How to be “politically correct”

Since a lot of people seem to have trouble with the idea of “political correctness,” I thought I’d post a short guide to what it means to be politically correct. You know, so everyone can be on the same page as far as what people are complaining about. It’s a short list. “Political correctness” means simply that you

  1. Understand and agree that merely being different is not, in itself, doing anyone any harm, and
  2. Recognize that it’s wrong to punish people who are doing no harm, even if they are different.

And that’s it. That’s what all the fuss is about. When people complain about political correctness, as if it were some kind of horrible tyranny, what they’re saying is that they object to one or both of these elementary moral principles. Take LGBT rights for example. Gay people fall in love differently than hetero people do. But being different is not doing anyone any harm. It’s just different. Trans people have a different relationship with their bodies than cis people do. But again, this is doing no harm to anyone. Asexuals feel differently about sex in general—harmlessly.

The same goes for other types of differences: racial, ethnic, political, religious, economic, and on and on. Each person is different from every other person that exists, in one way or another. These differences do not constitute any harm being done to anyone else, and therefore people do not deserve to be punished just for having these differences.

By “punishment,” of course, I’m referring to the full range of penalties that people like to impose on each other just because of their differences. It’s not just the extremes of beatings and torture and imprisonment and death that too often are imposed on innocent people. It’s also the more casual punishments of presumptive inferiority, the innuendo, the thoughtless liberties taken at other people’s expense. And everything in between.

Political correctness has been around for a long time, but it hasn’t always gone by that name. In earlier generations we had other terms that meant more or less the same thing. Terms like “human decency,” and “common courtesy.” We used to admire people who could overlook harmless differences and be good to one another. It used to ennoble us, and made the world a better place.

That’s what people are complaining about when they sneer at political correctness. That’s what the haters are hating. But it’s a good thing, and the world needs more of it.


  1. says

    This is not what is commonly understood to be political correctness. Political correctness is a form of censorship in which people censor usually themselves, or punish others for not censoring themselves, to try to pre-emptively avoid offending others.

    We are in the late stages of a widespread political correctness breakdown. What this means is that people who misunderstand political correctness feel liberated to express their bigoted views. There is a major distinction between expressing views which are merely offensive, stereotypical or discourteous, and views which have political aims to disenfranchise people. Both views are ignorant, but one only harms the ego.

    The problems with political correctness stem from the prioritization of the egos of minorities over their civil rights, because while we didn’t hear certain words for a long time, the political movements were allowed to fester and grow under the shadow of political correctness.

    People like us used to be (did I say that?) chastized for expressing views which offended Christians (and Muslims, etc.). The only way for us to speak freely is to be able to say things which offend people, to abolish censorship. While we have been somewhat successful at that, it also meant that racists and sexists could also come out of the closet too, which they have now done. They have their own presidential candidate. And because of this their movement sees the light of day.

    The bottom line is that most people don’t want to think of themselves as bigots, so at the end of all of this, the end of political correctness will ulimately spell the end of ignorance about racism and sexism, and therefore the foundation of those political movements.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Hmm, that has not been my impression, but you do make a good point. I’ve gotten used to seeing people justify their mistreatment of others on the grounds of being “not politically correct,” including but not limited to their speech. But as you say, there’s likely more to it than just being for or against political correctness.

    • jh says

      I think it could be something like this –
      When it’s a personal attack that is based on something immutable or innate, it’s crass to make fun or harm that person. That’s why we don’t say “nigger” in public. That’s why we get shushed if we say “fag” or something else like that. That’s why we want everyone treated fairly, especially minority groups who are more likely to be abused and marginalized than the majority group.

      But maybe it get’s morphed when it starts restricting what can be said about history, ideas, interpretations, beliefs? For example – I have every right to say that Islam is a violent ideology that restricts human intellectual freedom. I can say “Mohammed was a war lord and a nasty person who should not be revered as someone holy”. But I would bet I would get at least one person who would call me an Islamaphobe because they can’t distinguish that I’m criticizing ideas and opinions.

      I’m not sure that conservatives get “nuance”. They don’t understand the difference between Bruce Springsteen refusing to perform and a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding. (To date – I have yet to see the argument that a citizen of one particular state should be listed in a “protected class” like women or even religious people are placed in. But this is what conservatives are implying when they create this false analogy.)

      • says

        Anyone who chooses to take action, especially political action without any understanding of the situation is just as guilty as, or following, those who deliberately seek special status or protection for their own group above all others.

        The reason we don’t use those words today is that those words help us identify oppressors, but some oppressors are smart, they change their terminology. They say things like “family” for anti-gay or “socialism” for anti-black to abstract their target group, but their followers usually don’t understand that either and revert to vulgar language. So while Donald Drumpf doesn’t use certain language, his followers do, abstraction isn’t an effective disguise for barbarians.

        Take it from Warner Bros. disclaimer for their classic cartoons, censorship is only a way of pretending that things didn’t or aren’t happening:

        >The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in the U.S society. These depictions were wrong then and they are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming that these prejudices never existed.

  2. says

    I feel like I should make it clear that it wasn’t our efforts to be able to criticize Christianity which began to break political correctness, rather the existence of a black president turned up racism to maximum boil, making it impossible for those who support political correctness to keep it under wraps. Hypocrites are still hypocrites, so while they rejoice in their freedom to be offensive they still attack us for offending them.

    Political correctness emerged from the tradition of the Good German. Its primary purpose is to protect the ignorance excuse in defense of self-identified neutral parties, and as such is a legalism, a way of erasing one’s racism by simply following social rules while doing nothing about actual racism. As long as people don’t hear about certain things, or certain words, we can all pretend that such things are not happening (and it has been believed by many that racism was dead). And when specific acts are exposed, the standard refrain “we did not know” can be sung in unison.

    The crucial side effect of political correctness, false neutrality, and the Good German mentality in general is that it always benefits the evil in society. I can’t conceive of any way in which political correctness benefits me other than hearing less of one specific narrow subset of casually ignorant, ego-bruising statements. So while these bigots are very happy right now that they can now make casually ignorant statements about race freely, they are oblivious to the fact that they are losing something powerful that has protected them for several decades. We need to have the strength, courage, and conviction to recognize that political correctness needs to go and that in its absence bigotry will be naked and defenseless.

    The thing about Good Germans is that they never wanted to be associated with the evils they pretended not to know about. Pretending not to know about them was how they dealt with it and that just doesn’t work. So by letting neutrals know that we know that they know, responsibility is thrust upon them, to not merely censor and cover up evil but to renounce it and censure those who commit it.

    We civilized people still tend not to use certain words and expressions because to do so would be counter-productive to our goals. We are not trained, conditioned, manipulated, or threatened into being decent. Bigots are not able to refrain from being bigots, hypocrites are not able to refrain from being hypocrites, but political correctness has been their muzzle, training, and threat. Without it everyone will see what they are.

    • jh says

      I’m not sure I quite agree. I feel that conservatives coined the term “political correctness” as a pejorative because they want to say something offensive but they don’t want to pay the social consequences of that offense. Societies evolve, we learn that what was acceptable in the past is not acceptable anymore.

      You will note – the people who rail against political correctness are also the one’s who would rail against the US AP History section covering slavery in detail or presenting the viewpoint of Native Americans whose lands were stolen by the US Government.

      As for the racial animus against President Obama, I agree. I use the number of white hate groups that grew during President Obama’s terms as a indicator of the depth of racism that still exists in the US. And that seething cesspool forms the group that rails against political correctness. They want to have their say and have society condone their speech. The problem is that a large portion of society has gone past that. We are by no means a post-racial society but President Obama would not have won without a large number of white voters. Racism is America’s original sin. But we can’t use a blood sacrifice to wipe it clean no matter how much I would like to just shoot those fools down. It really is about changing hearts and minds in the US.

      • says

        You should do some research before speculating. The history of political correctness in no secret, no mystery. It originated in the Kremlin and found its way into left-wing Marxist university student groups, who actually used the term ironically at first.

        Conservatives today openly say offensive things, asserting it’s their right, but they turn right around and attack anyone for not showing proper respects to their own beliefs. They’re hypocrites.

        The intervening gap between the ’60’s and the ’80’s saw the expression taken up by neutral groups who wanted to cover up racial animus with a pretense of getting along. In 1984 a totalitarian ideology does this, but in real life neutral parties do this while totalitarian regimes just resort to imprisoning and killing people who don’t conform.

        The concept of “hearts and minds” is itself also rotten like political correctness. It originates in American rationalization for escalation and continuation of the war in Vietnam, and was repeated unironically for the war in Iraq. What’s been happening this past decade has not been a process of winning any hearts or minds, it’s been plain education, something sickly lacking in the United States.

  3. maghavan says


    Political Correctness means justifying the “correctness” of an (at least facially) apolitical proposition based on it’s perceived or asserted political implications.

    Rightwingers overuse it because they just think that their bigotry is obvious “fact” and that people who disagree don’t really believe what they say. In other words, they think that we all “know” that (for example) Muslims are “terrorists” but that we are denying it for political reasons. They are wrong about that, but if they were right then they would be correct in calling it political correctness.

  4. says

    Political correctness is not any kind of justification or rationalization, it’s just an implied set of arbitrary censorship rules. The implicitness is important because we know that a majority of people simply do not understand political correctness. They either blindly accept it and defend it, or they blindly reject it. If any right-wing conservatives understood it, especially the elites if there were any, they would fight for it rather than against it, because it fits much better their ideology, like a glove really. Political correctness is shrouded in many conservative myths and deliberately employed by them whenever it’s convenient to mask their true goals.

    The myth that political correctness extends a right not to be offended, conservatives always assert that they have such a right, yet this is a weakness of political correctness because of *who* is bestowed this right.

    Conservative Christians unilaterally architected their “War on Christmas”. Christians on my Facebook regularly attack others, protest stores and malls for not explicitly using the expression, yet the exact same individuals parade around their right to shirk political correctness by offending others. The single greatest problem with convervative Christians is their hypocrisy. Somehow they are completely incapable of seeing that political correctness is exactly what they want, they want to be protected from ever getting offended, they just don’t want anyone else to have that right.

    Conservatives seem to target nutjobs who don’t happen to be conservative but who somehow got the impression of political correctness that you can’t use the word “black” in ANY context or that there is literally no word that you can possibly use to refer to any oppressed group. This particular peculiarity of common ignorance, caused by political correctness, is used as the primary rationalization for them to use the most vulgar terms for those groups. Because person A won’t say “black”, person B must say “n*” to bring balance to The Force.

    There’s a new article about it on The Guardian going into how this relates to “triggering”. Protecting people from anything that might “trigger” them ensures they will not be able to cope with the real world, something again that conservative Christians are also terrified of and another reason why they would actually embrace political correctness if they understood the least of it.

    • Squat Thrust says

      Haha no. Giving people that have suffered trauma a way to avoid re-experiencing their trauma doesn’t hurt their ability to cope with the world. If anything, it makes it more easily navigable.

      • says

        Talking about your experiences is how you cope with them. Hiding and pretending it didn’t happen is how you set your self up to have a breakdown because someone randomly “triggered” you. If you’ve chosen to crawl in a hole because a random comment may trigger you there’s already little hope for you and absolutely no hope for those who want such things to stop happening altogether. So when we get together to talk about ending rape, are any victims of rape going to help us or are they going to stay away and hide to avoid us triggering them through our efforts to help? They all go to the fantasyland where rape doesn’t happen just because nobody talks about it, just like racism didn’t exist before people started making a big deal about it.

        This originates in university courses where ordinary jerks outright deny experiences they weren’t even aware of until they learned about them in that particular course. Discussing reality is not “reliving” negative experience especially if you didn’t even know about it before. People using triggering as a way to shut down discussion because they don’t want to know the truth about it and want to pretend it’s not happening, just like the Good Germans. These sorts of things, emotional experiences, racism, and sexism which they teach in university electives really should be mandatory in middle school or junior high to avoid having emotional imbeciles flipping out in university, but the fact is conservatives have way too much influence over the education of the very young.

        Conservatives like to blame liberals for everything, especially the things they do themselves. Conservatives have always had a double edged sword at the necks of children: they’ve got to grow up to be tough bootstrappers but can’t be exposed to any sex or cussing (“think of the children”) but on the other hand school is their last chance to be converted to Christ before they get to the real world where such crap can’t be believed so every last resource is wasted on sneaking Christ into the schools by any means necessary and at every possible opportunity. We are so lucky that a noticeable minority of people come out of the school system with any emotional constitution.

  5. maddog1129 says

    I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that someone (can’t remember who) created a program for his email to filter the expression for “political correctness” or being “politically incorrect,” and translated it into the phrasing “treating people with kindness and respect.” The replacement phrase makes clear how most of the sneerers use the phrase. E.g., “I’m sick and tired of being politically correct” comes out as “I’m sick and tired of treating people with kindness and respect.” Or, “I’m about to be politically incorrect, but X is a [vicious slur].” That translates as: “I’m about to treat someone with unkindness and disrespect, but X is a [vicious slur].”

    • says

      People who often deride political correctness want the protection of political correctness applied to their beliefs and ideas, they just don’t use the expression “politically correct” to describe this protection so such a filter has only limited benefit. Meanwhile, lots of people apply political correctness when the context doesn’t warrant it, such as changing blackboard to chalkboard because they’re not sure if someone might get offended, and again probably won’t qualify it as political correct in just taking it for granted.

      People who apply political correctness want to feel good themselves by doing something they perceive as good, but racism and discrimination in general isn’t about making people feel bad, it’s about oppression, preserving an imbalance in society where people who have certain privileges, such as good paying jobs, homes in nicer neighborhoods, government benefits, union benefits, keep them and people who do not are prevented from getting them. Part of the reason unions and government benefits in general have been beaten down over the past few decades was just to make sure that black people couldn’t get them, even if white people didn’t get them either, because white people would still benefit from the general social order even without those benefits. It’s deeply cynical and simple-minded.

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