Monday, July 18, 2016

Word Control

Words are my tools. And my playthings. A big part of my life. I appreciate a good word, a good phrase, a good sentence. I try to write powerful words, but mostly fall short. Still, sometimes I read some older pieces and think, that was well written. Good for me—and the inspiration that was with me at that moment of writing.

So, because of my interest in words, I’m interested in freedom of speech, and I pay attention when words and ideas are oppressed or suppressed.
image from here

A week or so ago a friend posted on Facebook a piece called, “Why I’m Teaching My Kids to be ‘Politically Correct.’” My Facebook friend is a young mom, non-religious and not very political (but probably leaning liberal and/or libertarian). I know her to be a good person, trying to live a decent life and contributing well to her family and society. Knowing that, I read this piece trying to see what appealed to my friend, to learn from that.

There’s this paragraph near the beginning, that I can almost agree with:

As a writer, I think constantly about how words are being used, and from where I’m sitting, political correctness has gotten conflated in recent years with common decency, kindness, and consideration. On one hand, anyone who dares to acknowledge people who say they’ve been hurt, or who suggests that demonizing an entire group of people is a bad idea, is automatically derided for being “politically correct.” And on the other hand, people will say any awful thing that floats into their mind, claiming that they are “just being honest,” and then when challenged, they will cry about political correctness. (For the record, speaking your mind isn’t a virtue if what’s on your mind is bigoted, obnoxious, or insulting. It’s just rude.)
The problem is, indeed, that political correctness has been conflated with “common decency, kindness, and consideration.” That’s what has given political correctness power—because we decent, kind, considerate people don’t want to be misunderstood or mislabeled as bigoted and hateful. But in reality political correctness isn’t about politeness or consideration for others; it has the purpose of shutting down voices that don’t align with the viewpoint being enforced.

The author of the piece decides to keep the incorrectly conflated definition of political correctness, and insists she will teach her children to be politically correct—because words do have power to hurt, and we should at least make an effort not to offend or be rude. Her complaint is that so many people are sick and tired of political correctness being shoved down their throats that they eschew any controls, even self-control, over what they say:

The war on political correctness has become a scapegoat for people to regress to a less open and tolerant era, as evidenced by the amount of blatant racism, sexism, prejudice, and hatred being spewed in the name of not being PC. The idea that marginalized or historically oppressed groups should be given any kind of consideration is met with eye-rolling and open disdain. In the past year, I’ve been stunned to witness educated adults behaving like petulant children, gleefully claiming they’re taking down “the establishment” by throwing out the baby of human decency with the “politically correct” bathwater.
I agree with her that spewing hate in a misguided rebellion against political correctness is pretty ugly. And she’s probably right that there’s a rebellion going on in a PC reaction. That probably explains much of Donald Trump’s popularity. He does speak things that are not PC, and people who have had enough of that oppression cheer.

However, people are mistaken if they think he does it for the sake of free speech. If you watch how he reacts to people who speak out against him, or disagree with him, you’ll see the very tactics the PC police use: humiliation, coercion, and economic and social pressure. He’s not anti-PC; he’s pro-Trump’s version of what is allowed to be said. He’s into manipulating people by controlling their words as much as anyone else shutting us down for the sin of digressing from PC script.

For someone like me, careful about words, and naturally gentle and kind, yet "painfully honest" (yes, I've been called that), any version of political correctness is a danger; it mislabels me without exploring who I am in my heart.

I’ve lived long enough to watch PC vocabulary change. In my childhood, the N-word was never used; that would have been considered offensive well before I was born. But at that time, in the place where I lived, which had never allowed slavery and never had Jim Crow laws, the word for the race of people descended from various tribes in Africa and identifiable by darker skin and other characteristics was Negro, which comes from the Latin for black. It was just a term, not intended to be derogatory.

Then the term colored became more common (as used by the NAACP). Then we were told that was derogatory and we should use the term Afro-American. Then we were told the preferred term was black. Every time we accommodated, the term was changed and we were accused of being offensive.
Not that long ago we were told that black was derogatory and we should use the term African-American.

As a word person, that term doesn’t make sense; it applies not to race but to place of origin. A Saturday Night Live skit once played on this, because the very blond Charlize Theron is from South Africa, so she is literally African-American. There are major portions of Africa today populated by Arab-type peoples, or Europeans who moved to Africa many centuries ago. Meanwhile, there are people of the black race all over the world who are not American, so you have to know enough about country of origin to refer to their race in any way, even when country-of-origin isn’t salient information. Imagine the awkwardness of talking about the racial aspects of Tay-Saks disease, which affects African-Americans of a certain skin color, and African-French of a certain skin color, and African-Britons of a certain skin color, and Egyptians of a non-Arab lineage, and Angolans of a certain skin color….

It appears to me that there are people seeking to feel offended, and no matter how many times we go along with their requests for yet another politically correct name change, they will come up with something new so they can claim we are offending them.

So, for my personal language style guide, I have settled on black—without meaning any offense. And that seems to be returning as the preferred term, if you can trust such groups as Black Lives Matter or the New Black Panthers.

Would it be nice if we didn’t have to refer to race at all? Yes. But since members of tribes insist on asserting their tribal pride and power, it comes up. And any idea can only be expressed if there are words to use.

Meanwhile, PC continues to be a bludgeon used against people with views differing from a particular “progressive” ideology.

I recently read a piece called “Thought Reform in America,” by Thomas Lifson, comparing America’s political correctness with oppressive regimes of the past:

Political correctness has attained a level of institutional power today in the United States that it can justifiably be compared with the totalitarian brainwashing efforts seen in Mao Tse-tung’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (also known as "fundamental transformation"). The salient social mechanisms shared by the two efforts at thought reform are public shame and self-criticism.
He offers this anecdote:

Decades ago, when China first opened up, I met a prominent Chinese scientist finally able to travel to the USA, who had been denounced, tortured, and imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution for his crimes of having a PhD from an American university and being dedicated to scientific truth instead of political doctrine.  I will never forget the broken man talking about he had been made to confess his crimes in front of a howling mob.
I thought about this sort of pressure when Governor Mike Pence was chosen as the running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. He’s generally a decent person, and has served his state relatively well. But remember when Indiana came under attack for passing a RFRA law to protect religious freedom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overreaching same-sex marriage ruling. The PC police—in the form of media and loud voices combined with threats, claimed the state should be shamed and shunned and boycotted.

This episode included a newsperson seeking out a Christian family-owned pizza shop and asking them the hypothetical question of whether they were willing to cater a same-sex wedding. The honest owners—who pretty much never catered weddings anyway, as a pizza shop—answered no, and were shut down by the PC enforcers.

In that atmosphere, revealing why religious people needed the protective law, Governor Pence caved to the pressure, and basically apologized for the state’s mistake.

Sometimes it helps to reveal absurdity using absurdity. Blogger Matt Walsh did that this week, talking about the silly, over-the-top PC position that gender doesn’t exist. The satirical piece is entitled “Dear Transphobic Ultrasound Technician, How Dare You Assign A Gender To Our Baby!” As he explains to the politically incorrect technician:

You’re obviously a simpleton, so let me break this down a little further. You cannot tell anything about a person based on their physical and biological makeup. Anatomy doesn’t matter. DNA doesn’t matter. Bone structure doesn’t matter. The reproductive system doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. You can’t tell what a person is just based on what that person is. You can’t even tell if it’s a person just because it’s a person. You can’t tell anything about anyone based on anything.
If we are to win out against the oppression of our ideas, we need to do it clearly, and boldly. Without rancor. Being kind and polite in general, so that the claim that we are uncivilized for disagreeing makes no sense.

It is not particularly brave for me to express these things, here, in safe obscurity, where so far I face little effort to shut me down. But at least I speak. So, with no intention of hurting the feelings of various groups, here are a few things that I believe are true but could be subject to the suppression called political correctness:

·         The most common occurrence of racism in America today is black racism against whites and other non-blacks.
·         The systemic reason for blacks suffering poverty, crime, and other social negatives is the breakdown of the family—with 70%+ children born out of wedlock, and fathers missing from homes.
·         The Democrat party is and has always been about limiting the rights and opportunities of blacks—but they’re willing to oppress others as well.
·         Almost all the terrorists in today’s world are radical Islamists. Islam has a problem: either they must find a way to oust radicals from their religion so we can all identify them and thwart them—or they must leave that religion as unrecoverable, so that we can identify and thwart the terrorists. The very idea of imposing radical Islam on the world is incompatible with civilization and will bring only tyranny, poverty, and savagery. We need a way to identify and stop anyone trying to impose tyranny on us.
·         Marriage is between a man and a woman, permanently covenanting to form a family in which children can be raised by their father and mother. No other sexual relationship has the benefits to society that marriage does. Pretending other relationships are equivalent to marriage harms marriage and degrades the family, leading to the decay of civilization into savagery.
·         Sex outside of marriage is always wrong—and harmful both to the individuals and to civilization.
·         Abortion is a choice against life. It is generally a selfish choice made to get rid of the natural consequences of the choice to have sex outside of a married partnership.
·         Socialism is a form of tyranny; it takes by force from people who create wealth and redistribute their property to those who have not created wealth. It discourages work and innovation and leads to poverty. Best outcomes happen when a free market is combined with voluntary charitable giving.
·         The American Constitution is a model for limited government to protect our rights, and if followed by a self-governing people, it leads to almost unimaginable freedom, prosperity, and civilization. It will lead to these positive outcomes wherever in the world its concepts are adhered to.

The way to freedom, prosperity,and civilization are known. We need the freedom to speak up and teach those ways.

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