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Censorship, victimization, and political correctness

Perhaps, the debate over political correctness is better considered through two key aspects: as a debate over censorship and as a discussion about victimization. 

After all, political correctness is a form of censorship that limits the usage of certain words and/or phrases. The overarching issue at hand, however, is misinterpretation. Misinterpreting words such as “trigger” and misinterpreting the reasons behind political correctness are fundamental reasons why not everyone takes political correctness seriously. Though proponents of political correctness often promote banning certain words, offensive terms can be used to educate and minimize confusion.

Those who do not stand to benefit from political correctness feel threatened, and those who do benefit are already resentful of those in a position to reject political correctness. In other words, groups benefitting from political correctness often view themselves as victims of society. The problem is that everyone wants to play the victim card and blame their struggles on someone or something else, rather than face their own shortcomings. Also, serious issues, such as institutionalized racism and gender discrimination, become minimized through the lack of understanding and over usage of gender inclusive/exclusive, racially sensitive, and mental illness related terminology. As such, people are becoming oversensitive and taking political correctness too far.

Especially online, victimization has been somewhat romanticized. Perhaps it is the association of victims to innocence that causes this connection, but there are consequences to excessive victimization. One of the more prominent consequences is the minimization and resultant misunderstanding of serious issues.

It seems like the go-to argument against someone who disagrees with you or offends you is that they’re “triggering” you. The constant misuse of “trigger” desensitizes us to what it really means. “Trigger” is not a synonym for offended and shouldn’t be used as such. If someone were to refer to you with feminine pronouns instead of gender neutral pronouns, you are not triggered by being misgendered. Perhaps you are angered or offended, but you are not triggered. A trigger is something that sets off a flashback that transports the person to the events of one’s original trauma. Saying you’re “triggered” applies best to someone with an anxiety disorder — particularly PTSD — not because you are offended.

Because loaded words such as “triggered” and “anxiety” are thrown around so much and they’ve become so integrated into our daily vernacular, the severity of such issues is minimized. By hearing these words so often, it results in semantic satiation because they lose their meanings. This is why most people tend to associate mania with a heavier connotation than depression, and why it’s easy to brush off depression.

That being said, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to allow people to use offensive terms. Though using such terms will promote preexisting stereotypes and prejudices, it also provides the opportunity to discuss and educate people on why such terminology is offensive. Without understanding the context, it makes it too easy for people to brush off the impact words have on people. It used to be common to say “that’s gay” about something bad or uncool but the effect of associating gay with negativity on a gay, or questioning, child can have severe, lasting consequences on self-esteem. Educating people on context gives them a legitimate reason to stop using certain terms in some contexts, and is less harsh than simply telling them to stop. Reducing the harshness takes away others’ ability to claim victimhood as well.

The problem with censoring certain words all the time is how it takes away the opportunity to educate and explain why words are offensive. Without this educational component, it becomes too easy for people to misunderstand the purpose of political correctness and view it as superfluous. The best way to promote political correctness is by removing censors on offensive words because then it becomes individual choice whether or not to use offensive language, rather than it being outside pressures influencing their word choice.

4 Comments

  1. Political correctness is simply the act of laying out what is and is not socially acceptable. I don’t see why some people have such as hard time with that. It used to be acceptable to call people chinks, niggers, and faggots. It’s not anymore, but you don’t really hear the free speech crowd whining about that. Attitudes change and keeping up with that is just a part of being a socially well-adjusted person.

    The claim that ‘education’ is what’s needed is weak at best. Do you really think these people aren’t being challenged for saying offensive things? It’s usually while people are trying to educate them that they start going on about “censorship.”

    And while we’re on the topic of censorship, there is nothing more pathetic than a university student living in one of the most open and democratic societies in the world complaining about “censorship.” Other people calling you a jerk is not censorship. People not letting you run your mouth at their event/on their property is not censorship. Last I checked no one has ever been detained by the Canadian government, tortured, or forced into exile because they refused to be politically correct. It’s always just other people giving them shit for it. The author of this piece says that throwing strong words around needlessly dilutes their meaning, but they’re doing just that when they claim people getting negative responses for saying “that’s so gay” is censorship.

    Free speech means being able to say what you want without fear of government reprisal. It does not protect you from being judged by your peers.

    1. “Political correctness is simply the act of laying out what is and is not socially acceptable. I don’t see why some people have such as hard time with that.”

      Because it is obviously contrary to free expression in a free society. What is “socially acceptable” is not mandated from above by experts, but is a naturally evolving dialogue between individuals.

      Failure to understand this is unforgivably obtuse, or wilfully ignorant.

  2. “The problem with censoring certain words all the time is how it takes away the opportunity to educate and explain why words are offensive.”

    Is the word “idiot” offensive? Not being called, ‘idiot,’ mind you, just the word itself. Is the word itself offensive? How about the words “evil” or “murderer”. These describe terrible, offensive things, but are the words “offensive”?

    Banning books, censoring words, politically correct newspeak, all that 1984 crap is obviously crazy and wrong. Full stop. End of controversy. Stop defending postmodernist authoritarianism, please.

  3. I’ve got some sympathy with your views but you’re presenting your argument as an either/or prospect as if only the politically correct are capable of being respectful to our neighbours. No, they are not.

    The worst thing about political correctness is not the muzzling, the goalpost-moving, or the unspoken contention that white, healthy, wealthy, and male is both the default and the oppressor. It’s not even the post-colonial white man’s burden paternalism that tells people how to describe themselves. Even the refusal to consult with “effnick minori’ies” is not the most repulsive aspect of PC. No, although those things are all bad. The worst and most appalling aspect of political correctness is that it presents “the other” as “easily-offended with a hair-trigger temper.” We are obliged to use the words provided to us from ivy-tower-dwelling academics because, if we don’t, “the others” will be offended.

    Well I’m friendly with “the others.” They’re my friends, neighbours, co-religionists, and colleagues, and they not only don’t use the latest recommended terms to describe themselves, they tell me they have never been consulted about them. How about that? Nobody. Bothers. To consult them. Nobody asks them, “How would you prefer to be described?” I generally use the terms they use for themselves, it’s called “mirroring.” It would never occur to me to correct them or tell them they are describing themselves in an unapproved way. Do you know they get annoyed when people who live far away and know nothing about them deign to slap limits on the rest of us for fear of offending them? The “Winterval” debacle comes to mind.

    So then, since words do indeed hurt, how do we encourage the growth of good-natured tolerance of each other’s differences? I would personally encourage raising the status of people you might considered as missing out on privilege. Reach out to them, invite them to your home for a coffee or whatever. Spend time with them, get to know them. Follow them on social media. Your example will encourage others to do the same. Natural, not forced interactions will make our society more inclusive. The last thing we need is white saviour-ism and the trite apologetics that go with it.

    Please note, I’m bashing PC, not you. Your article tries to present the argument from both sides; it’s the framing I have the problem with. Keep writing, it makes people think. I just happen to have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the subject, I’m not having a go at you personally.

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