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What is Political Correctness?

The Headmaster
Posted on: 30 June 2006, 12:16pm

'Political correctness' involves identifying and eradicating attitudes, assumptions and behaviours which have frequently passed without censure in the past (such as sexual and racial discrimination) but are no longer appropriate in a community that believes in and values human equality and dignity. Adherents seek to replace language that is seen to buttress these outmoded behaviours. The intention is not merely to avoid offending people but also to remould society by remodelling the common language: if you say 'Fire Fighter' rather than 'Fireman' the supposition is that you are less likely to assume that only men are capable of getting their hose out.

Some linguists claim that you are unable to think something unless you have the language to describe it - a contentious view - and that by eliminating politically incorrect speech the associated behaviour can be irradicated from our society. At this extreme the idea of politically correct speech can seem both sinister and ridiculous - but the opposite view, that thought and actions are unaffected by language, is plainly also unrealistic. To some extent we are guided by the language we use.

A familar tale of the use of language to control society is George Orwell's novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', though in this case it is an authoritarian state that imposes 'newspeak' on the populace in order to limit their capacity for original or seditious thought. Debate and discussion are suffocated by the removal of shades of meaning, so that everything becomes a black and white decision (c.f. "You're either with us or against us" ©2001 G.W. Bush, adapted from an original idea by J. Christ).

Comedians lampoon political correctness when it is viewed as being over protective of the sensibilities of racial or cultural groups - such as the renaming of manhole covers 'maintenance covers' so that wimmin wouldn't feel excluded (no, after you).

People also attack political correctness when they feel their pet prejudices are being opposed and they'd rather like to keep them intact, thank you. If fact some liberal* commentators posit that the whole hoo-hah over "political correctness gone mad" is a plot manufactured by the right to foment a backlash against us showing respect and consideration for our fellow humans.

*Intriguingly 'liberal' is often spoken in the US as if it is a dirty word, revealing perhaps the country's true feelings towards 'liberty'. I'm told the Australians have a similar attitude towards the word 'intellectual', but that can't be true can it?

This essay is work in progress.

The text on this page is (not) archived from The Politically Incorrect Alphabet Forum - which unfortunately broke on August 2nd 2006 through overuse. A list of completed un-PC illustrations and their archived threads can be found here.

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