Have you ever started saying something and then worried about it being too insensitive, homophobic, racist or sexist? Political correctness seems to be ruling the way people interact with each other through all spheres of life. Gone are the days when one could call a spade a spade. When did the concept of political correctness start and how has it changed the way we see the world and function in society?
Political correctness, although it became more widespread in the time period between the 1960s and 1980s, is an idea that has been around since the First World War. In his book An Accuracy in Academia Address, Bill Lind comments that political correctness can be compared to classical Marxism. Lind uses the example of the oppression of women to illustrate his argument. According to Lind, people, by treating the oppression of women as something that was never part of our cultural history (by skirting around the issue, so to speak), are denying that the reality ever existed, unjustly creating a taboo topic that should, ideally, be acknowledged openly
In the 1970s and 1980s, the object of political correctness was an attempt to put an end to racism, sexism, homophobia and other offensive behaviours through language that treated everyone equally. What this did was seemingly ignore the fact that, before the 70s and 80s, people were civil to each other despite the absence of these rules. But, more and more, there is a danger that society is swinging toward the other extreme: language that limits freedom.
Novelist Robert Price comments that, “We [may] now [be] moving into a draconian phase in which political correctness might be viewed as hindering progress and even removing some of our basic rights of freedom of speech.” While removing certain words from the socially acceptable lexicon will to some extent lessen the amount of discrimination against certain groups, this removal, at times, seems redundant and may even magnify the discrimination by intentionally creating the idea that certian groups can’t be spoken about honestly.
In his article, Price comments that the overuse of politically correct language is leading to a clone society, where the deletion of certain words will eventually lead to children not appreciating which words to avoid. This idea of a clone society may end up preventing free speech altogether.
In another article on the subject, Bill Lind notes that by using politically correct language to refer to certain groups, we as society are treating them as victims. These groups include, among others, blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals and the homeless. He states that when someone is treated as a victim, they can do no wrong and by walking on eggshells around these groups they will always be seen as victims of the “oppressor”. Lind writes that by giving people the victim status, they are then relieved of all personal responsibility, and every wrongful act on their part is merely the fault of all those who have discriminated against them. Homeless people, for example, are then given leeway to refrain from bettering themselves because it is the “responsibility of the government” to make sure that these people are given jobs, food and shelter.
Politically correct language demands that we all behave in a way that offends no one, but that implies that we should accept the politically correct as truth. And in a country likeSouth Africa where politics is so susseptible to interpretation and doubt, can we really afford to accept the politcal correct just becuase we are too scared to offend someone, if the price of that sacrifice is the truth?
Illustration: Joachim Lubbe