What Kind of Political Correctness Do We Want? PC culture has become a problem, but jettisoning all political correctness is untenable

Am doing some thinking regarding political correctness and other phenomenon (identity and dog whistle politics, snowflakes, virtue signalling, tone policing etc) with a view to understanding how these are practised by both the right and left. One article that caught my eye at this stage:

We can easily think of many obsolete expressions, particularly slurs, to which thoughtful people have rightly said, “good riddance.” It’s a sign of progress that we can no longer use such speech in polite company. But it’s worth noting that the project of sensitizing language is open-ended, lacking any natural end point.

Language can always be made more sensitive, though it’s not clear it always should be. If the norms become too restrictive, or are enforced too severely, important discourse will be suppressed — especially when the norms are ideologically charged. How we should strike the balance between sensitivity and freedom in language is a central theme in debates about political correctness.

What is “Political Correctness”?

The term “political correctness” was once used unironically to describe the kind of orthodoxy good comrades in the Soviet Union and Maoist China were supposed to live by. George Orwell refers to this notion of political correctness in his “Principles of Newspeak,” the appendix to 1984.

In the 1980s, conservative intellectuals adopted the term as a hyperbolic description of a new kind of speech control on the left. The use of “political correctness,” or “PC,” in that sense persists today. A Google search turns up a good definition:

The avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

This definition allows that political correctness isn’t inherently extreme; sometimes it may be appropriate. It also allows that conservatives may be PC enforcers; some of the recent criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for remarks perceived as anti-Semitic may be an example. However, not all efforts to control expression in order to avoid giving hurt qualify as PC, since not all are primarily concerned with marginalized groups. Criminalizing the burning of the American flag would be censorship, but not political correctness.

Finally, note that opposition to perceived excesses of political correctness does not entail condoning bigotry. It’s perfectly consistent to be opposed to racism and sexism and to be concerned about the excesses of anti-racism and anti-sexism. By way of analogy, there’s no contradiction in saying that disease is a bad thing, but so is obsessively washing your hands hundreds of times a day. The worst aspects of the left’s anti-racism and anti-sexism fervor are obsessive in this way, except that the concern is mostly with washing other people’s hands.

Why does “Political Correctness” Matter?

Not long after the term’s reintroduction and popularization, “political correctness” became a major cultural fault line in American politics. In 1993, economist Glenn Loury wrote that political correctness “has replaced communism as the primary locus of partisan conflict in American life.” According to a study with over 8,000 participants described in The Atlanticlast year, 61 percent of self-described liberals, 97 percent of self-described conservatives, and 80 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “political correctness is a problem in this country.” Even 30 percent of progressive activists agreed.

Skeptics see “political correctness” as a distraction that serves the interests of right-wing politicians. Unsurprisingly, politicians will capitalize on whatever resentments exist. The charge that people who reject political correctness are bigots also has, in many cases, a grain of truth. That is why online platforms that advertise themselves as anti-PC, such as Gab or 8chan, quickly attract extremists (see also here). But it’s hard to believe that all of the antipathy toward political correctness, including from avowed anti-racists, stems from bigotry first and foremost.

Conservatives exaggerate the peril of certain aspects of the PC problem — such as “no-platforming” un-PC speakers on college campuses. Sometimes, a person invited to speak at a university is prevented from doing so by threats of violence — and sometimes actual violence — or pressure to disinvite him or her. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) maintains a database of all disinvitation efforts since the year 2000 that have come to its attention. Although these episodes contribute to political polarization, they are relatively rare, and generally don’t impede discourse in a serious way. If Ben Shapiro is no-platformed at the University of California-Berkeley, he can still address millions of people on his podcast the next day.

But subtler manifestations of political correctness turn out to be more sinister. As Glenn Loury writes:

For every act of aberrant speech seen to be punished by the “thought police,” there are countless critical arguments, dissents from the received truth, unpleasant factual reports, or nonconformist deviations of thought that go unexpressed, or whose expression is distorted, because potential speakers rightly fear the consequences of a candid exposition of their views. As a result, the public discussion about vital issues can become dangerously impoverished.

People are reasonably risk averse when it comes to their careers and reputations. Hence the visible punishment of a few people for deviant views may induce many people to keep quiet, distorting public dialogue. In his essay, “Why People are Irrational About Politics,” the philosopher Michael Huemer observes:

The problem of political irrationality is the greatest social problem humanity faces. It is a greater problem than crime, drug addiction, or even world poverty, because it is a problem that prevents us from solving other problems. Before we can solve the problem of poverty, we must first have correct beliefs about poverty, about what causes it, what reduces it, and what the side effects of alternative policies are.

PC excesses matter because they have the potential to derail rational discussion, which remains our best hope for dealing with the problems we face.

Worrisome Manifestations of Political Correctness

Instead of giving a roll call of recent PC flare-ups, I will mention three types of incident that encourage self-censorship.

1 — Politically motivated firings or coerced resignations
In 2006, Lawrence Summers stepped down from his post as president of Harvard University. In 2013, Brendan Eich resigned as CEO of the Mozilla Corporation. In 2017, software engineer James Damore was fired by Google.

Summers’s resignation was largely due to the backlash against a 2005 speech he gave arguing the idea that the underrepresentation of women in some fields may be explained in part by different distribution of cognitive skills. Damore had written an internal memo that criticized Google’s diversity policies (in response to a request for input) and similarly emphasized sex differences as a factor in the shortage of women in tech jobs. Eich had come under fire for donating a few thousand dollars in support of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, a few years earlier.

Each of these men articulated mainstream views. Barack Obama was officially opposed to same-sex marriage for a few years after Eich made his donation; Summers and Damore cited peer-reviewed scientific research in support of their views. These episodes signal that it’s possible to lose your job for expressing views, or endorsing causes, that are out of step with the micro-culture at your place of work. Even CEOs and presidents of elite universities can be punished for deviance; indeed, their high status might even make them more attractive targets, politically.

Political firings thus encourage self-censorship and groupthink in some of the world’s most powerful institutions. Moreover, these episodes invite a kind of populist backlash we should be worried about. Why shouldn’t conservatives be skeptical of elite institutions if they realize that no one who agrees with them is allowed a place at the table? Why shouldn’t they be skeptical of academics’ conclusions about climate change, or anything else, if they perceive that dissenters can be defenestrated on political grounds?

2 — Blacklisting
Katja Thieme, professor at the University of British Columbia with over 4,000 Twitter followers, retweeted a tweet harshly critical of Quillettemagazine, adding: “YES. If you’re an academic and you publish in Quillette, we see you. We fucking see you. And we are looking right at you” (three emoticons of eyes added effect). Another professor, Terry Bridges, commented on the thread: “It would be nice to have a list of Canadian academics who have published in that shitrag.” This prompted a strong reaction from many Quillette writers and fans.

Presumably, no one would say “we see you” three times in succession, or talk about drawing up a list of names in this context, for idle purposes. Interpreting this as a threat against academics who write for Quillette seems reasonable. Some of Thieme’s defenders pointed out that conservatives also make lists of names of academics they don’t like (e.g., Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist). The main difference is that conservatives aren’t in a position to dominate hiring searches and promotion decisions in the way that progressive professors are.

Thieme’s defenders responded that there’s no evidence that any anti-Quillette blacklist actually exists. But Quillette writers don’t know that such a list doesn’t exist, or that it won’t soon be created. There’s also precedent for this kind of behavior. Transgender activists in the U.K. were recently accused of creating a secret online list shaming professors who disagreed with their views on gender identity. The Times of London reports:

The online forum, seen by The Times, also revealed that members plotted to accuse non-compliant professors of hate crime to try to have them ousted from their jobs. Reading, Sussex, Bristol, Warwick and Oxford universities were among those deemed to have “unsafe” departments because they employed academics who had publicly disputed the belief that “trans women are women” or questioned the potential impact of proposed changes to gender laws on women and children….

How this encourages self-censorship among academics should be obvious.

3 — Twitter Mobbing
There are many forms of social media mobbing, but one subgenre seems especially noxious: online “social justice warriors” getting their hands on advance copies of young adult novels and denouncing them for various forms of bigotry, triggering a pile-on. Often, these attacks target debut works. Four such recent controversies have involved The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, American Heart by Laura Moriarty, Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao, and A Place For Wolves by Kosoko Jackson.

Although the complaints often have little substance, publishers, reviewers and authors seem easily intimidated. Kirkus Reviews apparently changed a review of American Heart, removing a star and adding a line about identity concerns, after Moriarty was accused of promoting a “white savior narrative.” Moriarty said in an interview that her publisher, Harper Collins, nearly dropped the project as a result. In response to the social media campaign against The Black Witch, Kirkus published an essay by editor Vicki Smith that ostensibly defended a positive review of the book but spent an inordinate amount of time acknowledging the critics’ concerns.

Jackson’s case was ironic, since A Place for Wolves had been promoted under the Twitter hashtag #OurVoices and was supposed to be a model progressive novel. Jackson had even participated in the earlier mobbing of Zhao. Nonetheless, dominoes fell quickly after an anonymous review on Goodreads claimed that Jackson had, among other transgressions, focused excessively on privileged characters and made the villain a Muslim terrorist. A few weeks later, Jackson posted an apology, and announced that he had decided to cancel the release of his book, thanking his attackers for enlightening him. Zhao had issued a similar apology, though she has since reversed course and announced that she will publish her novel. A Slate article on the Jackson episode observes:

…we’ve gotten an increasingly toxic online culture around YA literature, with evermore-baroque standards for who can write about whom under what circumstances. From the outside, this is starting to look like a conversation focused less on literature than obedience.

It’s worth pondering whether J.K. Rowling could have published her Harry Potter novels in this environment. Who knows what worthwhile projects are being abandoned by prospective writers, perhaps at the advice of rattled agents, in anticipation of backlash.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A tempting response to these excesses is to simply say: “To hell with political correctness!” A lot of people feel this way, which may partly explain Donald Trump’s political success. But, though hyper-woke Twitter mobs is not where we wanted to end up, there’s a reason we started down this road. We need norms of speech that preserve the enlightened aspects of political correctness while mitigating against its excesses. The following is a non-exhaustive list of suggestions:

1 — Objectivity
Violations of our speech norms cannot merely be a matter of the “victim’s” feelings.

This is not because feelings don’t matter; all politeness presupposes that feelings matter. But we can’t adjust our behavior according to standards that aren’t based on publicly available reasons. We need know what categories of behavior will be regarded as reasonable cause for offense, e.g., “He repeatedly draws unnecessary attention to his coworkers’ racial and/or sexual characteristics.”

2 — Consistency
Political correctness as it now exists seems inconsistent. Whites are cautioned against trying to be “racially blind,” but can also be called out whenever differential treatment isn’t well-received, even if it is clearly well-intentioned. I once heard a professor opine in a lecture on racism that too many whites enthusiastically thanked him after his lectures; he doubted their sincerity.

The casual denigration of white people, especially white men, in “progressive” discourse also seems inconsistent with norms against racist speech. For example, The Daily Beast ran an article titled “The Starbucks Music Store Under Howard Schultz Was Painfully White.” It’s hard to imagine anyone who considers himself a progressive describing any music store as “painfully black.” I see no reason for thinking that differences in “social context” should nullify our general concern about racial sensitivity when it comes to whites.

3 — Proportionality
The punishment of un-PC speech is often disproportionate to the crime. For example, Megyn Kelly lost her show on NBC for asserting without elaboration that some Halloween costumes featuring blackface can be acceptable. Maybe she had in mind a white seven year old who wanted to dress as Black Panther. This opinion is certainly not more foolish than what commentators regularly say without being made to issue an on-air apology, as Kelly was, and then being fired regardless of the apology.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam faced, and resisted, pressure to step down when it came to light that he had appeared in a photograph from the 1980s featuring a person in blackface and another in KKK garb (it’s still not clear which is Northam). It’s unlikely that there would have been such calls in response to almost any other form of immoral-but-legal behavior he could have engaged in during the 1980s. Why should someone be punished more harshly for racist speech than for transgressions like adultery, lying, or verbally abusing one’s children?

Free speech in its First Amendment sense — the absence of government restraints on, or legal penalties for, expression — is important, but ultimately it’s only a means to an end. Legal free speech matters because a culture of open discourse matters; the absence of formal penalties for deviant speech is moot if all of the other mechanisms of society conspire to silence dissenters. What comfort is it that you won’t go to jail if speaking your mind means losing your job, being on the receiving end of shaming, and enduring severe ostracism? For most people, the threats of these things are sufficient to enforce silence.

This is why the excesses of political correctness are worrisome. Though they don’t — yet — compromise “free speech” narrowly construed, at least not in the U.S., they degrade the culture of open discourse that free speech exists to protect.

Our response should not be to reject political correctness altogether, which would be damaging to public discourse for different reasons. Instead, we should think about what kind of political correctness we should want to have. At a minimum, these norms must be objective, consistent, and punished proportionally.

Source: What Kind of Political Correctness Do We Want? – Arc Digitalarcdigital.media › what-kind-of-political-correctness-do…

The culture war has been won, so now we fight about words: Doug Saunders

Words matter. And words have different meanings for different groups. So avoiding “trigger” words and finding less polarizing language and labels should be part of any conversations:

Are you a social justice warrior? Not if you can help it, I bet. You are unlikely to find anyone who will self-identify as an “SJW,” an annoyingly popular internet putdown aimed by angry trolls at the earnest slogans of left-leaning people.

In response to such scorn, people have dropped the words “social justice.” Liberal-minded politicians now studiously avoid the phrase. This despite the fact that a large and growing majority of people believe in, well, social justice.

The idea has divorced itself from the words. Social justice, the concept – broad equality and opposition to unfair discrimination – is more popular than ever. But “social justice,” the phrase, has become hotly contested and, to many, off-putting and doctrinaire. It joins such polarizing formulations as “systemic racism” and “Islamophobia” – terms that inspire distaste among big segments of a public who otherwise support the concepts behind those phrases.

And that’s led to a misconception. The long-running fight over language – in which the words and phrases of the ideologically earnest are rejected as “politically correct” – is being mistaken for some larger and more irreconcilable battle over underlying ideas and beliefs.

Those who are truly intolerant and opposed to pluralism – those who think social justice is not just an awkward phrase but a bad idea – are a small and declining group. But that group is manipulating language conflicts to their political advantage.

That has become vividly evident as a new study of political tribalism has inspired a bewildering range of reactions from scholars and journalists. The study, titled Hidden Tribes, examines 8,000 U.S. citizens from a wide range of backgrounds in lengthy surveys and focus-group discussions. The aim of the study (and of the organization behind it, More in Common) is to show how countries have become divided into multiple tribal factions.

But the study doesn’t really end up showing that. For the most part, it shows that there are exactly two factions: a large, increasingly united majority ranging from the left to the centre-right who believe in social justice and its sister concepts, and a small group, making up 25 per cent of Americans on the devout ideological right (certainly smaller in other English-speaking countries) who oppose those ideas completely.

There is, however, another divide visible – one around language. Last month, the political scientist Yascha Mounk analyzed one of the study’s secondary findings in an essay carrying the headline “Americans strongly dislike PC culture.” Indeed, 80 per cent of Americans agree that “political correctness is a problem in our country,” and that includes almost all ages and backgrounds. Only 6 per cent support “PC culture” and that group is mostly wealthy and white.

But the “PC culture” they’re opposing is not really a culture at all; it’s just the language. And it’s a narrow gripe: An even larger majority – 82 per cent – think hate speech is an equally big problem.

Indeed, what jumps out from the study is that the people who are against PC language are also overwhelmingly in favour of the broad ideas behind that language.

A majority of all Americans, and a really big majority who aren’t devoted conservatives, believe that “white people today don’t recognize the real advantages they have” – but most people say they dislike the popular millennial name for this thought, “white privilege.” A similarly substantial majority feel that “many people nowadays don’t take discrimination against Muslims seriously enough” – but most oppose the word “Islamophobia.” Most Americans believe “the police are often more violent toward African Americans than others,” but when you characterize this view as Black Lives Matter, suddenly six in 10 are opposed.

Six in 10 Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, including majorities in most conservative camps. A similar proportion believe that “accepting transgender people is the moral thing to do.” And 69 per cent of Americans believe sexism today is “very serious or somewhat serious.”

That majority might not like the phrases used by gay- and transgender-rights activists and feminists, or even words such as “feminist,” but the underlying ideas have wide support.

However, people tend to vote based not on big ideas but on words – and the 25 per cent who ardently oppose the ideas of equality and pluralism are winning wider election victories, in the United States and elsewhere, by going after the words. The rise of Trumpism was propelled by manufactured outrage about political correctness run amok. This week saw U.S. majorities back ballot measures supporting transgender rights and black enfranchisement; they also voted for plenty of “anti-PC” candidates.

There is no “PC culture,” just words that become targets. If we want to win social justice, we might need to lose “social justice.”

Source: The culture war has been won, so now we fight about words: Doug Saunders

Chris Selley, Simona Chiose: Two takes on the business interests of Jordan Peterson, hero of the anti-PC crowd

Interesting analysis of the business models supporting Peterson in both the National Post and Globe.

Peterson canbe judged to some extent by the company he keeps as detailed in the longer and more comprehensive Globe article:

On Sept. 1 last year, Peterson had 161 supporters on the crowdfunding site Patreon, contributing US$1,058 a month; as of this week, he had 3,609 supporters contributing an astonishing US$39,084 a month. That’s about three-and-a-half times his salary from the university. When Peterson was denied a research grant to study the link between personality and political beliefs, including belief in political correctness, Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media framed it as a left-wing conspiracy and launched a crowdfunding campaign on his behalf. It currently sits at 266 per cent of its goal: $195,230.

“It’s unbelievable. But all of it is unbelievable,” says Peterson, referring both to the money and to the last eight months in general.

Naturally, this outcome does not sit perfectly well with Peterson’s detractors on campus. “It does seem to me rather tacky that he has been posing as a victim of PC prejudice and representing himself as at risk of jail or dismissal from his job,” says Ronald de Sousa, an emeritus professor of philosophy at U of T. Lawyers’ opinions have convinced de Sousa that Peterson has nothing legitimate to fear from the law, and nothing except a “tut-tutting letter” — which he calls a “regrettable decision” — to fear from the university administration.

Physics professor A.W. Peet is rather more blunt: “He has been dehumanizing trans and gender-diverse people … for fun and profit.”

Rebel’s intervention certainly adds an edge. Peterson says he watches very little of the online news outlet’s output, which is not surprising: it is not known for its academic or journalistic rigour, or indeed for consistent sanity. At one anti-Peterson rally on the U of T campus, then-Rebel contributor Lauren Southern took the microphone as if she were an attendee, not a reporter; when organizers said they wanted to give trans people priority to speak, she lied and said she was one. Rebel contributors have included Paul Joseph Watson, a 9/11 Truther and friend of uber-conspiracist Alex Jones; Pizzagate delivery man Jack Posobiec, who was briefly Rebel’s “Washington bureau chief”; and Tommy Robinson, former leader of a gang of racist hooligans called the English Defence League. Peterson says he knows “for a fact” Levant isn’t Islamophobic, noting they were recently at a meeting with several moderate Canadian Muslims. But the network did spend the hours after the massacre at a Quebec City mosque torquing garden-variety confusion into a conspiracy theory that the killer was, in fact, Muslim.

Peterson says he would always prefer his work be associated solely with himself but that he’s “disinclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.” Peet has no qualms with crowdfunding academic research per se, but thinks there should be rules governing it — for example, when a third party like Rebel intervenes on a professor’s behalf. Such guidelines are under development at U of T, says spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans. But if they put any crimp in Peterson’s plans, he could easily make up the difference some other way.

If Peterson’s fundraising numbers are astounding, perhaps the astounded have underestimated the fury being inspired by modern preoccupations like white privilege and cultural appropriation, and by the marginalization, shouting down or outright cancellation of other viewpoints in polite society’s institutions. The biggest applause line at last weekend’s Conservative Party of Canada leadership convention came when winner Andrew Scheer promised to withhold federal funding from universities that “shut down debate.”

“It’s (bad) enough that the media elites find the views of many conservatives unfashionable or outré,” says one Conservative strategist, describing the mood among party supporters. “Now the trendline on university campuses seems to be to ban any expression of conservative ideas … or any questioning of liberal orthodoxy.”

Peterson is by no means appealing only to reactionaries or partisan conservatives, however. His YouTube channel, which has 290,000 subscribers, is not a source of Rebel-style rants and conspiracies. Recent videos include the first two of his ongoing 12-part lecture series, The Psychological Significance of The Biblical Stories. (Some of his crowdfunding money went toward renting the Isabel Bader Theatre at U of T for the series, but he says he made it back through ticket sales.) His Patreon account promises “lectures about profound psychological ideas.”

“History has shown that political correctness, and all that comes with it, is the first step on a very dark path,” says Philip Sibbering, a games designer in the U.K. who contributed to the Rebel-sponsored crowdfunding effort. Sibbering notes the intellectual intolerance of the Nazis, which all of society now rejects, and of the Marxists, which all of society does not. “Any research that could allow us to understand the root cause and effect that brings political correctness into being is vital.”

Stephen Kaiser-Pendergast, a film editor based in Los Angeles and another crowdfunding contributor, first discovered Peterson through his interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan, two prominent critics of political correctness. (The interviews have 185,000 and 1.9 million views on YouTube, respectively.) “Working in narrative film, I have a vested interest in any kind of remedy for politically correct thinking, which I see as among the most significant of threats to artistic expression,” he says. “However, I mostly remain on his (YouTube) channel for the academic material. I have had a lifelong interest in understanding human behaviour and I find Prof. Peterson’s channel to be a treasure-trove.”

Peterson has big plans, and money to make them happen. He plans to curate “a series of conversations with moderate Muslims about the possibility of developing a bridge between that faith and the fundamental beliefs of the West.” It began on Thursday when he interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali (though she is more of a former Muslim than a moderate one). [a rabid anti-Muslim activist would be a more accurate description]

Source: Chris Selley: Jordan Peterson, hero of the anti-PC crowd, just keeps winning | National Post

The Globe’s Simona Chiose also covers the story more in depth from a more critical angle, along with analysis of follower comments:

Prof. Peterson’s vociferous defence of free speech isn’t new to universities. What is new, however, is the way that social media has amplified the discourse – and “weaponized” and globalized this long-running drama. The professor’s unrelenting stance has earned him scores of angry critics, but the attention has also helped him rack up followers. He now has almost 300,000 subscribers on YouTube and thousands of patrons on Patreon, a crowd-funded subscription content site where he earns more than $30,000 a month. On Twitter, his followers hail from Shanghai and Berlin, St. Petersburg and Pune, Toronto and San Francisco. And under the guise of anonymity, these anti-PC warriors can harass their opponents through posts, memes and videos and organize campaigns on no-holds-barred message boards.

The existence of this parallel, online space is hardly mentioned in free speech debates or arises only in lateral mentions of concerns about “safety on campus.”

But an investigation into the controversy around Jordan Peterson shows how this world grows and operates. With his vast online reach, Prof. Peterson has attracted small volunteer armies willing to defend his views. The Globe and Mail reviewed hundreds of pages of discussions about Prof. Peterson and his views on anonymous message boards, including 4chan and voat – two of the least moderated or monitored online forums. The conversations, which range from immature to obscene, show that the professor’s critics were the subjects of “doxing” campaigns, where activists are personally identified and harassed online.

Prof. Peterson says he can’t be held responsible for the harassment that his critics endure online, however, and justifies his hardline position on free speech by saying it allows hateful views to be exposed to the cleansing light of day.

“It’s extraordinarily dangerous to drive hate speech underground,” he said in a conversation last fall. “There are a lot of terrible things that people shouldn’t say, but that does not mean you should stop them from saying them, because you want to know who is saying them and you want to bring discourse to bear on their perspective,” he said.

In short, Jordan Peterson has redefined the notion of the faculty celebrity and pushed the university into new territory, trying to decide what protecting free speech means in the age of Internet trolls.

How U of T’s Jordan Peterson has made money from online notoriety

Who has the right to say what’s correct? Mark Kingwell

Kingwell on political correctness and civility, making the important distinction between politeness and a willingness to engage in meaningful yet respectful discussion and debate:

Civility is much misunderstood. It is not politeness, the stifling of personal opinion in the service of social niceties. Politeness is a minor virtue of communal life. I might reply, when asked my opinion of a dinner, that it was “quite good.” I don’t really believe it and probably my host doesn’t either. Enough said.

Genuine civility, by contrast, marks a willingness to engage the other in the service of understanding, not competition. This is never easy. Will what I say offend someone else? Well, maybe. Is there still good reason for saying it, and saying it this way? What, finally, is the point, here?

Nobody anywhere, on campus or off, has ever had the privilege of saying anything at all without consequences. The next time you think political correctness has “gone too far,” ask yourself if maybe you are the one saying unproductive, small-minded or stupid things. Just as important, we all need to remember that nothing is ever correct until we argue the point – and usually not even then.

Source: Who has the right to say what’s correct? – The Globe and Mail

Reid: It’s time to call out those ‘politically incorrect’ politicians

Good piece by Scott Reid on political correctness (and incorrectness):

But, generally speaking, what is required of us to exhibit so-called “politically correct” behaviour is pretty innocuous. In most cases, it amounts to little more than taking the time to not be a dink. True, you can’t call a female co-worker sugar-shake or snap a towel as she walks by, undoubtedly the world has become a less friendly place for the Mad Men among us. But is that really such a bad thing? Is being obtuse or outright ignorant what actually made America great — or Canada for that matter?

In this context, we see a particularly odious trend emerging in our politics. Increasingly, we are subjected to a stampede of candidates who proclaim themselves proudly to be “politically incorrect.” It’s worn like a badge of honour, as though the self-affixed label instantly connects these politicians to “real” people and signals a willingness to tell it like it is, even if that gets them in trouble.

Of course, this is mostly calculated nonsense. Half of these candidates are simply chasing votes, playing to the prejudices of the perpetually angry and exploiting the willingness of Fox News and its imitators to dress up such sentiments as nostalgic heroism.

Donald Trump offers us a glimpse of where this kind of thing can lead. To keep the “politically incorrect” soundbite machine going, campaigns quickly exhaust legitimate grievances and must begin to manufacture divisions. All Muslims become waiting jihadists. A respected American judge is really a biased Mexican. Mexicans, by the way, are mostly drug runners and rapists. The next thing you know, you’re receiving endorsements from the white supremacist movement. But hey, it’s not really like that.  He’s not racist, he’s just being politically incorrect. So that makes it OK.

For those who comfort themselves that this is a trend limited to American politics, think again. With increasing regularity we see politicians in Canada positioning themselves in similar ways — perhaps not going so far as Trump’s bare-faced bigotry but happily adopting the politically incorrect label as a way to define themselves and draw the gushing admiration of certain media chains. Not everyone slides to the muddy bottom but that doesn’t make the slope any less slippery.

There is a deliberate cynicism in the way this idea of political incorrectness is being used. More and more, it is taken as license to say things that are vulgar, stupid, inconsiderate, bullying and false. And it’s prideful, openly daring people to bathe in their own ignorance and take exception at those who object.

No one is perfect, or even close. No one lives their life without giving offence or harbouring prejudices — conscious or otherwise. I don’t tell “fag” jokes like I did in Grade 5, but I still find ways to be rude and insensitive frequently. It’s doubtful that will ever change entirely. But surely the point is to try to be conscious of these behaviours. To want to correct, not celebrate them. And, at the very least attempt, whenever possible, to be understanding and open-minded.

The next time a politician humble-brags that he or she is “politically incorrect,” ask them what they mean by that exactly. What prejudices are they prepared to embrace? What slurs are just said in fun? Which particular clocks would they roll back? That’s not unfair. It’s just asking them to tell it like it is.

Comedians say the push for political correctness is no laughing matter

Reasonable commentary by Evan Carter on the limits of comedy:

Finding the balance between comedy that pushes the envelope and a routine that doesn’t offend anyone has been a precarious task for decades.

But many comedians today say that social media has put them under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny. Whereas a comedian’s ill-advised or offensive joke would once elicit boos or, at worst, a few cancelled gigs, it now ends up on social media, where it’s seen by millions.

Evan Carter, a Toronto comic who’s been performing stand-up since the early 1980s, agrees comics today have it harder than when he started in the business.

“There’s something that they don’t like and they’ve picked out two minutes of a one-hour show completely out of context, and the next thing you know — boom! — it’s on Twitter, it’s on Instagram, it’s on Facebook, and before you get off stage, you’re hated.”

Still, Carter, who teaches a course in stand-up comedy at Second City, doesn’t think political correctness is the enemy of comedy: “I think what’s the enemy of comedy is lazy comics.”

He says that even very risky material can be accepted by the audience if it’s intelligently written and delivered; he brings up Louis C.K. as an example of a popular comic who handles tough topics like spousal abuse or racism cleverly in his routines.

“Craft the joke, build a joke, so that the audience goes, ‘Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be laughing at this but I see your point and I’m willing to learn from it,'” is the advice he gives his students. “But if it’s somebody that’s just coming up and punching you in the face while you’re standing there with a line, with a word that’s just there to shock you? Well, that really doesn’t take much craft at all.”

Source: Comedians say the push for political correctness is no laughing matter – Arts & Entertainment – CBC News

Another balanced piece is by Steve Patterson:

My personal comedy mantra is to make fun of the “haves” not the “have-nots.” When there is someone in the public eye whose arrogance, attitude and ineptitude should be taken down a peg or two (or perhaps have the ladder kicked out from underneath them completely) I am all for it. But it should be done with witty wordsmithing, precise skill and, where possible, in a way that makes the target of the joke laugh along.

Mike Ward is a skilled comedian. He is a worthy wordsmith (in both French and English, which is no small feat). But he picked his target poorly in this case and now he is being told to pay the price. It happens that he is one of the few Canadian comedians who can afford the fine and will certainly profit more from this notoriety in the media. And Mr. Gabriel and his family can count a small “win” after being publicly shamed through no fault of their own (those heaving backlash against his family for initiating this complaint are, in my opinion, tiny-brained troglodytes).

So where does this leave Canadian comedians? I would say, keep working hard to make your jokes the best they can be. Choose your targets wisely. And I would have thought this would go without saying, but leave vulnerable people such as, say, children with facial deformities, out of your comedic repertoire. Unless they personally requested you to focus your sights on them. Then, make sure they’re laughing louder than anyone else at the joke.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to writing jokes that will offend Donald Trump and any of his supporters, while hoping that he doesn’t sue me.

If a joke is offensive, is it punishable?


Political Correctness Is An Absolute Must | TIME

One of the better long-read pieces on the political correctness charge canard by Mark Hannah (former Democratic staffer):

Political correctness has been a whipping boy of the right wing for decades, and lately Trump is cracking the whip with abandon. He recently told a group of evangelical leaders that they shouldn’t pray for President Obama because “We can’t be… politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders, because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes.” (Never mind that Trump places prayer within the scope of self-interested transactions.) Remember his response to Fox host Megyn Kelly when she asked him about his temperament after calling some women “dogs” and “fat pigs”? It was: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” After being skewered by all sides for racist comments about a federal judge? “We have to stop being so politically correct in this country.”

If you’re like many Americans, you might have been persuaded political correctness is one of our country’s primary problems. Trump badly wants you to believe this, but you’d be wrong to do so. Trump is effectively positioning himself as the anti-PC candidate. Whereas Hillary Clinton thinks and speaks in the strategic—and sometimes subtle—language of diplomacy, Trump explicitly proposes himself as undiplomatic and politically incorrect. In doing so, he is cheapening and polarizing our political debates and, more important, he is making our country less safe.

You might think politicians speak in too much coded language, designed to cloak their true positions and to avoid offending everyone. But let’s be clear: The opposite of political correctness is not unvarnished truth-telling. It is political expression that is careless toward the beliefs and attitudes different than one’s own. In its more extreme fashion, it is incivility, indecency or vulgarity. These are the true alternatives to political correctness. These are the traits that Trump tacitly touts when he criticizes political correctness. And these are the essential attributes of Trump’s candidacy.

This is not the first time our political discourse has been crass. When he traveled to the United States fifty years after the nation gained its independence, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a “vulgar turn of mind” among American journalists. Journalists back in France often wrote in “an eloquent and lofty manner” but, according to Tocqueville, the typical American journalist made an “open and coarse appeal to the passions of the populace; and he habitually abandons the principles of political science to assail the characters of individuals.” Sound familiar? This vulgarity might have been characteristic of that era’s journalists, who brazenly competed for readers and hadn’t yet developed common standards of professionalism and ethics. But it wasn’t characteristic of the types of Americans who sought the nation’s highest political office.

Trump’s vulgarity is so vivid, in part, because it contrasts so starkly with Barack Obama’s civility and cool-headedness. I predict that the more Trump debases our political climate with his brand of political incorrectness, the more we will come to appreciate the qualities our president embodies. Regular Obama critic David Brooks recently praised the president for his “ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance.” Yet when the president challenges us to “disagree without being disagreeable” and to be careful not to conflate an entire religion with the hateful ideology that seeks to exploit and debase that religion, we watch as his detractors accuse him of political correctness.

You probably heard the accusations: Obama is pussyfooting around the phrase “radical Islam” because he’d rather protect the feelings of terrorists rather than the lives of Americans. Or something like that. On one hand, the intense scrutiny on the president’s language reveals a conspicuous lack of substantive criticism of the president’s foreign policy. As President Obama wondered aloud in a recent press conference, “What exactly would using this label accomplish? Would it make ISIL less committed to killing more Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?” Of course not. It is, as the president said, a “distraction… a political talking point, not a strategy.”

But on the other hand, we are wise to focus on the language used in the critically important issue of knowing who our enemies are… and who they are not. This is an issue that has the greatest political consequences. It is a political issue on which we need to be correct. And yet in that press conference, the president himself dismissed “political correctness,” underscoring the concept’s status as a universal pariah, even as he defended his terminology. Obama explained, “the reason that I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with defeating extremism.”

Just as no serious firefighter would actually fight fire with fire, we can’t fight the extremist language of foreign adversaries (and the insecurity and simplemindedness that propel it) with our own extremist language, insecurity and simplemindedness. It would be geopolitically incorrect, if you will, to do so. It would alienate our allies and motivate our adversaries.

After all, as conservative foreign policy expert Eli Lake has pointed out, our biggest allies in the Middle East are people in countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose brand of Islam strikes American sensibilities as “radical.” After special forces raided his compound, Osama bin Laden’s notebooks revealed that al Qaeda recruiting activities were disabled because, according to Bin Laden, Obama administration officials “have largely stopped using the phrase ‘the war on terror’ in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims.” Nothing would help ISIL’s recruiting strategy more than an American president lumping together—rather than drawing a distinction between—terrorists and the world’s billion and a half Muslims.

Conservatives might tell us Obama is “politically correct” and Trump “tells it like it is.” But when it comes to the debate over the phrase “radical Islam,” Obama is playing chess and Trump is playing dodge ball. If politics is about strategy, political correctness is arming oneself with a sound strategy while political incorrectness is strategic recklessness.

Many on the left think conservatives demonize political correctness because they resent having to suppress their own prejudices. That might be true for some. But as someone who teaches a college class on political rhetoric, I’ve come to appreciate that anti-PC attitudes are part of a longer tradition of suspicion toward carefully calibrated language. Throughout history, our species has tended to distrust people who have a knack for political oratory. Part of this stems from the fact that most people are not good public speakers at the same time most people have an affinity for people who are like them. This is something psychologists call “homophily,” and is the reason so many of us tend to want to vote for somebody we’d “like to have a beer with” rather than someone smarter than us.

Conservative politicians who criticize Obama and “political correctness” understand that eloquence is often perceived less as a mark of intelligence and personal style and more as a product of artifice and self-indulgence. This is why they can muster up the backhanded compliment that Obama is a “good speaker” or a “gifted orator.”

Why do we hate political correctness so much? Our suspicion of sensitive political language goes back to ancient Greece, when the sophists got a bad rap for going around Athens training wealthy kids to become more talented speakers so they could win votes or dodge prison time. Plato famously distrusted rhetoric, although his student Aristotle would rehabilitate its reputation as an essentially virtuous endeavor. Political correctness, in which public officials are careful to avoid language that alienates or offends, requires a certain type of expressive competence. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has critiqued this expressive competence while being wholly unequipped with it.

But political correctness is a longstanding American tradition and a deeply rooted value. Our country’s founders placed a premium on the ability to persuasively articulate opposing viewpoints. They rejected government censorship precisely because they trusted individuals could and would regulate themselves in our proverbial “free marketplace of ideas.” They didn’t prohibit offensive speech because they believed truth lost its vigor unless confronted with falsehoods, and tolerance lost its social acceptance unless it could stand in contrast with ugly prejudices. They knew the value of an idea laid in its ability to gain favor in debates, which should be, in Supreme Court Justice William Brennan’s words, “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” Trump can say what he will about Muslims and Mexicans, but thoughtful journalists and pundits can and should say what they will about Trump.

If you are one of the many Americans who think political correctness is a detriment to politically vibrant debates in this country, you have it all backwards: People who use politically correct language aren’t trying to stifle insensitive speech. They’re simply trying to out-compete that speech in a free and open exchange.

Every time Trump says something that’s ugly or false and then claims political correctness is “the big problem this country has” and something we “can’t afford,” he’s basically blaming this free marketplace itself. He’s petulantly arguing with the umpire. He’s blaming you and me—the public—for exercising the freedom to decide which ideas are good or bad. In the end, many of you don’t like or want what he’s peddling. You reject his racist tirades and narcissistic antics. You support common-sense gun legislation which would help prevent another terrorist hate crime like the one that occurred in Orlando. You reject praying for political leaders based on those leaders’ party affiliations. And you don’t think women deserve to be compared to “pigs” or “dogs” by people seeking our country’s highest office. I happen to think you’re correct, politically.

Source: Political Correctness Is An Absolute Must | TIME

How a cancelled yoga class stretches the point on cultural appropriation

Good piece by Jonathan Gatehouse who puts the yoga and other political correctness stories into context:

But the hyper-sensitivity of a few undergraduate activists shouldn’t be mistaken for a mass movement. Debates over cultural appropriation remain mostly the stuff of little-followed Tumblr accounts and right-wing websites that are in perpetual need of examples of encroaching political correctness. (They are sometimes enabled and abetted by mainstream media inquiries into burning questions like the appropriateness of Valentino’s African-inspired collection for spring/summer 2016.)

When they do get traction, it’s often for good reason. Society evolves and standards change. Calling your football team “the Redskins” might well be a tradition, but it’s a racist one. Blackface went out with Al Jolson. Getting really drunk and dancing around in a feathered native headdress at a music festival is a tribute only to your own stupidity.

Culture is elastic and acquisitive. We adopt all sorts of stuff from all sorts of people. Pasta came from China. (Long before Marco Polo.) Waffles were once Belgian. Jazz, rock and hip-hop were originally African-American art forms and have endured in spite of Kenny G, The Carpenters and Vanilla Ice.

Mostly that process happens without much thought or trouble. Everyone in university residence buys a futon. Thai restaurants and sushi bars edge out the delis and pizza parlours on Main Street. White actors stop getting cast as Othello.

However, that all shouldn’t obscure the fact that our collective thirst for the new and different isn’t always benign. Symbols do get misappropriated. Meanings are lost. And even long-accepted practices can be offensive.

On the odd occasion when concerns and objections are raised, we lose nothing in listening—even if it’s just some student government busybody, stretching the point.

Yoga practitioners aren’t debasing anyone’s culture. But neither are the lunatics now running the asylum.

Now, everybody take a deep breath, and relax.

Source: How a cancelled yoga class stretches the point on cultural appropriation – Macleans.ca

The politics and hypocrisy of word-policing ‘radical Islam’ – The Washington Post

Janell Ross on language and the Paris attacks:

There’s a long and storied tradition of conservative jokes, memes and write-ups attacking the wages of political correctness — the use of hyphenated terms like African-American or Pakistani- or Mexican-American, for example. The words, conservatives argue, are a wedge. They and the attempt to force everyone to use them are problems unto themselves.

This Fix will be honest and say that we find little of that reasoning believable. Factually, actual bias and literal mistreatment matter. The language and ideas that might set the aforementioned in motion matter too, but in most cases, a little less. That’s a good guiding principle.

But it’s also an idea which conservatives have tried to apply without exception in recent weeks, as campus protests and concerns about major and minor slights, mistreatment and inequality have been openly derided.

These liberal students, many conservatives insist, are simply lobbing a bunch of complaints because they think the world should be a “safe space,” free of microaggression. These students need to toughen up, they say, and prepare for the cold, hard world — not the lefty or extremely progressive and accommodating one of which they dream.

In truth, though, the complaints about political correctness, evolving group terms and things that might be regarded as offensive are quite likely far more closely tied to a sense that white Americans are being constrained and controlled by others than they are concern about national unity.

But this week, as the world’s attention has turned largely to a major act of violent aggression — the terrorist attack in Paris and the risk of similar events around the world — there’s a weird kind of reversal happening. It’s conservatives who are insisting on the use of specific language — “radical Islam” — and declaring anything but that an affront, an offense and a failure to appreciate the true nature of the enemy.

…The world might collectively wish that language — just simply language — were our problem here. But alas, it is not. Deciding how to balance constitutional and security concerns, how to eradicate the Islamic State (or ISIS), how to minimize civilian and U.S. military casualties in any ground or air combat — those rank among the world’s and certainly this country’s real and pressing concerns.

Debating terms and then assigning blame for death, mayhem and terror to specific terms would appear, in this way, to be little more than a tremendous and meaningless distraction. Beyond the readily apparent hypocrisy from a party and voters who typically reject word-policing, there’s the matter that using one term or the other does nothing at all to resolve any one of the items on that list of problems up above. There are life and death matters here, not fun fodder for word disputes.

Source: The politics and hypocrisy of word-policing ‘radical Islam’ – The Washington Post

‘Mansplaining’ the return of political correctness: Neil Macdonald

Neil Macdonald on the current trends in politically correct discourse (there is a line being sensitive in one’s use of language and being over-sensitive as some of his examples indicate):

Employers or school officials, faced with tens of thousands of sneering tweets, can be forgiven for thinking the quickest way out is to sacrifice the sinner, even if the sinner hasn’t really sinned.

Students who follow this crypto-salafist orthodoxy despise the concept of free, protected speech (except, obviously, their own).

On campuses, many still tend to follow the thinking of the feminist scholar and activist Catharine MacKinnon, who argues that free speech is just a weapon in the patriarchal arsenal.

In reality, this view is not very new at all. Back in the early 1990s, the head of student government at Stanford University declared “We don’t put as many restrictions on free speech as we should.”

Of course, there are others who think that way, too.

The Bush-era neoconservatives who clamped down on speech and stepped up surveillance in the name of security after 9/11 are one example.

The Canadian government, with the broad provisions in its Bill C-51 allowing it to order the removal of what it calls “terrorist propaganda” from the internet, is another. (Define terrorism? Canada’s justice minister says the public should just “look it up.”)

As the social critic and author Robert Hughes put it in his brilliant 1993 book The Culture of Complaint, “paleo-conservatives and free-speech therapists are both on the same wagon, the only difference being what they want to ban.”

But re-reading Hughes’s book I am confident of one thing: in another generation or two, language that now seems so inclusive and tolerant, words designed to create a “safe place” for discourse, will undoubtedly seem jarring, if not insulting. Language police will be insisting on new argot.

My grandchildren will no doubt someday stare agape at their parents for using the term “people of colour,” and inform them that any reference to colour is divisive and ugly.

Or that “transgender” implies that there was ever any validity to “gender” in the first place.

The urge to control other people’s speech is atavistic. It will never lessen, and my guess is the technology to enforce it will only grow more sophisticated.

‘Mansplaining’ the return of political correctness – World – CBC News.