For whatever reason, some people get really hung up on word choice. Sometimes I understand it. I hate when people say “thing” when describing how to do some task, especially if they make a habit of it. Like, stick the thing into the thing, but keep it away from your thing, or you might go sterile. Being specific is useful in technical situations.
In a sense, a lot of words people get upset about are like that. They’re sort of like filler words.
“Fuck” is certainly the most common one, and there are actually still people in polite society who act shocked when they hear this word. The multitude of uses for “fuck” are well attested to. But really, while “fuck” is generally considered offensive, it has little to do with the discussion of “political correctness.”
Political correctness is not about obscenity, per se. Political correctness is a sort of positive form of censorship. It’s positive, not in the sense that it has a beneficial effect on society, but because it concerns itself primarily of what you should say. Inevitably, there are terms that we are not supposed to say, but it’s because they lack the seal of approval. It’s not that you can’t say something in this system, but rather, that you are expected to use terminology that is pre-selected as being acceptable.
The problem is, I think this selection process is fucking retarded. Case in point: “retarded” is not politically correct. How idiotic is that? No one has a problem with “idiotic,” even though it has the same history as “retarded.” Both were medical terms for people with some form of mental deficiency, both were abandoned by the medical community, and both have entered common use as an insult for someone who clearly possesses a functioning brain, even if they don’t appear to be using it.
I’ve also been chided many times on how I address the gay community, which is discouraging for someone who supports gay rights. I was particularly stunned when someone told me, “You can’t say gay, that’s offensive. We prefer queer.” Really? That doesn’t make sense to me one bit. Gay doesn’t seem offensive to me at all. Gay means happy, and I think that’s a rather positive view of homosexuality. I’m a heterosexual, and I wouldn’t explain my experience with it as “happy.” It’s more of an embarrassing struggle, maybe a “fiasco.”
I just find “queer” to be far more offensive than “gay,” maybe because I never played “smear the gay” when I was growing up. I’m happy to call someone anything they want to be identified as, but I’m not going to make the brazen move of calling every gay person “queer” just because one over-zealous fan of obscure wordage thinks “gay” is sooo 2004.
Part of why I just find myself unable to really identify with any particular liberal movement is because you have to watch what you say around liberals. I like commenting on conservative blogs because I find that generally, conservatives actually let you say your piece any way you want. Liberals will almost always ignore what I say and just engage in the most inane assault on the way I said it.
I sometimes wonder if people who complain about this stuff have any conception of how counter-productive all of this can be. Many words have been unnecessarily empowered by this whole attitude. If you never use a word, you leave its use to those who use it the way you don’t want it to be used.
Instead, you should own the words that offend you. And I don’t mean the way black people own “nigger.” They got it all wrong, and it’s not really black people who did it. I think it was a small group of black activists and a large group of white liberals who came up with the idea of simultaneously damning “nigger” and inventing “African-American.”
Trust me: changing what anyone calls black people isn’t helping any black person, not even psychologically. There were no black people who woke up one morning and thought, “Ahh… I’m no longer a nigger, I’m an African-American, and things are finally turning around.” If you want to help black people, you need to make a tangible difference in a system that dumps truckload after truckload of shit on their communities. You can’t end oppression through vocabulary.
In fact, if you think about it, plenty of people get criticized constantly, yet they are doing great. Doctors, lawyers, and politicians are doing alright, but they’re the butt of more jokes these days than black people and women combined. And when was the last time you heard anyone say anything positive about white men? And yet, white men are doing just fine. We don’t need more positive messages for white males, because despite the disparity in society’s representation of them as fat idiots, you don’t need society’s approval to feel good about yourself, nor is success linked to being liked.
If anything, I wouldn’t want to be a part of any demographic that is too afraid to be criticized in public. That’s generally a sign of weakness, being unable to take a little ribbing. Those who have any self-esteem can take criticism in stride. I don’t mean they have to grin and bear it (hell, I encourage people to fling insults back at anyone, for any reason), I just mean that it’s pathetic if you resort to saying, “You can’t say things like that” in response to something you didn’t want to hear or read.
Instead, if a word offends you, use it every day in a different way. For example, why not use “nigger” as a synonym for “very.” For example, “Bill Gates is nigger rich,” or, “That new Tom Hanks movies is nigger good.” Don’t use it just for black people or black-related things, though don’t go out of your way to back-track if what you say might be perceived as racist, like if you say “It was so cloudy last night, it was nigger dark,” don’t draw attention to the fact that it could be misinterpreted.
That’s ultimately what political correctness has done, created systematized misinterpretation. Rather than drawing on overall context or the character of the person saying it (and forget about getting the benefit of the doubt), political correctness encourages misunderstandings. That is not only what political correctness was supposedly meant to stop (misunderstandings), but it runs counter to the very concept of language, because it seeks to attach a history and weight to words that the speaker never intended, defeating the very ability of people to discuss certain topics without the distortive lens of hyper-sensitivity.
I also notice that most people who get upset about certain words think nothing of using or endorsing extreme language against those they disagree with. I don’t see a lot of liberals getting offended by my verbal abuse of conservatives, nor do women hesitate to laugh at a gender joke, so long as it is at a man’s expense. It’s a classic double standard, where certain groups can be subjected to unabashed criticism, while doing so for others is taboo. It is actually a bit racist and sexist to treat groups differently, or so I have been told.
I can criticize a man for being a weepy little dick with grit in his urethra, but calling anyone (though usually a man) a whiny pussy with sand in their vagina is somehow magically “misogynistic.” I guess “misandry” is not a word discussed quite as often among feminist circles.
Maybe my ultimate complaint about political correctness is not that it misrepresents intentions and distorts communication, but that it points out and mocks the limitations of language.
My thoughts are my own, and I cannot share them with anyone. The best I can hope for is to put the intangible ideas from my head into words which I say or write. Once those words are out there, it’s up to those who hear or read them to interpret them, and there may be as many ways of interpreting what I say (and how I said it) as there are people on the planet. Try as we might, language is a poor substitute for truly peering into a person’s mind.
In any case, I could not bring myself to embrace political correctness, because it seems to encourage people to think the worst of others. That’s just a little too intolerant, even for me.