As much as I’d love to write about the current political climate, Trump analysis is an over-exhaustive subject that is both abundant and contradictory. Although his histrionics, vague policies and shifting positions are manifestations of his incompetence, he is undoubtedly a showman and one to watch. My knowledge of American politics is also very limited as I’m South African. As with that infamous saying of the uniformed vs the misinformed, I have conceded that my left-leaning bias together with politically charged reporting disguised as objective information has rendered me unable to write a fair piece on the age of Trump, its Brexit associations and our divided times. But there’s a Trump-related topic with universal impact I can write about and that is political correctness.
First of all what is it? It’s Euphemism based language designed at minimizing the negative connotations associated with those who are marginalised, socially disadvantaged or face discrimination. It’s also seen as “fascism disguised as manners” and supports victim-centered ideologies to those who oppose it.
I personally have a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, PC culture is denigrated in order to trivialize true racial and sexist bigotry. You can say something outlandishly offensive and shift the blame to the overly-sensitive targets who should “stop being so offended”. It becomes a dismissal of lived pain, boasted from the mouths of people ignorant of the experience they’re silencing. On the equal but opposite side is a self-congratulatory intention that jumps at the slightest offence but can’t be bothered to address the issue they’re supposedly protecting. Valid criticism gets demonised to support “safe spaces”.
So where did it originate from? Political correctness is a descendant of cultural marxism. Cultural Marxism is an umbrella term and one that was coined with a purposeful negative intent. It has less to do with Karl Marx himself and more to do with left leaning principles to a point where most of the followers who fall under its loose term do not consider themselves marxists. It’s also worthy to note that Marxist ideas are very broad in spectrum due to his extensive work and are not exclusively related to his Labour Theory of Value and communism. It has a dual relationship, one that applies some of Marxist’s ideologies to the social sciences and the other is its conspiracy roots. While Marx proposed capitalism as a perpetrator for promoting inequality, cultural marxism focuses on culture as a source of these disparities. The origin of cultural marxism comes from the Frankfurt School which was founded in the US around the 1930s when Hitler came into power after its founders were forced to flee from Germany due to its heavy relation to communism. This association continued to stick in America and it was largely perceived as an infiltration into Western ideologies and a source of invasion that began with upending traditional Western values from within. The ultimate aim of the school is social change mainly through the notion of critical theory and conflict theory. Critical theory is defined as “a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it”. Conflict theory focuses on the separation of society into social classes and proposes that the inequality faced by these classes are based on the tendencies for groups to be in conflict with each other rather than consensus. For example, the wealthy use their power to exploit less powerful classes in order to maintain their wealth, such as apartheid or jim crow laws that prevented social mobility to concentrate resources amongst a certain race. Unequal distribution of resources are therefore conflict based. We can basically encompass current progressive thinking into The Frankfurt School of thought. Think things like feminism, gay rights, multiculturalism, sexual liberation, social justice, post colonialism and of course our main topic here: political correctness.
With the large and very faithful Bernie Sanders following, it was interesting to see socialism escape from its curse word banishment and be embraced. Even though the US is land of the free, total freedom of speech became a topic of controversy as the rise of PC culture came in with force and trigger warnings. With freedom comes responsibility and together with a past that is deeply embedded with oppression, if you have something -ist or phobic to say, you will goddamn be accountable or even shut down for it.
So what is in a name? Will the rose still smell as sweet or is saying cripple (as opposed to differently abled) stinking up our sensitive climate? How much of an impact does language have on tolerance of our othered people and is this careful egg-shell language ultimately positive or detrimental?
What is the power of language? As a wannabe writer I would argue that there is something significant about the words you choose and the sentence structure you impose. The way you express yourself is a reflection of who you are so there is significance in how you choose to do this. Therefore I would argue that if you choose an anti-PC word, it may be an expression of your own ignorance towards the group you’re referring to. If you see nothing wrong with saying tranny then it may be a reflection of ignorance towards how dehumanising the word is to someone struggling with their own gender identity. The same way in which ‘gay’ is commonly used to mean dumb or lame independent of its roots to homosexuality. It seems perfectly harmless to someone who is straight and never had to personally deal with homophobia but it also helps to perpetuate homosexuality as being different and abnormal.
Purposeful slurs like nigger, fag and tranny all needed to be reclaimed to rob them of their power. Nigger is now more slang than dehumanising power play. It’s a worthwhile tool to subvert cultural oppression. So is total exclusion of these words helpful? Does vilifying certain words in turn make them more powerful or is reluctance to criticise the use of these words perpetuating a hate that is still in existence even though we now live in a more equal society? There’s no easy answer to this so the intent of the person needs to be the focus. Are there truly oppressive thoughts lurking underneath? The militancy of PC has become a powerful force against any form of opposing ideas in an ironically oppressive way to the oppression they’re combating. Any hint of offence is treated as bigotry even in situations where the same idea is expressed by two individuals of different races or genders. For example, a white person criticising materialistic and narcissistic messages in mainstream rap may be considered racist but a black person making similar criticisms is not. Lorde’s song royals was accused of having racist undertones but the YouTuber The Rap Critic often expresses his disdain with brag-rap culture but is not deemed racist. A person of one social group criticising the ideas of another is automatically bigoted without discussion of the idea itself. This kind of attack on opposing ideas is counterproductive to any real social change or improvement.
The common and somewhat forceful opponent to PC is the authoritarian censorship it represents that flags unsavoury words. While I do have my criticisms of PC culture, I think it’s taking a leap to conclude Orwellian type dystopia as the ultimate end point from it. A lot of comedians centre towards this view as their career makes use of more outspoken, controversial material that shocks viewers into laughter. They often get the full-forced, immediate impact of disapproving heads to jokes that violate safe spaces. The acceptable/taboo line is probably most blurred in comedy. This isn’t too surprising as comedy has its roots in suffering and opening that unhealed wound doesn’t necessarily mean it will get more infected. Treading up hushed up topics from the burial ground of denial can help create dialogue but with anything fragile, a joke can definitely go too far. Trolls call themselves comedians and verbal abuse becomes “straight talk”.
I think what separates shock-humour from comedy to straight up offense is its intent. If you make a joke about black people, is it to emphasise the absurdities of stereotypes or is it to condescend? Racial based humour can either highlight issues or reinforce prejudice. Similarly, are women in the kitchen jokes making light of outdated gender roles or is it normalising these roles? Some pro PC advocates argue that any form of racism or sexism is inherently violent and should therefore not be tolerated at all. Is it okay to exercise racist or sexist notions when these ideas are entertained and do oppress? Is it okay to perpetuate African culture as primitive or women as more emotional than logical when people really do believe these notions and take it as fact? Is the answer to only disagree but not prevent this rhetoric?
My personal issue with PC culture also stems from the moral self licensing that often ensues. Changing the wording becomes a platform for moral superiority but the issues remain, tarnishing the goodwill of the progressive Samaritan who paints over pain with pretty language. The differently abled guy is still in a wheelchair and the Paralympics will still get dwindling viewership next to its able bodied alpha twin. Moral self licensing uses a quantitative measure to stack up good deeds and therefore provides people with room to be a bit of a dick seeing as that token act of kindness for the day gives you license to pat yourself on the back. It basically uses past acts of goodness to justify any future behaviour that’s less than stellar.
The biggest concern with PC is the oppressor vs the oppressed relationship. Minorities immediately fall into the marginalised category. This is where affirmative action, feminism and its criticism come in. The preferential treatment towards minorities becomes a big topic of concern as it may violate meritocracy. Hiring becomes based on gender and ethnicity rather than primarily on capability. This is a valid concern but it doesn’t address the social forces that favour men as authoritative figures, more specifically white men. Is it really safe to say that culture hasn’t enabled white men to be in positions of power when harmful stereotypes of other cultures still exist? It’s also interesting to note the either or perception where it is thought that a company can either hire based on diversity or based on meritocracy but not both. It’s as if standards have to be lowered in order to have a team of diverse representation. To those who disagree with this I’d like to give two examples of how culture can favour certain groups. Eusebius Mckaiser, who is a trained and award winning debater, made the observation that masculine characteristics make one better equipped to be a more engaging public speaker. He also noted that women had to adopt these characteristics to be acknowledged as good speakers. He emphasised this when a female colleague of his was taken less seriously even though she was more knowledgeable in terms of the research being presented. She was a lot more soft spoken and subdued in her speech and this played a big role in how the company interpreted both her and her findings. Similarly, a black person who speaks eloquently may be accused of trying to ‘be white’. This is an example of how whiteness can be perceived as more ‘intellectually inclined’ or authoritative. Affirmative action in theory is supposed to be a corrective measure to the historical prejudice that oppresses people of colour and women. However, this way of blind favouring towards marginalised groups creates more division. The heterosexual white Christian male becomes the face of abuse based solely on these characteristics and not his character. The oppressed category becomes based on superficial characteristics and is group based. The point of social change should be to empower and elevate people from the ‘other’to a multicultural society in which individuals become just that- their own unique person judged by their individual actions and not the group they represent.
Anti-PC statements can be just as forcefully militant and in a lot of cases are defensive attacks against a changing world. Some of the PC critics claim that today’s world is less free and look with nostalgic tunnel vision to the days preceding the 60s counter-culture revolution when good old fashioned family values which were largely faith based (Christian to be exact) were embraced. I think it’s absurdly comical to think these pre-Civil Rights and 2nd wave feminism days were ‘free’. While there is value to traditional values such as loyalty, patriotism, family and marriage, there were serious inequalities during those times that required social change. William Lind is one of the more forceful PC opponents. There is this right leaning conspiracy theory that cultural marxism is this silent disease that is infecting the mainstream with the ultimate aim to control, enforce uniformity and make use of the commodification of oppression to manipulate the masses. William Lind proposes that all ideologies are inherently “totalitarian because the essence if an ideology is to take some philosophy and say on the basis of this philosophy certain things must be true -such as the whole of the history of our culture is the history of the oppression of women.” I would be willing to entertain this had it not been for that last part since the oppression of women is a very real and large part of history (I don’t know what he means by the whole of history) that still needs to be combatted today (I’m especially looking at you Saudia Arabia). To get a fairly good understanding of this conspiracy theory I recommend reading his entire transcript of cultural marxism.
So to basically round this whole post off, my stance is somewhere in the middle. Although I’m a self proclaimed left winger, there are some serious reforms that need to be undertaken to diminish this whole oppression Olympics mindset that divides rather than alleviates. I’m not going to be completely against PC culture because blind backlash of political correctness can be a means of delegating discussion of the lasting effects of inequality to a sarcastic “aww shame your feelings are hurt” rather than addressing substantive issues. The best we can do is a case by case assessment of the controversy at hand. Bad sushi is not cultural appropriation and transphobia is an infringement on basic human decency. Combat Milo Yiannopolous intellectually, not by violent attacks and police brutality against unarmed black people needs more thorough investigation. I would personally urge everyone to be more down the middle instead of demonizing the people whose worldview doesn’t align with your own. This is the one thing both sides ironically share in common. So to all you libtards and bigots out there, I say relish in the madness and learn to chill a bit in the face of opposing positions.
Moral self-licensing and social dilemmas: An experimental analysis from a taking game in Madagascar – …
Run Racist Run by Eusebius McKaiser