The War on "Political Correctness" Is a War on Common Decency

"Political correctness" is a buzz-term that draws millions of haters. It's not a new phenomenon, either. The concept has been lambasted for decades, in the United States and elsewhere, accused of attempting to quash free expression and truthful discourse in favor of sugar-coated, politically convenient language. If you search around online, you'll undoubtedly find far more sites devoted to attacking political correctness than defending it.

Donald Trump: tackling the real threats to America
Spoiler: Political correctness doesn't deserve all the hate it gets.

When politicians criticize "political correctness," they're just using it as what one author calls "the mother of all straw men."

In the end, being politically correct is mostly about just being a polite, decent person. It's about being conscious of the words you use and open to changing your language to be more widely acceptable and respectful. Some people hate that, apparently, and Donald Trump's been waging a constant war on it.

Several months ago, some guy named Dan Bilzerian expressed his support for Donald Trump by stating, "In an age of pussified political correctness, you have to respect the people who remain unfiltered."

Bilzerian actually has it completely backward. It is exactly the people who speak without a filter (people like Donald Trump) who show no respect toward others and deserve none in return. The reason people speak with a filter is because they acknowledge the perspectives and emotional responses of others. "Political correctness" consists of efforts to choose one's words in a respectful, considerate manner. Those who reject it simply want to say whatever they want regardless of its effects—a pretty infantile and selfish sentiment, really.

Take it from Bernie!
For example, in the quote I cited above Bilzerian uses the word "pussified"—sexist language that associates femininity with weakness. (And yes, there's no denying that direct association; the claim that pussy relates to the word "pusillanimous" is utterly false.) No doubt he wanted to make completely sure everyone understood how politically incorrect he is by using that term. If Bilzerian was conscientious enough to be concerned with the implications of sexist language in our society, however, or polite enough to consider how he might offend women, he could easily avoid never using such a nonsensical and unnecessary word.

It's important to note that Americans accept all sorts of "politically correct" language every day: We no longer refer to black people as "colored" or "Negro," and all but a lunatic fringe agree that no non-black person should ever use the "N-word," doubtless the racial slur with the most violent and hate-filled history in America. Virtually all Americans accept the consensus on these words in how they speak because they acknowledge that it's the polite and respectful thing to do. Not even Donald Trump dares to be politically incorrect with these words.

I fully acknowledge, however, how easy it may be for people to get annoyed by criticism of old words they've always used. If for years you found it was perfectly normal and acceptable to call someone a pussy, then it may sound ridiculous or even insulting to hear someone say that the term is sexist. If a teenager uses the words "retard" and "retarded" all the time in their daily life without any negative responses from friends or family, they may get confused or ornery when I tell them those words are inappropriate in my classroom.

Eastwood (shown with son) wants
to say whatever he wants, society
be damned. (source)
Clint Eastwood voiced appreciation for Trump and bemoaned how certain things "weren't called racist" while he was growing up that are called racist now. Eastwood apparently explains these changes through blaming "the pussy generation" (funny how the word keeps coming up)—not any lack of perspective or education on his part while growing up, or any natural developments on the part of other people in the type of language they were willing to tolerate. Regardless of how it happened, though, Eastwood evidently doesn't feel compelled to change the way he talks—and perhaps that's pretty natural. I don't feel very compelled to argue with old people.

By the same token, I also see how people can get annoyed or even angry at the appearance new terms they don't understand or want to accept. Talking about "privilege," for example, is incredibly useful for considering one's advantages in society—but I think there are still a fair number of Americans who feel judged when this word is used, so they reject its use entirely or tune out of any dialogue that includes it. The concept of "trigger warnings" has come into the spotlight more recently, and that idea's been so widely lambasted from what I've seen, I'm not sure it will gain much traction in common use.

Despite being 75% of their name,
PETA doesn't like the word "pet."
That's actually one of the most important points to realize about political correctness, though: Many word uses that a particular group might want to make politically correct never make it to that status. PETA, for example, truly believes that "pet" is bad word and alternatives like "companion" should be used instead. Some people reject the word "women" and go for "womyn"—or other alternate spellings. In my opinion, neither of these positions makes much sense, and it seems only some very small groups disagree with me. Effectively, talking about "animal companions" or "womyn" isn't an example of political correctness at all right now, and it never will be unless some larger portion of society agrees that our language should move in that direction.

As with all words in our language, usage reigns supreme. All of us use some politically correct language—even Trump, Bilzerian, and Eastwood—because we buy into the idea that those terms are the polite and normal ones to use. Political correctness "wins" when no one thinks there's a controversy anymore. If there's any language usage issue you want to take a stand on, whether it's still saying "pet" or never using trigger warnings, all you have to do is convince others your position makes sense. Who knows—maybe ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, everyone will be using words like retard and pussy more than ever, and my old criticisms will be crushed into oblivion by the weight of popular usage.

Here's my final advice:

Have a filter—a filter for those words that you know can be hurtful or disrespectful. Be "politically correct," at least to the extent that you acknowledge what most all of us can agree is appropriate and inappropriate language. Consider what you say because it's the decent thing to do—and it makes for a nicer, more respectful society.

  • If, somehow, you've read all the way to the end of the blog post and would like to leave me a negative comment, I offer you the following challenge: Debate me on the issues—preferably with openness and civility. Don't just disregard everything I've written and bash me personally because I support political correctness. To do so would be to do exactly what many haters claim political correctness does—minimize those who use a term you don't like.