• The declaration that “political correctness has gone mad” is one made very often, writes Helen Razer. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
It’s a phrase that's thrown around by politicians and activists, but Helen Razer believes that political correctness is more an amplifier than a red tape.
By
Helen Razer

5 Apr 2017 - 4:42 PM  UPDATED 5 Apr 2017 - 4:54 PM

The declaration that “political correctness has gone mad” is one made very often. In parliament and in all forms of public speech, we can hear and see this urgent concern addressed. If we are to believe our politicians and our press “political correctness” is not only mad, but terribly well organised. Apparently, there’s a group of shady elites armed with clipboards taking names and records of our infraction every time we use a non-gender-neutral pronoun.

I want to make the case that the thing that has gone truly mad is the claim that “political correctness has gone mad”.

Look. To be fair, there is a small, but not always powerful, group of people who believe that the most crucial work of social justice is to purify the culture. Although he did not have the means to impose his will, former Chief of Army David Morrison expressed it anyhow when he said that Australians should no longer use the word “guys” to refer to a collective group of persons—maybe he prefers the egalitarian term I do, which is, of course, “youse”. Poor Dave. I’m sure he meant well.

I want to make the case that the thing that has gone truly mad is the claim that “political correctness has gone mad”.

Then, there were a few cases of local universities using trigger warnings in their administrative and academic practice. Personally, I do not agree that this is “not a big deal”, and this is not because I stand with News Corp columnists who say we are treating students like snowflake toddlers. It is because I know how very cautious academics have been forced, especially in the human sciences, to become. The need to make a crowd-pleasing dollar has diluted their bravery, and any other move to dissuade them from addressing shocking things—say, trade slavery, war, destitution—is not something I can support. You’re doing an economics course? Damn straight you should see pictures, without warning, of the devastation in the world that the IMF has caused.

All of which is to tell you not so much about how I’m a freedom-loving libertarian who will defend to the death your right to speak nonsense in public. It’s just to say that this argument, which is that political correctness has not gone half as mad as the people who say that it has, is made by someone with a great deal of impatience for political correctness itself. My view is that good words and culture will only be authentically created when we have a good society. Unequal language reflects unequal conditions, and I remain in favour of equalising the conditions first and only then going out with my clipboard to see if this equal reality is reflected in everyday speech.

Even with this perspective—we call it “historical materialist” if you fancy looking things up this arvo—I cannot be convinced that political correctness has gone mad. I mean, sure, it’s a bit naïve and deluded to suppose you can make a better reality by thinking up nicer ways to describe it. But whatever an Ayaan Hirsi Ali or an Eric Abetz tells you, it has not gone mad.

Following several really boring weeks of really boring discussion on 18C—that barely used part of the Racial Discrimination Act which is followed by another clause that basically makes it pointless anyhow—we’ve had two more really boring discussions on just how “mad” political correctness has allegedly become.

First, Ali accused a group of women who simply expressed their “utmost disappointment” in her speech of “carrying water” for Jihadists. She did not use the term “political correctness gone mad”, as this is a bit moderate for Ali who prefers to call any opposition to her speech, which is undertaken freely and in a number of best-selling books and widely seen online videos, as work in the service of radical Islamism.  

The Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz has also become more extreme in his accusations preferring phrases like “Marxist agenda” to the overused “political correctness gone mad”. Still, the charge is identical and identically silly for yet another person of great influence to claim that their views are being stifled, when they can be plainly seen and heard all over the place.

Abetz, a man whose pronouncements I sometimes enjoy in the same way I might enjoy a trip to a historical theme park, is in the news again for his claim that views are being stifled. Not directly this time, but by stealth in that—trigger warning, you might find this dangerously funny—media outlets do not sufficiently cover the number of people who have heterosexual sexual relationships in addition to homosexual ones.

...the charge is identical and identically silly for yet another person of great influence to claim that their views are being stifled, when they can be plainly seen and heard all over the place.

This I find personally funny, as I am such a person and my account of this was reviewed in SBS, one of those media organisations, presumably, that Eric Abetz would charge with “political correctness gone mad!” But, Eric’s hunger for pansexual stories aside—I’ll make sure to send him a book—what on earth is the man doing with his time?

Is he counting up the inches against which bisexual versus gay stories are covered in press? Do we need to chip in and buy the guy a history of queer theory? Are his constituents really asking him to make the case that, say, I don’t know, a more “fluid” approach to non-normative sexuality is covered in media? If this is the case, he should definitely tell them to head over to the SBS Sexuality page.

Political correctness has not gone mad. Sure, it has a few problems and prefers to spend its time looking at cultural errors without considering the social problems that produced them. What has gone truly mad is the claim, made loudly and often on front pages by people like Ali and Abetz, that they have no place to speak.

“Political correctness gone mad” has gone mad. (By which, of course, we mean, is experiencing a period of mental ill health.)

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