“Political Correctness” and Why I Hate the Phrase More than the Concept

At the beginning of the movie American Psycho, Christian Bale, in the title role, goes through his inventory of personal grooming products and explains his daily regimen involving said products.  When he tells the audience that there’s one word they’re probably thinking, the one word that came to mind for me when I saw it was “faggot.”

Last week, the popular Comedy Central @midnight had as its daily “Hashtag War” the handle of “HipHopCharities”.  One of the items that I added to Twitter that day, was United Niggaz College Fund.

At most amusement parks, there is at least one roller coaster where the track runs above the heads of the riders.  The safety restraints generally involve putting your arms through a vest-like structure that you bring in front of your chest, snap together, and then pull a belt up between your legs to connect to the vest-like structure.   If there is a diagram in the line to illustrate this, it generally has three arrows pointed at the human figures (two at the chest and one at the crotch).  You can easily give the pictures the caption of “if you’re unsure of the gender of another rider, look here.”

There are very few pictures of me out there in which I don’t have facial hair.  They do exist but they’re the rarity.  Although I have shaved it off a few times, I have had a mustache for the better part of the last 25 years.  My reason is simple: I use it to cover the scar above my lip from when I was two months old and had reconstructive surgery to repair the harelip I was born with.  

You don’t need to lecture me on the fact that each of the above paragraphs can be considered offensive to groups of people.  I know that and, quite frankly, if I were to write out a list of the slang words in the English language that I don’t use in non-academic/linguistic studies settings, the offensive language of the first two paragraphs are probably at or near the top of the list.   (Bitch and slut also would rank pretty high.  I also have a problem with the word “cunt” to refer to the whole person even if I don’t have the same problem with using the word to refer to the person’s hole….)

Harelip is a bit different.  I know that the politically correct term is “cleft lip” but that never really sounded right to me.  Maybe it’s because I’m a part of the group to which it refers.   In that regard, maybe I’m just subconsciously reclaiming the word for myself, much as the African-American community has done with the word nigger, the gay community is doing with faggot, and women do with bitch.  

I think it’s wrong to deny the existence of words designed to offend.  They exist and the ways in which we use them (or choose not to use them) speaks volumes to the content of our character.   And there’s a huge difference between language intended to elicit a laugh (as I hoped to do with my examples at the start of this entry), and language intended to demean or denigrate a person or group of people.  

The term “political correctness” has come to signify a cleansing of language so as not to offend other people.  Or, more accurately, language offensive to people who are already marginalized to some degree.  We know this because Donald Trump, who often brags about being politically incorrect, takes offense when someone attacks a group to which he belongs (remember when Ted Cruz complained about Trump’s “New York values”?)

It’s easy to offend people.   Maybe too easy.   Sometimes with our actions and sometimes with our words.  Sometimes with a carelessly thought-out statement and sometimes with language that’s designed to offend.   A simple byproduct of freedom of speech is that no one has the right not to be offended by something.   

I do think it’s interesting that people who complain about political correctness are also the ones who get offended when a football player refuses to stand for the national anthem, or when someone burns a flag in protest, or makes a statement supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement.   

Can political correctness go too far?  Sure.  But I don’t see any harm in recognizing privilege where it exists and self-regulation towards not marginalizing those who don’t share the privilege.   It’s why I’ve started calling myself a cismale, rather than just a male.  

Any more, though, it seems that people are accusing others of political correctness in an attempt to stifle some honest and, quite frankly, much needed discussion.  Those same people who complain about Colin Kaepernick or who think the Black Lives Matter movement is a terrorist organization when all they really want to see is cops who don’t kill people because of a broken tail light.  As though the statement “stop being so PC” helps anything.  

I’d rather they called me a harelip and told me to fuck myself.  At least they’d be honest about their intent and the fact that they can’t be reasoned with.  Then I could point out, accurately, that the white supremacist movement seems determined to provide counterexamples to their own arguments and be done with it.  

The Myth of Unity

In recent weeks, a lot of surrogates for the Donald Trump campaign have been making arguments in his favor that effectively say that he is the only candidate who can unify the country.

This is kind of statement is, to use a phrase steeped in a long history of political science, complete and total bullshit. (Although, in Trump’s case, he has unified a fairly large percentage of the country against him…)

That’s not to say that Hillary Clinton will unify the country either. But she’s not talking about it. She has probably learned something from watching both her husband and Barack Obama get stymied by the Republican Party on just about every major initiative they proposed. In both 1992 and 2008 the republican leadership in congress stated that they had a single goal: to make the democratic president a one-term president.

While they failed in that goal, they did a great job of sowing disunity despite the more than conciliatory tones of the presidents themselves. (Indeed, President Obama can be criticized for his somewhat idealistic attempts to appeal to and appease the opposition more than his supporters.)

In a true democracy, unity among the electorate on just about any topic, is an impossible goal. It’s why 55% of the vote for a given candidate is considered a landslide. To put that in perspective, in American football, a team that wins 55% of its games (in a 16 game season, winning 9 games is 56%) will probably end up watching the playoffs from their living room. Hockey and baseball teams with a 55% winning percentage have a slightly better shot at being in the playoffs. Basketball teams with that winning percentage might make the playoffs but will certainly go down in flames early on.

Disunity is a natural consequence of having different priorities. Donald Trump’s message does not resonate with me at all. This is at least partially because I don’t see immigration — legal or otherwise — as a pressing concern to our country. I happen to work with a large number of non-US citizens (both immigrants and people living in other countries) and they contribute quite a bit to a healthy and vibrant workplace.

I’m much more concerned about the environment, women’s rights, and healthcare. With regard to one sub-point within this list (and it overlaps all three items here), I am decidedly pro-choice on abortion. Other than drawing a line in the human gestational period after which the procedure shouldn’t be performed unless there were a danger to the mother’s life (and I’m certainly open to discussion of where that line ought to be; I should presume it might be around about a point where the fetus is viable on its own outside of the womb) I see no reason for any restrictions on the procedure. I might even come close to arguing that we need to perform more abortions every year.

That last part might come a bit too close to eugenics for my own comfort so I’m not quite going to make that kind of an argument, but overpopulation is a serious problem. So let’s just ask the question of how many more abortions would be performed every year if we were to lift all unnecessary restrictions.

The very fact that I take this position means that, if I were to seek elective office, there would be no shortage of people who wouldn’t vote for me. Depending upon the overall political leanings of the region I would represent, it might even doom my candidacy. (As might my atheism but that’s the stuff of another blog entry…)

One of my oldest blog entries on this site was about how the phrase “under god” in the pledge of allegiance undermines the word that immediately follows it: indivisible. Indeed, the very mention of a deity sows a great deal of disunity.

A shrewd political candidate should not be seeking unity. He or she should seek tolerance and respect, even for positions with which they disagree.

And we can start by having two functional political parties in this country. Right now there’s one functioning party and one that is constantly doing nothing other than wasting time investigating minor missteps by people in the other party.