Why We Need The PC Police

Though conservatives and liberals have come to inhabit separate universes, with differing views on when life begins, taxes and even on science, it seems there is one thing they can all agree on: political correctness is destroying the country.
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Though conservatives and liberals have come to inhabit separate universes, with differing views on when life begins, taxes and even on science, it seems there is one thing they can all agree on: political correctness is destroying the country.

Everybody's taking shots at the PC police, from comedians like Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld and Donald Trump and all the way to politicians. The reactions are: PC has gone too far, people can't take a joke or look reality straight in the eye.

Well, though it is far from perfect, I'd like to make an outsider's case for political correctness, because the way I see it, while it certainly has its downsides, it is very valuable in ways that are too often overlooked.

I have only traveled in the U.S. but never lived there. I do follow religiously the U.S political process and consume its many cultural exports. I've spent most of my life in Israel (or America's 51st state) as well as some of my formative years in Europe.

Even though Israel is not nearly as politically correct, the same complaints about the PC police are heard here too, and the targets are those same damn feminists, gays, animal rights activists and other groups as well.

True, we would all prefer to speak our minds whenever and wherever we want, but that's not really what's at stake. Excluding Charlie Hebdo-style terrorist attacks that are more related to religious fanaticism, people can still say whatever they want. It's just that there is a price on free speech: other people can use their own first amendment rights to respond that those opinions are not only wrong, but also objectionable.

So when someone speaks their mind and someone else responds - that is, to me, what a conversation looks like. It's not always a very productive one, but a conversation nonetheless.

This would be a good time to draw a line: internet lynching or global shaming of private individuals is one thing, and ridiculing politicians or people that are in the public sphere is another. The first is indeed dangerous, and I would argue that the latter is a virtue that every society should hold dear. The people with power have constantly to be held in check.

PC doesn't always work the right way, as stand-up comedians can attest to. They do have it the hardest and I'm not un-sympathetic to their plight, because they are not afforded the same protection that other types of artists are afforded when they put their work out there. If a movie has outrageous racist characters, no one accuses its writers of being racist, but with stand-up comedians we're basically watching a person saying controversial things into a microphone, and we tend to forget that he or she is in fact in character. This blurs the line between the individual and the material, and I'm not sure there's a quick fix there. But the fact that PC is not perfect is not a reason to get rid of it altogether.

There is another problem that highlights PCs downsides: technology. While in the past no one would know that Jonah Hill blurted the gay F-word to a single incredibly annoying paparazzi, the pervasiveness of technology has made it easier to take things out of context and make news out of thin air, which can be terrible.

But, on the other hand, PC has made the world better for many people. There is a clear line that extends all the way from attacks by politicians on LGBTQs, to LGBTQs being discriminated against. And the opposite is also true: there is a clear correlation between it being considered illegitimate to disparage LGBTQs and the incredible change in the popular opinion about them. There were other factors at play (Will And Grace and Queer As Folk, perhaps), of course, but PC has some shares in the great victory in the Supreme Court ruling that made it unconstitutional to discriminate gays in marriage.

There's more. Isn't it a good thing that the N-word is no longer acceptable? Sure, it gets ridiculous at times, but as a norm it has probably helped the American society to accept the fact that a black man can be elected president.

And if Hillary Clinton gets to be the next president, she should use her inauguration address to thank the feminist PC police for fighting harmful stereotypes, conventions and policies that hurt women at every turn.

So while it might seem petty to focus on words (and sometimes it is petty), language has a lot of power to shape hearts and minds.

PC is not perfect because when social norms change so quickly, many are slow to catch on. Hating LGBTQs has been a fixture of human society for past couple of millennia, and is deeply rooted in religious teachings, so the fact that views on gay marriage has taken such a sharp U-turn is nothing short of incredible.

As Sarah Silverman said of late, she was clinging to the word "gay" as a way for her to describe something lame. Then, she determined that even though she did not mean it in a malicious way, she did not want to be that old conservative douche who just clings to an old (mostly white, mostly male) world.

It's a good thing that people get crazy when a megalomaniac billionaire running for president says that most Hispanic immigrants are rapists or that we should judge a female presidential hopeful by her face. He can be a hateful bastard and still get his air-time, but we should all be happy that we have the option of telling him he's being a hateful bastard.

Bottom line, free speech does not end when we express our opinions. The first amendment extends to those who want to respond, and we can only hope that as we get used to the new means of communication and to changing norms, the PC police would be less reckless and fickle as it sometimes is today.

Though it can get uncomfortable when we don't know what we can say around other people - these problems pale in comparison to us living in human societies that are becoming more tolerant of different races, religions, genders and sexual preferences.

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