The “harm” of political correctness: a rant

This has nothing to do with writing, though it is partly inspired by some stuff I’ve seen in the SF/F blogosphere lately. Sorry in advance for that.

Heard today about the decline of the Tribune company, which once managed some of the most respected newspapers in the United States. There are probably a lot of reasons why the company fell apart, not the least of which is the general decline of print media overall, but I was struck by this article’s descriptions of changes that occurred at the company headquarters when new management took over. Among other things, the new boss and his cronies changed the employee handbook to include this gem:

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

My first reaction to this is, fun for who? Probably not the people getting bombarded with these problematic words and unfunny jokes. Sales of Tribune newspapers dropped precipitiously in the subsequent years, so it sounds like the staff wasn’t all that inspired to new heights of creativity by this policy, either.

My second reaction to this is, I’m getting really, really sick of the idea that respecting your fellow human beings is somehow restrictive or oppressive or damaging to creativity, productivity, the genre, whatever. I keep running into this kind of whining — because that’s what it is — all over the place. Most often I see it coming from older people who resent suddenly having to respect groups they were encouraged to show open contempt for back in the days of their youth. But I’ve seen this attitude among younger people too, so it’s not strictly an artifact of lost historical privilege. It even comes in new interations these days, like Christians who whine about Muslims wanting to be protected from hate crimes, perish the thought, and Americans annoyed that immigrants demand respect for their religion… in a country founded on freedom of religion.

How dare they actually believe this country’s PR? these people seem to be saying. We don’t really want your tired, poor, huddled masses.* We don’t really believe everyone is created equal. Ohhhh, it’s so hard; such a burden to have to think about all this. See how it harms us, stifles us, to give a damn about others? It makes us less creative! It damages the genre! And all these policies that say we can’t harass and belittle and exclude whole groups of people in order to make ourselves feel superior are just so much. How can we function under the bootheel of such oppression?

::sigh:: Sorry for the simulated whining. Was just trying to capture how all this crap sounds to me.

Here’s a thought: if you need to harass and belittle and exclude other people in order to produce or create? You’re insecure at best, a narcissist at worst, and you should get some help for that. If you think empathy and equality are oppressive? You keep using that word, and I do not think it means what you think it means. And if your creativity is so fragile and conditional? Maybe you’re just not that damn creative.

So consider this a plea, on behalf of those of us who are sick of all the whining and doubletalk: please grow a pair. When you complain about political correctness, we hear “Man, if only we were still back in the good ol’ days, when I could stomp all over other people with impunity!” That’s what you really mean, so why not just come right out and say it? Own your selfishness and sadism. And when people hurt you back, or take legal action against you, or call you selfish or a bully or any number of other names, own that too, because you’ve earned it. Have the courage of your convictions. Don’t downplay them, rationalize them, or pretend that you’re the aggrieved party — because no matter how you try to paint yourself as a brave crusader against the thought police, or the innocent victim of the anti-bigotry hordes, nobody’s buying it, except maybe your fellow whiners. Everybody else just thinks you’re stupid and a coward, on top of being selfish and sadistic.

* Note that Paladino’s not differentiating between legal and illegal immigrants. He’s an equal-opportunity hater of the poor. Schmuck.

31 Responses »

  1. It’s sad how persistent this issue is. Your post reminded me of a really good breakdown on the subject that Jay Smooth posted more than a year ago:

    http://www.illdoctrine.com/2009/05/asher_roth_and_the_racial_cros.html

    The real problem, as he points out, isn’t so much the out-and-out bigots; it’s the people who may actually support progress, but see it as an excuse to not care anymore about respecting other people’s feelings and boundaries.

  2. Quinn,

    Huh — I hadn’t seen that one, probably because I had no clue who/what Asher Roth was. Anyhow, I’m glad you posted it, because he makes a good point about entitlement being at the root of this anti-PC fervor. And Smooth is right also in that it can be taken to an extreme and result in a person who thinks he’s not racist (or whatever) and shows it by being more racist than everyone in the vicinity. That explains a lot of what I’ve been seeing in SF/Fdom, IMO.

  3. Definitely a rant. I’m not sure what PC has to do with respecting and excepting your fellow man. Political correctness has nothing to do with learning tolerance or acceptance. It’s a political agenda and mentality, that people must act and think a certain way. that’s pretty fascist. The only way to actually fix the divide between ethnicities is through education. Using political correctness to fix the way people think is akin to outlawing drugs to get people to stop using them. It just drives the craziness underground or out of public sight. It also creates uncomfortable situations where people are afraid to speak there mind or be themselves out of fear of offending some one. What should be handled as a simple “I’m sorry I didn’t mean any offense” turns instead into a deep seated disdain and xenophobia where people stay with “their own kind” so they can feel comfortable being themselves, instead of being privy to different ideas and the common social interactions that would naturally change peoples minds and ways of doing things. People are way more alike then Political Correctness would have us believe. Besides,we prize freedom of speech in the US because of its ability to spread ideas and allows for freedom of expression, not because it stops people from being offended.

  4. buaaa?

    I don’t think you know what Political Correctness means. Or at least, I don’t think you’re applying the same definition that I am, if you’re coming up with “fascist”. Political Correctness is, quite simply, respect. Using language that doesn’t hurt, whether the reason for that hurt is historical disrespect or simply the failure to listen to what people actually want. Sometimes that also requires acknowledging the past, and the fact that things weren’t always as shiny or happy as our PR would have us all believe. It really doesn’t have anything to do with fixing divides between groups, except in the sense that those divides are often rooted in a fundamental disrespect, or unwillingness to treat the Other as human or equal.

    I have no idea what you mean when you say PC, but that’s what I mean. So given that, what’s fascist about trying to respect others? (Not sure you know what “fascist” means, either, given your usage, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here.)

  5. I’ll just go with the definition found on wikipedia, seems to pretty much be the definition that is commonly excepted. As far as fascism I’ll stay with a standard merriam-webster definition specifically pertaining to social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. Political correctness is not just respect if it were we’d just say respect. Political correctness is predetermined view which all must comply with. It’s not an opinion or just a better way to be it’s a planned out and specific agenda. In no way shape or form does it equate with respect. It is a policy built on non offense not in dealing with people with respect. Just because you offend someone does not mean you are being disrespectful.

  6. buaaaa?, I’ve seen sentiments similar to yours in a lot of political correctness debates, and frankly they still baffle me. Where and when in the U.S. has this “forcible suppression of opposition” occurred as regards respectful language? Are you sure you don’t mean “strong disagreement?” Maybe “chastisement?” As in, “the exercising of free speech?” That’s a far cry from the claims you’re making of fascism – keep in mind that in Mussolini’s Italy, open dissent could get people tortured and killed. I mean the government would LITERALLY torture them and kill them, not write strongly-worded rebuttals.

    It’s really important to keep some perspective here. As long as you don’t trip over any death-treat or indecency laws (which are another debate altogether), you have the right in this country to express any thought you feel like expressing, no matter how offensive it may be. You do not have the privilege, however, of not having people respond to you with thoughts of their own.

  7. buaaa?

    Whose agenda? Whose predetermined view? Who is enforcing this compliance? Whose policy is it?

    You’re making lots of statements about Political Correctness that imply it’s state policy, national law, or something like that. Or that it’s a social rule of such rigid and widespread acceptance that violating it will land a mob with torches on your doorstep. But none of these things are true. Politically incorrect people continue to have radio talk shows with millions of listeners, millions-making television shows, Senate seats, and more. Clearly being a disrespectful asshole is not only tolerated in the US, but it pays well too, and is closely linked to power. So where, precisely, is all this forcible suppression that you claim?

  8. Quinn,

    Thanks for pointing that out. Like I said, I don’t think buaaa? actually knows what fascism is, either.

  9. This was basically my argument during the entirety of the healthcare debate (I have a lot of very conservative friends…)

    By explicity stating that you don’t think poor people have a right to healthcare you’re implicitly stating that you don’t think they have a right to life… I never understood why that was so hard for people to get, or how they could be so calous as to believe a few extra dollars in their own pocket is worth more than another person’s life.

    The parallels to the bigotry, implicit or explicit, are not surprising, I guess.

  10. At bottom, political correctness is about respecting people, thereby allowing them to feel comfortable expressing themselves and becoming part of various conversations where people like them were traditionally excluded.

    I don’t know how different people’s creative processes work. Maybe some people create by sitting around by themselves, thinking about being awesome macho straight guys who punch people in the face. Then they write about those things. But I for one find a lot of inspiration in other people. And I aspire to write about lots of different people, or, at very least, some people who aren’t exactly like me or my masturbatory fantasies. To that end, I think my creative process is enhanced by not excluding or ostracizing people who live different lives than I do.

    I guess everybody’s different (not to be too PC about stuff).

  11. Curious, there seems to be nothing in the Constitution which says any of us have to “respect” the religion of anyone else, immigrant or no. With freedom of religion also comes the freedom to criticise religion. And I am quite sure that if Ms. Moon had written an article that expressed reservations about, oh, say, conservative Evangelism — as it pertains to abortion clinic terrorism — the howling winds of righteous political correctness would have remained silent.

    Because it’s expected and accepted in progressive circles that conservative American Evangelicals are fair game. Muslims? No. They are “untouchable” by PC standards. Even though most immigrant Muslims share ideological commonality with conservative American Christians at better than 85%.

    Which excellently demonstrates why political correctness is a sham: ideas and behavior considered shameful on the part of one group or one particular person, are given a blind eye or even praised on the part of another group or person. I want to repeat that because it’s the core of the problem. Political Correctness is a joke because it damns behavior on one side of the coin, while excusing or ignoring similar or identical behavior on the other side of the same coin.

    The decision about who gets a pass, and who gets ridiculed, for identical or near-identical thoughts or words or behavior, appears to be entirely arbitrary, ususally revolving around perceptions of victimization.

    Hence the most precious of all PC fights: when one victim group slams into another victim group, and then it becomes a war of entitlement: who is the Bigger Victim, thus who has “earned” the geater share of deference in a given debate.

    As to matters of harassment, belittlement, and exclusion, that’s a bit of ironic word usage since FaceRailers, Failfen, and various “activists” in these internet debates, do in fact harass, belittle, and exclude others — as a matter of standard playbook practice. I guess it’s okay to harass, belittle, and exclude someone if they’re showing “incorrect” ideas or expressing themselves in ways that do not flatter the arbitrarily-assigned people(s) or group(s) assigned special consideration on the uneven playing field of Political Correctness?

  12. Brad, I figured out literally years ago that you’re a waste of energy to argue with, and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind about you in the time since. This comment/diatribe of yours — full of false and unprovable hypotheticals, a manifest lack of logic or understanding of history, and the very whining I was complaining about (disguised as sneering contempt, but still whining) — is typical. I will refer you back to the last paragraph of my OP, and leave my rebuttal at that.

    I won’t stop anyone here from picking up your little white glove if they so choose, though I doubt they will; I suspect the comment period for this post has mostly ended. Regardless, please note that if you pull your usual crap — and especially note that Jim Hines has a lot more patience than I do — I’ll shut you down. So no name-calling, especially not if you decide to invoke racial stereotypes in the process. Back up your assertions with examples or facts. Try to debate in good faith, and don’t shift the goalposts every few minutes. I’m not sure you’re capable of these things, but I’m laying out these rules because I’m willing to give you a chance. But I’ll be watching you.

    You are, of course, welcome to run back to your blog and post another rant about me, sans these rules. I don’t care what you do there.

  13. Yes, I believe we figured out 4 years ago that we’re about 180 degrees opposite on most issues. But since you chose to link to a comment I’d made, and did it in a derogatory fashion, and many readers won’t have a context for our history as SF writers at opposite ends on the ideological spectrum, I felt obliged to respond. And yes, this post of yours does give me fodder for some additional thoughts, which I won’t belabor here.

    I will point out however that I have never thrust a finger to your face and called you a name, Nora. I’ve never done that. I’ve never said, “Nora Jemison is a dot dot dot.” Don’t confuse strong disagreement on ideology with ad hominem personal attack. As much as we’ve disagreed, I’ve always felt you were the sort of ideological foe I could respect because you never made it personal. You’re also a damned creative and talented writer, which deserves its own separate respect, above and beyond politics.

  14. Brad,

    See, this is what I’m talking about re you not arguing in good faith. I really can’t believe you’re trying to characterize your behavior as “strong disagreement”. You think that because you compliment my writing, that will make me forget you called a group of people which includes me “poo-hurling monkeys”? Or am I supposed to believe you meant only the other poo-hurling monkeys? Maybe you honestly do think that; I can’t figure out how your head works.

    But again, Brad: own your issues. If you decide to spew contempt at people en masse, you really shouldn’t be surprised or offended if people throw that contempt right back at you. Be proud; you’ve earned it.

  15. Were you, in fact, a LiveJournal user hiding behind a pseudonym and using that pseudonym to attack Moon? The pattern of LiveJournal users — operating without accountability, and savaging authors — is well documented. The antics of this “community” have routinely denatured politically-sensitive discussions to the level of “poo-flinging” so I am not sure I’ve done anything other than accurately describe the behavior of a group of self-assigned moral and ideological authoritarians who use mob tactics to savage otherwise respectable people. The rub is that Moon has far more ideological commonality with her critics than they realize. Far more.

  16. Red herring, Brad. I’ve obviously brought up the issue of Moon’s bigotry here on my professional blog, and that was apparently disapproving enough to bring you out of the woodwork to defend her, so clearly I’m not concerned about “hiding” my “attack”. Given that, it’s frankly silly for you to bring up the pseudonym bugbear at all — but like I said, I’m familiar with your debate tactics, and I know you like to shift the goalposts and use irrelevancies to distract from the issue at hand (Moon’s bigotry, and in the case of this post/thread, Whiners Against Political Correctness).

    But since it’s such a big concern for you — yes, I commented at Moon’s LJ using my LJ. Yes, I used a pseud, and no, my real identity isn’t hidden via that pseud; my name and a link to this blog are in a sticky post that shows up right at the top of my LJ, and in my profile, for any who care to look. (Though it frankly wouldn’t matter whether my real name was attached or not; it’s the words that should matter, not the identity.) And no, I didn’t attack her, unless you think that all disagreement is attack. Which it seems you do, if it comes from a certain kind of person. Your rant against LJ is another red herring; you’ve been characterizing any anti-racist/feminist/social justice activist as “unreasonable,” “savage,” and worse — “poo-flinging monkeys” was just one of your more creative dogwhistles — except the (usually white male) privileged few you seem to be trying to impress. Alas, not even they are buying your rationalizations, I see. Well, except the ones who already agree with you.

  17. I am greatly saddened to learn that you partook in the LiveJournal flashmob that descended on Moon’s account.

    Nora, Elizabeth Moon is not a bigot. I want to state it again: Elizabeth Moon is not a bigot. That she is being mischaracterized as a bigot is indicative of an ongoing pattern in the “fail” community that has made an (unfortunate) habit of poisoning on-line discussion in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    And maligning SF authors who don’t deserve it.

    How many more SF and F authors will be maligned, Nora? Before it’s enough? How thinly do the hairs have to be split in search of “ism” on the part of people who are not bigots? Why does the “fail” community attack its natural ideological allies like Moon? Any community that verbally beats the stuffing out of its friends and potential friends the way the “fail” community does on a routine basis, will eventually run out of friends.

    I’m sorry to see you taking part in that.

  18. Brad,

    I’m sorry to see you infantilizing the SF/F professional community in your crusade to characterize some of its fans as monsters. You do the SF/F community no service to treat its authors like children too ignorant to know better, weaklings too fragile to bear any criticism, or thugs too stupid and poorly-socialized to function in human society. I do wonder whether Elizabeth Moon really appreciates you treating her like this, in your effort to defend her.

    We all learned a very simple rule back in childhood — or at least I did: when you hurt someone, stop hurting them. Say you’re sorry. Try not to do it again. It’s amazing to me that you honestly do not expect SF/F authors to follow this basic tenet of grownup behavior. And it’s even more amazing to me that you expect others to ignore it when they fail to do so. But this explains a lot about you.

    As a pro author, I expect to be treated as an adult. I expect to be held accountable for my words and actions. If I screw up, and don’t realize it — rather, when, because it happens to everyone eventually — I expect people to tell me, because I’m not so delicate that even the slightest word against me will break me in two. And if I react to that criticism by acting like an ass or digging myself in deeper, then I deserve whatever ridicule or anger I get, because I should know better. Being an adult, and all.

    ETA: Edited for post-coffee clarity.

  19. There was a giant highway sign that said IRONY – DEAD AHEAD, and I think we passed it a few replies ago.

    Ms. Moon is much older than you or I, which probably explains why she had the good sense to shut down and then ignore the “fail” when it came trick-or-treating to her doorstep.

    Not a bad idea, come to think about it. Not a bad idea at all.

  20. On his blog, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about how we live in a country with racism but no racists. People might express all kinds of attitudes, but as soon as you call them racists, they become offended, and the conversation descends into “how dare you call her that.” This phenomenon is exacerbated by the millions of ways you can appeal to racism (e.g. crying “reverse discrimination”) without saying anything that is shamelessly, overtly racist.

    So this is what we get a few posts above, and what we always get in these conversations: someone whining about political correctness finally gives up the ghost and falls back on being offended (an odd move, given their position about all things being permissible in discourse, except, I guess, calling them out).

    But, from the standpoint of political corectness, I could care less if Elizabeth Moon or anyone else is a bigot. I’m a bigot.

    Political correctness is not a norm of belief. It’s a norm of discourse. We can’t stop everyone from having nasty attitudes about different groups of oppressed people. There will always be plenty of corners to slink back into for that.

    But we can try to promote the sort of discourse we want, a discourse where people who have traditionally been shut out or shouted down can have their say. That’s why we don’t worry as much about speaking ill of evangelical Christians. Look around. They’re doing just fine. Nobody’s taking to the street to stop them from building a cultural center.

    American Muslims are having a bit more trouble, a fact illustrated all too well by Moon’s weird ramble and the millions of people who agree with her.

    So, we try to make people comfortable to say their piece, especially if they might not otherwise, unless their goal is to make it harder for someone else to. And if you try to argue that’s incoherent, realize that argument is on the level with “people who value tolerance should tolerate intolerance,” which is very persuasive so long as you don’t scrutinize it for about five seconds.

  21. Special supplementary note to men who complain about the blankety-blank feminists ruining their lives: Whining is unmasculine.

  22. Seth,

    Agreed, though one corrollary — whining isn’t exactly feminine, either, which is kind of the inevitable conclusion when one starts talking about what’s masculine and what’s not. I think we should relegate it to childishness, sans gender association. :)

  23. I attended a workshop last week in which we touched (briefly) on political correctness. I like how the facilitator put it:

    Every time you want to complain about political correctness, try substituting the word respect. “It probably isn’t respectful to say this, but…” “Look out, it’s the respect police…” “If everyone stopped being so respectful, we could have an honest conversation…”

    Agreed that it’s just whining, plain and simple. Thanks for the stand you’ve taken :3

  24. “Politically correct” used to be a term used by progressives, to sarcastically refer to holier-than-thou other progressives who believed that there was one (1) correct point of view on each and every issue, that there was no reasonable disagreement, and that any deviation from this point of view meant you were at best sadly misguided and at worst evil.

    “Politically correct” now has come to mean “you’re slightly to the left of me so STFU.” It’s spawned a companion term, “politically incorrect”, which takes a lot of ugly behaviors that we used to call bigotry, self-absorption, and nastiness and pretends that they’re some kind of hip, clever statement of one’s individuality: I don’t tell rape jokes because I’m a misogynist asshole, I’m just being politically correct and striking out against the Establishment!

  25. It’s all about perspective.
    Brad R. Torgersen, nkjemisin: you’re both wrong. And right. Just one of you has got the tail of the elephant and the other the trunk.

    People use ‘political correctness’ as a tool to abuse others: both in terms of limiting people’s speech (“I think Israel’s military stance is wrong.” “You anti-semite!”) AND the backlash which attempts to claim that unthinking insults are to be tolerated and encouraged.

    Somewhere in the middle is self-censorship and rephrasing of contentious ideas because they are believed likely to offend, and consideration of the social contract (which is what PCness is, no more). However, this glorious goal of people regulating themselves will never work. Especially over the internet.

    In short: people are cocks. Regulation will always lead to backlashes, and will always be abused for personal gain. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t *attempt* it, nor does it mean that we should *impose* it or always respect it.

    Dave, who includes himself in that ad totus homin?s attack… :)

  26. that ? in homin?s should be an e…

  27. Dragon Dave,

    I’m not sure I agree with your interpretation of political correctness. The Israel-criticism example you provide, frex, isn’t one of PC Gone Wild, because the accusation of anti-Semitism is clearly a non-sequitur and inappropriate; it’s being used the same way as “You asshole!” Makes no sense. Rather, it’s just an attempt to raise a straw man and shift the goalposts of the debate from a discussion of Israel’s policies to a discussion of insults… or stop it from being a discussion at all, instead of a shouting match. Pretty much equivalent to people raising PCness as a boogeyman during discussions of bigotry. (“Science fiction needs to acknowledge its history of racism.” “You quota-loving reverse-racist PC parrot!“) Same nonsensical response, and same goal: let’s stop talking about the actual problem because it makes me uncomfortable, and start talking about something irrelevant that will hopefully put you on the defensive. An attempt to “win” the debate by sacrificing the debate topic — and at this point it’s such an overused tactic that it’s become a cliche in itself.

    Nor is political correctness purely attempting to address unthinking insults. It’s also intended to address deliberate offensive speech, like that used by the Tribune owners in my OP to “encourage creativity” at the expense of women, people of color, and other groups whose creativity apparently wasn’t considered as important as that of the bigots in charge. At its core, political correctness is a reconsideration of the social contract, as you suggest; I definitely agree with that. But just because something uses language that sounds PC doesn’t mean it is PC. It has to pass the philosophical test.

    I’m not really sure what you’re talking about re: regulation. People are regulating themselves, and have been for years; it’s no longer considered appropriate to toss out the n-word or the c-word in civil discussion, unless you’re an asshole. It does work, even on the internet. I agree that regulation often (not always) leads to backlashes; I think the anti-PC rage is an example of such. But just because a backlash might occur doesn’t mean it’s always justified. I’m sure there are some people out there who think that it’s wrong, and horribly unfair, that lynching is no longer legal (or overlooked by the legal system) in the US. But that doesn’t mean that it was wrong to impose regulation (laws against murder) on lynching! Granted, lynching is an extreme comparison.

  28. *I* don’t agree with the interpretation of PC that I mention in the second paragraph: but people make use of it all the same.

    I think we are arguing over two different things attached to the words “political correctness”: you are speaking about how a manner of speaking and social contract can be *used*, and I am speaking of how the fabrication of ‘political correctness’ as a concept is *abused*. I feel Brad was similarly referring to this abusively wagging finger pointing at a blameless moon. [Yes, I am changing my metaphor from ‘both being the same thing’ to ‘both being different things’, just as I may have changed my mind. Referring to ]

    Hence why I think everyone was right and wrong at the same time… political correctness and ‘political correctness’ are not the same…

  29. I agree that whining is not an attractive or even a traditionally-admired trait for women, either… it’s just that when a man whines about the decline of patriarchy, it seems like childishness with an extra side order of irony.

  30. I know it’s a little late to announce this, but I wanted to say that I linked this piece on my blog. Why? Because I can’t remember reading a blogpost in the last six months or so that I so wholeheartedly agreed with. Cool stuff.

Dreamblood Book One:

The Killing Moon

The Killing Moon

Read Sample Chapter 1


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