This post is a bit general, but I feel it’s really needed. Recently I got into it with an otherwise rational conservative on Twitter. This individual, who awed audiences with his rapid fire takedown of Trump supporters, was trying to distance the GOP and the conservative movement from Trump and his following, and I wasn’t going to let that slide.
The individual claimed that PC, better known as political correctness, is responsible for the rise of Donald Trump. No, not it’s not, actually. If anything, the media constantly blowing alleged incidents of PC way out of proportion has helped Trump’s campaign, but no, political correctness is nowhere near as responsible for the rise of Trump. Trump’s success is largely due to nearly three decades of conservatives spreading dog whistles, conspiracy theories, and moral panics. This Twitter personality was engaging in a typical right-wing tactic; claim you’re upset and indignant about the rise of the far-right, but blame the left for creating it. Essentially it’s a form of blackmail- either shut up and do what we say, otherwise we won’t be responsible for those of us that resort to extremes.
What I found funny about the experience is how quickly this otherwise very logical, educated person who displays sharp rhetorical skills was reduced to elementary logical fallacies when forced to actually explain political correctness. He could only offer one anecdote that supposedly proves his point, and it was a weak one at that. Once again I, a Marxist, had to explain capitalism to one of its die-hard advocates. For the benefit of other folks like him, I decided to write this comprehensive guide to political correctness and why it’s bullshit. You’re welcome.
Political Correctness is too vague
If you can’t even give a concrete definition for the thing you’re convinced is ruining your country, you might want to rethink the basis of your ideology. At first glance, the idea of political correctness seems simple enough- political correctness is a state of affairs where people are one way or another forced to censor themselves to avoid offending people.
If we look at how the term PC is applied in practice, however, and we look at who applies it most often, we see a little problem. To be sure, Bill Maher, typically identified as a leftist of sorts, hosted a TV talk show called Politically Incorrect. This would make you think that political correctness can apply to either side of the spectrum. That assumption, of course, is wrong.
Remember what happened when football player Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in a silent protest against racism and police brutality? How many commentators did you see come on and say, “Come on, people! It’s just a song! Stop being so PC!” What actually happened was the people most likely to declare themselves politically incorrect went apeshit over a guy not standing for a song that became the official anthem of the United States in 1931, whose melody is based on a drinking song for a poetry society, and whose lyrics come from a war we basically lost.
I don’t have to stop with that example. Next time you see someone telling everyone how politically incorrect he is, mention that racism against minorities is still a serious problem in the US. Go online and say you are a feminist who has some concerns about the portrayal of females in video games. See what happens.
What we see here is that the term PC doesn’t really mean not offending anyone, what it really means is not offending minorities and other marginalized people. Or in other words, trying to avoid offending such people is PC and there bad, if not worse than Nazi Germany, whereas mocking those things that middle class white (often male) America loves and cherishes is somehow objectively offensive and wrong. And no, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and offer any theories about how “punching up” is better than “punching down.” But I think it’s fair to say that if you think punching down is hilarious and courageous while punching up is wrong or somehow more worthy of criticism, you are kind of an ass.
The Price of Political Incorrectness
To support their claims of a dystopian world suffering under the iron heel of political correctness, self-proclaimed warriors against PC often bring up the example of online “lynch mobs” attacking people over a joke or otherwise controversial statement. Granted, there are many problems with this kind of behavior.
As someone who is a part of the radical left and who does still interact with the Western left online, I’m more qualified to speak about the self-censorship and intimidation that goes on thanks to so-called “call-out culture.” That being said, those who have no desire to be associated with the radical left, or more importantly those who loudly proclaim their political incorrectness, really have no reason to whine about being called racist, sexist, or whatever. Nobody’s going to potentially destroy your activist reputation by claiming some innocuous remark was in fact highly offensive to non-hetero-normative people. Essentially your whining is like me getting super upset about Catholics believing in the Transubstantiation even though I’m not religious at all. It’s not my problem.
Getting back to the topic of online mobs, also known as “brigading” in some circles, it’s first very important to remember that this kind of thing goes both ways. And if you’re keeping score, you’ll undoubtedly find that it’s the so-called “politically correct” side that tends to get the worst backlash. Again, go on Youtube or Twitter and proclaim yourself to be a feminist. Make a few humble suggestions about how video game companies could better appeal to female gamers. Then brace yourself for a withering barrage of abuse from morons and pseudo-intellectuals who will “rationally” prove how you’re part of a conspiracy to destroy video games and masculinity in between the constant rape and death threats you’ll be getting.
But what about people who lose their jobs due to expressing their views in public? This is where I find conservative whining to be at peak irony. Ed from the blog Gin & Tacos pointed out how odd it was that Republicans, people who typically believe that employment should be “at-will” and frequently say nobody owes you a job, suddenly turn on the successful “job-creating” class when someone’s career is threatened over making “politically incorrect” comments. Again, they don’t raise the issue of free speech in all cases, such as that of Ward Churchill, the aforementioned Capernick, or Bill Maher, but they’re the first to cry persecution whenever someone is fired for making a comment that’s racist, sexist, or homophobic.
Here’s a little primer on how the 1st Amendment of the Constitution works, for all you confused conservatives out there. Put simply, it protects you from being punished by the government for expressing potentially unpopular ideas. It does not protect you from the consequences of that expression. While it does technically protect you from violence insofar as police are obligated to stop and arrest anyone who commits a crime against you in response to your expression, it does not guarantee you freedom from criticism, nor does it guarantee you’ll get to keep your job. I think even the densest Trump supporter can understand that a McDonald’s worker who openly uses profanity on the job will be fired, and plenty of liberals would agree as well.
On the topic of jobs, I am always dumbfounded when I have to explain the concept of private companies and their bottom lines to fervent advocates of unrestrained capitalism and the private sector. Apparently, if Wal-Mart fires a worker for talking about unionizing, that’s just fine, but if some high level employee gets fired for making racist statements in public, it’s a tragedy and their 1st Amendment rights are being violated. I guess this time it would be perfectly justified if the government intervened and forced the company to keep their employee even if people are threatening them with a boycott.
And no, boycotts are not a form of censorship either. Nobody is required to buy your product or service. If a group of people is offended by one of your employees and threatens a boycott, you have a simple business decision to make. You can decide you’re willing to take the hit, or you can apologize to the offended group and do something to make amends- like canning the employee who caused you those problems in the first place.
But if that’s something you conservatives just can’t swallow, I have a couple of other proposals that could potentially solve this problem of free speech in the work place. One is greater unionization. The other is a universal basic income, making jobs much less of a necessity. What say you, conservatives?
Forgive me if it’s hard to take Americans seriously when they complain about the tyranny of political correctness. I happen to live in a country where people have been jailed for posting, retweeting, and even liking content on social media. Just today this poor young man was jailed. His crime? He made a blog post showing how he caught a Pokemon in a church; he didn’t even disturb the service in any way. But even if we look in Western and in particular, American society, we see there are definitely big differences in oppression.
Saying something homophobic can get your fired, you say? Please tell that to all those gays and lesbians who were booted out of the military for being outed. In fact, as of 2015 there were 28 states where it’s legal to fire someone for being gay. At least you can control what you say in public or online.
Moreover, for decades LGBT have faced violence, sometimes death, just for being honest about themselves or failing to adequately hide it. When you hear about someone making homophobic statements and facing a backlash, take some time to think about how much society has progressed to the point where LGBT people feel safe enough to express their discomfort in public. And when you hear someone complaining about an online “lynch mob,” take a moment to think of what used to happen to black Americans when they asked for equal rights. Maybe you’ll realize the word “lynch” probably isn’t the best word choice.
More Free Speech, Not Less
The point I’m making here is that while yes, we do see more people getting into some kind of trouble for offending different groups, it doesn’t mean we have less free speech; society as a whole has more. When minorities such as Asian Americans (a group which still faces an appalling amount of racism and stereotyping) or transexual people feel confident enough to publicly express their opinions online, in means we have more people expressing opinions, not fewer.
And you know what? Some of those opinions are going to be downright stupid. Just because various minorities face oppression or marginalization doesn’t mean every single thing a specific member of that group says is automatically right or intelligent. They don’t have get a magical protection against criticism either. Just realize that if your arguments are rooted in racism or homophobia as opposed to sound logic, people are probably going to dismiss you offhand. And if you are using sound logic and they just dismiss you as a racist, sexist, or whatever- fine. Maybe that person is just a jackass. It doesn’t mean they wield some kind of power over you.
Why Are You Still Here?
The funniest thing about this mass hysteria over political correctness is that it’s been around for a long time. I remember hearing all about it in the early 90’s. I was routinely told that by the time I reached high school, we wouldn’t be allowed to say the word Christmas in school, and we’d be using terms like “vertically challenged” to describe people of short height. Well guess what- throughout high school I managed to be an insufferable little shit spouting off many racist, sexist, and homophobic opinions without ever really facing any serious consequences for doing so. I’m sure being a white, heterosexual male couldn’t have had anything to do with that!
In case you’re not catching on. Look around you. How easy is it for you to find articles in the major media outlets decrying the spread of “political correctness” or “safe spaces” versus articles in the same outlets specifically advocating political correctness or something like it? How many bills have been introduced in Congress to ban some kind of expression lately?
What do you see on TV? One of America’s most popular shows was (and perhaps still is) South Park. Would you consider that a particularly politically correct show? Try exercising a little empathy, possibly for the first time in your life, and browse Youtube or watch TV with the intent to note anything that could potentially be offensive to various minority groups, women, LGBT people, etc. Use your imagination.
Take a look at Youtube and see how many comedians, talk show hosts, and Youtube personalities have successfully made their career off of proclaiming themselves to be “politically incorrect” or just constantly complaining about political correctness. Yes, some folks get banned from Youtube or Twitter for their opinions, but once again- these are private companies. They are allowed to make their own terms of service and you agree to them when you sign up.
Conclusion- Stop Whining!
Perhaps one of the biggest ironies of the PC backlash is that it alleges certain people are too sensitive when in reality, the most sensitive people tend to be those who claim to hate PC. In academia and on the internet, the most radical, often absurd incarnations of “intersectionality” any related theories may seem highly influential, but in the real world they’re not. Keep in mind that many of those people you see calling for censorship or generally being absurd are oftentimes early twenty-something college students who never had any political thoughts whatsoever before graduating high school. Don’t expect balance and moderation from them. If you can’t get along with them online- avoid them. It’s not difficult to do so, and isn’t that what you’re always telling the so-called PC crowd to do anyway?
Ultimately, as groups that were formerly marginalized find their voice in society, and assuming we take them seriously rather than going into a hysterical panic, we’ll eventually find some kind of balance as to what’s considered acceptable discourse. If that sounds oppressive to you, please consider how concretely oppressive it is today that people can no longer use racial slurs in everyday conversation without provoking outrage. Is that really so terrible? Nobody throws you in jail for saying it, but other people are free to express their disgust and anger. There will always be narcissistic individuals of all groups who will insist that the rest of society bend to their specific feelings and desires, in the same way that a minority of whites still demands that they be allowed to spout off racist and misogynistic opinions with no consequences whatsoever. We don’t have to cater to any of those people- just make a sincere effort to be more inclusive towards those who are currently, through no fault of their own, marginalized.
And whatever you do, please to not lay responsibility for Trump or the rise of the far right at those who just wanted to make the world less racist, sexist, and generally oppressive. These phenomena owe far more to the spread of conspiracy theories about an oppressive PC elite that are driving Western civilization toward an apocalypse, not to mention the general mainstreaming of ideas that are genuinely racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so forth.