Thursday, October 15, 2015

One More Time: Political Correctness





In April 2013, I asked the question: What is Political Correctness?  Here's what I wrote in answer to that question:

What is political correctness?  PC says that you can't discriminate against someone for his or her age, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or race.  It's about treating everyone with respect, no matter who they are or where they came from, what they think or what they say.  It's about accepting that other people don't think the way you do, don't feel the way you do, don't believe what you believe or want what you want, and their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires are as valid as yours are.  How boring the world would be if everyone were the same.  PC is about getting along with each other, agreeing to disagree, not holding grudges, and listening with an open mind.  
Recently, I found myself in the position of defining PC again, but this time I decided to include some history of the term.  It did not just appear. What I learned surprised me.

Josef Stalin
Originally, someone who was politically correct was someone who hewed to a specific political philosophy or specific politics. This meaning originated in 1930's USSR, and the politics were of the Communist Party and its leader, Josef Stalin. At that time, in order to survive, an individual would outwardly appear to be loyal to the Party, maybe even become a Communist Party member in order to increase his chances for promotion at his job or to even have a job. It remained important to be politically correct in the USSR until that political entity dissolved in the early 1990's and Russia began its struggle to find its democratic heart.  Unfortunately, under Vladimir Putin, it looks like Russia has more of a communist soul after all, and I would not at all be surprised to learn that being politically correct has become important there once again.

Today, I read parts of Ben Carson's announcement that he's a candidate for U.S. President at The Weekly Sift.  One part in particular startled me:

I’m not politically correct, and I’m probably never going to be politically correct because I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician, because, politicians do what is politically expedient, and I want to do what is right. 
Carson uses "politically correct" in its original meaning here.  This was a first for me. However, it demonstrated that the original meaning is still in use.

In 1970's America, after the civil rights turmoil of the 1960's, the political unrest and the anti-war demonstrations, the Feminist Movement and the populist thinking of the Liberal Movement, "political correctness" took on the meaning that I wrote at the beginning of this post.

In the 1990's, Conservatives made the term into a pejorative.  From Wikipedia: 
Two articles on the topic in late 1990 in Forbes and Newsweek both used the term "thought police" in their headlines, exemplifying the tone of the new usage, but it was Dinesh
Dinesh D'Souza
D'Souza's
Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (1991) which "captured the press's imagination." "Political correctness" here was a label for a range of policies in academia around supporting multiculturalism through affirmative action, sanctions against anti-minority hate speech, and revising curricula (sometimes referred to as "canon busting"). These trends were at least in part a response to the rise of identity politics, with movements such as feminism, gay rights movements and ethnic minority movements.
The Urban Dictionary's list of definitions makes also for startling reading as a possible majority of the definitions lean toward the pejorative use of PC, including claiming that it's a type of censorship.

So, there are two usages of PC in conflict in America: the people who choose to view it as treating everyone with respect vs. the people who want to to express themselves in whatever way they choose including treating others with disrespect, with discrimination, and with hate.

I choose to use PC as treating people with respect. What continues to boggle my mind is the second's group total disrespect of other people just so they can say and do whatever they want. This group complains
that PC interferes with their Freedom of Speech. What they say betrays their ignorance, actually, and they don't even comprehend that it does.  Their behavior also makes me wonder how they were taught as kids by adults to be in the world and to treat others.

Just as abuse is handed down from parent to child, generation to generation, so are prejudice, discrimination and the beliefs that support them.  Americans think they are so great, but if you really look closely, you'll see that there is much, much room for improvement and the PC issue is only one part.....


We need to imagine human life on this planet in a different way, a way that sees humans as empathetic as well as creative, accepting as well as individualistic.  We need to imagine human life as a both-and proposition instead of an either-or one......







1 comment:

Daughter Number Three said...

I prefer not to use the term at all because it has become so laden with right-wing connotations.

The origin is interesting because it shows that the term's revival by the Right in 1990 was just another form of red-baiting -- calling people Stalinists without using the term, exactly.