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You Can't Say That

During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump said that people who disagreed with his proposed Muslim ban were just being ‘politically correct.’ And it appears as though Trump’s ‘blame everything on political correctness’ bandwagon has officially arrived in Australia.

Pauline Hanson blamed political correctness for Australia’s reluctance to ban the burqa. And more recently, Tony Abbott had this to say about the same-sex marriage vote: ‘If you don’t like political correctness, vote no.’

Railing against political correctness evokes a standing ovation from a certain type of audience, and leaders like Abbott have noticed. Its constant use in seemingly irrelevant circumstances has devolved the term to sheer meaninglessness.

In light of Abbott’s comments, I was curious about whether an accepted definition exists, so I went looking for one. The Meriam-Webster dictionary defines political correctness as the idea that we should avoid language that offends the political sensibilities of others, particularly in relation to race, religion and gender.

Political correctness, as Meriam-Webster defines it, is on the rise. In 2015, Pew Research found that 40 per cent of millennials think the government should prevent people from making statements that are offensive to minority groups. In comparison, only 12 per cent of the silent generation agreed. For many, the 2016 US Presidential election was itself a referendum on political correctness. In response to what they considered to be the stifling of free speech, many voters turned to the ‘tell it like it is’ candidate.

But despite Team Trump having obviously misfired in their use of the term, political correctness is still not something we should encourage. So let’s not forget that it’s possible to oppose it without lying about what it means.

 

Nothing is universally politically correct. And that’s because nothing is universally offensive. There’s PC police on all sides of the political spectrum. In 2003, the right-wing PC police came after the Dixie Chicks, of all people, for criticising President George Bush and the Iraq War. The band received death threats, had their CDs burnt and their music boycotted. To save their public image, they eventually apologised. Anyone can be the victim of political correctness. If the Left allows their PC police to run riot, the Right will do the same. If we accept political correctness, we accept it for everyone.

What one person individually finds offensive simply isn’t an objective standard by which we can regulate speech. Just pick a random political opinion of yours. Got it? I can guarantee that someone somewhere is offended by it. The Alt-Right and Trump supporters aren’t the only ones who are offensive, we all are. Mere offence cannot be the metric by which we censor people. If it were, we’d all have our mouths sealed shut. As Benjamin Franklin once said: ‘if all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.’

If an opinion hurts your feelings, the best way to defeat it is by offering a reasoned, evidence-based critique. Being offended by something isn’t a legitimate criticism of that thing. Being offended by same-sex marriage, for example, doesn’t automatically make it a bad idea. Just as being offended by Trump doesn’t automatically disprove what he says.

The most impactful flaw of political correctness is how it stunts progress. It punishes political dissidents, thereby maintaining the status quo. By instilling a fear of offending the tragic sensibilities of established thinkers, it discourages political innovators from presenting unpopular opinions.

As the late George Carlin said, political correctness is the most pernicious form of intolerance because it comes disguised as tolerance. It designates certain opinions, topics and ideas as being completely off-limits. To many, it’s even politically incorrect to oppose political correctness. At most universities, its taboo to express anything that even resembles a conservative opinion.

I get it. Political correctness doesn’t seem like a big deal. And it’s not when you’re in the majority. You get to say whatever you like with minimal backlash. It’s easy to take a ‘brave stance’ when everybody already agrees with you. You’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll be more than fine. If you do it enough, you’ll be crowned a #thoughtleader!

Just don’t forget about the #thoughtlosers out there ­– the people you frantically scroll past on Facebook with your eyes rolled because ‘they’re just wrong.’ The people you only listen to when you want to remind yourself of what you’re up against. The people who can’t open their mouths without being laughed at, shut down or insulted. For them, political correctness is Big Brother watching their every move, waiting for them to step out of line and dare to utter an unpopular opinion.

To you #thoughtleaders, don’t get used to it. A change of environment would quickly show you what it’s like on the other side. So don’t be PC. It might just come back to bite you.