Friday, March 29, 2013

Political Correctness and Crushable Adults

I saw a bumper sticker recently on a car that proclaimed Baby On Board and I've been pondering it for several days now. What exactly is the driver trying to say? That because they are transporting a baby, drivers should be careful not to smash into their vehicle? And is the implication that adults not carrying children in the car are expendable? I find myself wondering if perhaps it would be better to just remember that all moving vehicles have precious human lives on board.

This seems to be the latest incarnation of political correctness-the ugly attitude that some humans are more valuable than others. The corollary that follows from making one kind of person more valuable is that people who are not in that group are less valuable. With all the concern for more courteous discourse in America, I would think that making some people less valuable than others would be a problem.

Look at the latest idea being advanced in public schools-that students should be taught to respect the LGBT community. On the surface, that sounds like a great idea. No one should be bullied because of their orientation. Certainly I don't think any fault could be found with teaching that the word "gay" should not be used as an insult. But wouldn't it be more productive to have zero tolerance for bullying of ANY students, regardless of their orientation? If LGBT students are accorded extra rights and protections, does that make the heterosexual students more acceptable to bully? What about tall kids, short kids, kids who climb on rocks, fat kids, skinny kids, and even kids with chicken pox? If we teach children that one group is off-limits, does that send a message that anyone not in that group is fair game? It could be possible that the youth of today would be better served by the simple idea, consistently enforced, that all people are of equal value and that bullying any of them will not be tolerated. It would certainly save time in the classroom, time that could be put to use teaching children to read and write and do arithmetic. And it would give them a rule that is a lot easier to remember than trying to keep track of all the "special" groups they are supposed to be extra-sensitive to.

Come to think of it, looking at how gay marriage is up before the Supreme Court, what if we were to advance the idea that marriage is simply a contract entered into between two sane adults? Just take the government AND the church out of the equation as far as defining marriage goes, have a civil ceremony that allows couples in any state of the union to enter into a contract according them the benefits and responsibilities traditionally accorded marriage, and leave it at that. If they want to get married in a church, let them. If some couples want to call their marriages "traditional" or "Biblical" that would be okay too. After all, there was a time that marriage was not regulated by the government. The institution of marriage pre-dates recorded history, and exactly what constitutes a marriage has as many different definitions as there have been cultures to define it. Some cultures allow a man to have more than one wife, or more rarely, a woman to have more than one husband. Other cultures insist on monogamy being the cornerstone of marriage. The ancient Greeks didn't even have a specific ceremony for marriage-just a verbal agreement between the two parties. In Britain, marriage wasn't regulated until the Marriage Acts of 1754 and 1835. And in America, common-law unions have always been recognized as a sort of marriage, with some of the obligations and benefits of marriage being held by each person. Think of all the time and energy we could save, not to mention the animus we could defuse, by making marriage a simple contract between two people and not concerning ourselves with what orientation or sex the people were.

I often think of an article I read a number of years ago, written by a blind woman whose name I do not remember. What I do recall, vividly, is her musing about how she was born blind, then she was called handicapped, then disabled, and finally visually challenged, yet no matter what term was used to describe her condition, she still couldn't see. Does language really control our thought to this extent? Or is it possible that we've tried to control our language to the point where it's difficult to think? It would seem so. In February, 1999, Amelia Rideau, an English major, complained that a professor used the word "niggardly" while discussing Chaucer. It's an archaic word, it hasn't been in general use for at least a hundred years, and it does sound too close to the N-word to be appropriate in general conversation. However, one expects better thinking skills from a university student in a class about Chaucer. One would not expect the student to tell the professor that she was offended by this word, which she should know, or be willing to learn, has nothing to do with the N-word and was in common usage in England at the time Chaucer was writing. This story had a happy ending-the student's complaint was intended to support the school's speech code, but wound up destroying it. An editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal thanked Miss Rideau for clarifying precisely why speech codes have a chilling effect on academic freedom by reinforcing defensiveness among students who ought to be more open to learning.

The Wisconsin incident is just one example of how people are looking for reasons to be offended. The right to be offended seems to be the most sacred cow of political correctness, and it seems to be a given that the offended is never misunderstanding what was said, or taking it out of context, or just plain wrong. Nor is it in good taste to ponder whether the offended is acting under some personal or political agenda. All that counts is that something has been said that someone found offensive, and whoever spoke is automatically guilty. A real offense and an imaginary offense become virtually indistinguishable under these criteria. Wasn't this how the Salem witch trials were run? Accusations, no matter how wild, being taken as solid evidence of egregious offenses? I seem to recall this being the case, and that this event in our history had sad consequences for all involved and left a legacy of shame in its wake.

Amelia Rideau is an old story but current examples of the chilling effect of political correctness are readily available. This week, Dr Ben Carson, a noted pediatric neurosurgeon, became the subject of a petition to remove him as the commencement speaker to the graduating class of 2013 at Johns Hopkins. Why don't the students want him? Well, he questioned Obamacare and progressive taxation and said that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. He also said that no group, be they gays, members of NAMBLA, or practicing beastiality, should expand marriage rights. Were his examples troubling? Perhaps. If they were, people should have been troubled when the references to NAMBLA and beastiality were first raised by Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. But then Sotomayor is not held to the same standard as Carson-she's a liberal and in the hall of political correctness, free speech is acceptable coming from liberals, much like when Nina Totenberg made her infamous remark about how Jesse Helms should get AIDS.

It may be that we can learn to be kind towards one another without having to walk on eggshells, and that we can foster intelligent discussion without being worried that every word is being weighed and measured on a scale that could only make sense to a listener who is looking for trouble. It may be that pigs will fly-the one seems as likely as the other. Like most people these days, I am careful about what I say, but eternal optimist that I am, I continue to hope that when I open my mouth, I will not encounter someone who is determined to accuse me of putting my foot in it. And that I won't be seen as crushable.


The Dreaming Ape said...

I can't agree more that some people seem determined to get offended by the slightest thing - whether the 'offense' was intentional or not.

I'm reminded of a discussion I had some years ago, when someone used the term Jap to refer to Japanese people, and was jumped on for that, and told that it was an *inherently offensive* term. I had to chime in with my disagreement, stating that it was just an abbreviation, and that as a British person I'm never offended if someone refers to me as a Brit. Nor should I be.

Why does the right of people to be offended seem to trump the right of people to innocently express themselves without meaning to cause offense?

My feeling is that if one isn't certain that offense was intended, that the benefit of the doubt should be given.

R.C. said...

The "Baby on Board" sticker predates political correctness. It was a fad that erupted in the US around '83, '84, and then promptly died down. P.C. didn't emerge until 1987.

R.C. said...

One of the reasons why the anti-PC crowd will never gain any traction in their complaints about "PC run amock" is that they repeatedly say and do the very things that actually justify the need for Political Correctness.

Take, for example, The Dreaming Ape's comments about the term "Jap." This IS an offensive term; it originated from the World War 2 era as a pejorative against the Japanese, who we were fighting against at the time.

To arrogantly state that this is just a "harmless abbreviation" for Japanese like "Brit" is as disingenuous as saying that "Paki" is just short for Pakistan or "Yank" is just short for "Yankee."

The point I'm trying to make is that complaining about "Political Correctness" isn't worth a damn if those who hate it time and time again keep making the exact kind of ignorant observations, social faux pas, and apologist statements that necessitated the creation of Political Correctness in the first place.

This is why PC is here to stay. As long as the anti-PC crowd keep saying stuff like, "The N-word isn't that bad," or "Jap isn't really offensive," and making all these other comments, it's never going to go away no matter how much people want it to. You can't fight Political Correctness by spouting the very ignorance it was created to counteract. You just can't.

BlitzWing00 said...

I would think the "Baby on Board" would be referring to the driver being a big baby. =D

A term I always found amusing is "Chink in Armor" that racist? The phrase is not suppose to be, and the term is suppose to mean a crack but it's taken on to be a racist term. It's still quite controversial according to Wikipedia....people are getting fired over it.

I'm Chinese, so I guess I can use the word all I want....which is mind boggling, as using or not using the word says nothing whether if I'm really racist or not. How about if I said "nigger" am I racist or not because I'm not white or black? Or perhaps I'm merely stating the word for reference to make a different point so there's no intent of using the word maliciously gives me a free pass?

I think everything hinges on intent. Go ahead and say "chink" all you want, even if it's as a joke like Sarah Silverman did. But if you're intent is to use the word racist like to hurt, I have an issue with that. So I guess it's like firearms, don't blame the tool (words) blame the person with the intent to do harm with it.

Pandra said...

Blitz, I had not heard of the "chink in armor" but now I'll have to pass it along because that is just too funny. As to the N-word, living in the inner city, I am under the impression that blacks are allowed to use it to each other all they want and heaven help anyone else who uses it. One of my mom's close friends was Chinese and I remember my mom saying how amused Pansy would have been (she passed some time ago) to know that the Chinese auction is no more. They used to love going to Chinese auctions, but now it's called something else. Guess somebody thought they were auctioning off Chinese people. :D

BlitzWing00 said...

"N-Word"? You mean "Numskulls"? Because that's what I think they are if they think they could call each other "Nigger" but nobody else could use the word without causing offense.

"N-Word" is such self censorship created by Political Correctness. How long before "N-Word" itself becomes a racist term? From what I understand "Urban" is the code word for "Black" "the Urban Demographic". How long before "Urban" becomes a racist term?

I think it's great that the homosexual community has embraced the word "gay" so instead of it being a hateful term, it's neutral again. Anybody can say the word and it won't be hateful unless people with the intent uses it in a hateful way, but even then the pointed-ness of the word has been dulled. I've worked with a lot of gays before, I always feel slightly awkward if I unconsciously blurt out something like "Oh that's so gay" when describing something that sucks. It's a phrase I got used to when I was a kid. It's good to know they understand I didn't have an intent to be hateful, it's just an expression, and they don't really care because the word doesn't mean anything. However, I can't joking go up to somebody and say "Yo nigger". I'm glad that's not a phrase I grew up with.

Chinese Auction? I never heard of that one, had to look it up on Wikipedia. I don't even see anything seemingly racist in that term unless it something to do with the tickets going for pennies....but even that's like so what. If people want to get real technical, how about the term "China Town" in referring to Chinese community sections of cities? How's that term different than "China Man"? Those two words feels completely different, but descriptively are very similar IMO.

But you know, I think with the internet where nobody really knows who the other person is on the other side....people are generally are starting to just look at people as other people and not care what they are other than who they are. Perhaps what we're seeing with Political Correctness and people taking offense are just the few holdouts from the previous generations.

Pandra said...

Blitz, I think you're right about the Numskulls, but sadly it's also true that there are black people who WILL use that word to other black people and who will refuse to understand that by doing so, they are creating offense. Language is too dynamic to allow a word that is only acceptable among a certain demographic.

You say that with the Internet perhaps people are starting to care less about who the other people are and starting to see them as just people. Maybe you're right. I hope you are. But it does seem as if the political correctness crowd are in the same category as any other terrorists-a very small, very vocal minority who do a lot of damage to people for no reason.

BlitzWing00 said...

I don't have an issue with them using the word, I have an issue of them using it but nobody else can. If they're going to use it, let everybody use it then the word can become less hateful and offensive like how the word "Gay" did. If they don't want the word to be used, then nobody use it....not even themselves. Then the word will fall into disuse, forgotten in time, and lose it's meaning and power to offend.

I see Political Correctness more as a facade like the "War on Drugs" or "War on Terror". What someone would think they're doing is not really what they're doing....and it'll never end. PC is not about alleviating offense, it's about censorship, control, and word swapping. But I do understand your analogy of a small number of people trying to affect all of us.

There's a great episode of "Penn & Teller's Bullshit" program which I think relates a lot with all of this word usage, the power of words, censorship, and political correctness. It's their episode about Profanity, why it offends, why people use it, and why some people are trying to stop other people from use it.

It's on YouTube if you want to watch it:

They can be a little abrasive and wrong at times in their episodes, but I think this episode is spot on and insightful. Warning the episode on Profanity does contain some profanity. =D

Pandra said...

Thanks for the link, Blitz. As you say, it's not the word as such that is offensive. It's the idea that the word is some special word that is only acceptable for blacks to use to other blacks that is offensive. That word has a long and dishonorable history, it's been used in the past to dehumanize blacks, and why they want to use it now is beyond me. And you're absolutely right-it should either be free to all, or not used by anyone.

Kate.hryn.Pheonix Rose said...

I loved reading "Political Correctness and Crushable Adults"
Thank You.