Can politically correct expressions be actually harmful?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Buckaroo Banzai, Oct 1, 2007.

  1. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

    I will not bother to trace a line somewhere, even it indeed exists; there are terms that would more properly be used as an insult than as something normal. But also there are those which certainly are not intrinsically offensive, whose offense depend totally on the context it's used.

    Summarizing, I think that sometimes, the comdemnation of words as "not-PC"/intrinsically offensive may actually increase the perception of unfair discrimination or hate in people of unfairly discriminated groups, even when the context does not imply anything really offensive.

    Some words may have been used in offensive contexts, at the same time they don't carry anything intrinsically offensive, the "political correct movement" gives somewhat of a "canon", "oficializing" the offensive factor of a given word, irrespective of contexts.

    I've even read (real) arguments that the non offensive context does not matter, that the word by itself is used due to some sort of unconscious hate, or even as a "trick" to find a way to offend people at the same time that it can't really be "proved", they can be accused of offending people, as the context does not imply.

    As the quick abandon of the now-only-offensive term required by political correction is unnatural, it's expected to perdure in daily usage a bit longer. While it is not abandoned, people "brainwashed" by PC that would be under the neutral "label" of that word, would possibly feel somewhat offended, touched by the use of the word even if the context does not imply anything offensive at all.

    Since the PC movement is well intentioned after all, aiming to not hurt the feelings of people who are more prone to be target of unfair discrimination, these people would suffer at least twice: once by the overall problems related with unfair discrimination, and again by possibly having the feeling of discrimination provoked by the condemned word, even when it actually does not exist.

    And while "brainwashing" sounds somewhat like a joke, it is not. I don't think that it effects everybody equally, I think that are those (perhaps most of them) who don't really care, those who were just indoctrinated in a more normal way, and perhaps those whose acception of the term may had been even made easier by psychological traumas of some events related with being of a certain group that commonly suffers some sort of unfair dsicrimination.

    So, it's even worse, not only this PC policy not helps whom it wants to help, but actually harms them, but likely it harms most those who already had suffered the most.

    But in the other hand, I may not be the best person to talk about, since I do not belong to any group that would "require" a PC term in exclusion to un-PC ones (at least not now, but perhaps if I move to other country or region I would be in some similar category), except for being an atheist, a word that, by the way, was intendedly offensive in its conception (or so I've heard) and I just don't care. I mean, I don't care for the word alone, I don't ask to people use preferably something like "bright" or "non theist", not that actual offenses would not be offensive.
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  3. maxg Registered Senior Member

    While I don't think attempts at "PC" language necessarily improve the situation in any way, I don't think they make the situation any worse for minority communities (except maybe by pissing off some people). The racism is there and it seems to me that the attempts to change language are (1) an ineffective response to changing the situation based on the a sort of magical thinking that changing the word for something will change the thing itself (a principle that is at the root of magical beliefs in many cultures and persists today in any number of irrational discourses), and (2) an attempt to separate out an in-group of those who know the correct terminology (and therefore supposedly recognize the problems associated with racism, etc.) from those who don't.

    I work for a contractor writing gov't publications and so I'm very intune with what language is correct and what isn't because the gov't doesn't want to offend anyone (it's OK to oppress people but don't hurt their feelings

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    )--however, I am much more disturbed by the conservative's (read: the current administration's) attempts to control language than by the liberal's. Under the current administration we've been told to try and avoid the word "condom" in a gov't publication; even in CDC publications on HIV-prevention the language discussing the use and effectiveness of condoms was significantly edited. To me that's a much more dangerous Orwellian attempt to control language than to require the use of "African-American" instead of "black."
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2007
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  5. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    I think the old PC where gays were called fucking faggots and worse
    should be recognized as also
    a form of PC.
    Of course the new PC with its attendant guilt and shaming has caused problems, but there was an old PC, in fact in many circles the old PC still flourishes.
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  7. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    It's all just more of the idiotic ideal of trying to please all people all the time.

    Baron Max
  8. shorty_37 Go! Canada Go! Registered Senior Member

    I can't keep up with what is PC or not anymore.
  9. sniffy Banned Banned

    Perhaps if you think about what you personally would find acceptable given a particular circumstance.
    For example would you if female feel happy to be referred to in public (or privately come to that) a bitch/w***e all the time? In a work situation would you mind being called sweetheart, love, honey?
    If you were disabled would you mind being referred to as a cripple/spaz, etc.
    If you were gay would you mind being called queer, faggot, etc
    If you were black would you mind being called n****r/darky, etc, etc

    You see it's not about 'political correctness' it is about self respect and respecting others and the terminology used to fit a particular situation. But we all know that really don't we?

    Derogatory terms demean the intended and the user. But hey what's a little offense between enemies?
  10. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Civilization ....

    Complaints about political correctness are generally crap. The truth of the matter is that if we leave the impolite to figure out what constitutes polite speech, we'd be left with the sort of tit-for-tat that comes about when people are angry.

    • • •​

    Deficients°, for instance, by the grace of being better killers, have always considered themselves intellectually and morally superior than the evolutionarily-gifted°. As a result, deficients have sought to expand their empire the world over. In Africa, the deficients tempted the gifted in order to foster a trade in human flesh that was so severe that those gifted who sold out and traded their neighbors to the deficients would later regret their failure to understand that they were not sending their continental brethren to serve a familiar system, but rather to be destroyed in a hideous, exploitative system. The deficients, in turn, got tired of paying taxes, and decided that "all men" were "created equal". After fighting a war to prove their point, the deficients decided to argue about taxes again, and in order to settle the dispute for the time being, the deficients decided that the evolutionarily gifted equaled only three-fifths of a man, and therefore should not be treated equal. Over time, this idea became so prevalent and persuasive among those deficients whose wealth absolutely depended on the suffering of the gifted, that they came to believe some absolutely absurd ideas, such as the notions that illiteracy, violence, and child abduction were actually kindnesses bestowed upon the imprisoned and enslaved gifted. These ideas helped the deficients feel better about their shortcomings. Nobody needed to accuse the deficients of moral lack; the deficients knew that what they were doing was incompatible with their professed beliefs. The only way around this was to pretend that the gifted were not, in fact, human ....

    • • •​

    The preceding section simply discusses the American slave trade. It's not meant to actually go anywhere, but rather to demonstrate a point.

    The terms involved are based on the ideas of a black professor in the 1980s and '90s who managed to assert some absolutely mind-boggling standards:

    • A black man cannot be racist because he is not empowered to be effectively racist.

    • The space-shuttle Challenger disaster ought to be applauded, as it slowed white men in spreading their moral filth across the Universe.

    • White skin is a form of disruptive mutation, leaving the individual less-prepared to deal directly with nature; e.g., white people are, by virtue of genetic mutation, less evolved.​

    The professor was so effective at these sorts of arguments that he actually won a settlement when his university tried to fire him for such outrageous speech.

    • • •​

    The problem is that people who resented not being able to use words like "bitch", "nigger", "kike", "wetback", &c., in formal communication (e.g., company memo, government press release, university study) tried to link their fetishes for hateful speech to such bizarre notions as "ableism" (any building with stairs is an "ableism", a deliberate attempt to oppress the "differently-abled"), "femstruation" (striking the syllable "men" from "menstruation"), and other silliness put forward in the name of being polite. Here's the thing, though: the people who invented words like "ableism" were attempting to accomplish something specific, such as identifying the ways in which facilities were inherently hostile to the handicapped; words like "femstruation" were invented at least in part tongue-in-cheek.

    Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf (yes, that Chris Cerf) wrote, in the 1990s, The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook. I recommend this volume for anyone who is actually troubled about political correctness. The book also contains a section on BS language, which nobody ever talks about. BS is the "bureaucratically suitable", and in their rush to condemn PC, many include BS in their definition of PC.

    BS is more a problem in people's lives. Consider how often you actually experience the following terms:

    Politically Correct terms
    term - definition (page number)

    ambigenic - nonsexist (5)
    overdetermined - boring (45)
    prewoman - young girl (51)
    rectocentrism - right-handed supremacist idea (53)
    fatherencloser - motherfucker (84)​

    Really, how many times have you used any of those words? How many times have you heard any of those words?

    Now then:

    Bureaucratically Suitable terms
    term - definition (page nubmer)

    air support - bombing (115)
    anomaly - accident (116)
    collateral damage - civilian death or injury (117)
    downsizing - layoffs (119)
    festival seating - no seats (120)
    neutralize - kill (124)
    nonrenew - to lay off or fire (125)
    preemptive strike - sneak attack (125)
    right-to-work laws - union-busting legislation (127)
    service (a target) - to bomb (128)
    single-use - disposable (128)
    soft (ordinance/target) - humans (weapons to destroy/as a target) (128)
    streamlining - see "downsizing" (129)
    wildlife management - killing, hunting (131)​

    Now ... how many of those words do you encounter from time to time? The only people these words were intended to put at ease were the people speaking them.

    • • •​

    In the end, "political correctness" is a bureaucratically-suitable phrase that substitutes for "polite speech". Not all PC is intended to avoid offending someone; much of it comes about in order to break the taboos of what has been referred to as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which says "that all human culture is fabricated by language, and that therefore, before we can change a pattern of behavior, we must change the terms which relate to it". (Beard & Cerf, 53)

    Consider a quote I recycle from time to time:

    The idea of using a polite word instead of "nigger" ought to be rather quite obvious. But identifying ideas like phallocentrism, logocentrism, &c., have a definite purpose in academia. If we never stepped outside our prevailing ideologies, progress would be considerably slower.

    Additionally, much reaction to PC is overstated. How many of us have even encountered, much less used, the phrase, "receptive noninitiator"? The phrase refers to a man whose justification for having sex with a woman is that she asked, suggested, or otherwise initiated. Such a term would only arise in the context in which it does. The term came about at a time when, socially, a woman faced great prejudice inasmuch as such a justification would not be accepted. In other words, it's only an important term within the context of its original discussion, and it's only a big deal if some thumb-sucking twit decides to have a problem with PC.

    Really. Just think about the receptive noninitiator. It's only these last few years, maybe the last decade and a half at most, that a woman could justify casual sexual intercourse through receptive noninitiation without being branded a slut.

    • • •​

    There are other PC standards that, when people encounter them, they blame the idiot believing such things, and not politically-correct language. To use a couple complete definitions from Beard and Cerf:

    privileges - Defined by Lewis Lapham, in Harper's Magazine, as "monocultural advantages belonging to people whom one doesn't like." See: rights (51)

    rights - Defined by Lewis Lapham, in Harper's Magazine, as "monocultural advantages belonging to oneself or one's friends." See: privileges (53)

    quota - Any "artificial" means of adjusting racial, ethnic, gender, or cultural balance in American society, except for the privileged consideration the children of prominent European-American alumni receive when applying for college. (126)​

    We still see these definitions today. Privilege has largely been replaced by "special rights"; in an effort to hold certain groups--e.g., homosexuals--as separate from the rest of American culture, homophobes accuse that equal and civil rights for homosexuals within the American monoculture would constitute "special rights", or an unfair privilege. In the meantime, holding that the American monoculture is exclusively defined by "middle American" or otherwise conservative political values, gender discrimination is insisted upon by homophobes and traditionalists as a "right". Why blame PC for this? Why not just blame the bigots?

    And the same with quotas. People complaining that blacks are given too much attention in the U.S. ought to consider a public school like the University of Oregon. When I was a student at UO, there were approximately 160 students from Singapore, which equaled about 1% of the student population. (Undergrad population? Whichever.) Why Singapore? Why not Filipinos? Why not Malays? Why not some of the fifty American states with fewer students? The reality is that students from Singapore tended to have more money than Malaysian recruits, or a kid from West Virginia. People worry about quotas, but when American minorities have the economic standing to buy influence the way others do, we can stop worrying about quotas and start worrying about corruption, which is probably what we should have been worrying about all along.

    • • •​

    To give away polite speech just because the rude and hateful resent the obligation is a silly idea at best. It's kind of like the argument that homosexuals should not be allowed to raise children because the children will face discrimination in school. There is a natural conflict of interest when the people making the argument are also those who would discriminate in the first place. Giving over to the bullies and hatemongers is a dangerous idea.

    Equality does not include the right to supremacy.

    Justice does not include oppression.

    Peace does not include open strife.

    Empowerment does not include disenfranchisement.

    The truth of the matter is that PC mostly annoys the people it reproaches. And well it should.

    • • •​

    Who has kids? Perhaps we should take it easy on our kids. Asking them to use formal terms like "Dad" is just so PC. Life will get along much better when my daughter learns to address her mother by saying, "Hey, bitch!" or get my attention by saying, "Yo, dumbass faggot!"

    And why not? What the anti-PC crowd wants is nothing different. Why shouldn't a boss be able to address his employees as "nigger" and "bitch"? After all, history contains no suggestion whatsoever that those employees would be treated otherwise unfairly. Right?

    Er ... right?

    After all, it would be much easier if, instead of documenting his history of failure and deception, we could have dismissed President Bush as just another fucking Christian.

    Seriously ... do the anti-PC folks realize what would happen to the majority if we removed all of these "unfair" constraints on conduct that lend toward the notion of "civilization"?

    There are reasons for behavioral correctness. If you don't want to be part of civilization, fine, take your chances. Just remember, when you're given a free lawyer and a fair trial, with hundreds if not thousands protesting on your behalf, that it's our unfair constraints on individual freedom that prevented people from flaying the skin from your still-living bones.

    It's like a bad bumper sticker, I guess: Get civilized ... or at least get over yourselves!


    ° deficient - melanin-deficient; e.g., white people
    ° evolutionarily-gifted - not melanin-deficient; e.g., black people

    Beard, Henry and Christopher Cerf. The Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook. New York: Villard, 1992.

    Ali Khan, Emir. "Sufi Activity." From Sufi Thought and Action. Idries Shah, ed. London: Octagon, 1990.​
  11. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Geez, I don't know, Tiassa, but my guess is that the blacks would rise up and ...oh, burn Los Angeles? ...and a few other big cities?

    Seriously,'s all just more of the few trying to force the many to do, and be, and say things that the few want those of society to do.
    Seriously,'s just more loss of freedom for the members of society.

    And seriously, ...what's it to you, or anyone else, what one person calls another person?

    "Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me." Ahh, well, ....evidently unless you're a black man, then it's all different, and then all non-blacks are expected to change because the blacks don't like it.

    Baron Max
  12. maxg Registered Senior Member

    While I agree with what you say here (and what follows), I have to wonder whether or not the focus on changing the language to be polite just obfuscates the underlying problem. Racism, sexism, etc. remain even when the language changes and in fact adjust to the language. Take the use of the word "negro," which at one time was considered the more polite and progressive term but today would be considered offensive. On the other hand "black" was once considered offensive.

    As I said before, it seems like this is some kind of magical thinking (i.e., if you change the word for something, the thing itself or the conditions under which it exists change as well). It's as if people think that if they no longer hear a derogatory name that will be a sign that prejudice against them no longer exists. It doesn't even matter, at some point, whether the word is even being applied to them. The most bizarre instance of "PC" language I can recall is when I was told we shouldn't use the word "flip-chart" because "flip" was a derogatory name for phillipinos--even though there was no attempt to refer to phillipinos in the use of the original term.

    I don't think the solution is to go around shouting "nigger" and "kike" or to even condone the use of such terms. But I do have to wonder whether efforts to continually revamp the language to make it more polite or accomodating are really just a waste of time.
  13. Learned Hand Registered Senior Member

    I agree. A person isn't prejudiced simply because of the color of their skin. It's a societal view about the general ethnicity traits underlying race, religion, creed, etc. Prejudice is a learned process. You ain't born with it. The societal view merely gets overly simplified by terms such as "Black" "Spic" "Dyke" and neglects the actual individual character of the person.

    Of course, some terms are more derogatory than others. That's why PC was invented -- to remove the overtly derogatory connotation a particular word has on a group of people with particular traits/views. But I agree that taking PC too far can be just as insulting or a put down.

    You know, my grandmother, who was in her late 70s when she passed away, used to refer to the Black population as "Coloreds." That was once a PC term back in the 50s, and she just never kept up with the times. When she used it, in her heart and mind it was never to be construed as offensive, although some would take it that way.

    Anywho . . .
  14. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    Why is it called politically incorrect? Me not using the n word has nothing to do with politics. It doesn't even have anything to do with being polite. I don't even think that word, not even when I pissed as hell. Its a moral thing.

    I think people who use those fowl words want an excuse to use it and say "we'll I guess I'm just not 'politically correct' enough for you am I", then put it on the other person.
  15. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Perhaps it's even worse drives the racism, sexism, and all the other -isms underground where they can fester and possibly evolve into something worse, like action that's actually harmful.

    But I think we should all face the facts ...society is simply trying it's best to force all of us to conform to what it feels is the "right" way to be, to think, and to do.

    I wonder what life will be like when everyone on Earth thinks and feels exactly the same about everything and everyone? Will that be nice? Or what?

    Baron Max
  16. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    I don't disagree, but just how many individuals do you really think that we can each actually get to know? Fifty? Twenty? Five hundred?

    In the city of, say, New York, how many people do you actually think you can get to know well enough to know and like their individual character?

    I think it's a nice, idealistic thing to say, but in the reality of the world, our limited experiences are what mold us to be what and who we are. If a white person has had bad experiences with blacks all of his early life, it's foolish to think that he can just shrug that off and begin to trust blacks that he doesn't know. And the reverse is also true. How can anyone realistically ask someone to do that?

    And once again, idealism is thwarted by reality.

    Baron Max
  17. Learned Hand Registered Senior Member

    Yet I consider myself an realistic idealist. I support idealism to the point of societal reality. But you're right, some blacks truly live up to the slang of nigger, whilst others have a such normal to profound sense of a purposeful and meaningful life that thought of the slang never crosses your mind.
  18. shorty_37 Go! Canada Go! Registered Senior Member

    I see some of the posts here referring to the "N" word. Some ppl are even afraid to type the word Nigger. I am just wondering if it is so offensive why black ppl address THEMSELVES with the word. Do you ever listen to RAP songs by black rappers? Or ever watch a movie where 2 black guys come up to eachother and greet eachother, "Whats up Nigger" I mean if young ppl are listening to their music, why wouldn't they think its okay to use the same term.....they make it sound cool. I mean if they call themselves that why would it be offensive if somebody else called them that.

    Btw; I don't go around using that term.
  19. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    do you think its offensive?
  20. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Are there any such terms that all white men find as offensive as how blacks are so offended by the term "nigger"? I mean, a term where all white men would go marching into the streets, rioting and burning buildings and cars?

    The only term I can think of that most white men would find offensive if called ..."faggot" or "queer" (back in my day!). But then, would they all go marching in the streets and rioting over it?

    Baron Max
  21. shorty_37 Go! Canada Go! Registered Senior Member

    Yes I do. I don't say it, my parents did when I was growing up though.
  22. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

    I've not yet read all the messages, but I've spot a few things arguing more or less like "without political correctness, everybody would be insulting each other all the time", which is not intended to be a straw man of the argument, just in case it looks like.

    But my original point is not like saying that any word is okay. There are words which are almost invariably offensive, I'm not saying that everybody should use "motherfucker" instead of "man", for example.

    As a more concrete example, I don't see any problem with avoiding/being careful with the use of the word "nigger", which, as far as I know has become on the course of history something that is almost necessarily insulting, despite of the etymological roots it may have; it's not the same situation with the word "black", which I see as forcefully being suggested as offensive.

    Other example would be to favor "homosexuality" over "homosexualism"; the purported reason is that the "ism" ending of the word would characterize a disease, while "ity" refers to a normal condition. Which is totally untrue, there are things like "senility", "abnormality", "sterility", "debility" in one side, and things like "altruism", "activism", "humanitarianism", "optimism".

    Recently "homosexuality" is becoming offensive for some reason and "homoaffection", "homoaffectivity" would be the preferable words. Now I'm not saying that we should use "faggots" or something like it, without worrying about insulting someone, but that perhaps "gay" would be okay to an informal communication (or perhaps even more formal, the English language apparently has this sort of acceptance of things) and homosexualism and homosexuality could be used interchangeably, as non-offensive.

    I see these things as seeds of weeds being planted in people's minds, making people within these discriminated groups feel unnecessarily worse, as it increases the perception of discrimination, creating somewhat of a paranoia - specially in those who suffered more traumatizing discrimination, sadly/ironically.
  23. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

    Not that I know, but I think it's somewhat comprehensible since black people where those who were enslaved the most and etc. I think that most insults to white people are "understandable" as insults to an individual, while "nigger" would not refer to an individual, but to the all black people.

    So, it's not saying something like "you idiot", it's more like having a "mock word" for "american", so when someone calls you that, it's not offending only you but your family, your friends, the friends of your friends, historical persons you may admire and etc. And you add the hypothetical situation where USA would have been vastly f****d in a war or something in the past, barely recovered, by the very country of this person who is insulting you.

    At least it's what I think it's the reason for that.

    Chris Rock, in the other hand, has a comical/critical act in which he traces similar distinctions, as "nigger", not being an offense to the all black people, but to "worth-offending" individuals.

    I think it's a quite positive framing of the things that may have the opposite effect I see with the over condemnation of words, kind of gradually transforming it into a less problematic word, as put things in a way that is less risky to undermine people's self-esteem/concepts.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007

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