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The Unintentional Evils Of Political Correctness

A little strong, you think? Sure the PC brigade may be irritating at times, occasionally inconvenient and often faintly ridiculous, but evil, that's pushing it.

Political Correctness has become a way of life in most of the Western world. The PC brigade are often considered irritating, occasionally inconvenient, and now and again quite amusing, so it may seem a little harsh to be linking them to evils.

The key word here is unintentional.

When the movement first started it many smiled at midgets and dwarfs becoming people of restricted growth, now we all watch our words lest we be considered 'inappropriate' the politically correct word for being politically incorrect.

The extent to which PC has taken over was reflected in the case of the guy who lost his job for using the word 'niggardly' in a Washington DC budget meeting. He was judged to have used a racial slur and it cost him his job. As scary as isolated incidents such as this are, and as devastating as they can be to the individual involved who find their careers' in tatters, they do not necessarily do significant damage to society as a whole.

Our language is a reflection of the world around us, Eskimos (or should I say Inuit's) have over 30 words for snow, each word reflecting a different condition, and their ability to distinguish between them has aided their survival in their environment. Language develops to meet these needs or perceived needs enabling us to understand and communicate to each other the environment in which we live, the emotions we feel, and the problems and solutions we encounter in our every day lives.

Now undoubtedly some words have become so charged with meaning and negative connotation that they can only be used in certain music genres, and it is hard to find fault with this.

The major problem I have with political correctness is that too many people, particularly professionals in government, academia and NGO's, have moved from describing problems in a politically correct way to defining problems in a politically correct way. This may appear to be a subtle distinction, but its ramifications are not.

If I describe a problem, (or should I say challenge) in a politically correct way, I still, in my mind have a real world problem that I am communicating in a manner that is sensitive to the sensibilities of this who make up my community and others who may interact with my community. I am still free to try to devise a solution to the real world problem, which I can then describe, again in a sensitive way. But when I define the problem in a politically correct way, there is a danger of opening a reality gap between the real world and the politically correct one. This may then result in me devising a solution that is doomed to failure because the solution is aimed at correcting the politically correct version of the problem rather than the problem that actually exists in the real world problem.

No child was ever prescribed Ritalin for being naughty, but when naughtiness becomes Attention Deficit Disorder it seems more than reasonable for between 3 and 6 million American children (the estimates vary) to be given psychotropic drugs by their parents doctors and teachers. Such has been the promotion of the drug that according to National Institute of Drug Abuse 3.8% of 12th graders are taking Ritalin without prescription; i.e. they're abusing it.

Is it fair to put this down to political correctness? Short answer, yes. Political correctness involves a world view that at times sharply diverges from reality. It has evolved from making abusive terminology unacceptable to the practice of defining the world as we think it should be rather than as it is. It has created a world where modern day heretics who refuse to bow to the new orthodoxy are at as much risk of being excommunicated as was Galileo in his day for challenging the then prevailing orthodoxy.

It is resulting in enormous sums of money being wasted on solutions that will never work. We face a serious risk of creating a new political divide between those on the one hand wish to intervene and fix things, but refuse to face reality when defining problems, and those on the other side of the debate who do not agree with intervention in the first place, instead believing that we should trust everything to god and the markets to sort out.

If we look at some of the biggest global problems we face today there is a reluctance to face unpalatable truths. It may be politically correct to embrace ethanol and its accompanying subsidies, but who is calling for drastic action regarding the number one cause of human driven global warming? Even if every person on the planet were to cut their carbon emissions by a third by 2050 it would make no difference to the total because the number of humans is predicted to rise by almost 50% between 2000 and 2050. That, Mr. Gore, is the inconvenient truth, you may switch to energy efficient lighting, turn down your AC, buy a compact instead of an SUV, but if humans keep reproducing at anticipated rates, there will be almost 4 times as many people on the planet by 2050 than there were in 1950 and collectively that's one big carbon footprint.

In his excellent book, 'Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive' Jared Diamond identifies a number of determining factors why societies make disastrous decisions. He makes the case far better than I can that societies that fail to look reality in the eye and deal with that reality, warts and all, face a future that is both shorter and bleaker than it need be.

So remove your head from whatever safe place you're keeping it, read the book, and maybe we will be one step closer to making better decisions.

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0 #1 SRBrown 2011-12-18 23:44
Political Correctness is one of those issues that began with the quite well meaning intentions. I'd say it can be a nuisance, although I'd support Mr Gore's decision to take more ecologically-friendly measures: as quoth Tescos Every Little Helps. Although it does highlight the need to bring environmental truths closer to everyone's mind when making decisions.

More importantly, though, is that misplaced political correctness can confuse: and that's when it becomes dangerous.
I could probably go outside today and address the average passerby as "nasally impolite" without them batting an eyelid, although they would probably raise an eyebrow instead. Or rather, become Superciliated.
But the rot could grow deeper than my abusive misuse of a thesaurus. I could envisage a particularly erudite landlord scribbling "acoustically offensive" down in the small print on an Eviction notice, while you grudgingly turn down the megahertz on the new sound system. Or we could be thumbing too closely through the job pages to wonder what the last employer meant by "motivationally challenged".
Confucius once made the rectification of language his cardinal objective. "When the language is misleading it becomes divorced from the truth, and people can no longer tell right from wrong." What Nietzche described as the Bewitchment of Language pulls tricks on us every day. Advertsisers and editors thrive in that tepid gap between words and their meanings: where does "political correctness" become "falsehood", or at least "misleading" - is it the same distance between "enhanced interrogation techniques" and "torture"?

I'm pretty sure we need a world where we can be given the truth without being swamped in verbiage, because words can be like the forests in which their users hide. Many people are not English teachers and could barely trudge through a copy of the Sunday Telegraph. What hope would they have of deciphering a well-syllabled political speech and uncovering the meaning behind it? Furthermore, how could they act meaningfully on such a speech if it had world-changing consequences?

True, I don't particularly like hearing people addressed with one of millions of derogatory words.
Then again, I'd hate to be reported as being accommodated in state custody under physical misconduct deterrent methods after mentally plotting to perpetrate a breach of legislatively accepted existence, and people would be too busily reaching for a dictionary to pay attention.

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