Friday, May 19, 2017

Political Correctness Is Not Merely About Words

   I keep seeing the same mistake over and over in discussions about PC, especially by its defenders (those that will admit that it exists...) Typically, defenders of PC say that it's no more than ordinary politeness--it is, you see, about nothing more than not dropping n-bombs all over the place...
   That is completely wrong. First, PC was never about about The Word That Shall Not Be Named. With respect to this tiny slice of PC, it was about shriekily demanding that everyone say 'African-American,' and that they NOT say 'black.' Now...this left the people who knuckled under with no race-term for referring to any black person other than American blacks. Blacks who live in Africa, or Europe or anyplace other than America...well, terminologically speaking, you're just outta luck there. A black dude who's lived his entire life in Belgium cannot plausibly be described as "African-American." As with the vast majority of PC jargon, 'African-American' just never made any sense. Or, rather: in this case, at least the term itself had actual meaning. What made no sense was the twin insistence that (a) 'black' was a Bad Word, and (b) it's replacement must be the not-even-close-to-synonymous 'African-American.'
   By the time all this nonsense happened (in the late '80s) nobody on university campuses thought it was ok to drop n-bombs. PC was not about eliminating racial slurs--that's liberalism you're thinking about. To the extent that PC was about language, it was mostly about insisting that everyone conform to the bizarre terminological preferences of a particular slice of the far left. And this usually involved a loss of clarity, accuracy and concision. So 'African-American' was decreed PC and 'black' un-PC. 'Differently abled' was the PC term for disabled (because e.g. not being able to walk is no worse than being able to.) 'Oriental' was arbitrarily substituted for 'Asian' solely because of imaginary problems with 'Orient' dreamt up by postmodernists. 'Partner' was PC--'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend': verboten. And so on.
   But the real point: PC was never primarily about language.
   If you're interested in the topic, Marilyn Friedman and Jan Narveson's Political Correctness: For And Against is pretty good. Friedman is not someone whose work I think particularly highly of, and her contribution to this book contains a lot of bad arguments, but she's not completely wrong about what PC is. She says PC is basically about four things: campus speech codes, the literary canon, truth, and feminism. Narveson's list is better: the canon; multiculturalism; philosophical issues about e.g. truth and objectivity; oppression and preferences e.g. in hiring; and speech codes.
   There's no perfectly clear thing that PC is, really--this is often used by its "progressive" defenders as part of an argument that it's not real. But that's bullshit. Political movements (and terms for them) aren't generally the kinds of things that are clearly defined. There's no clear definition of 'liberal' or 'conservative' or 'progressive' or 'fascist.' That doesn't mean there's no such things as liberalism, etc...     But anyway, there's more to say about this...some other time...


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