Political correctness

A topic which pervades many others

Political correctness

Postby Elliott » 02 Aug 2011, 11:29

Whenever one gets into an argument with a liberal about political correctness, they tend to say something like this:

a stock, off-the-shelf liberal wrote:'Political correctness' is just modern good taste. There have always been boundaries as to what can/should be said in conversation. A hundred years ago, it was 'politically incorrect' to think women should have the vote. Political correctness is not a special case; it's just that people who disagree with cutting-edge morality don't like being out in the cold, so they've invented the term 'PC' to make themselves seem like censured victims.


Thoughts? Is political correctness any different to the moral censorship we've seen in every previous age?
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Gavin » 02 Aug 2011, 15:05

A good start to discussing this subject. Political correctness is I suppose at best a kind of diplomacy. It can also be a straightforward naivete. At worst it is a repressive political tool. It is avoiding saying things the speaker knows to be true in order to avoid causing offence and possibly adverse reaction.

The question, the balance point, of course, is when does it actually become more harmful not to say things than to say them? I would suggest that many of the hitherto silent majority believe that too many people are now standing on the wrong side of this balance.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Elliott » 02 Aug 2011, 18:06

Political correctness is I suppose at best a kind of diplomacy. It can also be a straightforward naivete. At worst it is a repressive political tool.


I'm sorry to be pedantic, but I *think* you are referring to multiple things here.

Political correctness, as the phrase is commonly used, refers to having trendy opinions which may irritate old-fashioned people.

You mention "a repressive political tool". I wouldn't call that political correctness, but state propaganda. The phrase makes me think of party slogans on the walls around a city, that kind of thing. Or perhaps that's not what you meant?

It is avoiding saying things the speaker knows to be true in order to avoid causing offence and possibly adverse reaction.


I suspect that a lot of the time, the speaker doesn't know he's lying. It's a long-term thing.

An 18 year-old is PC because he doesn't know any better and is simply believing whatever he wants to believe. That's the freedom of being young and naive. But what about a 40 year-old? I think your average Guardian reader has actually persuaded himself to believe things. Why? Because today, life often requires certain beliefs.

To use a very blatant example... a guy whose job it is to go round workplaces checking their diversity policies. He happens to know a lesbian couple who "have" a daughter. They are raising her to hate men, to be butch and aggressive, and to be ultra-defensive about her home life. How can this man possibly be honest with himself and say "lesbians don't make good parents, precisely because of their lesbianism"? He can't, because his whole life depends on him thinking that if lesbians raise kids in some exotic lesbian way, that's just great as it "increases" diversity. If he were to question it, he would then have to question his job, his raison d'etre, and no doubt the past 10 years of his life enforcing this nonsense.

Now as I say, that's a blatant example. The guy has a stake in political correctness because his job depends upon it. But everyone has a stake in it. For example, you'll need to voice PC opinions if you want to get pretty much any job in Britain today. If, in an unguarded moment in the workplace, you voice an un-PC opinion, you could be up the creek. Also in polite social circles, it is advisable not to say ANYTHING about the following topics:

  • immigration
  • sexuality
  • gay rights
  • women
  • Islam
  • welfare
  • the dire state of education
  • modern children (and modern parents)
  • the Empire
  • the EU (talking of empires!)

If you send a novel to a publisher, anything un-PC will be rejected. Likewise on TV and in film. To make it as a comedian, you have to be a walking jukebox of trendy opinions. The one and only group of "artists" who get away with having un-PC opinions is (quel surprise) black rappers, who make fortunes out of racist, sexist and homophobic trash.

So to get anywhere in today's world, you have to act PC. Well, that's much easier if you actually become PC.

My point is, you say PC means pretending to believe something you know is false. I think it's worse than that. It means making yourself believe what you (previously) thought to be false, or hadn't thought about at all.

I've been arguing on a liberal forum recently about the underclass. I think those liberals genuinely believed what they were saying. I don't think they were pretending. They wouldn't have argued for 7 pages of a thread if they didn't really believe in their case. Would they?

I'd like to discuss this further, but I also want to repeat my original question... was it always like this? Surely there have always been "no nos" in polite conversation? Is our society more or less tolerant of unfashionable opinions today than in previous ages? Is PC just a name for fashionable opinions or is it a new, unprecedented thing? I think this is a very important point to clarify.

A good start may be this: was it possible in 1870, or 1950, or 1980, to get fined for saying something unfashionable?
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Paul » 02 Aug 2011, 20:15

Would you really have parts of a novel rejected if they were 'un-PC'? Oh dear no, I hadn't thought of that, not that I'm an aspiring author. Just as well then eh? I think if you were an established and highly sucessful author with a large following (and a larger bank balance) you might well get away with it. I can think of some authors that do so, but then again, they are writing historical novels. Wilbur Smith springs to mind - lots of what would be termed racism, sexism, colonialism in his novels. Lots of isms in every book and the more accurate because of them. A fine author of course, in my opinion, but I've been taken to task a couple of times for admiring him (rather his work) and told that he is a racist, sexist, blah, blah. Explaining that scenarios in his books are 'how it was back then' cut no ice. Needless to say, my critics were wooly Liberals and, I have to say (unfortunately) all female.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby John » 03 Aug 2011, 00:35

I've been arguing on a liberal forum recently about the underclass. I think those liberals genuinely believed what they were saying. I don't think they were pretending. They wouldn't have argued for 7 pages of a thread if they didn't really believe in their case. Would they?


I think they might be arguing at that length precisely because they don't really believe it. Someone can want something to be true, have an emotional commitment to it being true but at the same time know deep down that it just isn't. Political Correctness says that we are all the same, that we are all born tabula rasa and that equality is natural. It says all cultures and all nations are equal and that any form of difference or inequality is the result of society and in particular of 'oppression'.

It is obviously untrue. Everyone can see that all cultures are not equal. Everyone can see that we are not all born the same and that equality is not natural in any aspect of life. People do not want this to be true and so they angrily deny it. They then pressure others to go along with this so they don't hear any contradiction. When someone says something unPC it bursts this little bubble of unreality and I think this is what draws the angry response.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Mike » 03 Aug 2011, 01:26

To an extent, the bounds of conversation and social discourse generally have always been limited, but I think that in the past they have been limited more in the interests of preserving manners and good behaviour rather than preserving people's self-esteem in aspic. And it is only recently that people have been able to make such a good living out of it.

To take a concrete example from my part of the world: it has become mandatory within the NSW Education Department to begin each public event with an "acknowledgement of country", which means that the MC says "I would like to acknowledge the [insert name of Australian Aboriginal tribe here] people, the traditional custodians of this land." This is sheer pusillanimous nonsense, of course, but in the name of "Aboriginal Reconciliation" it has become one of a number of hat-tips which do nothing to improve the lot of Australia's indigenous population but a great deal to satisfy education bureaucrats.

Now, until recently this same silly charade was mandatory in Victoria as well, but when the new Victorian Premier (we have state Premiers as well as a Prime Minister here in Oz) came to power one of his first acts was to make it voluntary. Perfectly sensible and long overdue, but the outcry was unbelievable. He had people accusing him of "taking reconciliation back ten years" and the like. This, to me, was a good example of the deleterious nature of political correctness, which more than outweighs its occasional uses as a form of politeness.

(Just by the way, in regards to Elliott's example above: my wife was raised by a lesbian couple and she turned out fine. Perhaps not all political correctnesses are equal...)
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Re: Political correctness

Postby George » 03 Aug 2011, 01:58

a stock, off-the-shelf liberal wrote:'Political correctness' is just modern good taste. There have always been boundaries as to what can/should be said in conversation. A hundred years ago, it was 'politically incorrect' to think women should have the vote. Political correctness is not a special case; it's just that people who disagree with cutting-edge morality don't like being out in the cold, so they've invented the term 'PC' to make themselves seem like censured victims.


I laughed at 'cutting-edge of morality'.

Actually, it's hard for me to imagine a society without political correctness. I just wish people were a little more tolerant of those who fall outside the bounds of PC orthodoxy.

Funny that lovers of tolerance are often the least tolerant, hey? :P
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Re: Political correctness

Postby John » 03 Aug 2011, 08:07

Theodore Dalrymple on political correctness:

"Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to."
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Re: Political correctness

Postby John » 03 Aug 2011, 08:33

Political Correctness is not and never has been a form of politeness. For example Mike mentioned the Australian Aboriginals. Now political correctness dictates that the only reason for the many problems within that group, the only reason why, for example, they are much less economicly successful than other groups who have arrived in Australia in the last 40 years is because of discrimination and oppression. It is nothing to do the the Aboriginal people or culture themselves. It is obvious to anyone who wishes to see that this is untrue. A person can state this fact as politely as he likes and it will be angrily rejected as unPC. Another person can reply to him by using foul and abusive language and this will be accepted as being PC even though no one could think it polite.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Gavin » 04 Aug 2011, 09:53

Here is a chilling quotation from someone who understood propaganda which surely applies to political correctness:

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

- Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister of Propaganda, Nazi Germany
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Jonathan » 04 Aug 2011, 12:34

Elliott wrote:
For example, you'll need to voice PC opinions if you want to get pretty much any job in Britain today. If, in an unguarded moment in the workplace, you voice an un-PC opinion, you could be up the creek.



Is this really true, Elliott? Have you actually seen this happen? This is so far removed from my experience (which is, I hasten to add, very distant from Britain) that I must beg you (or anyone else so inclined) to provide some examples. Are political issues really brought up in job interviews in order to gauge the prospective employee's replies?
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Damo » 26 Nov 2011, 20:15

Jonathan wrote:
Elliott wrote:
For example, you'll need to voice PC opinions if you want to get pretty much any job in Britain today. If, in an unguarded moment in the workplace, you voice an un-PC opinion, you could be up the creek.



Is this really true, Elliott? Have you actually seen this happen? This is so far removed from my experience (which is, I hasten to add, very distant from Britain) that I must beg you (or anyone else so inclined) to provide some examples. Are political issues really brought up in job interviews in order to gauge the prospective employee's replies?


Hi Johnathan, I know this is going back a few months, so I hope the mods don't mind me bringing up an old thread.

In my last place of work, we had to do a diversity course. It was rather silly and a bit childish and at times I got the impression I was being looked down upon by the instructor. Also, even though no one asked you about your political opinions, you just knew to keep quite on such matters.

I have a friend of mine that became a police officer. In training college he was told by training officers (at the outset), never ever express a political view and always remain neutral or 'down the centre'.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Caleb » 28 Nov 2011, 02:50

The issue with political correctness for me, as others have brought up, is that it is largely about the cult of self esteem and gets in the way of truth. I do think it has probably been present in most, if not all, societies in one form or another throughout history. The constant three ring circus that is "face" (even when dealing with people who are clearly incompetent) in Chinese culture that I have to deal with in Taiwan drives me up the wall at times.

There was a notion in the West for a while that society was moving towards some point where "truth" and technology would trump tradition for the sake of tradition or being nice and would improve everyone's lives. Ideas were controversial, but the progress they brought was real and could be measured. That was probably always resisted to some extent, but it marched ever onwards. However, I'd say that it also contained the seeds of its own destruction. Making yourself open to new ideas also makes you open to the new idea that you are wrong if the progress stumbles for a moment.

I'd say there were a whole lot of excesses in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century that shook things up a bit, but they wouldn't have, of themselves, been a death knell. It's one thing for certain excesses of empire to occur in the colonies or on the fringes of society, but I don't think any of that necessarily opened the door for political correctness as it currently stands (which departs from previous threats to "truth" in that "truth" now holds the conservative position). It's hard, in a sense, for the West to claim "truth" and moral superiority when it spent significant portions of the last century tearing the guts out of itself, and using science and technology to do so in spectacularly new and effective ways. I think the West began its current intellectual malaise after the Battle of the Somme precisely because that was so non-sensical and because it represented a monumental failure and self-destruction right at the core of the culture. America escaped this to some degree until Vietnam, but that and Watergate were probably where the game was really up there also.

I see everything else that has happened as a direct consequence of the cultural loss of self-belief since those events. Once the momentum of progress appeared to have been halted, all of the little excesses or other problems along the way were then fair game.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Jonathan » 30 Nov 2011, 15:21

Damo wrote:
Hi Jonathan, I know this is going back a few months, so I hope the mods don't mind me bringing up an old thread.

In my last place of work, we had to do a diversity course. It was rather silly and a bit childish and at times I got the impression I was being looked down upon by the instructor. Also, even though no one asked you about your political opinions, you just knew to keep quite on such matters.

I have a friend of mine that became a police officer. In training college he was told by training officers (at the outset), never ever express a political view and always remain neutral or 'down the centre'.


Hi Damo - I'm sure no-one minds an old thread being brought back up with a relevant and interesting post.

Since I first asked my question, I have also had a milder form of the experience you described. In this case it was an online anti-workplace-harassment course. Not quite as humiliating as what you described, since one's forced complicity only extended to having to pass a multiple-choice test at the end.

The actual content of the course is quite horrifying if taken literally, which no-one actually seems to have done. When boiled down, it amounts to:

Workplace harassment can take place outside the workplace.
If someone says he took offense, then what you said was offensive, regardless of how anyone else might interpret it.
Even if a person laughed at a joke along with anyone else, he may later claim that he took offense. He has no obligation to ask you to stop or apologize.
The facts of the case can be disputed, but not the interpretation.
Anyone who sees potentially offensive behavior is required to report it, even if no-one seems to take offense.
Anyone who receives a report of offensive behavior is required to report it to his manager and HR.
Any adverse reaction to a complaint - even the appearance of an adverse reaction - is considered 'retaliation', and is strictly forbidden.

Thus, the door is open to the resentful and the vindictive. Anything can be grounds for a complaint. People who took no offense will complain because they think somebody else might have taken offense, and are afraid of being considered complicit. Any complaint will immediately rise up to the highest levels of management. No defense is possible for the accused. If necessary, a history of previous harassment can be conjured up retroactively. There will be no reprecussions for false complaints.

Could any rulebook be better crafted to ruin the social cohesion of a workplace? And all this for fear of being found liable in a frivolous lawsuit in an unpredictable law-court.
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Re: Political correctness

Postby Damo » 30 Nov 2011, 20:32

Thanks for the response Johnathan. Your post reminds me of the definition of racism as outlined in the MacPhearson report.

A racist incident is:

Any incident which is perceived to be racist by:-
The Victim;
A witness to the Incident;
Any person acting on behalf of the victim; and/or;
A Police Officer.

The Irish Police (An Garda Síochána) have accepted this definition since 2001.

If that definition is not the syntax of the madhouse and humpty dumpty language I don't know what is.
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