The Collins English Dictionary defines political correctness as “demonstrating progressive ideals, especially by avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgmental, especially concerning race and gender.” Wikipedia says that it is a term “used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.” Put simply, it means not being a dick to people just because they look, think, or act differently than you do.
This sounds perfectly reasonable, so how did “political correctness” become such a pejorative term? A contemptuous description for those deemed responsible for the castration of common sense and personal liberty in an effort to appease those too weak minded to just “get over it.” Ignorance, bigotry, and bullying suddenly becoming accepted and even lauded in response to the perceived “pussification” of society. A Presidential candidate who’s main source of appeal seems to be that he is unapologetically offensive and promises to “Make America great again” by ushering in a new era of un-political correctness.
The easiest answer seems to be differing opinions on what should be considered insulting, degrading, or humiliating. Things once deemed acceptable now judged differently by a more progressive and empathetic society. Corporal punishment for children, bans on inter-racial dating, little girls sent to home economics class while little boys go to shop, a light tan Crayola crayon labeled “flesh” color. All things that would have once met with resistance to change and been labeled “political correctness”.
It also seems that those most likely to be offended by the prospect of being unoffensive are also less likely to belong to a demographic that would put them on the receiving end of said offensiveness.
There are unintended consequences to the concept. Good intentions taken to the extreme and devolving into silliness. Some people will always find a way to consider themselves persecuted and demand measures beyond reason. Attempts to placate one group of people can provoke the ire of another. I’ve lamented before about how we sometimes seem to be a nation of four year olds, sheep herded by the media towards whatever outrage will generate the most attention, the highest ratings, the most clicks.
Do I consider myself to be “politically correct”? That is the question that originally led me down this rabbit hole. A few weeks ago I was told that I was, and it wasn’t intended to be complimentary. More recently I was told that comments I had made were ignorant and insulting, a byproduct of a lifetime of male white privilege.
It’s a subjective term, the definitions that I started this post with probably not entirely representative of what everyone would think when presented with the term.
I believe that ignoring the truth of a situation out of fear of causing offense prevents meaningful dialogue, but understand that my version of the “truth” is not going to be the same as somebody with different experiences and circumstances. I believe that if they aren’t adversely affecting the lives of others, people should generally be left alone to live their lives, free of judgement or interference. I believe that effort should be made to treat everyone equally, without preconceptions or bias. That the actions of the individual should be the only thing that affects perception of them. I believe that if we, either as a country or on an individual basis, have the opportunity and means to help those that need it, there is a moral imperative to do so. I believe that fear is the biggest enemy of humanity.
Most of all I believe in trying not to be a dick. I don’t always succeed, but I try. I’m still not sure if that makes me one of those “politically correct” people or not, but I really wish more people would make the effort.