Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Rant

Recently, an internet acquaintance said something I keep thinking about. Over at AW, HConn said: "I love how the term "PC" became a derogatory term for not insulting people. My father, a construction worker, taught me to be PC, but since the term hadn't been invented then, he called it "having manners," and it was usually accompanied by a dummy slap."

I've thought about that for a couple of days, now. Like you, I'm growing accustomed to the conservative backlash over political correctness. I wince every time I hear "PC" used to denigrate an idea or argument.

Even worse, the accusation that something is PC justifies people who immediately stop listening--do not pass go, do not collect your two hundred bucks. "Oh, that's just so much PC bullshit" is sort of the ultimate ad hominem--attacking not just one speaker, but an entire class of speakers and ideas.

Right over the fucking top is the way the other guys--you know, the ones who hate all things PC with a passion--keep making up bogus stories about imagined out-of-control PC tyranny. The so-called War on Christmas, or how Oakland Schools are going to teach Ebonics instead of English? Total scare-tactic crap, fabricated from bits and pieces lifted out of context and given a wild spin to the right, sent out into the news and onto the web to wreak whatever havoc possible, before finally blowing out.

Philip Atkinson, a UK writer, says of Political Correctness:

"The declared rational of this tyranny is to prevent people being offended; to compel everyone to avoid using words or behaviour that may upset homosexuals, women, non-whites, the crippled, the mentally impaired, the fat or the ugly.

This reveals not only its absurdity but its inspiration. The
set of values that are detested are those held by the previous generation (those who fought the Second World War), which is why the terms niggers, coons, dagos, wogs, poofs, spastics and sheilas, have become heresy, for, in an act of infantile rebellion, their subject have become revered by the new generation. Political Correctness is merely the resentment of spoilt children directed against their parent's values."

Oh. Nice.

People who don't want to be called "nigger" or "coon" are really just spoiled and rebellious children. People who don't want to be called "faggot" or "dyke," ditto. Because the right to call people these names is a dearly-held value of the previous generation, we should all just grow up and accept our lot as inferior beings--subject to whatever derogatory language the more culturally powerful care to place on us.

Because, make no mistake, the act of such marginalizing and name-calling is a clear indication of where the power rests. Don't believe me? Think of three nasty words for people of color. Can you think of three equally familiar terms for white folks? I can't. How about the same experiment for queer and straight?

Don't for a moment think Mr. Atkinson is alone in this specific criticism of all things PC, either.

From a speech given by Bill Lind:

...For the first time in our history, Americans have to be fearful of what they say, of what they write, and of what they think. They have to be afraid of using the wrong word, a word denounced as offensive or insensitive, or racist, sexist, or homophobic.

We have seen other countries, particularly in this century, where this has been the case. And we have always regarded them with a mixture of pity, and to be truthful, some amusement, because it has struck us as so strange that people would allow a situation to develop where they would be afraid of what words they used. But we now have this situation in this country. We have it primarily on college campuses, but it is spreading throughout the whole society. Were does it
come from? What is it?

We call it "Political Correctness." The name originated as something of a joke, literally in a comic strip, and we tend still to think of it as only half-serious. In fact, it’s deadly serious. It is the great disease of our century, the disease that has left tens of millions of people dead in Europe, in Russia, in China, indeed around the world. It is the disease of ideology. PC is not funny. PC is deadly serious.

If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious.

First of all, both are totalitarian ideologies. The totalitarian nature of Political Correctness is revealed nowhere more clearly than on college campuses, many of which at this point are small ivy covered North Koreas, where the student or faculty member who dares to cross any of the lines set up by the gender feminist or the homosexual-rights activists, or the local black or Hispanic group, or any of the other sainted "victims" groups that PC revolves around, quickly find themselves in judicial trouble. Within the small legal system of the college, they face formal charges – some star-chamber proceeding – and punishment. That is a little look into the future that Political Correctness intends for the nation as a whole.
(Trans: God forbid anyone marginalized should stand up for themselves and demand to be respected. In fact, should they dare to do so, we'll just lump 'em all together and marginalize them even further--plus, any weak-willed, lilly-livered, straight, white, liberals who want to side with 'em can go right on that same boat; we'll sink 'em all together, that way.)

The whole speech rambles on in that vein. Making wild assertions and spectacular and improbably leaps of, uh, "logic."

Interesting that in both of the above anti-PC rants, the group conspicuous by its absence from the list of the marginalized is straight, white, conservative men. With some consideration, I can think one apt pejorative for two specific individuals belonging to that particular class.




Frank Baron said...

I think part of the problem is one of definition. I've railed against political correctness as it applied to specific situations (usually) within our school system here in Ontario.

One such is the "zero tolerance" policy against violence. If a child whacked mine in the chops and mine whacked him back - both were suspended. No examination regarding who started it, what provocation might have been involved etc.

To my way of thinking this was/is just plain wrong. Yet many, if not most, in the media and government are smugly certain it's a measured and equitable way to stop violence in our schools.

Phooey. It's a license for bullies to hurt people without fear of being hurt back.

The language aspect is different. It's a living thing and evolves along with social mores. Thirty-some years ago, my first wife worked for the local "Association for the Mentally Retarded." A few years later they changed "Retarded" to "Handicapped." A few years later to "Challenged."

I'm not sure what it is now. (We've been divorced for a long time.) Point is, most rational folks understand and accept that some labels which were once accepted as okay, no longer are and they adapt to the new ones without fuss.

I kind of like HConn's take on it. Calling people names is bad manners. Bad manners is just plain wrong.

I think the term PC has just outgrown itself and means too many things to too many folks.

Mac said...

One such is the "zero tolerance" policy against violence. If a child whacked mine in the chops and mine whacked him back - both were suspended. No examination regarding who started it, what provocation might have been involved etc.

Frank, that seems less like PCness, and more like either sheer laziness, or else cowardice, on the part of the school administration.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree slightly, if I may, on the issue of PC, in that I believe some Political Correctness is getting out of hand. The thing with me, though, is not the name-calling and the other foul words that permeate our society. My problem is when PC is taken too far.

I think PC goes too far, for example, when it refuses to refer to a Christmas Tree as a Christmas Tree, for fear of offending non-Christians. The new term for it is 'Holiday Tree,' which would be great if it were not for the fact that the tree as we know it is specifically a symbol of Christmas. The symbol for the other two holidays that take place during the same basic time of the year, (Kwanzaa and Hanukkah) use a Manorah (I hope I spelled that right) as their symbol.

Stuff like that is the problem I have with the PC movement. Like HConn pointed out in his post at AW, I too believe that referring to people in derogatory terms is an issue of rudeness and impoliteness. In that respect, I believe wholeheartedly in Political Correctness. Denegrating someone due to their race or sexual orientation, is just plain wrong. Though I might not agree with someone's lifestyle, it's not my place to judge those people. Nor is it anyone else's, except maybe God's.

So the long and the short of all my statements is, I agree and I don't agree with the article. I agree that the words used to describe fellow human beings in derogatory fashion are wrong. At the same time, I believe that people have the right to use words like 'Christmas' in public without being given the 'You're not supposed to say that' line. Which here in the Portland area, seems to be the trend right now.

Frank Baron said...

"Frank, that seems less like PCness, and more like either sheer laziness, or else cowardice, on the part of the school administration."

I agree Mac. And that goes to my point about it being a problem of definition.

I think the reasoning went something like this:

"Violence is wrong."

(nodding of heads)

"Violence in our schools is VERY wrong!"

(enthusiastic nodding of heads)

"We will institute a policy of zero tolerance regarding violence in our schools!"

(standing ovation)

A few days later...

Concerned parent: "This isn't working."

Government flunky/school principal: "Yes it is."

CP: "No it isn't. Billy whacked my Johnny with a shovel. Johnny pushed him down. You suspended both of them for a week. That's not fair."

Gf/sp: "Yes it is so too either. Both committed acts of violence you see. Both were wrong. Both were punished. Everthing balances. Life is good."

CP: "It isn't in this instance. The policy is stupid. The implementation is absurd. This parrot is dead. Expired. It is an un-parrot."

Gf/sp: "No it isn't. It's just restin'. Pinin' for the fjords."

Apologies to the Python gang....

Anonymous said...

Uh, Frank, I believe it's incorrect to say you're divorced. You are now maritally challenged x 1.

And people with bad manners are simply dweebs, k. Furthermore, all this pc stuff makes me ill. You're not allowed to talk anymore! Way back when, if you were out of line in school, you were sent to the principal's office, end of story. I had a lot of experience with that. Let's see, talking back, tying the nun's rosary beads behind her back to the pole at recess, goldfish in the holy water font in church and, yes, they do die. Grape fizzies in the holy water, alarm clocks at different settings all over the classroom and so on and so forth. Not stuff like they do today, okay, enough out of me...

Mac said...

Sean, I luv ya, Man--but no, the new term is NOT Holiday tree. Not for anyone real.

I don't know a single human being--and I know a LOT of PC, left wing, loonie-types--who intend to call their Christmas trees "holiday trees," instead.


Anonymous said...

C'mon Mac, no grin, nothing...jeez

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Mac. I guess I should have been a little more clear by my statement. I tend to generalize sometimes without realizing I'm not being understood. It's a habit of mine that I really need to work on.

The Holiday Tree issue came from a local newscast, back in '04, where a news anchor was corrected on-camera for calling a Christmas Tree, a Christmas Tree.

It wasn't so much the Holiday Tree issue that angered me that day, as it was the way they corrected the man on-camera. That's where I think they took the PC issue beyond its intended purpose.

T. M. Hunter said...

Honk(e)y, cracker, and white trash...

Anonymous said...

The problem with the school violence stuff is that often there's no way to determine the instigator. I've seen kids lie about events and if I hadn't seen what happened with my own eyes, I wouldn't have been able to discern the facts from those who claimed to know. Just another point of view.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

Good job, Aston--I was going to say, "Honky, cracker, and... honkycracker?" Meh. Last time I told off someone using the word "nigger" in my presence, I was accused of being overbearingly PC. For the Gods' sakes, the man had just turned to his teenage son and said, in response to a sitcom commercial, "There sure are a lot of nigger shows out there these days, aren't there?" And I figured that, being related to these people, I had the right to say something, like, "Uncle So-n-So, I cannot believe you are teaching my cousin that kind of racist crap." So now I'm overbearingly PC, which is somehow worse than propagating racism to the next generation. Odd.

Sean, I'm sorry, I'm not convinced. One man correcting a newscaster on camera does not a trend make--but whoo, boy, soundbytes like that do whip the "War on Christmas" pundits into a fury, don't they?

Speaking as a Pagan, I call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree, I wish known Christians a merry Christmas. I wish people whose religious affiliations I don't know a Happy Holidays and, depending on how comfortable I am with the person in question, I'll ask them which one(s) they celebrate. And when someone actually recognizes the pentacle I'm wearing and wishes me a Happy Solstice, I kinda glow.

Mutual respect makes the world go round. And in my experience, people who protest too muchly about the "PC culture" are looking for accepable talking points to protect their rights to be inconsiderate a$$holes.


(Er.... Hi Mac. Nice blog!)

Mac said...

Have I told you guys lately how crazy I am about all of you? :) Let me just underscore that, now.

Hiyaz, Nicole. Thanks, and it's very nice to see you here.