Is Political Correctness The New Curb on Free Speech?

If a large number of articles on topic is any indication, political correctness is akin to entering a boxing ring with one or both of your hands tied behind your back.

For the liberal side of politics the concept is part of its philosophical bedrock.

The liberal discourse, for all practical purposes, is irrevocably entrenched within the limits of political correctness.

In the recent past voices targeting the excess of this avowed virtue have been raised and have gained considerable traction.

political correctness

A brief search on Google on political correctness will throw up a range of articles, all written in the recent past, decrying the excesses of political correctness.

There is also a political correctness gone mad cliche in vogue. In an opinion column in “Times Colonist,” writer E.W. Boop mentions a popular saying, “ Truth is the first casualty of war, then clear thinking is the first casualty of political correctness”.

The primary reason for such a huge antipathy against political correctness lies in its artificial nature. Like civic rights, political correctness is a concept that has evolved out of progress of politics and civilization.

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Source of the image: Imeanwhat.com

Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate, according to Jonathan Chait, an American commentator.

The primary reason for a ready antipathy among those who are not poised to benefit from the usage of politically correct language is its essentially animated origin. There is no place in nature for political correctness. This is an imposition on the regular and even instinct driven discourses in order to protect the vulnerabilities of those who are placed at the short end of the argument simply on account of their in built or inherited frailties.

Because the raw and unbridled forces of nature were put in check by tools, machines, systems and structures, the products of human ingenuity and wisdom which also gave rise to political institutions and concepts in order to control the social aspect of human existence in ways other than the dictates of pure nature, often creating safe spaces for the protection of the disadvantaged who were sure to be undermined if natural forces were  to take their course,  it has been considered a logical extension of such human generated sanctuary to find place even in the public and political dialogues and discourses in the form of fetters of political correctness.

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Source of the image: Flickr

There have been concerns raised in the recent past over the difficulties experienced in the conduct of fair and free discussions on socially important topics due to the blatantly ridiculous stretch given by many to what is considered politically correct.

Demands for trigger warnings and concepts such as micro aggressions are instances of excessive usage of political correctness which had the academia as its primary sphere of influence during 1980s to 1990s after which the concept was not much in vogue until quite recently.

A big issue with excessive political correctness lies in its ability to curtail free speech in the name of protecting the rights of disadvantaged groups by over sensitive reading of issues related to differences between the genders or capitalist and communist countries or things like crime statistics among ethnic groups as per Steven Pinker, popular science author and cognitive psychologist who was speaking at the January 25th panel of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

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Source of the image: bbc.com

In a column in NYMAG by Jonathan Chait, a number of instances where excessive usage of political correctness has stretched itself to ridiculous lengths were cited, such as need to attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset students, and campaigns to eradicate “microaggressions,” or small social slights that might cause searing trauma.

He also gives reference to an article by Rebeca Traister in the New Republic, with the quote, “All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps.” He also mentions how progressive initiatives like Binders Full of Women Writers, an invitation-only Facebook group, where the most powerful women in journalism and media once deliberated openly has become fraught with requirements of political correctness discourse and identity politics recriminations. The article can be accessed at goo.gl/xQUihK.

In an article in The Stand, Oonagh Wall mentions a TV film, Has Political Correctness Gone Mad? by Trevor Philips. The movie through interviews with activists tries to highlight the problem of excessive political correctness which has failed the test of democracy by opposing the expression of views contrary to the tenets of political correctness.

Noted instances are of feminist activist Germaine Greer who was attacked for expressing her views on trans women and of Princeton professor Lawrence Rosen who came under fire for using the n-word in an anthropology lecture while discussing hate speech. The article can be accessed at goo.gl/zDCWbs.

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Source of the image: Blazing cat fur

Given the number of opinion columns against the excesses of political correctness it seems its return has not been beneficial for the cause of free speech.

The present generation is ready to discuss anything and everything under the sun and what was considered gravely offensive a decade ago is now merely inane.

Among the young, there is also a heavy inclination towards a return to conventional values of nationality and conservative politics.

In such an environment how far the rigidity of political correctness will be able to exercise its influence over public discourses is something one should be on the lookout for.

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