argue that this opinion itself is a product my being brought up in a Western culture. In fact, a former colleague of mine who studied anthropology and I could not reconcile the cultural relativism discussion when we talked about these things.

          For me, the practical answer is to acknowledge that there are cultural differences within the larger social group that may inform decisions or choices, like you said. However the member of the sub-nation may think or believe as informed by that person’s culture, the larger, dominant culture owes that person a level and equal social landscape as dictated by the larger cultural norms. The current system of privilege does not do that; thus, regardless of sub-cultures, we are actually failing by the standards of our own culture.

          1. “…the larger, dominant culture owes that person a level and equal social landscape as dictated by the larger cultural norms.”

            This seems to suggest a certain sort of cultural hegemony, and I think the idea that the midwestern and/or southern cultures are somehow dominated by a more “prevalent” national culture seems quite biased.

            1. Are we talking about cultural differences in a micro or macro scale? Is this the difference between the norms of Western society vs. fundamentalist Islamic communities or the differences in culture between communities in the American Southwest vs. New England?

              There’s also the question of whether culture is being tied to racial and gender demographics in this context. I do not think it’s biased to point out that the white male is the dominant demographic in terms of social power in the United States. Of course, I’m pointing this out because it’s wrong and it’s the major source of social injustice in the United States. That’s what I meant be a “large, dominant culture.” Perhaps culture was the wrong word; demographic seems more accurate.

              1. I would argue that the cultural differences between different parts of the US are bigger than we give them credit for.

                Also, when I think of culture I think of populations and not demographics, because I think people can easily be members of cultures that don’t “match” with their race or gender or age.

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