I’m sick of people accusing me of political correctness.
A while ago I wrote an article about the use of gender-neutral pronouns, and I knew there was going to be some backlash – I get it, not everyone agrees on this issue. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of people who claimed that I had been brainwashed by the PC left, living some social justice warrior fantasy or else that I was catering to the delusions of a tiny minority who fascistically impose their delusions on society.
I’m not and neither are the people who want the pronouns. They have gender dysphoria, a condition defined by the AMA as not associating your sex to your emotional state. It causes depression, anxiety and a wide array of other mental illness but it is not itself a mental illness. It is medically untreatable aside from counseling. Calling it political correctness is like telling a bipolar person to cheer up or someone with PTSD to get over it. It’s not politically correct- it’s medically correct.
So, in this vein, I think we need two terms to separate political correctness, it’s original definition and the one most people now use. The original definition, at least according to the OED is as follows: “The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” To me, that definition sounds like avoiding hate-speech, i.e. not using terms specifically designed to marginalize. Seems like something we can all agree on – no one wants to live in a society where a shitty word that says something about your race, religion or class becomes your identity. I have no problem standing up for this definition and loudly proclaiming that I am politically correct.
On the other hand, in the more colloquial definition, political correctness usually refers to the use of euphemistic language to dance around a truth or the protection of an individual/group from some perceived offense/trauma. These things often go hand in hand. Here’s where I take issue, because both of those activities are bullshit and bad for discourse.
On the first, that is the euphemistic language- I take a Carlinian view. (If you’re not familiar, watch this video. It makes an excellent point, and you’ll laugh.)
When we use the term “enhanced interrogation” instead of “torture,” or call the people who collect our trash “sanitation engineers” we are taking part in a culture of hiding reality. We call things “tactical drone strikes” because we would be a lot less comfortable with the phrase “bombing a village.” Lately, we’ve been calling white supremacists the “alt-right.” This shit is nefarious, not least of which because we hear this kind of double-speak all the time and don’t even think about it. Do you like chocolate chip cookies? I do. Go to the store and pick up your favorite brand and you’ll notice that they all say “Chocolatey Chip.” They say that because “a-substance-that-fails-to-meet-the-legal-definition-of-chocolate chip” is horrifying. This kind of confusing, deliberately misleading language should not be confused with political correctness. This is not protecting anyone from hate-speech, this is shielding the public from reality.
I’m going to use my mother as an example here, and I hope that she’ll forgive me. She is a baby boomer- she is white, and she grew up in a time when racial sensitivity was emerging. Now she desperately wants to abide by those customs. She is not a racist and is terrified that anyone would confuse her with one and this leads her to refuse to identify people as “black” or “Asian.” Instead, she uses “colored” and “oriental.” Up until this point, this all seems politically correct, until you realize that the words she is using are way more insulting than admitting she can see race. By using these terms she compounds the problem, making it seem like being black or Asian would be too terrible to be said out loud.
This is where things often get sticky because the culture has evolved so that we feel like if we offend anyone, we’ve committed a crime. But that’s just not how freedom of speech works, everyone has the right to offend and be offended. The spirit of political correctness is to make sure that when we offend people, it’s for the right reasons: because they’re wrong, full of shit, in our way or pissing us off. Not because of where they come from, what their skin color is, or how much money they have in the bank.
We live in a society that wants to confuse the language around bad things. We don’t like hearing about bad things, and it’s true, most people don’t like being offended. I sure as hell don’t and I have yet to meet someone who relishes the opportunity to take offense. The danger is when we start using terms that are half-truths to represent realities, let’s call it the Chocolatey Chip Effect. When we start calling a racist demagogue a “straight shooter,” that’s a problem. When we call it the “enduring conflict in Syria” and not a bloody civil war, that’s also a problem- one which has precious little to do with political correctness.
So, in future, if you think that I’m using ridiculous euphemisms and half-truths to cloud reality, don’t accuse me of being PC, call me a Chocolatey Chip.