Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Obama Contra PC, Again (+ 'PC' Rambling)

   Isn't this the third time Obama has clearly and directly criticized PC?
   Worth listening to (from about minutes 40 to 46).
   As per usual, Obama's right square on target.
   The only thing I might quibble with is that he suggests that what I'd call the right conception of PC is a narrow conception. But he's a more reasonable guy than I am, probably especially on this issue, so maybe I need to re-think this.
   At any rate, here's my basic line:
   First, political terminology of this kind tends to be on the vague side. 'Political correctness' isn't particularly notable in that respect. Second, 'politically correct' is derogatory. To say that x is "politically correct" is basically to say that they've left facts behind, that they live in the fantasy world of far-left nuttiness and group think. The leading idea here is captured like so:  x isn't correct...but it's politically correct... So the term has a valence. Advocates of PC can justly complain about that. But I'd note: (a) they themselves embraced the terminology in the paleo-PC era of the late '80s-early '90s, and (b) the term they prefer--"social justice"--also has a valence...and it's less accurate / cheatier. Finally, the nutty left doesn't have to use 'PC' and its cognates. They're free to use, say, 'social justice'...though nothing non-rhetorical is gained. (Funny that they never complain that 'SJ' is vague etc...). The fact is, PC tends to be obsessed with words--this is tied up with the fact that PC is philosophically entangled with the postpostmodern mish-mash--and it basically tries to win every battle at the level of language. That's basically what it's trying to do when it carps about the term. The goal is to make it more difficult for its opponents to get a fix on their target. Keep complaining about the terminology and you'll have to spend less time defending yourself on the substance.
   The PCs are wrong when they say that PC is just ordinary civility. But Obama is right when he says that PC fades into ordinary civility. (I've, ahem, made that point too.) You shouldn't expect to find bright lines in a case like this. There's a spectrum between don't drop n-bombs and ZOMG you are a bigot if you don't say 'person of color'!!!  But: 'PC' is more properly applied to cases like the latter, less properly applied to cases like the former. It's never been permissible in my life to drop the n-bomb. So pretending that PC is merely urging us not to do things like that is erroneous and/or dishonest. 'PC' is a term that arose to describe a far-left identity politics that, e.g., deemed 'black' verboten and 'African-American' obligatory. It's the movement that gave us 'differently-abled,' for example...on the grounds that 'disabled' had negative connotations...as if being disabled were not bad...as if the "negative connotations" were a result of infelicitous terminology rather than the inherent badness of the state the terminology describes. As if losing your legs is just...different. Not worse.
   For these and many other reasons: the term 'politically correct' is apt.
   Well anyway.

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