I’ve never been a big fan of the politically correct movement. To me, it seems to be something straight out of 1984. As a rule, free speech and political correctness are at odds with each other. And I will come down on the side of free speech nearly all the time. At best, I think political correctness could be understood as a form of etiquette. At worst, it is a clumsy attempt at thought control.
The pivotal problem with political correctness is that it involves the interpretation of speech. It laces any spoken phrase with numerous implications, many of which may have been unintended by the speaker. I studied philosophy in college. In philosophy, one looks at a statement and tries to determine precisely what that statement means (and that is a task that is much harder than one might think.) Philosophers tend to take things literally and then analyze the logical implications of what is said (and by logic, I mean basic if-then type of analysis). Political correctness takes a statement and then looks for not-so-obvious motivations and emotional implications. Nothing is taken at face value. There is always something implied that strikes people the wrong way. I think a perfect example of this, was the outcry that occurred when Senator Joe Biden called Barack Obama “articulate” earlier in the campaign season.
Likewise, I think the reaction to Bill Clinton’s recent gaffe when he pointed to the fact that Jesse Jackson also won Florida in ’84 and ’88, is another case of political correctness gone wild. Like I said, no one takes what is said at face value. They twist it around and look for implications which may or may not be there. In Bill Clinton’s case, for example, there is no reason to suppose that he meant to draw a connection between Jesse Jackson being black and his winning in Florida, unless one is overly-eager to make that connection oneself. Bill Clinton did not say, “Jesse Jackson, who is black, won Florida in ’84 and 88′, etc…” The “who is black” part has to be added by the listener.
As time goes on, race matters less and less. As a whole, I don’t think the majority of the U.S. population is particularly racist. In the future, I expect racist views to become almost non-existent. More important than race, though, is how the politically correct atmosphere hampers our ability to fight the War on Terror. The War on Terror is not a confrontation with people of a certain race, but rather, people with a certain extremist ideology and that makes all the difference in the world. We cannot win this war if the politically correct keep throwing roadblocks in our way. Nor can we sacrifice free speech (as in the case of the Danish Cartoons) for the sake of political correctness. The rigidity of the extremist ideology must learn to bend before we do.
To me, political correctness seems to be a form of legislating etiquette. And that is a bad idea.