I don’t know if the story of Political Correctness started in 1945. It may have done. Prior to that date, it was quite acceptable to hold all sorts of reprehensible views. Some of those could be low-grade, while others could and would lead to global war, global destruction and genocide. So once all that business was over, people became quite concerned with the views held by one another that had lead the world to such suffering. These views of racial superiority, adulation of the strongman, submission to the state, etc., became quite intolerable. In some such countries, such overt views were simply outlawed. In others, the method of choice was social stigmatisation. Perhaps this is how Political Correctness began. As a concerted effort, by and within society, to stamp out or at least suppress harmful and destructive ideologies and thought patterns as that still lingered within the populace. If we accept the premise, then why, so many decades and generations later, isPolitical Correctness so scorned and dismissed? What happened to this idea, and how did it mutate from its original premise? And as Donald Trump rides into the White House on his balls big enough to “say it as it is”, what are the dangers of blowing it away?
The ‘liberal consensus’ did not come about over night. It was a gradual, sociological process of shifting attitudes, opinions and beliefs away from racism, sexism, homophobia and generalised intolerance. It is not complete and never will be, but the societal shift is tangible and life is better for millions of people. Political Correctness was a key driver of this improvement. It was pursued in a number of ways, from official policy, to education, to use of language, to media discourse and depiction. Slowly and gradually, people questioned their assumptions that homosexuality was immoral, ethnic minorities were unwelcome or inferior, women belonged at home. And those that bought into these new attitudes promoted them and vilified the recalcitrant. But it was this social scorn, this social stigmatisation as a weapon of attitude adjustment, that had a peculiar result. It created the environment in which – to many – it was more important not to be socially stigmatised than to actually support tolerance and equality.
On the individual level, people construct a mental prison for themselves, in which they only allow themselves to exhibit thoughts and behaviour prescribed by Political Correctness, so as to never receive accusation of some bigotry or intolerance. At the same time, to justify this self-imposed prison, it becomes necessary to make accusations upon evidence of intolerance or bigotry in another. Like the U.S. bombers flying in formation over Italy in 1943, who made the macabre, illogical conclusion that every comrade shot down reduced their own statistical probability of suffering a similar fate, those in the Political Correctness prison are quick to throw stones, and reason through fear of social stigmatisation rather than the pursuit of tolerance and equality. In this way, the intent of Political Correctness has mutated and been corrupted.
Naturally, there has been a backlash against this witch-hunt mentality, in the form of dark or ‘tasteless’ humour. These range from Holocaust jokes to racist jokes to rape jokes. Clearly such jokes do exist as expressions of anti-Semitism, racism or misogyny and are not to be dismissed. But for the majority, this humour exists as a form of rebellion against the mental tyranny imposed by self-serving, corrupted Political Correctness. Those quick to cast accusations are those who lock themselves in a prison of fear, and lack the imagination to understand that something doesn’t always mean what it purports to on the surface, and the courage to break free from such a prison. Holocaust jokes have even become cliched these days, but when they are made, it is not to laugh at the Holocaust; it’s to rattle the cages of thought police tyrants.
On the societal level, the phrase ‘Political Correctness gone mad’ is a common refrain now. How can authorities ban the use of the phrase ‘brainstorming’? Who among anyone, suffering from epilepsy or not, could take offence from that phrase? Or banning the venerable seaside show Punch & Judy, which depicts a comical form of violence between husband and wife, but is as old as England? Then there’s the school in England that banned a girl from bringing a Wonder Woman lunchbox to school because Wonder Woman is a character who uses violence to solve problems. Many people would rail against these examples of Political Correctness, at an institutional level. There are countless examples of this and it’s not my intent to debate them on an individual level. In these cases, local authorities and institutions utilise the intent of Political Correctness to again shift attitudes and beliefs, in these examples against mockery of debilities, domestic violence and generalised violence respectively. Again, admirable enough. But the zeal to supposedly promote ideas of benignity attacks cultural paraphernalia that does not promote malignancy. The notion that any conceivably offensive interpretation will by definition be the dominant interpretation is surely misguided. But misguided by what? A desire to be perceived as good? The examples above are all surely harmless and attacks on them in the name of some supposed benignity betray a superficial desire to be perceived as benign. Local authority inaction on grooming rings in Rotherham for fear of seeming racist is a case in point.
Political Correctness, which served society to suppress and stamp out abhorrent beliefs and ideologies, has created a monster in which a fear of the stick has far outweighed the benefits of the carrot. In to this modern day environment steps Donald Trump, who pays no regard to who might be offended by what he says, and does not talk in language designed and crafted to sail the waters as smoothly as possible. As most of us speak among friends. He has the balls to say it as it is, and all those so mad at Political Correctness love him for it. But Trump isn’t demolishing the ‘Political Correctness gone mad’ incarnation, nor the low-level tyranny of the P.C. thought police. He is undermining the bedrock of the consensus that has held darks forces at bay for three generations. When talking of Mexicans as rapists, Muslims as terrorists or woman to be grabbed, he is not ‘telling it as it is’. He’s greenlighting the underlying bigotry and intolerance. Even an expression a little more homely, like ‘bombing the shit out of ISIS’ forgets that, as a US presidential candidate / president, he is speaking to a global audience of almost infinite variety, rather than the bloke in the pub talking to his mates.
Political Correctness served an essential societal function; to suppress malignant notions of bigotry and intolerance. And it still does, and must. Unfortunately it got hijacked along the way, by those whose desire is to look good rather than be good. This distinction is critical: Political Correctness (in its original configuration) has an essential part to play in modern society. The problem with Donald Trump’s use of rhetoric is not that he is breaking down the tyranny of the ‘Political Correct thought police’, nor the ‘PC gone mad’ brigade. He is not empowering and educating people to have their own thoughts – ideally enlightened ones – nor pillorying those who hijack and appropriate Political Correctness for their own self-serving ends. What he’s doing is undermining this essential function; the societal edifice against bigotry and intolerance. He’s the main tidal wave washing away essential checks and controls against peoples’ darker natures, and unleashing and legitimising human wrath and anger.