Anyway, this morning I thought I'd got to the bottom of what had become, for me, a contentious issue. What the hell is political correctness anyway, and why is everyone assuming that wanting to poke fun at it means conservatism and bigotry? I needed to find out.
So off I went to Urban Dictionary to see what popular culture has to say about it. Here's a bunch of quotes:
"A way that we speak in America so we don't offend whining pussies."
"The laws of moral and ethical relativism; all systems of cultures and thought are equal in value, steming from a perceived guilt from white liberals who believe that the Western Civilization is the root of all evil to the exclusion of all else. Note added to this one: Political correctness has a basic flaw. If all views are equal, why do some who embrace this view feel the need to push this agenda as the "correct" one at the same time demonizing other views as "incorrect"?"
"Movement in America founded on well-meaning intentions to promote equality in language and representation of diverse groups. However, this has now been oversimplified and misused by politicians in their attempt to win the favour of as many "minority" and interest groups as possible."
"The struggle to be "politically correct" has made common people easily irritable and oversensitive to the words of others and their own words. It has created a society that walks on eggshells and that has difficulty being personal with each other because coworkers and potential friends can't joke around for fear of offending the other."
"people who try so hard to say the right thing they end up just looking like twats"
"The use of various euphemisms when communincating with people that have a hard time dealing with reality. Generally associated with social superiority/inferiority when referring to gender, race, economical status, handicap, etc."
"While running for president, the man was very politically correct, but after he was in office, he became very lude."
"Made to not offend people, but actually creates a greater gaps between people of different races, religions, etc. It's actually worse than being racist, because it's the context of what your saying, not what you actually are saying, that matters."
"A term engineered in the 1980s by New Right conservatives to use as a tool against liberal cultural movements of the time. Most often used by anyone (not always conservatives) being a complete douche to those with different opinions. Usually appears in the same paragraph as the words "liberal," "hippie," or "left-wing," but isn't exclusive to either party. Pretty much the right-wing equivalent of comparing your opponent to Nazis."
"Well, after reading all the definitions of "politically correct," I think maybe it's time to provide the other point.
First of all, I think it's really fucking stupid when people put a wool in front of their eyes everytime they even smell "liberal agenda." ("all you fucking whiny pussie liberals want to do is be sensitive to all the freaks and minorities... blah blah blah") I think it's about fucking time everyone stops putting labels on everyone, because it automatically affects your reactions to their opinion. You should have an open mind no matter who's speaking.
I understand how initially people can think "political correctness" (which has come to be a bad name for it anyway) is pointless -- but you gotta see it's more of a subconscious thing. You may think it doesn't make a difference calling ourselves United States citizens instead of Americans, or the GLBT community instead of gays or homos, or American Indians instead of Indians, or women instead of girls (who are 18+) -- but IT DOES. Definitions and names directly affect the way you look at people. People don't try to promote language that reflects reality and promotes tolerance/respect because they want to keep their membership with NAACP and stick clever bumperstickers on their hybrid cars; they do it because they know that words and terms ARE important, and it's not just about offending someone (although that is part of it) The cycle of oppression starts with generalizations and stereotypes, believe it or not. I'm not saying that we can't "call Jamal a pervert" and instead have to say "he leads an acceptable alternative lifestyle" ... you know, if he's out screwing goats or something -- but that is hardly the same thing as me wanting to be called "Japanese" instead of "Oriental." The point is, this certain kind of language DOES have a point, and if you guys are too lazy to take an extra second to think about how you refer to people, than that's OK I guess -- but if you would, it really shows a person who cares about the issues at hand, and will make a small difference in speech as the first step."
As you can see, there are a variety of viewpoints in the self-selected popular culture of Urban Dictionary, and it didn't really clarify it any for me. So I went to Wikipedia and had a look there. Their page on political correctness talks about it from several viewpoints and draws no real conclusions, but does seem to point out that several viewpoints are valid. Fair enough.
So then I clicked the next link, which sent me to a page of "PC Phrases", which I skimmed quickly. Some of them made me laugh (alive = temporarily metabolically abled), and some of them made me go "Why is that funny?" (immigrant = newcomer). So that didn't really help either, although it did provide some much needed relief.
And then, the next link on google was to an article in our very own Salient.
Quote from the article: "Political correctness is without a doubt a difficult concept to define. It’s a term that means something to different people and in different contexts. As a result, it is almost inevitable – thanks to the efforts of the Right in putting the concept in the public arena – that it would be misused and especially, over-used. That said, their arguments over certain things like bureaucratic over-control are valid. Yet that does not necessarily make the term “political correctness” a particularly relevant one."
After this, my mind had had enough of absorbing such a variety of perspectives and subjective viewpoints and trying to make sense of it. As I said to Tom earlier this morning, continuing to think about this seems to inevitably spiral me down into "society is fucked" type thought - which I spend enough time in without exacerbating it by overdoing the search for the One True Definition where there is none. So I stopped looking.
What have I concluded from all this? First, people will define the term on a personal basis, and that definition will colour their use of it, whether they are 'for or agin' it. People have difficulty seeing other people's definitions as valid. And because it's subjective, there's a tendency to take offence when people debate it using a different definition from their own. I was guilty of this yesterday, and to be as diplomatic as possible, I think others probably were too.
Another thing is that it's a very loaded term, in that it's come to have meaning (still subjective) that seems to pass judgement on whether or not one is a good person. After all, good people are respectful, right?
So what have I learned from this? Mostly that using such a subjective and loaded term in the glib and fun-poking way that I did is a bad idea on the internet. In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say that using it at all is courting problems, and that if I'm going to use it, I'd better make damn sure that I'm also clear about the way I'm defining it.
But I'm not sorry I did it, and I'm not sorry that some people took offence at it. Why not? Because it got people talking about stuff, some of the stuff that was said altered my perspective, I learned something, grew a little. And that is never a bad thing.
In completely unrelated news: I have noticed that Grabaseat, who, during the months of May to July when I was looking for return tickets to Christchurch, only had them available three times and those times all for weird dates, have in the last two weeks offered me no less than five opportunities to fly to Christchurch or Auckland cheaply. I wonder how much this has to do with the recent advent of actual competition for domestic customers?