It’s time to get rid of political correctness. I mean, the notion that we must be rid of the oppression of speech goes without saying, but in this case I’m talking about the phrase “political correctness.” It is a term that used to mean enough, but now means too much. Let me explain.
A lot of people who are voting Republican this year (which I am noting as a distinctly different thing to say than “a lot of Republicans”) put Political Correctness among their top concerns. But the nebulous phrase has become a bit too diffuse this year to be effective, and it might be time to divide it, reframe it, or even retire the admittedly handy expression. At the least, time to reduce the frequency of its use to describe problems and their causes.
The idea of being politically correct has been around for a while, notably in the days of Stalin as a disparaging characterization of hardline communists by intellectual socialists. In the United States, it’s most commonly used to refer to social pressure to avoid giving offense, particularly to an identity group or protected class. The push to change the name of the Redskins, for example, is cited often as an example of PC run amok.
But it is also applied to many other situations, particularly in the age of Trump, who has made political correctness one of the primary targets of his campaign with a great deal of success. It’s the named cause of stores and municipalities allowing males to use women’s restrooms. It’s blamed for the legalization of gay marriage, for the Duke rape scandal, for the flow of refugees into Europe, for the lack of immigration control here. It is behind the re-education seminars in the workplace, the crackdown on free expression on social media, and the utterly bizarre rules of behavior on campuses nationwide.
In all of these areas, it is accurate to say political correctness – the oppressive force that silences dissent – bears some, most, or even all of the blame.
It is one of the few things Donald Trump is sort of right about (if accidentally), and which one must concede he has actually done a fair job of fighting. HOWEVER … thanks to his band of merry followers, not to mention the media that has coddled them, and frankly thanks to talk radio and to blogs as well, that accurate definition of political correctness is all but meaningless.
As the catch-all, it catches all too much now. From bawdy jokes to racial slurs to simply being an unrelenting prick, suffering any social rejection or even objection is labeled as “political correctness.” It is an excuse proffered for every heinous thing a person says or does, particularly among a certain “identity group” online. They make grotesque statements, embrace anti-Semitism, and traffic in slurs, and all who protest are named purveyors of political correctness. It is being used as a defense against being human, and, one must concede, it is Trump’s hobby horse partly because he knows exactly what that small (but loud) portion of his base means by the phrase, which is that they want to use racial slurs with impunity and without consequence. Battling political correctness is a fig leaf worn by those who really just want to act like jerks.
In short, the phrase has been nearly destroyed in utility, like many high concepts, in our modern age.
It is not unique that this should happen. Even the word meme doesn’t mean what it means anymore, and it hasn’t even been around very long. It’s tragic that our culture is descending into base idiocy, but like other things the “alt-right” has touched, this has become tainted permanently. We need a better more descriptive term. Or at the very least, we need additional terms.
This is not an easy task. The concept is deeply ingrained in our society. It’s in movies and television shows, it’s in books and essays and articles. It’s convenient and accurate and fully conveys the exact thought. The fact that it has been hijacked so thoroughly is insanely frustrating. My first instinct was to say that we have to “take it back.” Take back the words and make them mean what they are supposed to mean. That would be the best thing. It would reflect truth rather than conforming to a brief period of time like the 2016 campaign. But after some consideration, and a spirited discussion among friends, I feel like “taking it back” is a time investment luxury we don’t have.
We have to urgently and ceaselessly make the case that, to use the old term, political correctness has become so widespread and so insidious it is an existential threat, if not to the existence of the United States, to the spirit and intent upon which it was founded. It is a way to crush dissent, to enforce new, leftist social norms, and to prevent defense of what has been normal or acceptable for all of human history up until this point. Political correctness, to continue to use the term, is the enemy of freedom and is an incredibly effective weapon of totalitarianism. It creates voluntary subjects; People opt in to their own oppression. It’s the very definition of insidious.
What it is not is an excuse for creating photoshops of non-Trump voters as future victims of a new Holocaust. Your speech is protected, but social pressure from people to shun the scumbags who do that sort of thing is not political correctness. Also politeness is not political correctness. Whatever happened to being polite? That was a treasured character trait here in the South well into my adulthood. Now it is treated like caving to the forces of leftism.
If you say something awful, and people tell you that you are awful, you are not the victim of political correctness. But that’s how the phrase is used now, and in numbers large enough that the entire school of thought that objects to marginalization of ideas through political correctness is being marginalized through the misuse of the term political correctness. Ironic.
See? It’s not so easy to dismiss this. And it’s not easy to fix, either.
A friend suggested that we replace it with the phrase Social Tyranny. Certainly that would apply in a literal sense to most anything that a Social Justice Warrior would be involved in. I also thought of “DNA Denial” for the rejection of scientific fact in the transgender “movement.” Yeah it’s cutesy, but I don’t hear you coming up with anything. But what we need is a replacement for the conceptual phrase, a direct substitute for “political correctness.” So it occurred to me to return to a phrase that has fallen into some disuse, but has, like “political correctness,” a long, respectable, applicable history.
Sound obvious? Maybe. But it’s not used nearly enough, and its “1984” origins are arguably of superior provenance to a term used by socialists to bash communists under Stalin.
So that’s my idea. Ditch “political correctness” and go for “the Thought Police.” Look, obviously we can’t really stop using or get rid of the term “political correctness.” It’s simply too useful and too well understood. And yes, there’s some irony in altering your language about the concept of altering your language to avoid negative connotations. But if you are writing about it, throw in “Thought Police” a little more often. Or “Social Tyranny” or even “DNA Denial.” It’s not just a way to separate yourself, it also makes your writing less repetitive and more interesting. And it adds layers of meaning. That’s a positive, not a negative.
Hey, not everything is huge breaking news or critical political coverage. But it does matter. Appearance matters. Associations matter.
In all things, differentiate yourself from the white nationalists and the self-described “alt-right”. That’s what an honorable conservative republican (or ex-republican) should do. And doing so doesn’t make you politically correct. It just means you know the difference between the Thought Police and people who simply have moral character.