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Political Correctness is a False Virtue
"Obedient to constraint, I was compelled to submit."
The notion of political correctness is a false virtue; a sad and threatening oxymoron.
For, those who espouse to be politically correct are correct only in signalling their willing submission to the following stipulations: to their speech being externally influenced or provided in full; to their thought being occupied by governing social and political discourse; and to their actions being at service of ends that are not primarily their own. Those that espouse to be politically correct do not aim to speak, think, or act freely; do not wish to impress their values onto the world; and do not desire to represent themselves as individuals with unique preferences and inclinations. Instead, those that espouse to be politically correct follow specific scripts and stage directions delivered by a mysterious power, to which they mean to operate in complete conformity. Except, this omnipotent stage director is not so mysterious after all; it is understood bythose who see through the rouse as nothing except the cruel force of political correctness.
Thus happily submitted, contentedly, and outwardly politically correct—to their perceived credit, no less—those who espouse to be politically correct extend their tied hands to accept and deliver praise unto the bound, outstretched arms of their fellow flock, all the while waiting for their next command.
And do you still wish to consider this depravity a virtue? Such an extensive system of submission is not virtuous and no credit is due except to the great debt amassed through a mind’s submission to its subversion. And as the dog barks, the politically correct signal, for it is not good enough to be politically correct in silence. Anyone that does not actively signal their political correctness can not be said to be politically correct in the first place, and not being politically correct enough is not to be politically correct at all. Akin to how the strongest signal extends for the greatest radius, the signallers of political correctness—in broadcasting their blessed righteousness—signal loudly in order to make their signalling heard. And the signal is unceasing; for this is particular sort of broadcast does not turn off, and its volume must only be increased against the gaining sound of all the other competing broadcasts in surround that play the same song.
Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
Ironically, at the root of the derided oxymoron of political correctness is the fact that political correctness is not even correct, politically speaking (of course dependent on the system of government such correctness exists under). Decidedly, political correctness is political incorrectness under any free and desirable political system. As political correctness is compulsion to the status quo—no matter how non-sensical, irrational, incorrect, evil any pervading status-quo is— being politically correct is only acting in accordance to the dominant political order. Political correctness rejects both good and bad; it is only what is politically correct, which could be absolutely anything. So why is it that in our free and democratic countries, where we are able to make such moral and ethical judgments, we speak as if we are needing to appease Stalin, his hangmen, and the Soviet ministry of truth, or otherwise as if our neighbour is a Stasi informant with their ear constantly pressed to the adjoining wall?
More than anything, those who espouse to be politically correct comply to a degree far beyond the sort of necessary compulsion inherent to an orderly society; complying solely for compulsions sake, complying not by choice but out of fear. We will often agree with what is considered to be fashionably politically correct, but if we happen to think, speak, or act politically correctly it ought to be out of a coincidence of agreement and not the explicit intention to comply. The ability to not comply is a chiefly democratic principle — to live in a democracy is to have the ability to dissent, to disagree, to denounce, or in other words, to have the ability to be politically incorrect.
Mercifully, I have a feeling we may not be too far gone down the wrong road. I have a sneaking suspicion that we know what we are doing when we are overtly politically correct, but that we have somewhere along the way forgotten the meaning of why were politically correct in the first place. The on and off habit of occasional political correctness has dangerously turned into a constant instinct. But the past remains; for, today, calling forth the Gods of political correctness it almost a sarcastic act, which indicates that at one point we knew that political correctness was a temporary expediency rather than the backbone of political participation. These days, there is a sense of political correctness being almost charming, proven by the wry smile that usually comes just before the line, “Let me be politically correct,” as well as the sneaking tone with which such inauthentic words are spoken.
The newly solidified custom of treating political correctness like a holy north star has become a disgusting banality. What started initially as a laugh amongst the girls picnicking in a park on a sunny summer’s day—what was once used as a useful method to avoid conflict in a given interaction—has now evolved into a state where the laughs continue well after the sounds of thunder are heard and the flash of lightning can now seen in the distance. It is time to pack up and come inside now, so that we might be able to go out again.
Ruth Perry, writing in The Women’s Review of Books (IX:5, February 1992), asserts that the term ‘political correctness’ historically was marked with quotation marks or italics, as its introduction as a standard phrase of record was immediately “mocked as purist, ideologically rigid, and authoritarian.” In its aspect of jest having been forgotten, our initial inside joke on our ability to speak freely has now it has become a spell and a curse of our age. Now, political correctness is referred to in absolute seriousness, without a serving of the irony the term was first delivered with.
Please, let us return this phrase to its sarcastic roots, let us return the missing quotation marks back to where they belong. There is a time and a place for political correctness, but that time is not always, and that place is not everywhere. Not wishing not to overstep in an environment such as a primary school classroom, a line at a grocery store, the in-law’s dinner table, as a house-guest is simply common sociability. Applying the imaginary weight of political correctness to every moment and place in your life, however, is sociopathy.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they do not want to hear.”
Much of the discourse leading to political correctness revolves around the idea of offence. In this manner, our present peril seems to stem from our general wish to avoid causing offence. In truth, offence is no sin. There is nothing at all wrong with unintended offence, and there is less wrong with intended offence than the alternative of not being able to cause offence at all. I believe we really must be so good as to allow ourselves to offend each other. The only form of speech that doesn’t seemingly offend is silence, though even that, by the recent proclamation of ‘Silence is violence,’ now offends also. Thus, we live in a world where no matter what we say or don’t say has the capability of causing offence, meaning that we might as well say what we mean, and mean what we say, lest our words (or lack thereof) be assigned to us.
We must learn treat offence as one of the most important things to be present in a free society. That offence can even exist reinforces the presence free speech, free thought, and free belief. Let’s look at it another way; in Soviet Russia, in China, one doesn’t cause offence because one dies is imprisoned, is tortured, or all three, instead. It is proof that we live in a free society if we are even capable of causing offence.
I certainly am not advocating for the intentional and unnecessary causing of offence. The permission to cause offence does not give the excuse for bad faith actors to act in bad faith. Instead, allowing for offence means that we can be excused if we happen to offend, and through tolerance of offence have the opportunity to achieve newfound understanding by the free flow of opinion. We should allow ourselves to be offended, and further, treat those that offend us with good faith until they prove to longer be deserving of it. To act in good faith, we must not act in complete faith in political correctness. Offence may even be warranted on occasion; certainly, some people deserve to be offended and some opinions are worthy of offence, by the same logic of Karl Popper’s claim that we can only be tolerant if we are occasionally intolerant, but opportunity should always come before final judgment. Intolerance and offence are not to be wholly avoided if we wish to ever have tolerance and irreproachability.
And so, we should be so lucky as to be offended, because it means we are protected from punishment or ill-will when unwittingly causing offence ourselves. I wish to forgive my neighbour today, no matter if they offend me, because I very well may offend them tomorrow, and I should then ask of them the same forgiveness I have offered myself. Less discussion, in practice, only results in more ignorance. If our speech, thought, and actions do not risk offending—do not risk being taken as politically incorrect—our first priority, it must be said, is to appease the existing political order and not seek the truth. We know the truth is to be found, if at all, on the other side of a barren wasteland that contains offence, misspeaking, ignorance, and incorrectness, and that we can only get to the truth if we allow ourselves the potential to misspeak, to misjudge, to offend without consequence. Otherwise we get nowhere at all, as both individuals and as a society.
If we can’t speak openly—if we are not allowed to be politically incorrect—then politics becomes stagnated and starts to go bad. We must relearn our virtues in order to reinforce them; we must do things because they are right and not because we are told they are right. We must allowed to be wrong, and we must be allowed to offend. We must defend our values by challenging their existence—if we don’t exercise our right of free speech then how do we know that we still have it?
It ought to not be unpleasant to say that which one honestly believes or disbelieves. That is it so constantly painful to do so, is quite enough obstacle to the progress of mankind in that most valuable of all qualities, honestly of word or of deed.
If you are uniformly politically correct — if you orient the very centre of your being around being politically correct — then you share this miserable quality with the terrified citizens of North Korea or any totalitarian country. And you are an unoriginal preacher, your changing sermon is whatever whatever passes as moral virtue of the day.
Do with this fact what you like, but preferably act against it. Speak out, risk offence, say what is on your mind with an open mind, and above all tell the truth at the cost of causing offence, because, by not speaking out—instead of merely the potential to cause offence—you are certain to allow for destruction.
Remember, what is now politically correct was once politically incorrect. Suffrage, anti-slavery, child labour laws—take absolutely any prevailing sociopolitical belief—whatever it is once offended the existing order. And so it is, something that is now incorrect will be the correct again. What is now blasphemy will soon be sanctified, but not unless it is allowed to be blasphemous in the meantime. So you might as well forget what is temporarily politically correct or incorrect and opt to speak the truth instead.
In all, political correctness is not a virtue; it is a credulous reaction to moments that are transitory, different from one day to another, unrecognizable from one decade to another. Political correctness is a broken clock being right twice in a day, and is either an oxymoron or not desirable at any significant scale in the first place.
We will end with a story; a small selection from Nikolai Leskov’s brilliant novella, The Enchanted Wanderer. Ivan Severianych tells the story of being taking into captive by Tatars. Despairing for home after eleven years in captivity, now crippled on account of being tortured with horse bristles stuffed under his heels to prevent any escape, Ivan has the apparent good fortune of two Russian missionaries arriving in the Tatar village with the intention of spreading their Christian faith in the far reaches of the Empire.
Upon their arrival, Ivan falls at their feet, sobbing in relief. Surprised, the Russians remark that it is interesting that a Tatar has abandoned his Muslim faith so quickly, that grace should have allowed their divine task to be so expedient. The Tatars express surprise at the missionaries’s assessment, for Ivan has not converted, he is one of theirs to begin with, a Russian, living with the Tatars as a captive. No, no grace hath yet descended, the Tatars report. The missionaries react to the Tatar assessment with indignation, refusing to believe Ivan is Russian.
Ivan begs them, “No,” I said, “I really am a Russian. Holy fathers, have mercy, get me out of here! I’ve been languishing as a prisoner here for eleven years, and you can see how I’ve been crippled: I can’t walk.”
Ivan relates that they paid no attention to his words and went on preaching to others instead. Soon, he finds a private moment to once again beg for his release. Ivan flings himself at the feet of the missionaries and, relating his suffering and his most cruel fate, pleads for rescue, offering his permanent service to them if they help set him free. The following conversation ensues:
They replied, “Son, what are you saying? We don’t have ransom money, and we’re not allowed to try to frighten infidels, because they’re already a cunning and treacherous lot, and so it’s politic for us to watch our manners in dealing with them.”
“Does that mean,” I asked, “that because of your politics I have to spend the rest of my useless life here with them?”
“Well, does it matter, son, where you spend your useless life? Pray: God is very merciful and perhaps he will save you.”
Ivan despairs, for he is in disbelief, that his countrymen, fellow Russians, missionaries no less, refuse to help him by choosing politics over action, politics over what is right, choosing to be politically correct, really. The missionaries contend instead that even slaves must submit, that a quarrel would be ‘unbefitting’, and that he is already delivered to heaven by account of his faith, so his ‘useless life’ is of no concern to them. After all, it is the souls of the Tartars, his captors, that are not yet protected, whose souls they are more compelled to intercede on behalf of. Instead of doing a good thing, the missionaries opt for an impossible thing, indeed, they soon end up dead anyway by their ungrateful recipients, those same Tartars willing to keep Ivan as a slave for eleven years.
“No, child,” they replied. “Don’t involve us in this. We are in Christ, and in Christ there is neither Hellene not Jew: our countrymen are all obedient noviciates. For us, everyone is equal, everyone is equal.”
‘Everyone?” I queried.
“Everyone. That is what we have learned from the apostle Paul. Wherever we go, we never quarrel…that would be unbefitting. You are a slave; there’s nothing to be done, so endure, for even the apostle Paul says that slaves must submit. But remember that you are a Christian, and so we need not intercede for your soul; you don’t need us to open the gates of paradise, but these people will be in darkness if we don’t bring them into the fold, so we are bound to intercede for them.”
The missionaries ignore their faith and in submitting to explicit rules and speaking along a strict script miss what would be a better output of their intended goodwill. The good they supposedly seek is right in front of their eyes, or more accurately, lying at their feet. The person that needs helping, who they are able to help, is not helped. The missionaries subvert the will of their own selves by capitulating to a backwards order that does not allow them to accomplish what they have set out to do in the first place, that is, promote Good. Yes, those that espouse to be politically correct willingly submit to a foreign, ineffective, and misplaced mandate. Yes, political correctness is a false virtue.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.