Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Trepidation: The Hump Day Hmm for July 25, 2007

Edited to add caveat and clarification:

1. I want to be clear that by challenging the notion of political correctness, I am not advocating saying whatever one wants however, whenever and wherever one wants. That's not what PC is in my mind. Perhaps I ought to define what it is in my mind better than I have. There is judiciousness and wisdom in speech---which is weighing what one thinks and wants to say against the other people involved and the situation at hand. There is courtesy in selecting how one approaches a topic and addresses it with others. I'm a big fan of this, of respect and consideration. Then there is PC, which includes empty and meaningless buzzwords; the idea that by editing language we have cured the problem; and a culture of conformity and repercussion for nonconformity of not just words, but ideas. That's PC and that's what I am challenging.

2. I want to be clear that I do not mean to harangue anyone about not participating. If you are busy, or this isn't your cup of tea...then that's what I meant about choosing by preference and I understand. My point mostly reflects when someone feels "gagged" and wants to speak, but is too concerned to do so. On that count, see point #1 above...and why I am challenging PC.

3. I haven't arrived at any conclusions yet. Right now, I'm simply identifying and processing through a sense of discomfort with a barrier to individualism within thought and language---of expression---that is prompting me to explore a concept thoroughly so I can decide what I think and how I'd like to go forward.

The other posts are great explorations of this topic, and the comments so far (and anticipating further ones) are as well.

*****

Original Post:

This week is the first week since the beginning that I feel any trepidation about the Hump Day Hmm. Initially, I felt anxious that I'd set up this roundtable and nobody would come. Then we got an awesome regular thing going that blew my mind every week and I gained confidence. People were not just interested in the topics as writers, but also a readers. Even better, participants began sending in ideas for topics. I became comfortable expressing my views on the topics, confident that I was extremely fortunate in my readers: intelligent, open-minded and articulate as you are.

But this week, I may have overstepped my bounds.

I asked people to discuss political correctness and its societal, cultural, and communication implications.

I think this topic is uncomfortable to some.

And so I worried it's going to be just me. That's okay. But I also felt better when Snoskred e-mailed me a link to a post. Not just because it can feel a little funny standing by oneself in an empty room intended for a crowd, but because I really do want to hear what people think; even if it is an explanation of how they prefer to not be controversial (although I'm not actually asking anyone to be controversial or say anything provocative, just discuss how and why they communicate in this PC-age). Even if they think I'm nuts.

I'm open to different opinions. I even consider them. I think they are necessary to measure our ideas against for strength and durability, or for change, if needed.

We've lived inside the PC box for a really long time. We've carefully culled our language. But we haven't culled our ideas.

I still hear racism, only instead of using objectionable terms such as the n-word, people are more PC about it now and use the more appropriate African-American to say things such as, "Yeah, you know how those African Americans are...always blah blah (insert ignorant blanket statement here)."

People whisper it more quietly, are more subversive about it...hide it better, use more rational sounding language.

I think that makes it harder to fight.

But aside from bigotry, considerate people, kind people, people who want to be courteous and respectful are caught in an ambiguity of language due to political correctness. I think there are multiple sides to this: the silenced side and the vocal minority.

Consider what Mark Schmidt wrote in his paper, "The Orwellian Language of Big Government"

The state of American politics has become increasingly Orwellian. At the national level in particular, elected positions are dominated by career-minded officials who repeat empty and often deliberately misleading or untruthful slogans. Consider the two most recent Presidential campaigns. After "reinventing government," we "crossed a bridge to the twenty-first century" to a place where "no child is left behind," thanks to the wonders of "compassionate conservatism."[3] As Orwell understood, such vacuity strips political communication of any concrete meaning. The absurd end result was captured by President Clinton's niggling over what the meaning of "is" is. If this trend continues, our language will ultimately be useless to express the ideas that form the basis of rational political discourse in a healthy republic.

Language is at the root of political consciousness. We can only know what we understand, and our understanding is limited by the words and phrases used to frame an issue. The constant repetition of imprecise, politically correct language is sure to have a cumulative effect upon a target audience -- eventually we begin to accept what we are told. Indeed, the main goal of political correctness, like Orwell's Newspeak, is to diminish the choice of words and thereby reduce the range of thought.


This reinforces a quote I had in my last post from Wikipedia:

Conservative critics of political correctness, argue that it is a form of coercion rooted in the assumption that in a political context, power refers to the dominion of some men over others, or the human control of human life. Ultimately, it means force or compulsion.[22] Correctness in this context is subjective, and corresponds to the sponsored view of the government, minority, or special interest group. By silencing contradiction, political correctness entrenches the view as orthodox. Eventually, it is accepted as true, as freedom of thought requires the ability to choose between more than one viewpoint.[23][24] Some conservatives refer to Political Correctness as "The Scourge of Our Times."


(Emphasis mine.)

Right now, politics is the major issue, especially in these increasingly black and white times, before a major election.

You might like to read Mark Schmidt's article. He discusses specific terms, such as "Voluntary Compliance" for taxes, "Big Government," "Compassionate Conservatism," and "Equal Opportunity." It is from an opinion. It's not unbiased. You might agree, or disagree.

Just...have your own opinion. That's all I hope for. Even if you keep it to yourself, although you know me, I hope you'll say it.

I realize my approach to this tackles largely controversial elements. I don't think this discussion has to do that. That's me, the Queen of Provocative. That doesn't have to be you. You might even support PC, or parts of it. I don't think it's all bad. There are certainly derogatory terms no longer commonly said, and I don't miss them. That's good. But I do think it hasn't achieved the original goal and has created a nasty side-effect that comes out at times: silence and compliance, or worse, repercussions to those who don't observe strict silence and compliance.

Amazing voices that I know...are quiet. They don't want the vocal or vituperative special interests to bring down Thor's Hammer on them if they speak up or out, reflect their views, which might be unique or outside the accepted and sponsored view. Some have experienced it, some have learned through witnessing.

In my opinion, it's one thing if a person simply chooses---for example, in blogging---to stay on the sunny side of the street, the light and fluffy topics, out of personal preference, or preferred tone, etc.

It's quite another if someone has something to say, that is strong inside them, but bites their tongue or stills their fingers to prevent backlash.

I understand it, but it causes me to feel very critical of this culture (not of the person), of the contributing factor (political correctness, in my opinion), and generates a desire to tackle and bring down these walls between us.

I also understand the idea of picking one's battles, or more importantly, picking one's battleground. There is a time and place for everything...and the blogging and written medium may or may not be it. I comprehend that this doesn't mean this is absent from elsewhere. I know that a blog doesn't per se reflect the whole of a person or person's life. I was very intrigued by some comments when I posted the idea for this week's Hump Day Hmm. It's fascinating to hear how and why people chose the tone they did for their blog, how they select topics and subject, approaches. I love how diverse it is. I appreciate that I can come here and be as political as I wish, and someone else can be as light-hearted and humorous as they wish.

I hope you guys have posts (email them to me and I'll add them in) or comments. I do accept anonymous comments here, as well.

And in other reading:

Snoskred Political Correctness - The Hump Day Hmmm..

Julie at Learning and Laughter wrote Uncomfortably Correct

Chani wrote Deconstructing the impossible

Sephyroth wrote PC Paralysis

The Queen wrote Just underneath the surface

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

26 comments:

Mary-LUE said...

Julie,

I hope others send you posts today, too. I would love to read what others are thinking.

I'm not participating with a post for two reasons (not one of which is because you've overstepped any bounds).

I've been thinking about this subject a lot and I do think that political correctness as it has come to be understood is overall a negative thing. What might have started out as a public form of peer pressure to let people know certain things aren't acceptable has turned into a sort of weapon--something almost any good thing can become.

However, I poked around a little and felt a little overwhelmed at what was written and how to put in my two cents worth. I went to that Wikipedia article and followed the link to the chat site on the subject. There was so much back and forth and no real agreement about how to define political correctness. I just kind of balked.

Plus, and this is probably the bit that tipped it for me is I'm pooped. It is a busy week with Paul out of town and Marley in soccer camp and other appointments and commitments. I don't think I would realistically have been able to participate in any Hump Day Hmmm this week. (Of course, I spent a whole day reading HP7, so all my time issues are not due to outside obligations!)

I think this is a great topic, really.

Well, I'm off to feed my little soccer star before sending her off. I'll come back later to see how things are going with the discussion.

Lawyer Mama said...

I started to write a post last week while I was on vacation that fits in with this topic pretty well. The only problem - I'm not sure I can publish it because it's about something that happened at work. Damn. it.

I may, however, write it & see if HBM would put it in her basement. If I do that, I'll send you an email with the link but I doubt it will be this week. Too much going on. You know, same old excuse.

But I'm really hoping that this topic will come up again next week - or at least something related to it - because I have some thoughts I'd like to get out, even if I can't publish what I originally wrote.

flutter said...

I have a lot to say on this, but I am uncharacteristically at a loss for words when it comes to putting it in a way that makes sense....

thailandchani said...

I have input, too, which I may have already written to you. I'll check and see if that's the case.. and put it here in the comments section.


Peace,

~Chani

Mary-LUE said...

I think it is good to define what you mean by political correctness. I may have mentioned it here before, in fact, I'm sure I did, but I had a professor who drilled into my wee brain that whenever you are discussing anything, be sure to define your terms.

Part of my feeling a little overwhelmed when I looked at the Wikipedia discussion on PC'ness was because there was so much disagreement about what it meant. Do you take a linguistics approach? Do you take a political approach?

Plus, I think a whole other discussion could take place on something else that I think is going on in our culture today which is a kind of bullying. You kind of addressed it in your amendment to this post when you write about how you talk about things. I don't think it is about PC'ness but about the general lack of tolerance for other people's points of view.

I suspect it is a circular thing, politics today feeding into the polarization of opinion and the true divergence of points of view feeding into the fierce atmosphere of the political arena.

When you take that harsh atmosphere and throw in a helping of PC'ness, well, it will put a damper on meaningful conversation I think.

Finally, (for now, at least) I don't think you communicated in any way any haranguing. :)

thailandchani said...

My post is finally up. The actual title is "deconstructing the impossible". I saved it too soon. :) The post explains my addlebrained reasoning today. :)

http://thailandgal.blogspot.com/2007/07/day-before-yesterday-i-received-private.html

Cecilieaux said...

I think the hoo-hah about "political correctness" is bull. In essence, complaining about PC is one more way we in white-bread America can assure ourselves that (a) we're not racist (yeah, right!) and (b) we have a God-given right to belittle anyone we like (note to us: there is no god and no such right). That said, I will defend the legal right to be incorrect, or rude or a bleedin' Nazi -- but legal ain't moral or fat-free.

Emily said...

Julie,

I did not post on the topic because I am trying very hard to stay on focus with my blog, and the only issue my family doesn't seem to have is a PC one!

I tend to be in favor of voluntary political correctness -- that is, thinking before we speak about whether there is a way to say something that will avoid hurting other people. I am not easily offended; in fact, people have tried and failed. So, I do not get hurt all that easily, but I think that others can be. If I can find a way to speak my mind without being hurtful, I will.

It is about using language to its utmost potential. Finding the words that can express something without hurting a decent person is worth the effort. What I don't like is the kind of PC you talk about, where language becomes completely devoid of meaning. Language is strong, powerful, and should be handled with care. To throw words about because they sound good is disrespectful to all hearing. So, say what you mean in the most effective way, which is usually also the kindest way, but do not say what you don't mean just because you think others want to hear it.

That said, there are certain people who deserve to be hurt by language, but I am related to most of them :)

And, I agree with Cecilieaux on the moral or fat-free thing.

I love this topic and am glad you are doing it.

Julie Pippert said...

Cecilieaux, can you clarify b/c I am confused by your comment when you wrote, "...complaining about PC is one more way we in white-bread America can assure ourselves that (a) we're not racist (yeah, right!) and (b) we have a God-given right to belittle anyone we like..."

Thanks!

I will try to get back for replies later...

Aliki2006 said...

I will be lame and plead understanding from you that I don't get to this topic...not because of lack of interest. Where I work this is an important topic, and one I've thought about and dealt with. I wish I could put together an articualate post on this topic, I really do. Will you accept a raincheck?

Christine said...

julie-- i so love this topic, but like others i feel unable to articulate myself in any way that doesn't make me sound like an idiot. so i'll fall back on my very light

i'm also a chicken.

working on it. . .

Anonymous said...

Christine, just to remind, anonymous comments are allowed here, too. Maybe that will make people feel safer to say something?

(This is not Julie)

Christine said...

thanks, "not julie" i actually never thought of that.

duh.

i left a comment over at chani's place today that i think applies here as well. not really about my feelings on the pc topic, but why i am still avoiding the topic.

kaliroz said...

Julie, I think I get where you're coming from.

Both of us are living in a place where there's this stress on certain social rules. Expectations. You don't talk about some things in public. I think that has created an ugliness beneath all the prettiness and sweet tea. One where awful things are said about people. Where hate and prejudice linger.

I think that's kind of the same thing you're saying about PC, right? That, while good intentioned, it's led to a more sinister kind of racism/prejudice because there's this social expectation of what you're supposed to say. So, the awful things we say about another are hidden in the words. You have to listen for inflection to get the real meaning.

It was created to help us be a more sensitive, respectful society. But in many ways it's made us less so. It's just not an overt thing.

Am I close?

I didn't blog on this because of time and I couldn't get a coherent post put together.

Christine said...

because i am neurotic and should have written my own post. . .

i also fear losing friends/readers for being TOO light and fluffy.

though those are good qualities in a soufflé

slouching mom said...

I agree with you 100%, Julie. Why, for example, must we say "height-challenged" instead of "short"? What is so wrong with "short"?

Here's another example that has bothered me in the past. I know someone with diabetes who is offended when someone refers to her as "diabetic." She would prefer to be referred to as "someone with diabetes," because she believes that the latter suggests that she has lots of attributes of which diabetes is only one. But it seems to me that any reasonable person is not going to infer that she is only her diabetes simply because she's referred to as diabetic.

It's just semantics! It drives me batty!

Julie Pippert said...

M-L and Roz...yes, you guys are understanding how I mean this. What began as a potentially positive reform movement has instead morphed into a weapon against nonconforming thought of the prevailing political theory, and moreover, has (as you correctly understood Roz) come to mask a deeper ugliness that hasn't been eradicated despite language changes.

M-L, as you said, I am a little overwhelmed too and balky a bit as well, LOL. It's why other opinions were so valuable to me---trying to frame this in my mind.

But yes, also as you said, needed to be defined a bit better. I am sure people thought i meant "to hell with boundaries...say what you think" which isn't it at all. I'm talking the politics of language.

I do have both linguistics and politics in my mind, especially as that hits the bullying thing you mentioned, Mary-Lue. Excellent point.

If I had to summarize my baseline point, I believe you did it really well for me with:

"I suspect it is a circular thing, politics today feeding into the polarization of opinion and the true divergence of points of view feeding into the fierce atmosphere of the political arena.

When you take that harsh atmosphere and throw in a helping of PC'ness, well, it will put a damper on meaningful conversation I think."

And there, Roz, we get to your good points and clear understanding (which, BTW, was very coherent but I also knew you were on a work deadline). You have nailed my concern about the sinister underlayer the pleasant PC lingo hides, as well as the less tolerance for veering fro the party line of PC lingo.

I mean, who wants to advocate not being PC---it's meant to be GOOD and do GOOD THINGS, right? Arguing it is what, akin to saying, "Hey let's form a hunting party and go shoot Bambi."

My thing is that I am saying it is not a perfectly good movement.

So yes, you two nailed it.

Thanks. :)

Okay on to more...

Julie Pippert said...

LM, I leave it open.

I too have avoided a number of examples that would probably put this discussion (from me) in better context...out of sensitivity. And yeah, a little personal hide concern.

***

Flutter, if it comes to you, door is open...

***

LOL Emily.

Speaking of family...

I have recently come to distinguish sensitivity from selfishness and oversensitivity.

Sometimes I think PC crosses a line, and this is something Slouching Mom touches on in her comment.

It can be really hard to discuss issues such as politics or health because we can easily go so overboard about semantics and language that the conversation ceases. That's one of my concerns.

Language should be handled with care, but not so much so that we cease using it out of fear of its power. OR create a meaningless lingo such as "voluntary taxation."

I'll make sure to throw in one of your topics so you can get back on board. :)

***

Aliki, same raincheck deal open to you...

***

Christine, no slamming of self! :)

I will check your comment at Chani's.

***

SM, as noted above, yes, you have hit on an aspect of this.

I mean, arguing the meaning of "is" is really outside of enough, IMO.

I do try to be sensitive about some obvious things.

I will never call children "real," as in, "Are those your real children?"

"No they are my pretend ones; I go to Rent-A-Kid over on 4th and Center once a month to get my fix, have an excuse to see kiddo movies."

Or "normal." I nearly hate that word, no strike that I hate the misuse of that word, especially within the medical community when what's really meant is, "common" or "I hear that a lot but I don't know what it is."

There are a lot of labels.

The problem is that sometimes it hits a point that people's sense of the ridiculous kicks in and instead of taking the sensitivity requested seriously, it becomes a joke, such as, "Today I'm feeling slim challenged and I fell off my chocoholic wagon."

I full on refer to myself as infertile. You can't look at me and see that. It affects my lifestyle, though. It's not all of me, either.

There used to be a lot of discussion---because infertility does so overtake your life---about how to call it: did we "have" infertility, were we "suffering from" it or were we simply "infertile?"

I voted for "absorbingly sufferingly manifestation of infertility" but was vetoed due to wordiness and overly complex. ;)

So I stick with simple.

This hits a point some friends and I have discussed time and again: where do your rights end and mine begin?

If you are the only person who will not accept "is diabetic," am I obligated to always remember, "Oh yes, SueQ prefers has, not is, must say it that way..." and recall each individual's personal preferences, and remain contrite if I forget or miss? What is your obligation to let some things roll off, because as your friend, you know I know you are more than your disease. Which obligation is greater?

atypical said...

k, I didn't even finish reading this because I have to go paint some more, but I wanted to let you know I'm here. :)

BTW, my definition of PC would be about the same as yours. I had wanted to write on this hummer too (I have written so many hump day posts in my head!), but I have barely been on the computer lately.

Hopefully I will finish the painting before falling asleep, and I will have some free time tomorrow!

-t

Snoskred said...

I struggled with the topic too - when you suggested it originally I was all yeah I know what I want to write about, but by the time I sat down to write it most of what I wanted to say had vanished, thanks to the Desperate Housewives phenomenon. ;)

But also because like Christine said, I don't know so much of the history or the politics of PC, I just know how it's affected me in life. Christine - I think it is really important for us to write what we *know*.. that is more important than anything else. ;)

It's two lessons for me - write it when I think it, don't wait, even if I don't post it for a few days.. ;) and write what I know, and be happy with that instead of trying to over-reach. ;)

Snoskred
http://www.snoskred.org/

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Julie,
This is a very thought-provoking post...not that I expected any less of you! :)

A part of me feels that PC falls under the umbrella of manners. You know, your mother told you..if you don't have anything nice to say..don't say anything at all. Yet I feel that is has grown into something that in many ways cripples people from being able to truly express themselves.

Call me crazy, (but not to my face..hee-hee) but I have to believe that the majority of people are good....and when they express their opinions on things it is just that...an opinion..not a judgement of an entire race, socioeconomic level, religion, or gender. Are there people out there who thrive on using hurtful words and hate? OF COURSE...but why must the many suffer for the few?

As for keeping things light, I tend to do it out of a feeling of inferiority. Don't get me wrong...I feel I am an intelligent person...yet when I read eloquently written posts, I wonder if mine would be able to meaure up. Also, I did post about something that I felt strongly about and was absolutely blasted by a lunatic. A lunatic that, in essence, threatened to send over a pack of lunatics to continue the battle. Even knowing that this person was crazy...seeing...in print..that someone thought I was a racist....hurt my feelings. Obviously I know that I am not....but it bothered me that my writing was being taken that way. (EVEN though a black man that reads my blog on a regular basis took no offense...but I digress!) So if I'm honest...maybe it's a comfort thing...keeping it light. Yet..sometimes I feel that sharing my fears and inadequacies (SP?)as a parent take just as much courage.

I do respect and admire you SO much for your candor and bravery in addressing controversial issues!

Kyla said...

Originally, I was too afraid of offending someone to post this comment. I emailed it to Julie instead. Given the subject matter, I think that is a statement in itself. But I've gather up the nerve to post it, so here we go.

I do think, as humans, we are all responsible to think before we speak and try and be kind to one another in our words. I think PC takes it a bit too far at times, though.

The example that comes to mind is the recent line of thinking that children with autism should not be called "autistic". To do so means you are defining the child only by the disorder and devaluing him as a human, or so they say. We are to say "X has autism." Never "X is autistic." The same goes for children with delays. I should not say "KayTar is delayed." or I am defining her only by those delays...but if I say "KayTar has delays." evidently is it acceptable. Now ask me which I say.

Both. Because they mean the same thing to me. One word does not change her situation or make me feel any differently about her. If you said, "Oh, KayTar is delayed?" I would say, "Yes, she is." Not, "NO! She is not delayed. She HAS delays, do not attempt to define her by them!"

What I'm saying is, this sort of "correctness" is a bit too far, at least for me. There are certain words I definitely choose not to say, because they are hurtful. I feel that is my responsibility as a thoughtful human to be kind with my words, but I don't like having to worry about every phrasing that comes out of my mouth, especially when there is no-ill meaning behind it or as in the above example, I would use it to describe my own children. I don't like the thought that something innocent I say could be misconstrued as intolerant or insensitive, because it was not quite PC enough.

So there is my book-long comment for you. I hope I did not offend anyone. ;)

Julie Pippert said...

Atypical, oh so nice to see your name! In your head counts. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy to know that.

***

Snoskred, I agree that we need to write what we know. And I also thought I knew where to go but found myself stymied.

***

Queen, yes, I think PC falls in the same ball park as respect and courtesy. I believe the original intent was good, but then, as has come up in this discussion, it has somehow morphed into its own problem---which is what I have tried to address.

And I won't call you crazy for that idea. Not even behind your back. :)

I think that you have your own gifts and I'm glad for your kind of voice.

I was thinking this morning about complimentary versus competitive as motivator for achieving goals (don't ask---it's the way the brain goes LOL). I think in the blogosphere we have a nice array of complimentary---well, you get to this in your post.

I'm so sorry you had that crazy experience.

But I'm glad you knwo it's not you adn hasn't shut you down.

Thanks. :)

***

Kyla, I am so glad you came on and put this up. I think it is such an important idea and point. Well you know my long-winded reply already so I'll just say I'm so glad you decided to weigh in.

***

I am blown away by this awesome discussion. It's so valuable I think.

I also have to say how much I respect people remaining Named as they express their views, even though I have the anonymous and logged out options.

Big props from me to you, all.

kim said...

Oh how I wish I had not missed this one.

PC has done nothing more than substitue labels and perpetuate our obsessive need to classify people. Words that are truly offensive like the N-word and the F-word have never been acceptable and have always been hate speech.

If we changed the way we thought than the need for policing speech would not be necessary.

Gunfighter said...

I believe that the arguments about so-called "political correctness" are a collective red-herring.

It is all nonsense aimed at distraction.

Catherine said...

Sorry I missed this one....is there a schedule somewhere of topics? What's up for Wednesday?