What is political correctness? One dictionary defines it as
“marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ecology.”
The trouble is that doesn’t clarify the issue. What is a “progressive orthodoxy?” Why is “ecology” included? Correctness is an issue that evokes strong and divisive feelings. People are total supporters, or they are confused. Supporters use it to bully and control from a supposed moral high ground. Everyone else is confused. They recognize some values to society but overall see or sense greater threats. The contradiction is it developed to free society.
Where and why did correctness develop to dominate western society? Is it just another false step in the evolution of political and social ideas? Is it constructive or destructive?
Most agree that the idea evolved in the US in the 1980s, as protests became the focal point for opposition to existing rules, regulations, and values. It gained a quick foothold because it became politically incorrect to oppose political correctness. Disciples took the moral high ground in several ways.
They were supposedly protecting minorities, stopping bullying, opposing government overreach, resisting police authoritarianism, giving voice to plants and animals (hence ecology,) and allowing people “to do their own thing.” They conveniently ignored that it was always at somebody else’s expense. It is the selfishness that contradicts the claims of caring for others inherent in collectivism.
The obvious impingement most people experience or recognize is the restriction to free speech. The United States is the only country that has free speech as the primary freedom enshrined in its Constitution as the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers realized its importance because the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, allowed citizens to prevent any government usurping their First Amendment rights.
As political commentator Glenn Beck pithily explained, “Political correctness doesn’t change us, it shuts us up.” So the result of political correctness, designed to emancipate some, ends up suppressing most others. The larger problem is it fuels uncertainty and hostility. As Jacques Barzun put it, “Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.” Political commentator Irving F Stone (1907-1989) recognized this trait of emancipation. “Every emancipation has in it the seeds of a new slavery, and every truth easily becomes a lie.”
Loss of free speech is important and frustrating, but there is a larger underlying problem that people sense but can’t identify. It is part of the feeling of helplessness and loss of reason and common sense that goes with being bullied. The concepts of one person, one vote, and majority rule are the basis of Western democracy. Political correctness overturns them using claims of the tyranny of the majority as the need for change.
The problem is we now have the tyranny of the minority. Even the smallest group or even an individual can demand and get more rights and freedoms than the majority. Frustrations of minorities are replaced by frustrations of the majority and that can, as Brazun says, lead to organized hatred.
In 1869 John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty, in which he identified freedom of speech and choice as protections against tyranny. The contradiction is that people promoting political correctness believe they are enhancing freedom and releasing people from tyranny. The reality is exactly the opposite.
I now fully understand a joke I heard as a teenager. A man is on a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner, London. He is haranguing the crowd with a series of promises prefaced with the phrase “Come the Revolution…” After several promises he says, “Come the Revolution we will all wear shirts and ties.” A voice shouts out, “But I don’t want to wear a shirt and tie.” To which the speaker replies, “Come the Revolution, you will do what you are bloody well told.”
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