Today, I am going to possibly offend both sides of a sensitive discussion about political correctness, and that’s because my opinion here is neither on the “left” nor “right”. I think that means I will piss just about everyone off with this article. If discussions on political correctness make you angry, then feel free to skip this article.
To me, PC has a good and a bad side. We like to put an end to prejudice and stereotypes, and doing so, means to address people with labels that show respect. It would seem a good thing, and would have a civilizing effect on how we treat each other in discourse. In fact, is it wrong to give added opportunity to marginalized groups? Once again, giving eveyone equal opportunity can’t be wrong.
The problem is, as I have always maintained, when any “good idea” becomes a totality (as in totalitarianism), the idea is ruined, no matter how good it is. So, some dude with a high-level degree, who spent way too long researching marginalized groups, was given a job where he or she gets a little power to decide who gets to participate in programming at, say the British Broadcasting Corporation, decides to place racially-mixed people into his/her comedy programming, and cancels programming from the former members of Monty Python. That’s right, if you click on that link, former Python member Terry Gilliam is now telling the world he is a “black lesbian in transition” in order to get back into the BBC’s good graces.
You may have your own take on this discussion. Maybe Gilliam is an aging crank who should come off it and go retire some place. It is as if, the zeal of showing a lack of discrimination has created a new form of discrimination. Can anyone dispute that Monty Python has a place, then and now, in the annals of British comedy? The effort to be non-prejudicial has created another kind of prejudice. And this is the bad side of being too PC. It’s all well and good so long as you have contributed to a civil and egalitarian society. It fails when your actions and words amount to a new kind of hostility, a new kind of discrimination. Then, society is less civil, and the worse for it. In fact, the PC movement will, in the effort to be egalitarian, completely fail to meet its own object, at a time of increased racism, tribalism and prejudice. It is a sad crisis of their own making.
We need political correctness more than ever. But we need the civilizing kind. PC people will always offend racists. Racists will always be offended, and I am not concerned for them. PC’s have the power to put an end to tribalism, but are actually making it worse, by trying to define new marginalized groups at every turn. There is now such a complex maze of marginalized groups that it is hard to keep track, making it nearly impossible to have a casual conversation about people without fearing that you have offended this-or-that group by referring to them with the wrong name.
I don’t need a scorecard for certiain folks. African-American people probably shouldn’t be labelled with the N-word, since that has a very obvious history. Calling aboriginal peole “Indian” is wrong (people from India already have that label). In Canada, we call them “indigenous”, as a catch-all to refer to Metis, Inuit and First Nations peoples. But this is after several changes. In fact, I just found out I may have offended someone by using the word “aboriginal” earlier in this paragraph, and had to look up “indigenous”. It is thus a bit discomforting to write such articles as these, since any reference to racialized and marginalized groups in a blog will require a mini-research project, which I am OK with, but I think that an open-minded discussion on these topics requires that we not be too casual in using what we know to discuss things about people we don’t know. We live in a big world, and it wouldn’t hurt us to challenge our own stereotypes.
There are groups calling themselves trans-gendered; and I have some rather touchy questions: why do we need to refer to the rest of us as “cis-gendered”? Will anyone listen to me if I say I am offended by that label? Where are the PC police now? I am sure most of us did not agree to that label, not that I can say I am terribly offended. It just sounds like the “cis” labelling is a rhetorical device to make trans people feel better. I am not denying I am “cis”, I just don’t see the point in using that label at all. And to trans people, please feel free to strip yourselves of labels also.
“Trans people” are, I am sure not a unified group. Each consists of a collection of individuals with their own lives, concerns, interests, hangups, like most of us. I think the ultimate goal of the PC police should be, not to refer to “trans people” or “indigenous people” as a group, but to rid ourselves of all labels one day for all groups. Because to label is to stereotype, and we ultimately should be concerned with the lives of individuals rather than of people we envision as belonging to “groups”. To label people is to tribalize and separate. To not label is to re-engineer a society based on individual concerns and needs, in a way that is doomed to be non-judgemental. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.