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Sunday, May 29, 2016

What Is "Political Correctness"?

Conor Friedersdorf shared parts of emails with a friend of his who backs Donald Trump to be President of the United States last week. One of the reasons his friend backs Trump is his friend's issues with political correctness.

In a similar vein, recent Bloom County strips shared on Berkeley Breathed's Facebook page focused on the character Binkley, who starts cursing at his father because he's modeling the behavior of Trump.

It begs the question: What really is "political correctness"?

If we think of it as "not saying something that somebody else might find offensive," then we all want political correctness to a certain degree, because we all have beliefs and values that are important to us and we don't like anything that runs contrary to them.

People who are strong believers in a religion or philosophy may not like somebody else painting an unflattering picture of someone noteworthy for that religion or philosophy. A person who thinks certain behavior is impolite will not be pleased with somebody who repeatedly engages in that behavior.

And people who hold strong to certain beliefs may insist that our educational systems and our laws, rules and policies must always reflect those beliefs. They may not be willing to consider whether or not that's really for the best for society.

It's understandable that people don't want their beliefs and values to poked fun at when those who do the poking don't understand them enough. The problem, though, comes when people don't take the time to explain why others shouldn't mock those beliefs or values in that manner, and why they believe it to be wrong.

Instead, the usual method people take is to say variants of "I don't have to explain anything to you." But if one cannot explain why others shouldn't make fun of beliefs and values in a certain way, then one cannot help others learn and adapt. This prevents we, as the human race, from evolving, adapting and gaining a better understanding of one another.

It's true many groups have been mistreated in different societies, but just because they were disenfranchised at one point doesn't mean they don't need to explain why certain things upset them. Not everyone is familiar with history and there's so much of it out there that it's hard to remember it all.

Nor should we claim that a disenfranchised group shouldn't be criticized because that group has never dominated a society, because members of that group would not change their minds if their group came to dominate society. But that doesn't mean the group that has dominated society should claim no criticism should ever be levied against it.

What every human being must understand is that, in order for everyone to learn and adapt, we must openly discuss our beliefs and values, why certain words and forms of criticism bother us, and what's the better approach to take to critique such beliefs and values. Only when we do that are we no longer concerning ourselves with "political correctness."

But just remember: If you find something offensive, regardless of what it is, you are arguing for a form of "political correctness." So you better be prepared to explain why you don't like it, then be prepared to listen when people who share different beliefs and values explain why they find something offensive.

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