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Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 10:51 am
I've been meaning to talk about political correctness for ages but recent discussions eg the hey hey thing made me decide to give it a shot.

So: I think "political correctness" is just a new form of politeness, eg an attempt to get people to treat others ethically and with consideration using peer pressure. Like any form of politeness, sometimes people get so caught up in the letter of the law that they lose track of the spirit, and it sometimes gets hijacked by those who care more about social standing and appearance than being a decent human being.

EDIT: something I was going to talk about and then ran out of spoons for was the way that the term "political corectness" is pretty much only used by people insulting a straw-man version of social justice. In this post I've acted liek it's a valid term to make life simpler but it's not, really.

But afaict the only functional difference between old-school politeness and new-school political correctness overall is that the old sort valued the status quo and class/gender etc divisions, while the new school actively fights against any sort of oppression and tries to give more power to the powerless. So while I think any overzealous, dogmatic application of an ethical framework is bad, and understand anyone criticising an individual instance of this(*), I have trouble how anyone can have a problem with the principles of political correctness, unless they are in fact in favour of sexism, racism, ableism etc. In which case they suck.

But what about when political correctness has "gone too far"??

Well, while I think this is possible in individual cases, I think it's not only not true in a wider society wide sense, but is pretty much impossible, unless you mean people not taking it too far but simply applying it badly, in which case one might as well say "It's basic human decency taken to far!".

Because political correctness is about sticking up for those with less power. So if any group's agenda disproportionately takes over the political landscape it is by definition not political correctness, and it is politically correct to fight against it.

Groups like POC/non-white people, women, disabled people, GLBT people etc? We do not have significant power. Look at who runs the country, has the money, is represented in laws and tv and ideas about what counts as normal. Political correctness tries to correct that imbalance, but it doe not succeed to any great extent, and every win is countered by a huge negative response from those who benefit from the status quo.

To give a common example: political correctness says not to make sexist jokes. People who wish to make sexist jokes may feel some pressure not to do so, and if make them in a very public way they may get some negative feedback from feminists etc. But sexist jokes still happen, and people who make them are hardly drummed out of society, in fact many comedians use their "non-PC humour" as a selling point. And, I can tell you, that anyone who criticises a sexist joke will get even more of a negative response, from people ranting about "political correctness gone mad" and "feminazis" etc.

Which is not to say you can't think a particular widescale effort to fight oppression is wrong. For a start, as much as people act like feminism, for example, is a giant homogenous monolith, there's a lot of very different, very strongly held opinions stemming from the same anti-oppression principles, and at least some of them have to be wrong at least in part. So I can understand disagreeing with a particular person or groups opinion about how best to be "politically correct". It's people who object to the very idea of political correctness on principle that I have an issue with.

I had more to say but have run out of spoons. So that will have to do. Have some links:

Stewart Lee on Political Correctness.

Defining Political Correctness and Its Non-Impact Study shows that political incorrectness does no harm to academic's careers. (found while I was trying to find some links I am sure I saved on delicious)

(*)Though usually only if the person being "overly politically correct" isn't actually in the group being oppressed, and noone in that group agrees with them. For example when I was building up the courage to criticise people about racism I got a bit prone to "correcting" people's terminology when I really didn't know what I was talking about. See also my final paragraph on people who aren't being overzealous etc, but disagree on the best approach.

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