Political correctness

I've heard several people recently say they're “not a big fan of political correctness.” The first few times I heard it it simply confused me, but then it became an unfortunate blemish on my respect for whomever said those words, because it sounded like they were saying “I have no interest in either empathy or getting with the times.”

My understanding of “political correctness” was that it meant using words that don't offend certain people that don't have it as good as others in life. I thought it meant being well-spoken, and not discrediting yourself by using archaic words and language, like racial slurs. Avoiding words your southern grandma says, to me, just means talking like you're from this cultural era, and not the mid-20th century (or earlier). And as an individual of this era, I like knowing how the best of us speak, so that maybe I can speak that well too, and eliminate self-detracting vocabulary. Because it's not just that “non-PC” language can speak poorly of your character; actively rejecting modern language exposes a truly selfish mindset — that you can't put aside your ego for the smallest of things. It's the verbal equivalent of walking down the sidewalk, seeing another person approach head-on, and not moving slightly out of the way so it's easier for both of you to pass. That person isn't “encroaching on your rights”; you're just not the only person that needs the damn sidewalk. Even New Yorkers understand that. (Come to think of it, the way you walk down the sidewalk says a lot about your personality.)

After hearing “I'm not a fan” again, I decided to Google “political correctness,” and came across a great piece of writing from The Guardian about “how the right invented a phantom enemy,” which describes the propaganda machine funded by billionaires like the Mercers and Kochs for the past few decades in an effort to get voters on their side, which included this “war on political correctness.” Suddenly everything made sense. The opinions and worldviews of friends, family, and acquaintances that “hate political correctness” were seemingly prescribed by some billionaires a few decades ago, including another bewildering viewpoint a friend shared with me: his distaste for “academics.” From the article:

The right had been waging a campaign against liberal academics for more than a decade. Starting in the mid-1970s, a handful of conservative donors had funded the creation of dozens of new thinktanks and “training institutes” offering programmes in everything from “leadership” to broadcast journalism to direct-mail fundraising. [...] Their stated goal was to challenge what they saw as the dominance of liberalism and attack left-leaning tendencies within the academy. Starting in the late 1980s, this well-funded conservative movement entered the mainstream with a series of improbable bestsellers that took aim at American higher education. The first, by the University of Chicago philosophy professor Allan Bloom, came out in 1987. For hundreds of pages, The Closing of the American Mind argued that colleges were embracing a shallow “cultural relativism” and abandoning long-established disciplines and standards in an attempt to appear liberal and to pander to their students.

It was just one of many eye-opening examples. That article led me to the long history of these billionaires, and unfortunately a shorter patience for the people I know holding these views. It's easy to give people the benefit of the doubt when you don't fully know why a stated opinion sits with you so badly. Not so much when the opinion was paid for, and stubbornly refuses to leave that person's mind.

Luckily, at least, with this new knowledge I can be more confident in my original assumption: to be “politically correct” means to not be a selfish asshole. I like not being an asshole.