Political correctness (PC) is a term used to refer to language that seems intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation. This can be extended to ideologies, religions, and simply expressing opinions. The concept has been discussed, disputed, criticized, and satirized by commentators from across the political spectrum. The term has often been used derisively to ridicule the notion that altering language usage can change the public’s perceptions and beliefs as well as influence outcomes.
For example, PC culture prefers that the terms “spokesman” or “spokeswoman” be replaced by the gender-neutral term “spokesperson.” To promote religious tolerance, “Merry Christmas” becomes “Happy Holidays,” and a demand for simple empathy asks that “mental retardation” be replaced with “intellectual disability.” Other PC examples are mere attempts to change narratives. Avoiding describing terrorists or showing their photos. Over representing narratives or avoiding narratives can also become PC mechanisms.
This presents a problem. Political correctness tries to put boundaries on offensive speech and behavior. However, there is the risk that such boundaries are likely to be determined by those in power’s personal beliefs and values. This means that the definition of what is offensive can change with each group that comes into power.
The goals of political correctness are often noble, often serving to protect marginalized, less powerful groups. Critics, however, contend that to legislate political correctness offends the First Amendment.
Not surprisingly, Democrats are less concerned than Republicans, and unaffiliated voters about the threat political correctness pose to free speech – see insert chart. Democrats tend to want society to conform to a collective leadership to the point it becomes tyranny, even to the point that collectivists can often fall victim to political correctness themselves.
See below a comical view of political correctness gone awry, even from left-wing comedian Bill Maher.
In today’s societal discourse, we clearly have gone too far in trying to police speech – online and offline. We have seen time after time, so many get censored on social media. As of June 2020, 73% of total adults in the United States reported that it was very likely for social media platforms to censor political viewpoints that they find objectionable.
However, can free speech ever become purposeless foul language?
Atheists and non-religious folks roll their eyes when we bring Biblical text into these discussions, but this post is part of a Sunday Thoughts series, after all. It’s free speech, right? Consider the following.
- Ephesians 5:4: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” A lot more on this notion of foul language here.
- Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.“
- Mark 9:45: “And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.” The notion here is to not let your action cause others to stumble – this could extend to language. A lot more on this notion here.
- Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” A great tactic to open people’s minds.
- Psalm 83:1: “O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God.” Yes, free speech – don’t be silent.
Is this an attempt to censor your speech? No. It is an attempt to reason with the reader that you don’t unnecessarily censor yourself and strengthen the power and effectiveness of your speech. How? Consider the following suggestions.
- Endless cursing, F-bombs, and other expletive deleted comments will only cause others to not take you seriously.
- When challenging an opponent who opposes your ideas – attack their ideas and not purposeless attributes of your opponent. It will merely give ammunition to your opponent to label you as absurd and someone not to listen to.
- Watch social cues on trigger words/language that can get others to label you something you are not. One can still get your ideas across without unnecessary inciteful language.
- Sometimes sharp language is necessary to wake people up to your ideas. But if it is all you do, eventually no one will listen to you.
None of these suggestions should censor your ideas or sensible speech. Sometimes memes, satire, and comedy are effective ways to express oneself. However, no one should censor your ideas except yourself – just be smart and balanced about it. Though free speech is paramount to ensure a free society, purposeless foul language is a good way to censor yourself.
See more in this series of Sunday Thoughts – click here.