Monday’s (3/27/16) Mtg: Is Political Correctness a Real Problem?

Debating the meaning and importance of “political correctness” (PC) is James’ idea. It’s well-timed. Conservatives are practically obsessed with it these days. When they’re not beating up on each other, all the remaining GOP presidential candidates routinely accuse Democrats of failing to honestly face the true causes and culprits of our national problems out of fear of offending someone. Usually that someone is either minorities, foreigners, or the Democrats’ own PC posse.

This is the accusation even on terrorism. Donald Trump: “We’re losing the war on terror because of political correctness.” Ted Cruz, as part of his post-Belgium call to have U.S. law enforcement patrol “Muslim neighborhoods,” said “We need a president who sets aside political correctness [and] tries to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear. The days of the United States voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we can be are at an end.” I could scare up dozens of similar quotes on most major political topics. I really believe Republicans will try to make political correctness and its allegedly grip on Democrats the main theme of the entire 2016 election. Not kidding.

Still, I think (some) accusations of being politically correct deserve more of a response than sarcasm. Just because the GOP is abusing the term does not mean there is no such thing as PC or that it isn’t a problem – at least in some contexts. A number of progressive commentators have expressed concern about the chilling effects of political correctness on intra-Party debates. President Obama has called out political correctness on college campuses as an impediment to honest, inclusive debate. Regular people complain about PC, too, not just bigots and professional political rabble rousers.

To be sure, other progressives have pushed back hard on the notion that leftists have hijacked honest political dialogue for any reason, much less petty ones. I will take a little time to explain their arguments in my opening remarks Monday night. They are important because there are much larger issues here than just peer pressure over nouns and adjectives. Language is a tool of power, often invisibly so. The terminology we use and feel constrained not to use when we talk about politics or culture (or rights of justice) tends to reflect who has power and who doesn’t. To me, the issue of power is just one of many subterranean aspects of our escalating political correctness war – and nt all of them favor the progressive POV. If we are to take both sides of this conflict seriously (they sure take themselves seriously), then we need to explore these larger issues percolating below the surface.

In my opening, I’ll try to

  1. Explain the traditional meaning(s) of political correctness and, to the extent I grok it, the conservative arguments as to why it’s such a big problem; and
  2. Briefly lay out the arguments people on the Left use to argue that PC is just a slur and an excuse to be rude or biased.

I’m really looking forward to hearing what you all think of this issue.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –

  1. What has being “political correctness” traditionally meant? Who/what was the label directed at and what actual problems were attributed to it?
  2. CONS:
    1. How do conservatives use the term today? What specifically do they say the term means and what problems do they say it causes?
    2. Do they have a point? Are progressives too quick to argue by accusing others of bad faith or bigotry?
    3. Why is fighting PC so urgent to the Right? Which individuals, institutions, and events are driving this obsession?  Root causes?
  3. LIBS WHO AGREE:
    1. Why do some progressives agree that PC is out of hand?
    2. Who do they say is being harmed by it and how much?
  4. IN DEFENSE OF PC:
    1. Politeness: Is being PC benign, mostly an insistence on respecting people?
    2. Power: Is PC really about trying to broaden our dialogue by dropping labels that bias discussion and perpetuate some peoples’ power and privilege? Are growing diversity and minority power in U.S. society the real story here?
    3. Past: Is PC really worse today and on the Left? Don’t both sides police rhetoric and accuse each other of bad faith?
    4. Offense/defense: Is crying “PC” itself PC, an effort to silence/delegitimize critics? Is it a sword instead of a shield?
  5. ISSUES: Is there anything to the PC accusation conserving terrorism, illegela immigration, etc.?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

Next Week: Is our legal system being privatized?

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One response

  1. I headed back to check the reference to “epistemic closure” (borrowed from a philosophy of logic term that means something else) and it does seem that it was first identified as a type of political correctness, and was extremely controversial, “the claim that political belief systems can be closed systems of deduction, unaffected by empirical evidence.” (Wikipedia, from Patricia Cohen in the NY Times, 2010).

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