Thursday, August 27, 2015

Political Correctness

A particular presidential candidate these days is getting much traction over his fight against "political correctness."  As I understand it, he means to claim that he has the right to speak however he wants, whenever he wants and to whomever he wants.  This is the essence of freedom of speech and politicians' enslavement to political correctness is one of the fundamental factors in keeping America from being "great again."

Freedom of Speech is, of course, a constitutional right, and, I, for one, do not want to see much limitation of that right.  As the saying goes, you cannot yell "fire!" in a crowded theater.

But here's how I think it works:

The Freedom of Speech, as well as all the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, is not a set point in the universe; it is a dynamic thing.  Individuals, groups of people such as families or affinity groups or communities of any kind are constantly negotiating what Freedom of Speech is, and, what is more to the point, what the consequences are for it.

Now you are, of course, free to assert that there should be no consequences of free speech, but that is simply not true, even in the world of "shoot-from-the-hip" presidential candidates.  Speech is always being negotiated because community itself is always being negotiated.

The pejorative "political correctness" (it is almost always used pejoratively) implies that some force is keeping me from saying certain things that also has the effect of keeping me from speaking the truth.  "Political correctness" always has the hint of conspiracy about it.

Part of the negotiation of community, and of free speech, however, is individuals and groups of people having the right to define themselves.  They get to decide what it means to treat them with respect.  Donald, for instance, does not want to be called Don.  He insists on being treated with a high degree of respect and a fundamental part of that is the speech you use around him and especially about him.  In one sense, that does not make him special at all.  We all do this.  It is part of the negotiation of community.

When you call a woman a "bimbo" much of America (one hopes!) is going to call you on it for using a demeaning and disrespectful term.  You can continue to use it; that's your right.  But you can neither expect the larger community just to shrug its shoulders, nor, if you persist, can you stop others from calling you a bully.

Freedom of speech as a fundamental right of every American has to constantly be negotiated with another fundamental value (at least):  the dignity of every human being and the right of our society to shape one of the great aspirations of our Constitution:  "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility...[and] provide for the general welfare."

So-called "political correctness" should not be a pejorative, it is simply a manifestation of individuals or groups of people aspiring to these high values.

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