Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 15 February 2013

PC or not PC...

... and I’m not talking about the advantages of buying an Apple Macintosh, although, heaven help me, I do prefer them.

No, I’m talking about Political Correctness... You know, that idea that, like Health and Safety, some would gleefully claim has run riot in the UK over the past, I don’t know, maybe twenty years, changing the way we’re allowed to talk to each other.

In the past I’ve been a little bit suspicious of the Political Correctness brigade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being civil. I’m all for treating everyone with respect, almost whether they deserve it or not. I’m told that I rather overdo the polite thing, and am a bit of a push-over in many situations, rather too easygoing, although I fail to see how. I’m also the first to stick my hand up (politely, and without shouting or swearing, and with a smile on my face) if something goes wrong and needs sorting out. Being lovely greases wheels. Treating people well goes a long way to allowing them the freedom to give you what you want while not compromising their dignity. It’s not complicated. Besides, I actually care about people, and I like to think I’m sort of nice, on the whole.

My problem with Political Correctness has been that I wonder whether it isn’t sometimes guilty of hiding the evil that people think. If someone is racist or sexist or homophobic, or in any other way bigoted about something, honestly, I’d rather know that about them. I can deal with anything if it’s front and centre, and I can meet it head-on. If the law prevents people from expressing their darker side, I might be lulled into thinking that all’s well with the world, that my neighbour or my colleague or my new friend thinks the way that I think when, in fact, they’re some sort of militant neo-Nazi madman.

I’m wrong of course, and I’m glad that I’m wrong.

What Political Correctness has actually done is help wipe out the sort of thoughtless, casual, grindingly miserable prejudices that tend to affect a society that has, historically, grown up run by old, white, conservative men. People showed fear and loathing of the things they did not understand because old, white men had taught them to. They did it without reference to their own experiences and feelings, and they did it automatically. They were wrong, and when Political Correctness defined the terms under which they could be proven to be wrong they couldn’t believe that they could be so crass and so offensive.

Most people who were once guilty of casual racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice in their every day speech quickly adopted new ways of talking. Words are powerful. If those casual users of offensive language stopped using the negative words, they probably also stopped having casual negative thoughts. Those suffering daily from the slurs heaped upon them by the stupid, thoughtless and ignorant suffered less, and Political Correctness succeeded. It made life better for the offended and the offender.

Words can change how the casual thinker thinks.

A minority of miserable bastards is wedded to its thoughts. Those people will continue to think what they have always thought. They will continue to be sexist, racist, homophobic and prejudiced in any manner of abhorrent ways. They will also continue to let us all know what they think, loudly and clearly. There is no way to dress that stuff up. What they say and how they say it will always give them away, and you won’t have to listen very hard or very carefully to work out who they are.

I wish it was possible to change those people’s minds and hearts, and their words and deeds. I fear that it isn’t. There is, however, always hope for the rest of us.


  1. the way I look at it, political correctness is more about reputation, where as consideration is more other people's feelings

    both are about managing the perception others have of one's self, but for differing reasons. consideration more often involves an actual act of caring for the other person, political correctness I feel is more about not having to deal with flak over what one said. sure, they're similar, but I do think that a lot of people get slated for being "PC" when really they're just trying to be considerate.

    I can't help but notice when people scream "too PC" it's in response to people being offended by what they said, as if the other person's feelings are the problem. now I can relate to that to some degree, I'm often reminding people to take responsibility for their own feelings and how these feelings affect their cognitions and behaviour, but that's still no license to say offensive things because of "freedom of speech" or whatever justification they might have.

    consideration is the golden rule, and if being PC involves some consideration for other people's feelings, then I think that's good!

    but if it means that people are afraid to say something for fear of how other people react, what does that say about honesty, and what does it say about people's ability to deal with things that generate unpleasant feelings. can't really stop feelings (and probably shouldn't), but that doesn't mean we don't have any power over how we act on them.

    if being PC is providing an "out" for people to avoid saying the things that need to be said, then one could argue it is failing itself. which brings me to another issue. you'd think that in the interests of managing other people's perceptions, the PC brigade would be a smidgeon less "you HAVE to live this way"? few things are more offensive than an invalidation of one's thoughts and feelings. are we embracing consideration at the expense of emotional resilency?

    either way, it all sidesteps the obvious disconnect between action, intention, and reception. offending someone is just a misattribution away, regardless of best intentions or couched terms. perhaps we should spend more effort making people aware of their own inherent short-comings in this area, pop a few of those bubbles if you will, before we go walking on eggshells to avoid cracks in the facade.

    which, to be honest, is somewhat like trying to hold back the tide. there is, after all, only so much one can do to manage the way people think about us. even if we did everything right, watched our words and went out of our way to keep people happy, we'd still manage to annoy or offend someone because only so much of what people think is about what you do, as opposed to prior experiences, expectations and beliefs.

    in many ways it comes down to how were interpret and manage information. if someone trips while taking some stairs, are they clumsy? or is there something wrong with the stair? they say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but if first impressions are all you rely on, it's like judging a book by it's cover. it's also really easy to miss how people see you, even when you interact with them on a regular basis. as open and easy-going as I am, somehow I still manage to garner the perception of being "untouchable" or someone not open to being approached. others rightfully find me pretty agreeable and sociable.

    sometimes it's easy to forget that we spend much of our time 'fooling ourselves' in order to maintain the perception we experience.

    myself, I try to recognise the things I can change and those I can't, and respond accordingly ;)

    1. Crikey! What a considered response. Thanks for that.

  2. Woah. I feel just a little bit outclassed here. I agree with both of you, but I could have never put it in those words. Bravo to you both!

  3. I usually just read, I've never really felt that I must comment, but right now I do.

    The way I see it, "political correctness" hasn't removed anything from society. The racists are still racist, the sexists are still sexist, the people who hate gays still hate gays. Their number hasn't dwindled. It only will when people start thinking for themselves instead of saying and doing what someone else tells them to, and we're not really any farther down that road no matter what country we look at.

    Let's take a few examples.

    Black people. No, that's Afro-American, or whatever now. Okay, but white people are still white people and it gets a bit awkward when you deal with an "Afro-American" who calls himself black. We're using a different label for one group of people, which changes nothing in the end. We're just gluing a new sticker on them, like in a super market.

    I know the UK has a pretty high crime rate and whenever you see "Asian" as suspect or criminal it's similar to "Southerner" in German. Despite some media outlets trying to cover where the culprit comes from these words, since they're used usually only in that context, are always a dead giveaway and, I'd say, has the opposite effect. We know at once that the "Asian" isn't Chinese and that the "Southerner" isn't Italian.

    In Switzerland I've heard some politicians cry about the words "father" and "mother" and how they're "discriminating" and how parents in singular should only be called "parent" anymore. Similar nonsense has been heard from Brussels (no surprise there.) Especially "mother" is seen as an evil and discriminating term by some people. No, we can't say "mother" and "father" anymore in regards to parents because there are same-sex marriages and partnerships and some of them may, possibly, get offended by those terms. That's just silly.

    In Japan there's this ongoing nonsense about "gaijin" and "gaikokujin". Both mean "foreigner" or "outsider" (though I think the German translation is more fitting here, as in "Auslaender", the person from a foreign country, as opposed to the "Inlaender", the person with the nationality of the country in question -which often infers that the person is actually born in the country.) Some people get offended by the term "gaijin" claiming it's racist and what not. They want everyone to use "gaikokujin". Now I'm a Japanologist. I get around Japan a lot. I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. And I'm referring to myself as "gaijin". I don't see it as racist or what not. I see it as a fitting description of what we are. But of course the small group of "activists" (usually being led by Debito, who really is my very personal red rag) doesn't like that and thus cries every time a Japanese person says "gaijin", completely ignoring that many foreigners in Japan don't even care about being called "gaijin". Why is that? Because, gods forbid, they have other, more pressing problems than the label that's used on them.

    Now, if political correctness was really just aimed for more consideration among people, then it would be fine.

    But I feel that we've long since passed this point. It's now all about a group of people (activists, some politicians and the media, neither even remotely qualified or trustworthy for this) trying to force us into a certain pattern of speech. I call it Newspeak. It changes nothing in society and ultimately, as my examples with criminals show, people will see certain terms simply as code for other terms and, if anything, it will fortify their distrust into certain groups and institutions. It may as well have the opposite effect of what is meant to be on the long run.

    (I sadly must cut this into parts)

    1. As for offending people with speech, well, from my experience it always takes two to tango and if something behaves like a pig, I will always call it a pig. That's simply how I see it. Unlike sound, which only requires a source and a medium to exist, offensive speech requires a source and a receptor. It requires someone to take offense and so far, in this 21st century, people seem to get offended very quickly about pretty much everything. Yes, this 21st century, at least in regards to speech and language, has left me very unimpressed so far. In fact, it more often than not makes me think that the world now is inhabited by, how do you Brits say it (wait, "Brits" is probably not PC enough and racist), a bunch of sissies.

      Alright, I admit, I'm the straight, working, tax paying white male, but especially in regards to the PC Brigade, this puts me pretty much at the bottom of things. I need to weigh every single word before I fire it off, because whatever I say can, possibly, offend someone.

      What about offending me? Oh wait, I'm the straight, working, tax paying white male, I don't count. Everybody else is more important than me. I must be politically correct when I deal with people. But when people deal with me anything goes. I've been there. I've been called "breeder" by some gay "activists" (knowing well that these people don't speak for the gay community as some of my gay friends are usually quick to point out), and that has been the nicest "insult" I've had hurled at me. I've been called a Nazi by some non-white immigrants simply for pointing out that there was a trashcan where, at least in my country, people dump their trash into. My late grandmother has been called a Nazi too, and even received an "I'll cut your throat" gesture from an immigrant "Asian" child for telling the child nicely to be a bit more quiet in the yard.

      Seriously, as a straight, working, tax paying white male I feel more appreciated in Japan as a "gaijin" than in Europe these days.

      To be perfectly honest, the way I see it the whole PC nonsense ties in perfectly with the culture of white guilt, because, in the end, who has to be PC all the time? Usually straight, white people. Or has anyone ever observed other groups being held up to such "standards"? I haven't.

      It's all about catering to minorities who end up demanding more and more while trying to force us into speaking in a certain way. From a linguistic point of view that can never work. Language isn't static, it always moves and evolves. A hundred years from now our respective languages will be different again. Our speech patterns will have changed. None of us will be there to witness it, but I'm absolutely convinced that the PC approach will have vastly backfired by then. Words can take the meaning of other words, or totally opposite meanings.

      So in 100 years the N words might no longer be the really awful insult (again, some black people use it for each other, then it's fine, but if a white person uses it, it's racist and insulting, double standards galore), instead it might be "African-American."

      Certain elements in our societies are so worried about how citizen H could possibly offend citizen B that it's becoming almost laughable. You remember the old saying "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen"? It certainly applies in regards to language. And, as I said, if it behaves like a pig, I will call it a pig, which means, there are, for example, German people and there are Krauts. Of course, that is horribly offensive, but as I said... if it behaves like a pig...

    2. So no, I don't think PC has changed anything. The stupid people are still stupid, they're just using different words now and that means nothing. They sound differently in public, but behind the curtains they're still what they used to be before the PC Brigade went nuts. It is real life Newspeak. It's doubleplusgood and is aimed to prevent doublethink, or so the people forcing it down our throats seem to believe.

      But ultimately PC is cosmetic, nothing else. And, like all cosmetics, it will eventually crumble away. I may not be able to call someone the N word in public anymore, but I can still think it, and as long as people don't stop thinking like that nothing will change. No PC regulation can fix that. Ultimately the entire PC nonsense is a huge waste of time, energy and manpower, which all could be used for many more important things.

      Okay, I'm done now. Sorry that it ended up being that long, but I felt I had to say it. I'm now slinking back to reading only.