On Being P.C.

I’m sick of the term “politically correct” being used in the negative. The implication is that the person with the politically correct viewpoint doesn’t actually believe in their own position, but is just concerned with being sensitive, hip, diverse, inclusive, anti-establishment, or whatever. While there are people who take positions on things for the wrong reasons (e.g. to be on some bandwagon), the fact that a proposition is currently considered politically correct has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth value of that proposition .

It may be politically correct to suggest, for example, that the spotted owl is entitled to its habitat, and we all may be sick to death of politically correct bandwagoneering, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with deciding whether the spotted owl is in fact entitled to its habitat. Casting the issue as “politically correct” is a way of steering the discussion away from the issue itself and onto the character of the person holding the viewpoint. Political correctness has nothing to do with the price of tea in China (or spotted owls, or Nestle boycotts…)

Same with the way many right-wing commentators use the word “liberal” not as a description of political leanings, but as though it were an epithet to be hurled, an insult, an adjective just shy of “turd,” to be prefaced with adjectives like “bleeding heart,” “fuzzy,” etc. By casting “liberal” and “politically correct” as insults, discussion is tipped into the realm of name calling rather than issue analysis, and people are put on the defensive. It’s a technique for logjamming the dialog.

Sometimes “politically correct” is simply “correct” (and sometimes not).

Music: As One :: The Counterpoint

14 Replies to “On Being P.C.”

  1. And the way the liberal media refers to the “Christian right?” Or “neo-conservatives?”

    And the analogy is false, because the spotted owl has yet to put forth an opinion with which anyone can take exception. It has yet to personalize the issue. Humans, on the other hand, tend to follow certain political paths, so commentary on an ideology has more basis and personal import than a single issue relating to a mute beast.

  2. How is “neo-conservative” an epithet? I certainly can’t think of cases where even the oft-deservedly dinged Dan Rather goes off on a rant about the evils of neo-conservatives the way the esteemed Rush Limbaugh does about anything he perceives as politically correct. In point of fact, the “neo-conservative” label was thought up not by the “liberal media,” but by the original group of disenfranchised democrats in the ’70s like Irving Kristol who, as they became right-leaning instead of left-leaning, wanted to distinguish themselves from what they considered to be “old school” conservativism.

    And the idea that the spotted owl needs to write its own opinion piece on saving its habitat before we can talk about whether it is fair to call a human position on the issue “politically correct” is frankly mystifying. Shouting matches about evil capitalist pigs and damn fool treehuggers make for great copy. But the issues aren’t about political correctness, they’re about things like the economic importance of logging jobs, the intrinsic value of old-growth forests and what wise land use really entails. Scot’s point was, if I understand it, that shifting the discussion to “commentary on ideology” ultimately serves no purpose other than to focus on personalities rather than facts.

    This is something I’ve been annoyed with for a while, too–as a friend of mine put it, most pundits (who are overwhelmingly conservative–despite all the supposed left-leaning bias, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings are not opinion makers the way George Will, Limbaugh and even John Stossel are) write as if “yes, but you’re a liberal” is a sufficiently devastating retort to any given argument that no further discussion on the point is necessary.

  3. mneptok – First of all, where do you see examples of a liberal media? Where are the news organizations not run by corporate monoliths, not playing toadie to the pentagon, not flying the stars and stripes at the bottom or top of the screen? Where are the liberal equivalents to Limbaugh, Savage, O’Reilly? I hear this term “liberal media” and don’t even know how to react – the fact there is almost NO liberal media available to the population to counterbalance the complete and total bludgeoning of the media by the right should have the whole nation afraid. The nation is starving for want of something resembling a liberal media to keep things balanced.

    I don’t understand your point about the spotted owl. I’m saying that PC has nothing to do with whether the owl is entitled to its habitat or not (it’s an example; don’t get hung up on the owl). You seem to be saying the owl can’t talk so the PC folks are wrong, which makes no sense. Or am I reading you wrong?

  4. do you have the resources to *know* the truth of whether spotted owls really are in trouble or not (or whether nestle really is killing children with formula) or has political momentum influenced your decision? or have you relied on opinions of those with whom you’re politically aligned?

  5. [hit post too soon…]
    ie, to argue fervently for a position where you can’t know the “truth value of the proposition”, but follow a party line, is political correctness to me, and is not “sometimes correct”.

  6. I think ‘politically correct’ received its bad connotation when self-proclaimed PC-advocates went off against imagined slights instead of real ones – which of course made for juicy headlines. It is like the public perception of the term ‘hacker’.

    And while we’re at it: why is ‘liberal media’ used as a negative term? Shouldn’t we be glad about every media publication which leaves it up to the recipient to formulate their own opinions?

  7. I think the whole issue about political correctness is a backlash thing. I think it’s the same backlash we’ve been seeing to the whole concept of progressive society, where every few years you change the labels you give to people so they aren’t used as epethets. (like… from Liberal to Progressive.) The he new labels become epethets quickly enough, the underlying problem is the stereotyping and labeling itself. But the anger that changing the labels around arouses is the source of backlash against Political Correctness. It’s damn annoying to flounder for adjectives when you’re trying to describe someone, for example, of African extraction. The one man I knew well enough to ask said “Jim, I’m Black.” I figured political correctness be damned, if that’s the adjective he wants, I’ll use it.

    And the labeling problem is clearly evident in the discussion above, I think. I think it’s used to pidgeonhole people, to marginalize them. If I can put a label on Scot, for example, as a Politically Correct Liberal, I can then, assuming I don’t agree with him, ignore what he says, because he’s one of THEM.

    Unfortunately stereotyping people seems to be endemic to the human species. It’s how we group people together so we can react to them appropriately and not discover too late that a particular person DOES mean us harm. What’s the solution? Dunno. The only real way to meet someone without the instinctive reactions is online in text. Then any labels we slap on are purely intellectual sloppiness, or intentional, since our antique reflexes tell us we’re staring at the glass thing again.

    -Jim

  8. Stereotyping is a survival feature. For animals it’s hardwired into their brains (a chicken doesn’t care if it sees a cat or a weasel – if it’s hairy and hisses, it’s bad); humans do it on a semi-conscious level to reduce the amount of information they have to handle.

    The true problem is in recognizing ones stereotypes and in challenging them.

  9. First of all, where do you see examples of a liberal media?

    Ummm….NPR. Which gets my tax money. Unlike your examples of conservative press, which get their money by competing in the marketplace.

    The fact is, a very significant percentage of Americans do not share the views of us folks on the coasts. And if NPR was left to fund itself, it very well might die.

    It’s a matter of market.

  10. baald – None of us are equipped to gather enough info on any topic ourselves – we all rely on information we (hopefully) absorb from multiple sources, which generally includes news/analysis/documentary , conversation with others (hearsay), and propaganda from various sides.

    Say you decide you want to get to the bottom of the global warming thing and determine whether corporations should be held accountable. You do a bunch of reading. You watch some TV. You talk to some people. You surf the web. You THINK. Let’s say that eventually you arrive at the conclusion or position that, yes, corporations should be held accountable for global warming. That position happens also to be held by the politically correct environmentalists. Is that fact going to turn you off to the position you’ve arrived at?

    All I’m saying is that it shouldn’t matter who else holds a position or why. The fact that a position is considered “politically correct” doesn’t invalidate it.

    Of course, the key is deciding what material to feed your head with. Making sure you get a balanced diet.

  11. mneptok — NPR receives only about 10% of its budget from the gubmint – the rest is in grants, donations, and, increasingly, ad revenue (there are more ads on NPR every year, as govt funding gets progressively reduced year to year – the saving grace is that they run the ads between programs, not in the middle of them). It probably won’t be long before NPR/PBS are fully self-sufficient (which in my eyes is a shame, but that’s a topic for another day).

    Yes, NPR/PBS are left-leaning. You’re right, I shouldn’t act like there’s nothing at all out there. But remember that they’re are watched/heard by a very small fraction of the population. The reasons for that are… ah hell, that’s an essay in social psychology, but basically they haven’t pandered by devolving into infotainment, so they lose viewership.

    Interestingly though, NPR/PBS viewing percentages went WAY up after 9/11, when the commercial media hit rock bottom. A good percentage of people were desperate for coverage they could take seriously.

  12. global warming is an interesting example.

    and i, for one, do not have enough info to – to my satisfaction – hold corporations entirely accountable. and i consider people who are fervent in their beliefs that it is just 100% proven to be a new phenomena in ecological history brought on by industry to be short sighted and reactionary. jumping on a bandwagon because most of the people who share their beliefs on other subjects believe it (let me rephrase – look at where they get their info).

    at the same time, i hate that industry pumps stuff into the air that i have to breathe. and they should be held accountable for that regardless of what the facts are about global warming.

    anyway, that it just might be that global warming is something brought on by industry, is an option that i’m open to. i think that people are way too easily convinced, and that they tend to rely on sources that are skewed. (possible acid test – if you find that the bulk of both sides of the political divide [which ever one happens to be relevant at the particular time] are agreeing on something….then it’s probably not the case that people are being pc. e.g., to believe that cigarette smoking causes cancer is not a pc idea. to say that people shouldn’t smoke [i hate ‘should’, but….] if they want to be healthy, while a generalization, is still not PC. to propose that a bar owner shouldn’t be able to decide whether his establishment is smoking or non-smoking strikes me as PC).

    in any event, it’s not the idea, per se, but often times, the idea is tied so closely to a movement that its hard to separate them. and somtimes the idea must suffer because of that.

    would say more specifically about the breast feeding thing, but this is too long already. catch me offline if you want it.

  13. Scot, well said. Reminds be of something Alan Cox’s (yeah, the Linux kernel guy) wife Telsa wrote: “I am alleged to be a hippie by friends, and politically correct by people who think that consideration of your words’ effects is the same thing as censorship. ”

    And yes, I’m also tired of the word “liberal” being flung about as an insult by people with no idea of the political history surrounding the term. What with all the hateful nonsense generated by conservative Christians in my church lately, I’m wearing the label “liberal” with a bit of pride and defiance.

    If it’s been off your radar, the Episcopal Church of the USA recently confirmed a gay man as a bishop. Summaries can be found at:

    http://gc2003.episcopalchurch.org/ens/

    and the response by “orthodox” members has been depressingly predicatable :/

  14. baald, i totally agree about bandwagoneering. It bugs me that people adopt viewpoint A because it happens to be held by people with whom they agree on viewpoint B.

    global warming has a big barn door: If it turns out it’s just a result of nature doing its thing (though this explanation seems less scientifically plausible with every passing year), then there’s nothing we can do about it. On the other hand, if it turns out it’s humanity’s fault (which seems more likely with every pasing year), then there’s something we can do to stop it, and not to do so seems irresponsible. In other words, in the case of global warming, there’s no excuse to fence-sit. Until we KNOW for sure, we must act as if it’s our fault. We only got one earth to mess with. Screw up this one and that’s it.

    I agree that people need to focus more on facts and ideas and less on movements. But remember that movements appear because a preponderance of facts pushes some people to want to fight back… by organizing into a movement, protesting etc.

    Breast milk? I forgot this was about breast milk.

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