The PC-Word

November 29, 2013

Now for an inoffensively offensive edition of…


I am so sick of people complaining about political correctness. No, I don’t mean the people trying to make things more PC. They’re often annoying, sure. I’m talking about the people who are complaining about them, who whine that the slightest suggestion of better word choice is “help, the PC police are attacking!”

I saw this article in Reason a few weeks ago about the recent push for the Washington Redskins to change their name, and it’s not exactly their best work. Throughout the article it’s PC-this, PC-that, PC brigade, blah blah blah. Compared to most libertarian sources I see or read, Reason is usually the most, well, reasonable, in that they tend to do well arguing the libertarian standpoint on things without outright mocking or denying some of the real social issues going on behind their opponents’ arguments. This article is not an example of this.

The article mentions not only the push for the Redskins name change, but also a nickname for a British team (as in, not actually the team’s name) that is also an anti-Jewish slur. In the case of that one, there are cases of legal restrictions on using the term and people being ejected from games for it. In other words, that one is a pretty clear free speech violation. And yet it is talked about in the same “oh noes teh PC police” way as the push for the Redskins name change. The thing is, almost no one is suggesting anyone be arrested or punished in any way for the Redskins team name. It’s simply a matter of strong suggestion. They are requesting they CHOOSE to change the name. At the end of the day, the people in charge of the team and name still have the final say on that, and the people can do the libertarian thing of voting with their wallets on it. Why is this being framed in the same way as another team having their fans and athletes facing real penalties (assuming the above article wasn’t exaggerating this, which wouldn’t surprise me) for continued use of the name?

The point of the article turns into concern about basic day to day conversation being PC-policed. Obviously, nobody would want to be subjected to that. Nor do I see anything like that happening. It sounds like the same sort of paranoia you hear from insecure Christians who think anyone is trying to make it illegal to say “Christmas”.

There is a HUGE difference between saying “you shouldn’t use that word” and “that word should be illegal and you should be punished/arrested for using it”. The latter is free speech violation. The former is itself free speech requesting reconsidering language choice, leaving the subject free to ignore the suggestion or mull it over. Defending rights definitely does not mean pretending any and every expression of said rights is irreproachable.

Yet that is what is happening here. The article implies the very suggestion of a name change is offensive, calling it political correctness run amok. And, of course, hoping to say the letters PC enough times to effectively shut down the conversation.

And that’s another thing I don’t get. Just what exactly is so wrong with being “politically correct”? And why the ridiculous pride in some wannabe rebels identifying as “politically incorrect”?

Let’s say you meet someone named Elizabeth. You go to her and say “Hi, Liz!” And she responds with “I don’t go by Liz. I prefer to be called Beth.” Any normal human being would from there on out address her as Beth as requested. These “look how awesomely un-PC I am” morons would probably instead be offended at the correction, insist on calling her Liz and think they’re so badass for doing so, and when she gets sick of the blatant stupidity and disrespect and walks away from this person, they’ll say she’s just being “oversensitive”, that it isn’t meant to be offensive.

Certainly, the flip side of this would be if it is then assumed that because this one Elizabeth prefers Beth they all do, and then insisting that anyone named Elizabeth must be called Beth, when in fact, of course, plenty of others do prefer Liz or Bess or Eliza or any other of the many diminutives of the name, or maybe just the full Elizabeth itself. That might be political correctness run amok, for sure. But both sides have one important thing in common: they don’t give a crap about Elizabeth herself.

But I digress. The issues in which political correctness come up are more important than one’s preferred nickname, and yet even when one is proudly disregarding one’s explicitly preferred nickname it’s incredibly obnoxious. It is multiplied when it’s being carelessly derogatory or demeaning toward an entire race or ethnicity or other such group, particularly one that is a minority and frequently othered already. In which case the proudly un-PC are “rebelling” by loudly saying what the privileged majority is already thinking and saying without much shame (usually).

What harm is caused when being un-PC, whether proudly or accidentally? That’s debatable. And said harm is most definitely less harmful than censorship, but, again, in the absence of tangible force, political correctness is not censorship and is more a suggested edit.

In the first couple years of Sure, Why Not?, I frequently used the words “gay” and “retarded” to describe stupid or ridiculous things. Haven’t done that for a while now, though perhaps slipped up here and there. Why? Well, because I don’t consider those with cognitive disabilities or the LGBT to be bad. On one hand, I could just say “hey, there’s nothing wrong with using those words, because I’m not actually homophobic or ableist!” But that’s silly, because that’s actually a reason for not using those words. If I don’t think negatively of the people described by these words, how does using them as negative even work? That and there are about a zillion other words. The English language is pretty vast, you know.

So have I then caved to political correctness? Honestly, what the fuck does that even mean? Before this, were any LGBT or disabled people harmed by my word choice? I don’t know. Have any of them been helped since? I don’t know. It probably made no difference. Really the importance is my own, in that there are more sensible means of expression, and that I like to be a decent person where possible. Are there other word choices and such that I should probably change as well? Most likely.

After all, I am a Washington Redskins fan.

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