Friday, April 8, 2016
I've been thinking for some time now about the negative, and perhaps, unintended consequences of political correctness that some on the left don't seem to acknowledge. One of the problems with political correctness is that it sometimes forces you to deny reality—to deny facts, in the name of not offending people. There are some facts about this world that are inconvenient to the liberal agenda. But facts shouldn't conform to political ideology. Rather, ideology should conform to the facts.
I think political correctness when gone too far can sometimes hurt the liberal agenda by shooting itself in the foot. Let's look at two examples.
Take the issue of the treatment of women in Islam. You have feminists in Western countries who will challenge every aspect of the patriarchy, and every perceived threat of male dominance to the status and treatment of women, yet on the issue of Islam and how women are treated in cultures dominated by that religion, the criticism almost disappears. Instead, the idea goes, since most Muslims are brown, and since the Western colonial powers have historically done bad things to brown people, criticizing Islamic culture for its treatment of women exemplifies this legacy Western colonial dominance, and so we must be respectful of not criticizing the treatment of women is Islamic cultures too harshly—or at all—thereby enabling the mistreatment of hundreds of millions of women to persist. This is a case of political correctness hurting the liberal agenda.
Or, take the dicey issue of race. Political correctness has made talking about race and racism more difficult. The social justice warriors of our day want to effectively shut down anyone who disagrees with their "facts" or who violates their preapproved accepted terminology on how to "properly" talk about race. If someone accidentally "misspeaks" and uses the wrong word, they are labeled a racist and must either step down, be fired, boycotted, or shamed into apology or hiding. What this ends up doing is making many people terrified to talk about race publicly. But racism still exists and not talking about race doesn't make racism go away. We have to talk about race in order to address the causes and solution to racism, and if everyone's terrified to talk about race because they're afraid of accidentally offending someone and being labelled a racist, then no one talks about race except for those perhaps on the far left, and actual racists. This will alienate people in the middle who might have important input to the discussion but who don't agree with the most liberal positions of the far left agenda, and who don't want to get associated with the actual racism of the far right. And so hugely important issues about race might never get discussed and addressed. This is a case of political correctness hurting the liberal agenda. It's 1984 with a liberal Big Brother.
I understand the need for some level of political correctness. I don't want to live in a world where everyone is openly racist and sexist like it was sixty years ago. I abhor actual racism and sexism. But political correctness gone too far shoots liberalism in the foot—and I still consider myself a liberal, by and large. We have to be able to be real with one another when talking about the tough problems we deal with as a society. For example, if you suggest that black culture is partly to blame for the systemic problems in many black communities, should that automatically disqualify you from the conversation? No. If you say that the Islamic religion and much of the culture based on it has sexist elements and is a large part of the problem with how women are treated in Islamic cultures, should you automatically be labeled a Islamophobe who's upholding the racist colonial dominance of an oppressed people? No. We need to be able to discuss about these things without the PC police shutting down the conversation before it even starts.
This is by the way, not an argument against liberalism, but an argument about how liberalism should change, because too much political correctness is hurting it. This is enabling a backlash that is empowering the rise of the far right. And I don't want to see that happening.