Posted in Letters

You Can’t Defeat an Idea

A lovely old Chestnut by Kate Paulik on the great folly of PC:

political correctness in every incarnation I’ve seen is nothing more than lipstick on the Newspeak pig. PC has never – and can’t engage the root cause it purports to be about. Banning “racist” words does not magically make a bigot less bigoted. The bigot just uses other words in public and more than that, starts to figure that the folks he’s bigoted against must be a bunch of useless wimps because they can’t handle a bit of mockery. If it gets really ridiculous, guess what? The bigot gets more bigoted. I’ve seen it happen. As soon as the bigot figures that nothing he, she, or it can do will be good enough for the authorities, he, she, or it (oh, hell with this. I’m portmanteauing it to s.h.it) figures whoever s.h.it’s bigoted against is in with the authorities to beat s.h.it down. Once we get there, a backlash is guaranteed.

One can respond to this with  Orwell’s thesis that we cannot think thoughts that we don’t have words for, so removing racist words will eventually remove racist thoughts. But PC isn’t as efficient as Newspeak: the old words don’t vanish down the memory hole, they just slide onto the samizdata by which dissidents recognize each other. Creating an Index Expurgatorius doesn’t mean the books on it won’t get read.

Also, when you admit that you’re using Orwellian methodology, you’re supposed to feel bad about that.

 

Author:

I write and publish things with the speed of a hare and the determination of a tortoise. I am building it; it will come.

4 thoughts on “You Can’t Defeat an Idea

  1. Hey 🙂
    I disagree with you and Kate on this. I think that is an easy way out of the debate.

    “political correctness in every incarnation I’ve seen is nothing more than lipstick on the Newspeak pig.”

    I think we should be a bit clearer about what Political Correctness is its scope. It has become throughout the years into an amorphous banner under which very disparate things are sheltered: from people being purportedly offended because someone sent out a Christmas card to the office in Christmas or people being offended because they are being called the N word at work. Because it’s so amorphous it’s an easy target for both the ridiculous and the plausible.

    “PC has never – and can’t engage the root cause it purports to be about. Banning “racist” words does not magically make a bigot less bigoted. The bigot just uses other words in public and more than that, starts to figure that the folks he’s bigoted against must be a bunch of useless wimps because they can’t handle a bit of mockery.”

    Ok, two points here:
    1- I think pc language, as I seem to understand it in this post –banning racist words or words that are perceived as racist – is not meant to change minds or to tackle the root cause or racism (or chauvinism, or homophobia for instance). It’s a tool of making them socially unacceptable and therefore protecting the people who fall into these targets to have better, healthier, lives. There are a ton of studies on the impact of racism (and the other evils that I covered before) in health and work performance for instance. People have a right to self-expression and the right to be aggressive, but what this type of language introduces is consequences to it. If you are a racist or a homophobe and you decide to use language that is offensive you can and you take the voluntary step to becoming a pariah. It’s a conscious choice. If they decide to use other words to go around the ban, more power to them. At least they have to think about it.

    2- Regarding the “bunch of useless wimps that can’t handle a bit of mockery” comment, I respectfully disagree. This strikes me more like an opinion than a fact. I have the right not to take offence lying down and to call out anyone who does offend me that that they are breaking the fact based social consensus that racist, homophobic ad misogynistic words are wrong and the people who are using them should be associated with the ideas they espouse. As a side note – we live in a strange world now in which label means more than an actual act. I have seen people who are committed homophobes by words and action scream bloody murder when they are called up on it (see, national organization for marriage). And why is that? Because the word and the label has become a toxic label. Not because the content of the word changed.

    “If it gets really ridiculous, guess what? The bigot gets more bigoted. I’ve seen it happen. As soon as the bigot figures that nothing he, she, or it can do will be good enough for the authorities, he, she, or it (oh, hell with this. I’m portmanteauing it to s.h.it) figures whoever s.h.it’s bigoted against is in with the authorities to beat s.h.it down. Once we get there, a backlash is guaranteed.”

    Again, the purpose of this is not the people who are carrying out the offence, it’s for the people who are offended and that for centuries could not get a word in edgewise. Because if you look at who the power players were in academia, politics and history you will see the same profiles and the same views.

    “One can respond to this with Orwell’s thesis that we cannot think thoughts that we don’t have words for, so removing racist words will eventually remove racist thoughts. But PC isn’t as efficient as Newspeak: the old words don’t vanish down the memory hole, they just slide onto the samizdata by which dissidents recognize each other. Creating an Index Expurgatorius doesn’t mean the books on it won’t get read.
    Also, when you admit that you’re using Orwellian methodology, you’re supposed to feel bad about that.”

    This is not Orwellian, and describing it as a description of what is happening is facetious and disingenuous. In the context of literature in the western world no one is taking anyone to jail, no one is curtailing freedom of speech. What is currently happening is that for the first time in history, people are socially accountable for what they say, and the balance is tilted against their position . And they get challenged on it. So I say to the people who have problems with the new, “namby pamby, wimpy way” of dealing with the current expression of the topics listed above: stiff upper lip, gird your loins and throw yourselves into the fray. Have the courage of your convictions and use the words you want to use regardless of the consequences. God knows that people who have been on the receiving end of non pc language in the last century and beyond have done so and suffered the consequences of that.

    By the way, your blog is quite cool.

  2. Thanks for the compliment.

    Here’s the thing: those of us who have been complaining about political correctness for upwards of 20 years are not complaining about being deprived of the use racial slurs. That’s a tiresome strawman and I feel my brain dying when it is thrown at me.

    And thrown at me it is, because the strawmen is the attempt to paint us all with a broad brush, thereby equating the denuncation of the riduculous with the denunciation of basic decency. That is, shall we say, a very convenient way of framing the issue.

    So please do me the courtesy of considering that I am only interested in tilting at the ridiculous, at the people who use assumed cultural sensitivity as a means of silencing anyone who disagrees with them.

    And while this has not yet been used to send people to jail, I do not attribute that to the unwillingness of the Kultural Kommissars to take that action. I do believe the Attorney General of the United States has indicated her willingness to prosecute people for disputing a scientific question. To say nothing of what happened to Brendan Eich, Sir Tim Hunt, and others who were hounded from their jobs for cultural heresy.

    Don’t let’s pretend that the left is populated with genial, live-and-let-live types. They want change, and to affect change, one must possess power, and the ability to label. So yes, someone who prefers that marriage continue to mean what it has always meant may object to being called a homophobe because “homophobe” is simply a word meant to discredit, and not in anyway an attempt to accurately characterize someone’s thoughts on a complicated issue. The left shouted “homophobe” at everyone until it won. That’s all that happened. Nothing to be done about it, but don’t try to sell me on the notion that it was done honestly or out of a sense of justice or propriety. It was anything but.

    Simply put, when I can walk into any room of leftists anywhere in America and have my ideas disputed with the same basic courtesy as you showed in your comment, and not have my motives denounced, and not have my basic humanity called into question, and not be banned from the place with extreme prejudice and free counseling sessions to salve the triggered feels of the poor hapless dears, I’ll cease to give their euphemism treadmills the same level of scorn. Until that day, you can put as much lipstick as you want on the Newspeak pig, but I won’t be kissing it.

  3. PC says that this word is no longer acceptable, and this other word must be used instead. The problem is that the other word in time loses its purity and becomes another dirty slang term.
    Found here:
    “Once upon a time, it was not considered offensive to refer to ‘cripples’.
    Then that was felt offensive and replaced by ‘handicapped people’.
    Then that term went the same way and was replaced by ‘disabled people’.
    That has now become objectionable to many, who insist on ‘people with special needs’.
    “Unfortunately, whatever term is selected, human nature is such that some people will use it offensively and other people will then feel the need for a new term. “

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