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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Political Correctness

Another concept that is dead, or ought to be, or is theoretically useless, is pc.

It ought to be dead from both perspectives: from the perspective of those who seem to be enforcing it, and for those who over-rate its importance for these very enforcers.

In the first place, it is a kind of linguification of real issues. If we can purify our language, then we can solve social issues. Of course, we should be careful how we speak, and what words we use, out of respect, but making that the main issue is never a good idea. Supposed people had a slur about people from Mars: the "Marties" and I accidentally said it when I was talking about mardi gras, or someone thought I did. So what?

Yet actually, people are usually not thinking about pc so much in the normal academic course of things, so the reaction to it is overblown as well.


Thomas said...

I was explaining this to someone the other day. It's important to keep in mind that "political correctness" isn't just a norm about being polite or consideration in one's linguistic expressions. You're right that its meaning is distorted on both sides in this way. Defenders of PC as a norm sometimes say it's merely the demand that you think before you speak about whether your words might cause someone who hears them distress. Opponents of PC sometimes seize on expression of offense at what someone has said as "PC gone too far".

PC is important whenever it implies legal or administrative sanctions. PC is the fact that a student can be expelled for wearing the wrong Halloween costume or singing the wrong song. It's the fact that a teacher can be fired for forgetting (or refusing) to use someone's preferred pronoun. Or it's the fact that they can be suspended for this until they apologize, and fired if they refuse to apologize. It's not "political correctness" to take offense at a costume or prefer a pronoun. Political correctness is the power to punish people who offend you.

I think the "linguification of real issues" is itself a serious problem. And I think the people who worry about this under the banner of "political correctness" aren't barking up the entirely wrong tree.

If you ask me, this is the result of the rise of "social science" in our understanding of, specifically, language. The scientific worldview tends toward cause-and-effect models of phenomena. That's a very crude approach when it comes to language.

I just realized something: you've recently said two things: (1) poetry is a precise use of language and (2) poetry is ridiculous. I initially agreed with the first but not the second. I now understand how they support each other: poetry is being precise about the power of words. Poetry is only possible once we realize that words themselves never constitute a "real issue". A poem is liberated from "reality"--liberates us from reality--in precisely that sense.

As science has supplanted poetry in our understanding of ourselves we also got a distorted view of linguistic power. We have to rediscover the ridiculously precise use of language known as poetry.

Thomas said...

"Perhaps a ridiculous president will encourage Americans to take the presidency less seriously," says Jacob Scullum at Reason, in a kind of recusatio. I am not the pilot?