Varieties of political correctness

It’s not politically correct to criticize political correctness. If you do, the politically correct will say you’re a bigot or worse.

PC is a confusing term these days, and other terms may be less ambiguous — for reasons other than political correctness. According to an article by Jesse Walker, Marxist-Leninists were the first to use it, and they considered it a good thing. Over time, it became a pejorative term, referring to demands from the political left (whatever that means to the speaker) for thoughts or word choices that follow a party line. Political correctness includes efforts to mold discourse so that it’s impossible to express dissenting ideas; for instance, defining “racism” as a position only white people can hold.

Some people on the “right,” though, denounce dissent from their ideas as “political correctness.” A Washington Post article reports “conservative voters near Mobile have praised Trump’s rejection of ‘political correctness’ and his forthrightness on a key issue.” The context is Trump’s claim that the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States,” doesn’t apply to all persons born in the United States. Saying that the Constitution means what it says is outrageously narrow-minded, it seems. Some years ago there was a “No ‘Merry Christmas,’ no Christmas shopping” movement, which declared that anyone who said “happy holidays” was imposing political correctness on them. Actually, isn’t playing the victim and taking offense at a choice of words that doesn’t conform to their ideas a textbook example of political correctness?

I’m rather fond of the term, at least when it applies to people who keep devising new ways to get outraged, precisely because it outrages them some more. It’s subject to misinterpretation, though, so in serious discussions a more straightforward term, such as “demands for conformity” or “chronic offense-taking,” is more suitable than “PC.”

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