06 June 2005

This Is Political Correctness Gone Mad!

Recent times have seen a zealous backlash, led for the most part by lazy right-wing columnists, against the cultural phenomenon now known as “Political Correctness”. Such criticisms frequently serve as foreplay to an attack on some minority group or support for a policy deisgned to alienate one. The term has, over the years, included everything from “vertically challenged” to the right to a fair trial. Yet so far the only reasoned criticism of Political Correctness from the Left has been the three-and-a-half minute Manic Street Preachers song ‘PCP’, and the Right has yet to produce any rational analysis of the faults of PC culture.

By far the stupidest criticism came from the Daily Mail’s Rosie Carr, writing in EasyJet Magazine (January 2005). On the Italian politician Buttiglioni having been voted out of a position for his professed views on homosexuals: “Booting out a politician for what he has to say is indefensible”, yet this despicable practice takes place in elections around the world. It is neither repression of free speech nor political correctness – it is our democratic right to pick politicians we agree with. Would the idiot Carr accuse the twenty-two million Germans who voted against Hitler of being over-sensitive because poor, repressed Adolf wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on the Jewish question? The typical anti-PC rant will usually contain such bonus phrases as “liberals”, often woolly, “Euro-crats”, usually fat and in Brussells, and “the Loony Left”, always capitalised, but all three designating anyone who would treat society’s undesirables as they would want to be treated. Yet “PC” is seldom used by its alleged advocates, its sole usage is by conservative opponents with heavy irony on the “correct”.

PC howver, along with much modern liberalism, is often little more than a temporary cosmetic measure or at best just common fucking courtesy, to quote some forgotten genius “what rude people call politeness”. It provides no practical solutions to the problems it addresses, and in many cases is based not only on a gross misunderstanding of the way language functions but on a fundamental disrespect for those they attempt to protect. The classic example is the joke term ‘vertically challenged’ which unlike ‘small’, ‘short’, ‘wee’, ‘dinky’ or ‘stunted’ contains an innate value-judgement and is thus more degrading than simple physical description. A more serious example is ‘retarded’ versus ‘special needs’. Obviously ‘retarded’ is considered derogatory, having become a playground insult. ‘Special needs’, however, implies exclusion and dependence rather than simple late development and equally fails to detail exactly what needs. It is also now a very a popular playground insult.

Arguably the most offensive term, ‘nigger’ throws up far more complications. Superficially, it is rather “politically incorrect” that it should be offensive to call someone by a word that essentially just means “Black person”, but ‘nigger’ contains certain elements that ‘wog’, ‘fag’ or ‘midget’ do not – namely it is an obvious diminutive. As with all diminutives, it serves two basic functions, condescension and affection. ‘Nigger’ is equivalent to ‘boy’ or using tu or du in French or German: formally it implies inferiority to the speaker, informally it is a term of affection and Black solidarity. The fact that this split personality is so strong comes from the overt racial associations. This does not come from any inherrent quality but from its usage. Rather than, in the that’s-our-word sense, belonging to those it denotes, it belongs to those who use it, essentially certain Blacks and most White racists, and so denotes either racial hatred or racial solidarity. “Hello, I'm Richard Pryor, I'm a nigger”, and his theory went that if the word was repeated enough it would lose its meaning and thus its sting. Though never officially adopted, thanks to Pryor, the Chris Rocks that followed him and countless rappers, the word is no longer as offensive as in 1970. However is has only lost its punch in self-description, for the most part it is still racist from white lips as the whites that use it are still racist. Theoretically, were it to be used by us respectable non-racist whites who at least pretend not to hate ethnic minorities, it could lose its racist meaning in cracker-ass-cracker contexts as well.

The gay community has made this strategy its knee-jerk reaction. ‘Faggot’, ‘queer’, ‘poofter’ are frequently used by faggots, queers and poofters in self-description. The question with gays is the word ‘gay’ having taken on a third meaning – no longer just meaning either ‘irritatingly happy’ or ‘homosexual’, it now means ‘shite’ as well. Now, just as the maiden aunts and retired colonels refused to acknowledge Gay #2 and complained to the Telegraph, the “PC” reaction to Gay #3 has been to refuse to acknowledge it and complain to the Guardian. And just as the Whitehouse failed to exclude Gay #2 from their language, so will liberalism never get Gay #3 taken off the BBC. Rather than rob it of its pejorative meaning, why not attempt to remove its old-fashioned homosexual associations, as happened with Gay #1 If I were to say “Tennessee Williams was gay”, who nowadays would reply “Gay!? No, he was right miserable fucker!”? Perhaps years from now one could say that Rod Stewart was gay without every portion of blonde jailbait he ever screwed being presented as evidence to the contrary.

Where “PC” falls down is in seeing language as an absolute and assuming that these rules will be obeyed by the entire population, whereas the opposite is true: it is a flowing, changing entity, constantly modified, enriched and subverted by its speakers, particularly those who are least politically and grammatically correct. Gay activists have espoused this and rejected PC sensitivity, and perhaps other movements will succeed by following their example. However, PC does have its functions: “bartender”, “Ms” and “firefighter” address power-structures represented and perpetuated by language and clear up confusion. Rather than, as its detractors claim, making language into a political tool, political correctness simply accepts that it always has been and attempts to break its overwhelmingly reactionary bias. The Right is no less guilty of this kind of stupidity. The Madrid train-bombings, for example, were occasionally dubbed “homicide-bombings” so as to maintain the shock value and derogatory Islamic associations of “suicide-bombing” for an attack where the bombers survived.

Rather than fighting racism and prejudice, PC simply provides a way to subtly advocate racist ideas without seeming racist, places the emphasis on the language rather than the ideas and becomes a shield for the exact things that it tries to fight. I prefer my racists transparent and “Keep the Gyppos out” worries me less than than “Shouldn’t we be worried about exactly what kind of people will be migrating from the new EU states?”. As PC often only attacks the word and not the attitude, it is not only a poor tool for the protection of minorities but innocent of all charges of “destroying free speech”. Quite the opposite in fact – “PC” has become a blanket term for all progressive ideas, equality for minority groups, even the protection of centuries-old civil liberties against draconian anti-terror legislation. However, because “Political Correctness” has such strong negative connotations, it is now a buzz-word used to silence the Left, now reluctant to attract such a potent accusations. Counter-accusations of PC over-sensitivity make for a far better rebuttal of alleged racism or xenophobia than denial or “well maybe I am racist but...”. Politically Incorrect culture or, without PC prevarication, unabashed Tory racism, attacks both individuals and much of what our society holds sacred. Politically Correct culture is at best a noble attempt at positive social change through language, at worst an ineffective liberal fad.