PC ON THE PC FOR 4C
Right then, you miserable lot...and yes, János, that does include you...pay attention. I warned you against blog-dropping and yet you wouldn't let it lie, would you? You just had to ask me why I was so adamant in my opposition to 'political correctness' and express a degree of wonderment as to why one so apparently socialist as myself could pitch my philosophical tent in a camp long occupied and annexed by the rabid right.
Well, dear hearts. The problem is exactly that which PC was originally intended to solve. A purely linguistic one. A question of definition. An altogether admirable attempt to deconnotate language, it was...I'm sorry? Ah, I see. Okay then, listen up.
What are words but linguistic currency? In the same way that my use of a banknote relieves me of the burden of having to carry around equivalent quantities of gold upon my person, so does my use of the word, say...potato, remove the necessity for me to actually dig one out of the ground whenever I wish to refer to one.
Just as banknotes require a common understanding between the parties involved in any exchange thereof as to their actual worth, so it is with words.
It is our good fortune that in the case of a large number of words, usually those referring to physical objects, there is limited scope for misunderstanding. But even if I referred to a table for example, whether I were talking about a figure in a book or an item of furniture would only be determinable from the context and not solely from my use of the word itself. But at least the word 'table' would not usually have any connotations. In other words, the thing to which it refers is not an abstraction and mutual understanding of the word is, to a large extent, independent of individual interpretation.
But, to take an example which, given that it is election time in the UK, must be on every politician's lips right now...let's look at a particular favourite of mine, family values.
The phrase itself is meaningless. Its use relies solely upon connotation. I assume the candidate would quite like me to understand it to refer to the qualities inherent in family life. Incest? Fratricide? Spite? Jealousy? Spousal abuse? You begin to see the problem?
Now, where a certain exactitude of language is required, in law for example or say, local government regulations, the less connotational language, the fewer the opportunities for misinterpretation. And it was at local government level that the use of non-connotational language was originally promoted and became known as politically correct. Okay, it may have produced such monstrosities as, "co-habitating in an ongoing familial situation", but it was, at least, an honest attempt to honestly label something and I was, and am I suppose, all for it.
Now, words also have power. "In the beginning was the word..." At about the same time as the above deconnotation was taking place, it was realised that the very words we use to describe something could affect our perception of the things described. If it was desirable to somehow change attitudes towards a thing, then a good place to start to raise awareness was with the words used to refer to it. Thuswise the phrases 'visually challenged' and 'hearing impaired' impinged upon the national consciousness. A problem? Not at all. Would today's (albeit inadequate) improvements with regard to wheelchair access have come about without the raised awareness brought about by the debate over the terminology? Maybe, but I'm not convinced.
So, you say, what's the problem? So far you appear to be standing four square behind the PC brigade. What gives?
Well, the fact that the deconnotated language lent itself rather well to parody and ridicule and that the neutral labels provided a wonderful opportunity for the politically amoral to appeal to the base sensibilities of those who had trouble referring to a spade as an earth moving implement is what. The Tories siezed the moment and rather cleverly succeeded in associating PC language with the, shall we say, radical fringes of the Labour Party of the time. To approve of PC was seen as allying oneself to a political viewpoint. The fact that this interpretation was also accepted by socialists led to the term 'politically correct' becoming a synonym for 'acceptable to the loony socialist fringe'. Opposition to it was presented as an appeal to common sense and this allowed, and still allows, bears of little brain to justify their prejudices behind a cover of non-PCism. It allows people to prefix racist invective with the phrase, "I know it's terribly non-PC to say so but..." which somehow makes that which follows acceptable to those bears of little brain as it implies that the speaker is using his good old British common sense and not giving in to the PC/Socialist Worker/All Men Are Rapists/Newt Fanciers brigade.
Racism is racism. Prejudices are exactly that. Uninformed through ignorance and, therefore, fear. The perception of these should not be distorted by the opportunity to describe them as non-PC. On balance, I would rather sacrifice this new revised definition of PC than accept racism and prejudice as common sense.
This however, is only one reason for my current stance against PC. A reaction against the politically right of centre. My other objection provides a rather nice balance in that it is against those left of wing. All the above can be viewed as being PC according to the current definition. What follows cannot and it is this simple fact that informs my second objection.
The left view PC as an acceptable mode of language use but have also extended it to include modes of thought. Certain viewpoints are correct and PC and others are deemed not.
For example, ranting against and linguistically abusing Chavs would not be seen immediately as being non-PC. Were I to use the same language when referring to the black underclass however, I would be traduced as racist, probably fascist and definitely non-PC. I can, with relative impunity, refer to the Welsh, Lancastrians or Norvicensians (?) as sheep shaggers, to residents of the Southern States as 12 toed in-breds and to the English as being a race of sexually repressed, anally retentive imperialists and yet the merest suggestion that I viewed radical feminists as man-hating, rug-munching, bull dyke sociopaths would, no doubt, result in my being black-balled by all the clubs and associations which incorporate PC into their logo operandi.
Now, I am not suggesting that that all the above paragraph is true but PC would have it that I cannot speak as I find should what I find be non PC but the result is that truth is being filtered through a screen of PC. We may rant against the fascist nature of our so-called free press but would even the Daily Mail publish the fact that blacks consistently underperform at school or publish the prison population of the UK along racial lines and explain just how that relates to the racial distribution among the population as a whole?
Whoa! Hold your horses, you right thinking individuals. I know all the arguments. Institutional racism in the schools. The chances of a black being stopped and searched against those of a white. The odds of a custodial sentence being handed down by a white judge onto a black as opposed to a white for the identical crime. And yet there is a truth here that the PC would have us ignore. And it is this. That the races do not mix. Look around you at your social circle. Honestly. Impartially. Objectively. Tell me what you see. Black on black. White on white.
Blacks consistently underperform on the SAT tests. Why? Again, I know all the arguments. “Why should blacks be interested in the European history taught in our schools?” A good question but is not physics independent of race? Or mathematics? Biology? Why is it that almost everything in my home was invented by a white, mostly European male? And yet the PC would have us believe that a black can integrate into our white world if only we would be sufficiently understanding. Just how patronising is that?
And why is it, if the SAT tests are so racist, that whites are consistently outperformed by Asian students?
For me it’s a question of values. I am a white male. I value academic achievement. It is part of my culture. It was expected of me and I was capable of it. Black policemen continuously demonstrate that they are better at dealing with people than their white counterparts. Just how much jazz can you listen to on a consistent basis that is played by white musicians? How much of our modern music is based on our white culture and just how much of the technology that enables me to write this little bloglet is as a result of the work of Asian programmers?
I have no answers. I am bereft of a solution. One thing I am sure of is that PC will not provide it. Theories must match our experience. One can attempt to shoe-horn life into a PC world view just as one can attempt to prove the essential flatness of the world upon which we all live. Both are doomed to failure. The only other thing of which I am sure is that the green ink brigade is going to have a field day with this one.