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Alchemist
Original Poster
#1 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 6:30 AM
Default Political Correctness
Is it harmful, or helpful?

Personally, I think it sets us back in terms of freedom of speech. I think that if you are so clouded by how a person conveys their message and not what the message is, you are probably not out to look for it in the first place.
Now, this does not mean I advocate being an a-hole every chance you get, or unprovoked verbal abuse/hostility.
Yet on the flip side, I do not argue that language is important. But must it always be so carefully phrased that every time we talk, it's like walking in a room with a floor made of eggshells? Why bother speaking at all, if you can't speak the way you think? Why is it okay for politically correct people to harass politically incorrect people, but not the other way around?


Some things to consider:
*Are all people offended by the same things? And if not, what justifies an application of political correctness?
*Is it really a good thing to never be offended, or to not be offended on a regular basis? (And on that note, is not learning to deal with disappointment, in general, a good thing?)
*Is political correctness an attempt to control the thoughts and thought processes of others, and thus a form of mind control?
*How far is too far? how little is not enough?
*Is there a difference between censorship and disapproval, when it comes to political correctness?
*Does your being offended at what one person says, constitute a need for that person to change how/what they say?
*Is feeling offended a choice? Can you choose not to be offended at something? What's the difference between being offended by something, and not taking offense at something that was intended to be offensive?
*Should political correctness have a say in the workplace? (for example, being fired for being politically incorrect)
*Is political correctness a form of censorship? why/why not?
*Does it matter how true a statement is, if it is unflattering/politically incorrect?

The questions may be biased...but to be frank with you gems, I can't really think of any others. If you have suggestions for me, I'll be glad to add them.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
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Field Researcher
#2 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 7:16 AM Last edited by unalisaa : 27th Apr 2011 at 8:02 AM.
I don't think political correctness is useful in policing people's speech if they do not grasp the underlying thoughts. Many "politically correct" modes of expression make excellent sense if you understand why it is so. "Why can't I call people I don't like retards?"
It's not so much that some words are "bad", but that their use is inappropriate because it implies that non-neurotypical people are somehow despicable. Political correctness should be a product of a well-informed population -- attempting to make it work the other way round renders it useless and makes people resent the idea of tolerance.
Political correctness will never be censorship in the strictest sense of the word, which is "editing of written material by the government". It can be a kind of social censorship, sure, but that means one should find other friends if one is unhappy.
It's not inherently bad to be offended, but some things are not valid intellectual provocations -- they are merely bigoted perpetuations of stereotypes. Calling the Black people at school niggers isn't intellectually provoking or "unflattering", it's a blatant sympathising with historical oppressions of Black people.
Additional thought: "political correctness" wouldn't feel restraining if you agree with its ideas. Language should be used to express the thoughts of the speaker. Hence, you shouldn't be politically correct if you don't feel that way, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't think your opinions over.

TL;DR: political correctness for the sake of ensuring your speech has the right "form" is silly, but respect is good.

One S, two As.
Inventor
#3 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 11:44 AM
It's not thought-policing to expect people to treat others with basic decency and respect. If you (general you not directed at anyone here) want to be a bigoted asshole, go for it, but don't use oppressing language at other people. Because words mean things.

A quote from Shakesville : "First of all, I hate the phrase "politically correct," which has just become a phrase used to (unsuccessfully) mask a sneering contempt for basic decency. If you're someone who has the nerve to suggest that marginalized people should be treated with dignity and respect, you're "politically correct," which not only disdains the fundamental kindness of acknowledging another person's, or one's own, agency and humanity, but also implicitly suggests that you aren't principled: You don't believe that shit; you're just being politically correct. Ugh."

kittens!
Scholar
#4 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 6:13 PM
Political Correctness doesn't apply to me since I'm an asshole to everyone. It's my default setting. Of course I also can't stop myself from wanting to hug everyone and everything. Also sleeping with everyone is also there as well.

Oh yes...
Top Secret Researcher
#5 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 6:14 PM
Right, if the only reason you're not calling black people niggers is because people don't want you to, then you're an asshole being politically correct. If on the other hand you recognize that it's a bullshit term used to brutalize and marginalize an entire people on the basis of their skin because of repressive attitudes, referencing long dark decades of history, and don't want to use the word because of that, then it's just because you don't suck.

Yeah, unfortunately there are a lot of politically correct people out there, but it's not unfortunate because "political correctness sucks," it's unfortunate because a lot of people don't have the slightest clue what bigotry even means, even to recognize it in themselves, and can only be managed to perform the basic attitudes of civilized society under the metaphorical barrel of peer pressure. It's like people who only don't steal and murder because they'd get caught, not because there are intrinsic reasons not to do such things. There's a place for that in the world, because there are people who suck out there that we're still better off keeping from doing all the unpleasant things that people are capable of when they're terrible human beings, but I'd love for there to be no call for it.
Scholar
#6 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 7:41 PM
When political correctness is used to stop discussion of important issues, it is wrong and actively harmful. When it is used to instill basic decency in people, it is beneficial. Society benefits when people get along, but getting along also requires knowledge of our history and our nature, so we can avoid making the same mistakes. For example, the publisher that is replacing every instance of 'nigger' in Huck Finn with 'slave' is practicing harmful political correctness because it partially masks our historic bigotry as presented in the book. It softens the blow that people should feel when they contemplate the wrongs of our ancestors. We shouldn't try to soften things and make people feel better about them because doing so validates those past wrongs. On the other hand, if you go around calling black people 'niggers' now, with a few special exceptions, you are not demonstrating the wrongs of yesterday, but perpetuating bigoted language now. That makes you an asshole and it is perfectly reasonable for society to frown on that.
Lab Assistant
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27th Apr 2011 at 8:40 PM
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Top Secret Researcher
#7 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 9:20 PM
So basically it doesn't matter if it's right and decent to not call people offensive, demeaning labels in Poland, because the Soviets demanded it and therefore that's an overwhelming reason to reject being right and decent?

If you're trying to argue that you've given this notion full consideration and decided to uphold it on its merits, then it would behoove you to defend it on its merits rather than deflect blame on others. Either the Soviets are simply scapegoats in this case, "We really wanted to call people racist names before and after, but the Soviets would not let us" or else it's "We're not not racist, but we act like racists because we hate the Soviet Union so much we're determined to be racists against our better judgment because the Soviet Union didn't support racism." Frankly I'm not sure what sounds like the most bullshit or what paints Polish people in the worse light. One says your mother wouldn't let you shit on the floor and now she's gone you've gone back to turds in the corner, and the other says you're only shitting on the floor because your mother told you not to. Either way you look filthy and uncivilized. What sort of person makes themselves a terrible person inflicting harm on others just because another third party offended them? If the Soviets were terrible then it might be reasonable to have a list of unflattering names for Soviets, but it's indefensible to use it as an excuse to lay harm upon others simply to spite the Russians. If you have a bad day at work, do you kick a dog in the street? Beat your child?
Theorist
#8 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 9:25 PM Last edited by Robodl95 : 27th Apr 2011 at 10:02 PM.
It can get annoying sometimes but I don't think it's such a huge deal to change a couple words. Stuff like Black/African American and Indian/Native American I question because I know many blacks who call themselves blacks and I know NAs who prefer to be called Indian....

Nigger on the other hand is not okay to say imo because it's an actual insult (meaning stupid or inferior usually directed towards blacks)

Quote:
A word 'murzyn' (nigger) is supposed to be offensive but people use it on regular basis. In Russian a black person is негр (negr) and nobody makes so much fuss about it.

Your country has less than .1% Africans, please go up to a black person and call them that and tell me what they say...

Some of those feminist phrases are hilarious! Changing history because of 'his'? Firemen is okay though because it's redundant to call them firemen when there are obviously women there.... I agree about grammatical gender, in German a man's tie is feminine and a skirt is masculine, there's really no correlation.

Hi I'm Paul!
Inventor
#9 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 9:45 PM
I spend a lot of time on feminist blogs and have never seen the word "herstory" used in serious context. Yes, they (and I) often use gender neutral pronouns when the gender of a person is not specified or we want to be intentionally vague about the gender. "Zie" is the one I see used most commonly. I don't see why that's a point of ridicule.

I'm sure there are feminists who do choose to use "herstory" and to that I say: so what? If that's what they want to use to remind people that women do have a place in history, as well, when our history is so often overlooked and dismissed as irrelevant, then that's cool by me. The thing is, we don't have a hive-mind.

I also don't see why it's ridiculed to replace words in our language that are unnecessarily gendered. Using fireman instead of firefighter erases the female-identified firefighters, for example. So why is it ridiculous?

kittens!
Lab Assistant
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27th Apr 2011 at 10:05 PM Last edited by Wojtek : 27th Apr 2011 at 10:16 PM.
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Theorist
#10 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 10:22 PM
Okay: so you say that you like to call things what they really are (and I agree! People call it a "holiday" party but it's basically a Christmas party) but you also said that many people call blacks in your country niggers (meaning inferior and stupid), but if you choose to call them niggers instead of blacks you're real meaning is that they're inferior and dumb.... that's just racist and rude, way beyond the scope of political correctness.

This is an example of a frivolous racial claim, Asian man sues band for singing Kung Fu Fighting...... wtf I can understand being upset by being called a nigger if I was black *cough* but some people take things way too far.

Quote:
Maybe that's the reason we don't care.

And that matters why? Again it's simply racist, rude and unnecessary.

Hi I'm Paul!
Lab Assistant
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27th Apr 2011 at 10:50 PM
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Inventor
#11 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 11:05 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wojtek
Political correctness is only a weapon politicians use to make people stupid only to gain more voters.


What? Your logic here is not at all apparent. Expecting people to use language that is respectful and kind toward others makes us stupid?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wojtek
Like my mother said: "Being tolerant and politically correct is so trendy nowadays. People pretend to be tolerant, but in fact they would happily kick someone's ass without an apparent reason". I agree with her because people are two-faced. They put a mask of a tolerant person, but in fact they are not tolerant at all.


Yea, about that...

Quote:
Originally Posted by wickedblue
If you're someone who has the nerve to suggest that marginalized people should be treated with dignity and respect, you're "politically correct," which not only disdains the fundamental kindness of acknowledging another person's, or one's own, agency and humanity, but also implicitly suggests that you aren't principled: You don't believe that shit; you're just being politically correct. Ugh."[/I]


I'm gonna go ahead and be insulted at the suggestion that I don't believe what I say, that I'm just doing it out of some obligation to be "politically correct" and on behalf of every other person I know who makes continuous, ongoing efforts to always be aware of their language and not carelessly use language that oppresses marginalized people because of their respect for those people, I'm going to be insulted for them as well.

kittens!
Theorist
#12 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 11:08 PM
I think it's pretty common for people in a country with little ethnic diversity to be a lot less concerned with political correctness, I've heard about similar racial comments being made in Japan.

Hi I'm Paul!
Top Secret Researcher
#13 Old 27th Apr 2011 at 11:16 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robodl95
I think it's pretty common for people in a country with little ethnic diversity to be a lot less concerned with political correctness, I've heard about similar racial comments being made in Japan.

I've heard the same rationalizations made from people from Canada and Iowa too, upon coming to live in places like Miami and Hawaii. I don't buy it, or rather I can accept that these people believe they're not bigots because they've never had the opportunity to fully express their bigotry and they've never had to confront the objects of their bigotry, but I don't believe for a single second that it's anything more than a rationalization for poor behavior.
Lab Assistant
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27th Apr 2011 at 11:50 PM
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Theorist
#14 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 12:04 AM
Even if they are pretending doesn't it make more sense to at least "pretend" to be politically correct rather then go on TV and curse out every minority? Why are you under the impression that it's impossible for people to not want to call minorities offensive slang words? I have no doubt that some people say politically-correct things and don't believe in them but that's their problem, at least they aren't making others suffer from their hate.

Hi I'm Paul!
Née whiterider
staff: administrator
#15 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 12:22 AM
I think the focus of this debate is kind of off-centre. Frankly, when it comes to political correctness/use of language, I don't care if people get offended. People get offended over all sorts of things, you can never predict what - and as the OP said, offence is a part of life.

The real harm that's done by the use of inappropriate language is in the thought patterns that it reinforces. If you assume that "nigger" is inappropriate because it might offend a black person, then it's ok to use it in a room full of white people, surely? No-one's going to get offended there! But using it - not once or twice, but consistently as part of your everyday speech - attaches weight to it. The more you use the word nigger, the easier it becomes to assume that all black people are stupid, undeveloped primitives. The more you use the word "spaz", the easier it becomes to consider all people with mental/developmental problems as, well, spazzes - not people, just spazzes; weird and fucked up, not one of us. The word itself isn't necessarily the problem: it's the kind of atmosphere and attitude you create by that usage.

The one point on which I do believe that "political correctness" (I agree that it's a stupid term for describing basic politeness) is important in terms of how certain words or phrases affect individual people is in the case of those who are emotionally vulnerable. Usually it's those who are insecure in what they are: being called a lezbo rolls right off me because, well, fuck yeah I am, well done for noticing, Captain Obvious! But for someone who's unsure of themselves and feels very isolated and lost already, erecting that barrier between "the normal people" and "the insert pejorative term here people" can do some serious emotional damage. There's nothing political about trying to avoid that.


Quite a lot of the early bits of this post were inspired by this, which I stumbled across a few days ago: http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/20.../words-offense/

What I lack in decorum, I make up for with an absence of tact.
Inventor
#16 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 1:09 AM
That's a very good point to make, whiterider, about not using hateful language even when there is no one around that will be offended by the use of the language. It still hurts us.

I really enjoyed the blog you linked, thanks.

kittens!
Field Researcher
#17 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 5:30 AM
Whiterider, I agree completely.
I think the issue most people have with PCness is that it simply substitutes one set of insults for another in their mind.
If I may pull an example from my own culture: There is a long-standing tradition of calling immigrants from the Middle East a word ("perker") which, for comparative purposes, packs about the same level of offensiveness as calling a woman a cunt does in the US.
People ran into a problem. We don't have any other word which specifically means immigrant from the Middle East who is a Muslim. Suddenly, "children with a different ethnic background than Danish" meant perker-children, and you didn't want your kid to go to one of *those* schools. The new term, invented to carry none of the stigma, is offensive because people think its meaning is a bad one. Political correctness will never solve a problem in and of itself because people who dislike a group will dislike it despite its name.

Now, if one has no problem with the group, taking on a "neutral" name for it and ridding yourself of the historical baggage can be a blessing.
Thanks for the link, by the way. This is mighty interesting.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wojtek
Grammatical gender has no real-world implications and I proved it giving examples from English, Polish and Russian.

Okay, I'll bite.
You disproved linguistic relativity in one swift blow. You should get published or something; the linguistic community has been looking for proof for years.

One S, two As.
Lab Assistant
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28th Apr 2011 at 5:23 PM
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Inventor
#18 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 6:02 PM
Actually, you haven't shown that the words are useless. You mocked the use of gender-neutral terms in place of gendered words where they are unnecessary and then went on for many paragraphs about your language which Robodl95 took apart in one sentence:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robodl95
in German a man's tie is feminine and a skirt is masculine, there's really no correlation.


The term "nigger" is a racial slur used to dehumanize people of color and that's a point you seem to be missing while engaging in apologia about how it's acceptable in your country. I don't for one moment buy that it's okay to use racist slurs against someone just because it's socially acceptable in your small world. The only group of people who are allowed that justification are young children because they don't always have the ability to discern what is wrong about the language; only repeating what they hear. So, the question is, are you old enough to think for yourself? If you are, then this gets no pass.

kittens!
Lab Assistant
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28th Apr 2011 at 6:52 PM
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Mad Poster
#19 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 7:05 PM
Gendered terms exclude women. There is no way to argue that they don't. If I were to join the Fire Brigade I would not be a fireman because I am not a man. Nor would I be a chairman if I ever chaired a company.

My Sims 3 stories blog - *NEW* Heather Legacy
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Forum Resident
#20 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 8:03 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by el_flel
Gendered terms exclude women. There is no way to argue that they don't. If I were to join the Fire Brigade I would not be a fireman because I am not a man. Nor would I be a chairman if I ever chaired a company.

In some ways I'm inclined to reinterpret gendered nouns as gender neutral. Okay, okay, so the denotative definition as well as the historical practice behind them are exclusionary, but what about the more inclusive word "mankind"? Or as it came up in The Twilight Zone: To Serve Man.

Words have meaning, but that meaning is only what people agree it is. I, as a woman, could be a chairman (the official definition of which does not make any gender distinctions about who is occupying the position). Admittedly, that might also serve to further enshrine the distinction that men are the 'normal' state while women are 'the other'... but then again, if no one cared about the literal meaning, does it still matter? Tons of words work their way into our vocabulary (and proceed to get warped) without anyone giving a thought to etymology. And if that's the way the usage goes, there's not much point in fighting it (ask anyone who insists on the original definition of "decimate").

Which I guess also taps into the conversation about whether political correctness (or at least a politically correct vocabulary) can really be forced on people. Language can't readily be forced to change in a certain way, but it can certainly be manipulated into part of a zeitgeist. Think of the acceptability of various ethnic slurs over the past century. Even before there were laws against hate speech, usage scaled back as part of the zeitgeist of equal rights. Some people change themselves to exercise more restraint; other people have restraint thrust upon them (anything from being fired to having family members scold them). [Political correctness is far from the only thing that people "force" on each other through social stigma, it should be noted.] And fewer people view EthnicGroup as EthnicSlurs instead of as people of Ethnicity.

Just kicking some thoughts around.
*shrugs*
staff: moderator
#21 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 8:44 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by el_flel
Gendered terms exclude women. There is no way to argue that they don't. If I were to join the Fire Brigade I would not be a fireman because I am not a man. Nor would I be a chairman if I ever chaired a company.


I don't like to debate, so I try not to get involved with this part of the forum. But I have to ask for clarity (not meaning to single you out, el_flel ).

What about the word "human?" Would a woman really not want to consider herself "human" simply because it has the word "man" in it? I've never heard anyone say they are a "hu-person." (Of course, an individual may not even want to use that because it has the word "son" in it.) Where does someone draw the line in excluding any formation of letters which are possibly suggestive of a gender?

I don't personally know any shepherds or sheriffs, but I wouldn't think any males of those vocations would necessarily feel any loss of masculinity simply because of the presence of the word "she" in the word.

I personally don't consider words like "fireman" or "chairman" as necessarily gendered. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't. I realize the word "man" is often used in the more general sense of "mankind" or "humanity." But for me, these words are like the word "pineapple," which is neither pine nor apple. It is simply the word that we use for the entity/object. I don't see any need for bloodshed over its apple-hood or lack thereof. I've heard some people get all worked up because "Santa" is an anagram for "Satan." Is that supposed to make Jolly Old St. Nick an evil fiend somehow? If it bothers or offends you, it bothers or offends you. I know there are things that bother me that don't bother others. I just want to know where people draw the line.

I don't mind if you call me "MSD" or something for short.
Perhaps someday I'll have leisure time back...
Mad Poster
#22 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 9:20 PM
Tempscire - I get the point, I really do, but I kind of see "that's the way it is" as a non-argument really. I agree that there are plenty of words where we ignore etymology but just because that happens doesn't mean we can't ever care about etymology. It's like people using the word 'gay' to describe something bad: it's offensive because of the rationale behind the term (that gay meaning homosexuality is something bad). We could say that it's just the way it is and so continue to use it but why should we accept that reasoning? Whilst adding 'man' onto the end of things isn't negative in the same sense as 'gay=bad', it's still reminiscent of a time when women were classed as the inferior sex. Like others have said, it's about understanding the reason why such words are "bad" which is most important and changing certain terms is a way of getting that point across (which is basically what you said in your last paragraph!).

maybesomethingdunno - It's hard to put into words the differences between terms like 'mankind' and 'fireman' but I will try! Fireman (and similar) seems to be a more definitive term of a person. It's describing that particular role and by being fireman is assuming that the person is male. [Hu]mankind doesn't necessarily ascribe that male role because it's much more general. It's not so much changing every word with 'man' in it (otherwise we'd have to be wopersons instead of women ), but rather changing words which assume that the person in that position is male. Have I made any sense?!

ETA: Also, 'human' is one word whereas 'fireman' or 'chairman' are the amalgamation of two words where the first part describes the position and the second describes the person who is undertaking that position. That's why I think they're different. Others may disagree but that's the way I (and others) see it.

My Sims 3 stories blog - *NEW* Heather Legacy
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*shrugs*
staff: moderator
#23 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 9:38 PM
Ah, okay. Thanks for clarifying that for me, el_flel.

I don't mind if you call me "MSD" or something for short.
Perhaps someday I'll have leisure time back...
Theorist
#24 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 11:20 PM
I think that in this day and age in my country at least it's common for words like firewoman (or firefighter) and chairwoman to take the place of the male verson. It's just purely stupid to call someone a "man" when they're a woman, they are known as "men" because in the past only men held those positions. But feminists seem to think anything with man in in it is bad. For example HIStory, are feminists really against that? History comes from the Greek word historia which means the past. 'His' is not the male possessive form in Greek therefor having his in History is not somehow detrimental to women.

Hi I'm Paul!
Mad Poster
#25 Old 28th Apr 2011 at 11:37 PM
Surely it must only be extreme feminists who want to change words like that, though?

My Sims 3 stories blog - *NEW* Heather Legacy
My Sims 3 CC blog || My MTS page
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