Tuesday, May 07, 2019

About political correctness

The core idea of PC, I guess, isn’t too objectionable. All societies have codes of discourse, defining what is and isn’t acceptable, and all that has happened since some time in the 1980s is that these codes have been recalibrated so that people are more aware of the sensitivities of previously marginalised groups. Ideally, it makes it easier, smoother to converse with a wider range of people. At least if you offend someone, you’re probably doing it deliberately.

The problem with all such codes, both those stemming from PC and also the ones that preceded them, is that they become rigid and oppressive, ultimately making such discourse harder rather than easier. Even if one’s intentions are pure, fear of being misconstrued, deliberately or not (and the barracking that will inevitably ensue), inevitably shuts things down. And those who do have malign intent realise that it’s bloody easy to get publicity, simply by deploying the occasional outrage bomb. The rise of Trump, Farage, Bolsonaro, et al, can be seen less as riding the populist surge, more like a particularly ambitious burst of trolling. And while they achieved it on the back of the gammon tendency, the disgruntled,  the suspicious, the believers in a fake collective nostalgia, it’s clear that the pearl-clutching snowflakes have also eased their way to success.

A few examples from the past week:

  • In a discussion regarding my last post, about the question of whether the rules of cultural appropriation apply to the interaction between two non-white cultures, I was taken to task for not considering whether the black man wearing the Vietnamese hat may actually have been Vietnamese. When I asked whether such consideration might be extended to white people wearing Native American head dresses... ah, let’s not go there.
  • In another discussion, about the unproven sexual shenanigans of yet another bloody actor, I made the passing comment that the films for which he is most famous are pretty bad, and was sternly entreated to “read the room”. I wasn’t familiar with the phrase, but I understand it to mean “work out what everyone else is thinking, and don’t say anything that challenges it, because it might upset them.” Incidentally, it seems that many of the misdemeanours of which people are accused are down to this inability to read the room, episodes of social gaucheness rather than anything more serious. (Which does make me wonder, how much consideration is given to people on the autistic spectrum; or are some oppressed minorities more minor than others?)
  • The construction “people of colour” (i.e., anyone who is isn’t white) has already been appropriated and tweaked into “people of gender” (which surely means anyone who isn’t non-binary, unless non-binary is a gender in and of itself); and this morning I heard someone on the radio referring to “people of class”. Which means... everyone, surely?
  • Apparently the Oxford Union has invited the usual cadre of tiresome right-wingers to argue against the policy of No Platform and the equally tiresome cadre of student leftists want to no-platform at least one of them.
  • [edit] And now, the whole ridiculous Danny Baker monkey story.

As I said, the core idea of political correctness has much to commend it. In execution, however, it has precisely the opposite effect to that intended, breeding resentment and suspicion and hostility where it claims to prompt support and respect.

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