On Political Correctness

Our society is currently engulfed in a great many unpleasant things. One of them is, of course, insane, gratuitous, violence. Another is hate. Another is rampant apathy for the Arts. And another is the way popular entertainment glorifies and glamorizes violence and hate, while failing to adequately show the consequences of them.

Another unpleasant thing engulfing society is Political Correctness. In various places, in various eras, being Politically Correct has meant different things. In the Southern United States, before the Civil War, it meant supporting slavery. After the Civil War, in those same places, it often meant romanticizing slavery and discriminating against those of African ancestry. In Nazi Germany, it meant persecuting Jews.

Today, Political Correctness means putting up a false, patronizing, obviously insincere pretense of sensitivity, to overcompensate for deep-seated bigotry. In effect, to be "Maude," rather than "Archie Bunker." It means calling the indigenous people of North and South America "Native Americans," even though (I've been told) most such individuals prefer to be called "Indians." It means replacing the technically correct term "illegal alien" with the oxymoronic one "illegal immigrant," out of fear that the former might have bad connotations (and effectively giving it bad connotations). It means coming up with an endless vicious cycle of euphemisms for terms that somebody, somewhere, might construe as insulting (while conveniently neglecting the possibility that the implication that members of a group need to be protected from such terms might in itself be taken as an insult).

I believe that people should be called what they want to be called. For example, if Avery Brooks ("Captain Benjamin Sisko," from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) prefers to be called a "brown" man, rather than a "black" man (a preference he has, if memory serves correctly, expressed publicly on a number of occasions), who am I to argue? And what right has anybody else to argue? If nothing else, Mr. Brooks has chosen a more accurate description of his skin color than the more common term. For my own part, I agree with the sentiment George Carlin once expressed, that "white" is rather a bland, colorless term for people of Northern European ancestry, and for that reason, if one needs to refer to me by my ethnicity at all (which one shouldn't have to), I would prefer to be referred to as a "honkie" (or, as George Carlin once suggested, a "blue-eyed devil").

"Sensitivity Training" has become an unfortunate afterbirth of the current meaning of "Political Correctness." Unfortunate because all too often, it fails to instill any genuine sensitivity whatsoever, instead simply making people afraid to speak their minds. True sensitivity, like true insensitivity, is a thing of the heart, and a weekend retreat is unlikely to undo the effects of one's upbringing.

Note that this does not mean one should freely act on whatever bigoted impulses one should have. If a person's mind is so open as to be entirely free of any form of prejudice, then it's probably either so open as to leave that person either fatally gullible, or incapable of forming opinions, or both. But if one subjects one's own preconceived ideas to the same sort of critical thinking one applies to advertisements, then one can recognize a bigoted impulse for what it is, master it, and choose not to act on it. And that is the thing that separates real sensitivity from Political Correctness: it involves the application of critical thinking, rather than simply doing what one is told. Similarly, there is nothing inherently wrong with ethnic humor, provided that the humor is genuine, rather than simply a slur. The solution: either make oneself (or one's ancestry) the butt of the joke, or make it about a purely fictional ethnic group, or tell the joke in such a way that it insults bigotry as a thing in itself. For example, because I am part Norwegian, I tell a number of jokes about my (entirely fictitious) Uncle Lars. And similarly, most of my "lightbulb" jokes are about species that exist only in science fiction (e.g.: How many Vulcans does it take to change a lightbulb? Where is the logic in constructing lightbulbs that require changing?). And to be insulted by a "redneck" joke, one would have to admit to being a redneck.

James H. H. Lampert