Politically correct speach, a common goal


What is political correctness? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? Why should we even try and use it? These questions and more spring into the minds of many people who think about political correctness. Political correctness has, in these not quite so enlightened days, become almost a rude word. It was created and it does exist for a reason. What are these reasons, read on and all will become clear.

First of all, what is politically correctness? Political Correctness is a term coined to cover the concept of the practical exercising of egalitarianism by individuals. It covers such concepts as using non-derogatory language and giving Equal Opportunities to those with equal abilities. This is not actually that hard a thing to do. All it requires is to not use offensive and blatantly derogatory statements. Like the word 'Nigger' used to refer to people of African origin in the United States. Another example is using gender specific languages in places where referring to both sexes of the species. What political correctness is not. It is not defining a double standard. If a African person uses the word 'nigger' they are just as much in the wrong as a European. A women can still be sexist. Just because they happen to be one of the people being marginalised does not mean that they don't uphold and even enforce the attitudes themselves. Political correctness does not stop debate about cultures and the merits and problems with any given culture. It is just a means of not insulting someone with language. Insulting people is after all a more passive form of violence, but it can still hurt.

Why does political correctness exist? Why should I use it?

We think in our language. If our language does not have words for a concept we cannot express the concept or even think about it. The Eskimos have 500 words for snow in order to think about 500 different types of snow. If we change the language we think in, the language we use will effect change in how we think. This will have a beneficial effect on the society as it will be a start towards removing racism and sexism from the society.

Racism, Sexism, homophobia and all the other forms of discrimination are by definition a form of brain washing. People are not born believing them, they are imbued with these values from the society in which they grow up. Political Correctness is involved with developing a way of thinking that will negate some of these. Since language plays an important part in shaping our thoughts, actions and shared values, then if we acknowledging that any given person could be female or one of any other minority, we change peoples thoughts on where people belong in the system. Career jobs still mostly have gender specific titles like postman, policeman, and chairman, by changing these words in our speech and thoughts to be postie, police officer and chair we by default change our image of these people. Colour is also an important point, in our current society black is thought of as bad and white is thought of as pure and angelic. These are all cultral perceptions in China for instance white is the colour of death, all these attributions of colour to certain arbitrary feelings does lead to a change in our behaviour.

An example of institutionalised discrimination thats exists in our language currently is sexist language. This is using the male pronoun to refer too all members of our species. Whilst our language still refers to women as being abnormal and out of the ordinary; discrimination has to exist! This is because people will automatically think of women in a lower position, as abnormal. To make women equal in our society we need to make it such that women will automatically be thought of as being equal.

Let me give you an example of sexist language: An administrator of a computer system may give you out privileges to anyone he desires. Is the admin male? Does this truly refer to both sexes? My answer is no. Upon reading this statement I would assume the admin was male. This sort of language is present in a lot of instruction books and standard definitions. 'When a user initiates an Include Call, his pressel is disabled until the radio unit receives an acknowledgment other than ACKI(QUAL=1) or until it times out'. This is a quote directly from the MPT1327 signalling standard for private land mobile radio systems. There are many examples of language like this throughout the standard definition, and all the other mobile radio standards I have read.

A study was done on the effect of language on young children as to if they thought of the person in statements like the above being male or female. It was proven that the statement did not refer to the whole of the species. It just referred to the male. As children's minds are less blemished by the biases which exist currently in our society, this sort of study shows more what people think underneath.

Why should we even try and use politically correct language?

As more people start using politically correct language it will become more and more accepted as the way of doing things. It will become the correct way to speak. It will mean that sexism and racism will begin to loose their stranglehold position in today's society. There are many ways around using sexist language in speech and text. Simple replacements of man with person work in most cases. Use of gender inspecific pronouns like it and they work in a lot of other cases. Politically correct language does not reduce your vocabulary or in any way inhibit your freedom of speech. Let me expand on that. Freedom of speech is a qualified statement, it should never be thought of that you can say anything you want and get away with it. The current system is you are free to say anything, it's just that people are free to bring liable, defamation or assault charges against you.

Assult charges are in reference to rude and threatening language, it does not refer to physical violence. If physical violence is also included in the attack then the charges are called Assult and battery or assult causing bodily harm. As an example; if you said 'Fuck you' to a police officer they could press charges of assult against you and get an appropriate punishment handed down in a magistrates court. (Reference Sussex Street Law pp ...).

Answers to common arguements against Political correctness

Many people use the argument that he is actually a generic and it means both genders. This can be easily shown to be wrong. If he was a true generic, then why have the word she at all? For if he is a generic and refers to both members, then she is not needed. Therefor he does not refer to both sexes. It must therefor refer to the male members of the species. Political Correctness is not about describing the world so as not to give offence. Political Correctness is about not using words based on a personal bias of them, that has nothing to do with the person you are talking to, but to do with your cultural perception of them. For example it is Politically Correct to say "You didn't do an acceptable job", it is not politically correct to say "You goddamn boong did a shithouse job, but what do you expect from a wommon?"

The concept of Ultimate good is often mentioned and that there exists concepts which they considered to have a higher value than Political Correctness. Usually it is in reference to freedom of speech and democratic values. Political Correctness does create a freer society, one where people are not discriminated against based on gender or race. This allows anyone to get the same chances and opportunities as anyone else. Since democracy is about being ruled by the people, a system where more of the people feel they have a say in the running of the system is more democratic. This means Political Correctness is consistent with the popular idea of Democracy therefor Political Correctness is Democratic.

All Political Correctness does is change how you say things, not what you say. Therefor you can still impart any concept you wish within the boundries of Political Correctness as all it does is remove the institionalised inequities from our language. Free Speech is being able to say anything you wish and within a Politcally Correct environment you can still impart any meaning you wish; then Political Correctness is consistent with Free Speech. Political correctness is a means to an end. It is a way of giving more freedom to people who have been the victims of institutionalised oppression and other minority groups that language is biased against. It is not the whole story and other things will be needed. It is something that you can do and it is something that will have a positive effect on the sexism and racism in the world.

Pink fish forever.

David Bennett ([email protected])
Murphy's Law Newsletter - Volume 4 Issue 1
Feburary 1995 for the University Computer Club