In any society, there is a set of unspoken rules and expectations that govern what kind of discourse is acceptable and what is not. Thus, the communication is not controlled, but guided by these rules. Some have taken to calling this phenomenon political correctness, which is defined as, “language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society,” according to Wikipedia. The key to this definition is that communication is what helps to avoid offending people. However, over time, being politically correct has taken on many different meanings, such as “politically wise, invalid, hypersensitive and cowardice,” as stated by NPR. This added layer of complexity shows us that depending on the situation, political correctness can be viewed as a good or a bad thing. The myth that it is about hypersensitivity is absurd.
What is interesting about political correctness is that it is often applied to specific words that people got used to saying, but now cannot get away with saying in public. For example, there is the ‘R’ word. It is politically incorrect to use it now. However, who is it truly hurting to stop using the word on people that have autism, or people or things that you do not like? Find another way to show your displeasure about something. You are not being discriminated against, so stop using it. There is no positive utility in using the word outside of its denotation.
I prefer to be politically correct because I believe it takes into account what kind of language is going to be the most respectful. I hesitate to even call it political correctness because that is a loaded term. I simply want to be as respectful as I can, and just as precise with the language that I use in regards to other people. I do not see it as an infringement on my right to free speech.
Some people believe that political correctness is thought and language control, and is an infringement on free speech. Ben Shapiro says that political correctness “breeds insanity.” I believe that this is a bit of an extreme view. Jordan Peterson rose to fame over an issue of political correctness for just this reason. He opposed Bill C-16 in Canada, a law that added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act. He believes that it is compelled speech, controlling what he can and cannot say. The crux of his argument was that he should not be required to use gender pronouns for students. This is relevant because gender pronouns have become a part of the political correctness realm. Misgendering someone now is much more socially unacceptable now than it has been in the past.
To counter political correctness, there is political incorrectness. The issue with political incorrectness is that it is typically used to communicate what the speaker deems “truths.” These truths are typically things that are generally offensive or simply objectively untrue. Newly elected governor of Georgia Brian Kemp exemplified this during a campaign ad in 2018 when he said, “I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself. Yup, I just said that.” He viewed this as politically incorrect and his constituents applauded him for it.
The issue with political incorrectness is that it undercuts the idea that there should be consideration of a message’s impact on others. There is a lack of empathy for the receiver. Compounding this issue is a lack of initiative to understand the opinions of others. When a person is only exposed to things that they agree with, they do not understand other perspectives. It is difficult for people that are inundated with only one framework of thought to consider another.
As a nation, we are seeing more and more blatant examples of racism and ethnocentrism touted as truths. These messages, deemed as politically incorrect, have captured the minds of a large portion of the conservative base in the United States. This is not to say that liberals never use this, but they use it in different ways, typically to demean conservative voters and candidates. An example would be someone saying, “all of the people that voted for Donald Trump are ignorant, racist, and stupid.” This is clearly an overgeneralization based in affect, not logic. Not only that, but it does not help the situation. It serves as a way to further increase oppositions that negatively impact our political reality.
Everyone has the right to say what they want, but that does not mean that there are no social repercussions for it. It is a fallacy for one to blame other people when they get mad at something they have said when you know that it is inflammatory. Politics is about appealing to a group as a whole, and doing what is best for the group. Discourse shapes our reality and together, we dictate what is acceptable to say and what is not. We get to choose how our country moves forward, and part of that is learning to be more effective and inclusive with our communication.