The Dark Path of Political Correctness
Defining Political Correctness
The problem with debating political correctness is defining what the term means. It’s perhaps a little like art, in that it means different things, to different people, in different contexts and you only know it when you see it (or hear it), but can’t really define it.
Nevertheless, I’ll attempt a definition: correcting society through political means. I believe this works, but of course what is left unsaid is why society needs correcting and how it is to be corrected. Therefore, to be more specific, I'll add this refinement: the coercion of speech, thought, and behavior towards achieving an equality of outcome for disadvantaged groups.
The Dark Path
Desiring people to be more polite or accommodating to legitimate struggles is laudatory and sometimes necessary. However, wanting to achieve equality of outcomes leads down very dark paths. Likewise the means of achieving a preferred outcome can vary from open debate about language and reasonable accommodation to forced compliance. For example, establishing rules of etiquette in a workplace is necessary to keep the peace and maintain morale. But these rules should be open for debate and not enforced by injunction.
In Bad Faith
Another aspect of political correctness is to obfuscate a truth because it doesn't fit a political narrative. This is what George Orwell warned about with his "doublespeak". While this is another pernicious aspect of political correctness, it is engaged in by bad faith and will not be the focus of this article. Instead the focus will be on understanding the faults of political correctness pursued by those who believe it a tool for good and not simply a way to spin a debate in their favor.
Equality Never Achieved
As I defined political correctness above - forcing an outcome of equality - is anathema to a free society. Forcing people to do anything is a limit on freedom. Sometimes force is justified, but when the goal is to force an outcome of equality then the means certainly don’t justify the ends. Still, what is inherently wrong with equality of outcome? The problem starts with it being unachievable at a technical level. Defining what is equal is the first difficult step, then defining how many ways a person can be defined in terms of lacking equality is the next problem, then how do you achieve equality without forcing inequality to others. Even when all these factors are very narrowly defined (which is itself unfair) forcing an outcome ends up hurting people more than helping.
What’s Good For Me Is Not For You
For example, If certain minority groups are underrepresented (as defined as their overall demographic make-up in society) in higher education, then one way to solve this is to hold open the door for members of these groups, but to the exclusion of others. This may sound reasonable, fair and equitable, in order to give them a chance they historically haven't had, but what if another minority group overachieves and is overly-represented. The overrepresented minority will be doubly disadvantaged as will society. Likewise, it would be unfair to not consider any disadvantage in society: why stop short at race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or class? Why are these special groups? Why not consider all traits? What about attractiveness, height, weight, or intelligence. Of course some of these traits can be self-improved, others are inherent to a person at birth or even dependent on other traits. But, if fair is fair, then it is not a big jump to expect all disadvantages to be leveled even if an advantage was previously earned. Of course this would be impossible and absurd.
By Force Or Whatever Means Necessary
But, whether society considers fairness to extend broadly by all traits or much more narrowly, how equality is assured can only be achieved by forcing an outcome. This means people must be forced into equality. The Soviet Union and later communist societies considered class to be the fundamental driver of inequality and therefore sought to level the playing field forcing everyone (except party apparatchiks of course) to give up wealth, property, privilege to achieve an equality outcome. This led to famines and purges with millions of victims. This is the natural outcome of forced equality. Give a government enough power to achieve an outcome, why would you expect that government to give that power up even if the outcome is achieved?
Zero Sum Games
So, coercing people towards an equal outcome based on inequality is not good. There are no real limits to how far one can define inequality. There is no real limit to how much force one should apply to achieve the desired results. And even if limited, you still get unequal outcomes no matter how hard you try; when your game is zero sum then there will always be winners and losers. Instead if you reframe and understand the game as equal opportunity then everyone has a chance of winning, and many do, because opportunity is endless, while outcomes are by definition narrowly defined.
Of course there will always be losers, but everyone suffers in life, some of course more than others. You can't eliminate all suffering - especially through force. Utopias are only built on the bodies of the dead. Instead one should seek meaning so that one can then bear the suffering. Living in freedom to the extent possible, while respecting others and demanding equal opportunity, so that all can pursue happiness, is the closest to utopia a society can become.
Politeness and true equal opportunity is highly desirable in society. Convincing people to change language, behavior and attitudes through open debate should be the means. Convincing people to be polite is a social good. Ensuring everyone has equal opportunity should be the measure. Convincing not coercing. Removing barriers to entry, not excluding. Respecting individuals, their value and potential should be the goal.
© 2020 W J Fitzgerald