Saturday, September 2, 2017

What if Everyone Stopped Talking about “Political Correctness”?

I’m not going to tell people to stop talking about “political correctness”, because that would instantly cause some internet denizens to label me a member of the SJW thought Gestapo for daring to express an opinion about what people should do that can’t be reduced to “suck it up, snowflake!”  

Instead, I encourage us all to engage in something essential to both philosophy and science fiction: a thought experiment.  Imagine a world in which everyone woke up tomorrow and stopped talking about “political correctness.”   If you find that too far fetched, imagine you are a human, alien, or robotic historian in the year 2117 trying to understand the Culture Wars of the late 20th and early 21st century.  

While I’ve grown weary of discussing this issue online and may not engage with comments (especially those veering into troll territory), if you feel the need to comment on this post, I ask that you keep in mind that these are questions.  I honestly don’t know how I would answer some of them.  One of the most obnoxious things about online discussions these days is that a lot of people assume they know what I think better than I do.  Please don’t be one of those people.

So I’m asking you to join me in a thought experiment: what if everyone stopped talking about “political correctness”?

  • Would we see that the whole thing is largely based on a hasty generalization that extrapolates from what is in reality a small set of isolated incidents into some allegedly pervasive phenomenon?
  • Might we notice that much of the media coverage of these issues is based on bad reporting and click bait headlines, which leads to pervasive straw man fallacies?
  • Would we see that there’s a difference between arguing about what people should do as reasonable and compassionate human beings and arguing about what they should be legally allowed to do?
  • Might we notice that many people in our society have failed to distinguish between being “edgy” and merely being a callous jerk?
  • Would we see that a lot of the anti-PC narrative simply assumes certain ideas are bullshit without actually inquiring into what they are or what rationales are given in their favor?
  • Might we come to re-evaluate whether “boutique issues” like basic rights for transgender people, “identity politics,” and the relationship between police and people of color are actually about the safety and dignity of our fellow human beings even if some on the left could do a better job articulating this fact?
  • Would we see that there is no real threat to free speech, at least not compared to real issues like net neutrality, corporate-controlled media, etc., and to the extent to which there is a problem, it’s not based on any pervasive conspiratorial campaign of “political correctness”? 
  • Might we see that there never was a PC conspiracy, but that like all conspiracy theories, there can be no evidence that counts against it for true believers?
  • Would we see that, for all the legitimate issues on the left side of the political spectrum, the very use of terms like “political correctness,” “SJWs,” etc. is, whether intentional or not, to cede huge swaths of territory to the right in the Culture Wars by endorsing the right’s framing of cultural issues?
  • Might we understand how the anti-PC narrative contributed directly to the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential election?
  • Could it be seen that leftists and libertarians who talk about "political correctness" merely embolden the right, or even worse that doing so creates partial legitimation of and avenues into everything from MRAs, Gamergaters, and Rabid Puppies to the type of white supremacist hate groups that converged on Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017? 
  • Given recent statistics on Republicans and conservatives who think higher education is harming the country, could it be seen that by endorsing the anti-PC narrative, the right furthers its own descent into a self-defeating anti-intellectualism, or worse, a cynical use of anti-intellectualism as a political weapon to keep elite conservatives in charge?
  • Would we notice that critics of “snowflakes” often turn into “broflakes” -- easily outraged, intolerant of different views, etc., thus becoming what they claim to hate?
  • Would we see that the whole thing was at best a waste of time based on next to nothing and at worst a corrosive framework that has been actively harming some of the most vulnerable members of society?
  • Would we notice that the “PC has run amok” narrative is most vociferously supported by straight white dudes and almost always targets women, LGBT+ people, or people of color?  Would we wonder why that is? 
  • Could it be that the larger problem is that the internet has turned everyone across the political spectrum into a smug know-it-all, which makes us incapable of having nuanced adult conversations about these issues?  Maybe everything everybody says about “political correctness” makes this situation worse and distracts us from deeper issues that actually matter?  If this were true, does it apply to this post?  Should I shut up now?

1 comment:

  1. Of course people of a certain age don't have to imagine such a world, since we grew up before the term existed, or remember when it was basically a joke. The term has always conflated a number of issues, and the received wisdom on what is the "correct" stance has evolved as well.

    1. Race and racism. US American racial classifications (e.g. from the census) are assumed to be of enduring and universal validity, when this is unlikely. The notion that one might arbitrarily declare oneself to be black, American Indian, etc. has made for great political fodder in a few high-profile cases, but is otherwise not much investigated. (How widespread is it?) Scientific and sociological discussions of race can be professionally dangerous, depending on what one concludes.

    2. Sex and gender. The PC ethos celebrates gay marriage, but is suspicious of efforts to rehabilitate polygamy, and there is little attention given to how such causes come to be embraced or not. (In other countries polygamy is more accepted / has legal status.) There is now a trend toward accepting that I am whatever gender I think I am (except in sports, oddly enough!), but we are unsure whether the principle should be applied to race (see above), and resist suggestions to the effect that I might choose to be an elf. Why? No one knows. Much attention is paid to the issue of public restrooms, but less to such things as employment discrimination.

    3. Religion. The PC movement is broadly suspicious of religion, especially its tendency to promote un-PC values, but is simultaneously compelled by the anti-discrimination principle to oppose anti-Islamic sentiment.

    4. Political groups. Some groupings, such as racist ones, are thought to be intolerable, while others are viewed more positively, but there is little consistency in principle. Why black nationalism but not white nationalism? (Would it matter if the white nationalists were in a country where whites are a minority, such as South Africa?) Some US campuses have struggled over conflicts between a desire not to make Hispanics feel uncomfortable, on one hand, and the rights of fratboys to free political expression on behalf of the Trump Wall. If Republican frat boys are by definition un-PC, then what about intra-PC conflicts between Jewish and Muslim groups?

    5. Appearance. Most recognize that "lookism" is a real thing, but even PC folk shy away from trying to codify it. The notion that light-skinned blacks should be treated differently than dark-skinned blacks would likely not be well received by anybody. Fat people are gaining sympathy (as well as numbers), and yet even pro-PC people seem to accept that newscasters and actors are hardly ever fat. As for voluntary lookist issues, there is pressure not to discriminate against people who wear certain articles of religious attire, but then, why can't a Rasta be an investment banker? If a Rasta, then how about body-modification people? Are there ANY legitimate grounds for rejecting the look of a candidate for an investment banking job?

    6. Systematic redress. Who should pay reparations to whom (or benefit from affirmative action), and how should such things be decided? It is remarkable how little the PC movement has thought this through.

    7. Disability issues. What counts as a disability which must be accomodated, and how far do disability rights go? The tendency has been for new categories to be quietly added to the list (people with "testing anxiety" receive extra time on the test), with little thought given to process or principle...but much attention paid to terminology (e.g. "retarded").

    8. The environment. Nope, I think everybody's principles are perfectly consistent on this one and there is no confusion at all. Don't litter, or you'll make an Indian cry!