An unflattering analysis of PC culture, followed by a new-old approach towards improving interracial relations.
Since its inception, Political Correctness has always touted the label of being an “antidote” to open racism. However, there are many groups which all share the belief that the purported benefits of PCness do not outweigh the in situ burdens.
Concerning the need for PC culture, the argument of the Left goes something like this.
It used to be that those in positions of relative privilege and power could say pretty much anything they wanted without public sanction because they enjoyed majority privilege, and the sphere of justice didn’t extend beyond them. Then within the last twenty years, terms and phrases that are now widely recognized as racist, sexist and homophobic gradually became unacceptable in the public sphere. The older generations (Silents, Boomers, and early X’ers) were pissed because they suddenly found themselves on the sharp end of a stick without being told why their language was unacceptable.
“Why did the world change?” they wondered. “When I was a kid these things were accepted, so they must be fine. All those people getting offended now weren’t offended before (so they thought) so now it’s just people being overly sensitive.”
When the permanence of PC appeared to be set in cement in the mid-naughts, Right wing political groups, nationalists, white supremacists, and neocons took up the call and lamented all the things they couldn’t say and do anymore. They flooded talk radio and YouTube about how unfair and pointless it was.
Leftists interpret these responses as being like a veil removed. That is, railing against “Political Correctness” is code for a longing to return to a mythological time when the sphere of justice was smaller, and more clearly defined.
Truly, the hallmark of a conservative is the freedom to rebel, especially in their youth, and this is why we find a lot of right wing groups have taken up the anti-PC stance, and in doing so, have attracted the “hate group” label. So basically, the Left has arrived at the conclusion that anything that is anti-PC is the same as being pro-hate.
But this is a vicious and false claim.
Most of the people railing against PC aren’t doing it because they think it undermines their ability to effectively rebel. Neither are they against PC particulars because they hate minorities. In fact, they just happen to be ambivalent about teenage rebellion, and they harbor no ill will towards minority groups. But even here, the fact that these people don’t really care is misinterpreted as being inhuman, arrogant and “privileged”.
No, most people who resent the PC culture are angry because it represents a changing dynamic in power and justice that they feel takes something vital away from their lives, namely their racial identity, and their freedom of expression, for better or for worse. From their viewpoint, the PC movement is taken to be a Pernicious Chastisement, which is nothing more than an exercise in Power Choreography that only adds to the social burdens by requiring people to do things they don’t feel like doing.
Truly, the most soul killing travesty is to be forced to do something against one’s will.
For those minority groups and their supporters who argue that they live at the mercy of the average white Joe’s actions and decisions, they often resort to a negatively distorted Prejudicial Condemnation. Certainly this sort of oppression was real in the past, but it is hardly the case anymore. But because such behavior was common in the past, they argue that when anyone might resort to the use of colorful euphemisms, it essentially proves that they are outside the sphere of justice.
Then the Left uses this outdated strawman as a springboard to claim that PC is necessary to limit the way someone can exercise power unjustly over someone else by belittling them, and “putting them in their place”. It’s only a form of Personal Coercion insofar as depriving someone from the ability to punch people in the nose is “coercing” them into inaction.
This is an even more vicious claim, as it presumes that anti-PC people are, by nature, habitual perpetrators of violence against minorities.
I am not totally ignorant of the sentiments of the Left. I would have to agree that for many social settings, putting a limitation on racial overtones is entirely appropriate. So let us describe a social situation in which administering a PC approach would be beneficial. Here, people are profoundly varied in terms of personal values, and lack even a minimal respect or appreciation for others who hold different views. They are irritable, contentious, and prone to angry outbursts whenever their Pedantic Convictions are challenged. They have very few virtues or qualities of character to offer to others, and are therefore forced to rely on manual labor of some sort in order to contribute something of value. Now we also add the requirement that they must work together and communicate effectively and efficiently. Yes, in this sort of environment, we definitely need to implement PC in the workplace. Then we can call a Press Conference to broadcast our virtue Posturing Convent of diversity.
The Purgatorial Complication is that discipline is never pleasant, but after a time, a sense of righteousness is achieved, much like ISO standards force managers to be more rigorous, efficient and less wanton. But this sense of righteousness (or possibly self-righteousness) comes at the cost of presuming (perceived) victimization and a forthright Philosophical Crisis.
Certainly, PC is better than open racism, but it’s weakness is that it merely covers and controls overt acts of racism. It fails to overcome covert racism, which is the real Problemata Corruptio in society that people hope to address through adopting a PC approach to life.
Image credit: A still from the film Loving.
Why Political Correctness won’t solve Racism
Within any particular social interaction, there are two elements necessary in the formation of an authentic relationship. These elements are Adversity and Humility, and let’s discuss some brief definitions here to avoid confusion. Adversity provides the opportunity for a person’s character to be manifested and shows others what personal strengths and weaknesses the person brings to the table. Humility is a state of recognizing that one is strong or weak in an area that another is weaker or stronger in, respectively, and is therefore willing to enter into a symbiotic relationship for a mutual benefit. Failed relationships can occur when (1) one party refuses to agree with the terms and conditions of interaction, for example, being subjected to disgrace or abuse. Or when (2) one party is dissatisfied with the benefits he receives from the relationship, as weighed against his investment and other possible choices available.
PC works against both of these elements as follows. (1) It prevents Personal Characteristics from being fully understood by forbidding the (usually ugly) Prolific Confrontation of ideologies. (2) It permits people to refuse becoming humble and entering into a symbiotic relationship. All one needs to do is to make a Public Contention that the other person is “offensive”, and that the fact that they were offended proves the other person’s unworthiness, which thereby wholly justifies their unwillingness to enter into a symbiotic relationship. The problem here is that this measure is entirely subjective and unilateral, and therefore, cannot be assessed as valid or legitimate by others.
In short, PCness is a form of Personality Castigation which makes everything seem pleasant in the relationship, but nothing is real, and thus, it cannot provide the full potential of real benefits to the satisfaction of both parties in a symbiotic relationship. PC attaches so many restrictions to the social interaction that the formation of the authentic relationship is made extremely inefficient. In short, PC is nothing more than the Portentous Confinement of Permanent Conflict (PC)2.
A Real Solution to Racism
The philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, describes real methods for individuals to overcome racism. Zizek addresses a number of different values and perspectives, so it is an exercise in mental gymnastics to listen to this brilliant man speak.
- Native Americans are proud to be called Indians, because at least it is a testament to the stupidity of whites.
After listening to several of his speeches and interviews, I believe I could describe his main point in my own words as follows.
The primary point of racial reconciliation is to avoid the expression of disdain for trite stereotypes, which is the substance of racist jokes, and is basically a straw man character assassination. Rather, one should focus on the present moment of interaction with the intent of promoting the acknowledgment and mutual acceptance of differences, and thereby increase interpersonal bonding.
Of note, Zizek enforces the idea that it is better to be open and honest, than to arrogantly assume that you know better than the other person. In this sense, stereotypes can be used in a rather jokingly fashion, one that expresses acceptance and eases tensions, and not as a criteria of judgment over character.
Ultimately, when one insists and demands others to conform to PC standards, with the Preset Condition that otherwise, he is not willing to enter into deeper social standing, it is, in the basest sense, a polite but arrogant rejection. Clinging to PCness in this case, might be compared to the behavior of a conscientious objector who claims a moral superiority by vilifying the motives and actions of his nation, and then uses this as an excuse in his cowardly refusal to go fight for his country. In one sense, he is right to abstain from bloodshed and maintain a clear conscience, but in another sense, he has made himself become a worthless burden to the aims and expectations of the national society.
Real people form real relationships, and doing so is humbling, hard work. Because of the inherent difficulties and risk, many people feel comfortable in condoning PC-ness, as a socially justifiable way to avoid the burdens of real interactions.
Finally, the efficient expression of acceptance to those of other cultural groups is an interpersonal art that requires practice, as well as the refinement of character. In this view, this approach towards improving one’s interracial relations is analogous to using pick-up game with women.
That is, you’re either skilled at it, or not. But acculturation and education certainly help.
- Sigma Frame: Political Correctness is Personality Castigation! (January 5, 2007)
- The Root (feat. Tracy E. Hopkins): Loving: Interracial Relationships in the Trump Era (December 12, 2016)