Everywhere I look, it seems that someone is railing against political correctness. I myself am no fan of it. John Cleese, one of my comedy heroes and a very, very smart man has spoken out against it and made some very valuable and cogent points:
I myself tend to be pretty blunt and plain-spoken. My main goal when communicating is to make sure that when I'm done, you know exactly how I feel about the subject and I try to choose the words I use to ensure that purpose is met. I hate ambiguity and dissembling. They both smack of dishonesty.
That said, I find myself puzzled about the uproar over political correctness. Most of the people I know who are complaining about it are decent people. They're the kind of people who would never dream of referring to a handicapped person as a cripple, or even gay people in general as faggots. Yet George Carlin points out that both of those are examples of political correctness:
What seems to have these people upset is that they seem to think that they are no longer free to say what they think, and that is simply nonsense. All you have to do is look at their Facebook pages to see that is not the case. Many of them offend me on a daily basis (and these are my actual friends I'm talking about, not the Facebook-specific type of friends we all have), and that's okay because I know that I probably offend them on a regular basis.
Even so, when I see memes like this one:
Or any of the multitude of variations on that theme it makes me a little crazy. I don't know anybody who has ever been persecuted or vilified for doing any of those things. I know that it does happen sometimes, on a personal level, but it is far from endemic. I myself do the last four (I do like Obama), but I don't believe that everyone who doesn't should leave. I might ask them why they don't do these things, maybe discuss it with them and perhaps even learn a thing or two myself, but I wouldn't tell them to leave.
That's the problem with the current rebellion against political correctness: it is a lie. It is a false rebellion against an imagined oppressor. It is nothing more than a bill of goods that we have been sold by Fox News, among others, that enable us to assume an undeserved mantle of victimhood.
The current backlash against political correctness has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with ensuring division among the people of this nation. I know a lot of liberals and a lot of conservatives, across all ages. The only thing on that meme that divides them is the attitude toward President Obama and don't think for a minute that the person, people, and groups who make these memes don't know that. They also know that those who support the President will be offended by it and that by linking hatred of President Obama to all those other things, they also link them in the minds, not only of those who post and share them, but in the minds of those who read them.
I've also seen similar memes that encourage anyone who doesn't agree with it to go ahead and "unfriend" the person who posted it. I have to admit, I've been tempted to do that very thing. However, I think about the person behind the post. Most, in fact all, of the people I know who post this kind of stuff are good decent people. The kind of people who, if faced with choosing between joining the Westboro Baptist Church in protesting at the funeral of a soldier or a gay nightclub shooting victim and protecting the funeral from the Westboro Baptist Church, would be on the side of the angels in protecting the funeral. That's why I don't "unfriend" them. They are more than that meme.
I may not agree with their politics, and I may even loathe some of their political choices, but at the same time I would never try to stop them from speaking their minds.
I even understand the appeal of the current attitude toward political correctness: it simplifies everything. It makes broad, sweeping generalizations that even though wildly inaccurate, keeps us from thinking. It's easier to think of all Muslims (or Christians, or liberals, or conservatives, or gays, or immigrants, or whatever group makes you personally uncomfortable) as enemies of our nation than to have to assess each person on the merits of their character.
In order to do that, we'd have to actually talk to each other. We'd have to get to know each other. We'd have to have at least some degree of respect for each other, as well as be okay with the idea that we ourselves might be wrong about a few things.
When I started college, one of the things I wondered about was how I would get along with the other students. After all, I was almost 50 years old, a retired veteran, a deacon in my church, all hallmarks of the arch-conservative going into a college which we all know are bastions of liberalism; chock-full of atheists, socialists, homosexuals, and other "social deviants."
Completely unsurprisingly I got along fine with them and now, three years later, I really value their friendship and opinions. They were pretty much all leery of me initially and I was, at the very least, puzzled by some of them but a weird thing happened: we talked. We talked about not just the classes and assignments, but about books and movies and politics and religion and family and everything under the sun, and we all came to realize that there was much more common ground between us than there were things dividing us.
In case you missed it, we talked. We didn't communicate with memes or propaganda. We held our own biases in reserve and listened to what the other had to say. If we held back in conversation, it was so as not to needlessly offend someone that we respected. We still said what we had to say, we voiced our opinions, but we tried to word it so as to encourage understanding not resentment.
That's the other problem with the backlash against political correctness: it actively seeks to offend. That's why Donald Trump is the poster-child for anti-political correctness. He seems to be simple (in my opinion, in more ways than one). People think he isn't afraid to call a spade a spade. They applaud him for condemning Muslims, Mexicans, and immigrants while they condemn President Obama for refusing to use the phrase "radical Islam." Without realizing that Trump is alienating large parts of the US population in order to appeal to the majority while President Obama is refusing to alienate large parts of the population, both nationally and internationally, because of the actions of a proportionally small group of religious Whack-a-doo's.
These same people who insist that not all Christians be judged by the actions of our own religious Whack-a-doos, like the Westboro Baptist Church or Robert Dear, the nut who shot up the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last year, seem to be okay with tarring all Muslims with the same brush as Omar Mateen. The Muslim who shot almost 100 people in an Orlando nightclub a couple of weeks ago. There is no reason to believe that he is any better a Muslim than Robert Dear is a Christian.
We seem to equate being thoughtlessly and needlessly offensive with taking action against the problems in our country, when in fact, the opposite is true. It only divides us further, to the delight and benefit of the power mongers who benefit from that division. We need to be less anxious to offend and more determined to communicate. We need to concentrate less on falsely simplifying complicated issues and more on understanding both the issues and each other. As offensive, and probably misguided as it is, maybe that guy burning or standing on the flag has a reason for it. As annoying as you may find them, you should perhaps think twice before applauding someone driving into a Black Lives Matter protester with a car.
I personally believe that, as John Cleese said, there are people out there we should wish to offend. However, I believe that our offensive capabilities should be used as surgical strikes aimed at deserving individuals, rather than carpet-bombing campaigns that harm not only the intended targets, but the innocent as well as ourselves.