THE VENT: The Boogeyman of the American Left

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"The Boogeyman of the American Left" is columnist Spencer Allen's first piece for The Rubicon.

It’s honestly astounding how much people loathe political correctness. I mean sure, for any  topic it would be expected for someone to argue merits while someone else hammers faults- that’s normal- but political correctness goes beyond that proverbial call of duty into the realm of genuine hatred. But what caused its spiral into the public’s contempt and does it deserve the hostility? The answer’s a little tricky, for, like most things, it’s not quite clear cut, but I’ll give it my best and by the end, I hope I can show that the reasons for contempt don’t disqualify it as an act of public good.

For clarity’s sake, I’ll start with a definition from Merriam-Webster:

Agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.

Because political correctness isn’t clearly defined, it’s mistakenly taken as an attack on America’s second most cherished amendment, the first.”

— columnist Spencer Allen

Good ol’ Merriam-Webster, nice and terse as usual. Wouldn’t it be great if that rule applied to the world as well? But, alas, Merriam-webster actually fails here, for, political correctness doesn’t have a clear definition at all. Ask a hundred people what political correctness is and you’ll  get fifty answers: a means to oppress speech, defense of a thin-skinned minority, a movement to ban all incorrect speech, to name a few. Without a clear definition people pick and choose whichever one suits their perspective best, naturally placing them into extremes. Unfortunately, that’s not even the limit of the problem: because political correctness isn’t clearly defined, it’s mistakenly taken as an attack on America’s second most cherished amendment, the first.

Let me make this clear – political correctness is not an attack on first amendment rights because it has no power to infringe on them. In public, you can mostly say whatever your bigoted little heart desires, but that’s never been the question.  It’s not about what you can say, but rather about what you should say. Political correctness isn’t about silencing dissenting opinions; rather, it’s about striving towards a standard where people no longer need to stop themselves from hurting someone else. So if someone supports the first amendment, that’s great because political correctness does too. Oh, and by the way, that same message goes to those on the other extreme as well who claim that all speech deemed politically incorrect should be banned. No, no, that’s what we call a slippery slope (See any history textbook).

Some might argue that speech shouldn’t be limited at all, that even defining what should be said goes too far. After all, as Americans, we have the god given right to say whatever we please. Except, we haven’t always been able to say what we please (e.g. libel, slander, hate speech, private institutions such as schools), and defining what should be done in no way contradicts anything the first amendment stipulates.  But, regardless of the actual constitutionality, and once again it’s constitutional, it’s easy to see how perspectives like those above might further increase hostility, which in tandem with the numerous definitions forms a further problem.

It’s not about what you can say, but rather about what you should say.”

— columnist Spencer Allen

Over time, the vagueness and misconception develop opposing extremes. When those extremes emerge it forms a cycle I dub the fallacy of the two extremes, and because they’re boring, the rest of the world calls it a false binary. What’s the fallacy of the two extremes you ask? Well to put it plainly, when a problem is simplified to two extremes, it often forces the moderate majority to pick a side. A process that, given enough time, transforms into a cycle where each successive rotation further polarizes the debate, which strengthens the eternally loudmouthed extreme that views political correctness as the blight upon our world.

And so here we are,  a world where so many hate political correctness while some defend it to the death. It’s a little ridiculous, but such is the way of things. However, I hope I’ve shown that the reasons for the animosity are not reasons to outright hate it. There’s absolutely reasons to dislike political correctness,which I don’t have time to cover here, but I’d argue that there’s little reason for downright hate.  So think on that next time the issue comes up and maybe consider that it might not be so evil after all.