Political correctness is not just good manners

Proph has reposted one of my favorite of his Collapse:  The Blog articles:  Is Political Correctness Merely Niceness?  It’s a very good illustration of Orthosphere reasoning.

Commenter David mentioned the following in a recent post, in response to which I promised a later follow-up:

Left-wing political correctness embraces very simple values that were once conservative values as much as liberal ones: talk to people using respectful language whether you agree with their actions and attitudes or not. Do not stereotype the actions of a whole group by those of an individual.

PC is similar to niceness in that it exists to limit respectable discourse and thus to protect the existing social order from excessively severe attacks. That is where the resemblance, I’m afraid, really ends.

For where niceness is concerned with protecting a social order concerned with community, PC is concerned with protecting a social order that is explicitly anti-community (indeed, one that parcels up community into competing and hostile groups, some of which are entitled to PC protection and others subject to explicitly PC nastiness). Both require conformity to socially-established norms but order these norms toward different ends. The order which niceness seeks is fundamentally cooperative, communitarian, and traditional; it is pious and humble. Political correctness seeks an order that is noncooperative, individualistic, and revolutionarily novel as a matter of principle. It regards desecration and shock as a means to that end.

PC is therefore a direct competitor to mere niceness; both seek the protection of a social order, but the social orders they envision are irreconcilable. Niceness has no interest in protecting the manifold absurdities of modern liberal society. Political correctness has no interest in what it sees as the stultifying, arbitrary, and suffocating rules of traditional society.

PC also reacts in comparatively more severe ways to violations of its sanctions than do the merely kind. Because kindness is simply a disposition whereas PC is an institutionalized ideology, violations of the former are treated with, at worst, coldness and avoidance where violations of the latter are subject to often quite devastating and disproportionate retaliation. PC is therefore far more overtly coercive than mere niceness.

It goes without saying that, while both niceness and PC proscribe certain behaviors and manners of speech, PC’s scope is comparatively limited; it protects with greater intensity many fewer people (and does not because they are people but because they belong to the groups they do), where niceness protects everyone.  Niceness prohibits meanness; PC prohibits insensitivity.

9 Responses

  1. “PC also reacts in comparatively more severe ways to violations of its sanctions than do the merely kind.”

    “Kind” (adj) is an interesting little word. Like its cognates, gentle and generous, it is a moralised status word. They all ultimately derive from the same Proto Indo-European root “GENE,” meaning to beget or to give birth, and refer to behaviour characteristic of the well-born, just as, in German, “geboren” (born) means “hochgeboren” (high-born, of noble birth).

    By contrast, “Boorish” derives from Old French « Bovier » a herdsman (cf Latin “bos, bovis” an ox)

    English is full of such moralised status words – ingenuous, liberal, noble, servile and villainous are obvious examples.

  2. The invaluable sci-fi author John C. Wright puts it this way:

    “Let me explain that I regard political correctness as worse than a lie.

    A lie is a straightforward attempt to deceive a victim. It [is] almost honest by contrast. Political Correctness is a corrupt attempt to poison thought and speech, and to impose upon the nobility and courtesy of its victims to get them to deceive themselves. A frequent side effect of PC jargon is that it renders rational conversation difficult, indirect, or even impossible.

    Innocent and well meaning people are actually fooled by this simple trick. Sad to say, most people think like magicians. They believe in the rule of true names. They think (or rather, they feel) that when they are calling one thing by another name, that the actual nature of reality changes. They put themselves in a position where they can no longer talk about real things. Words are severed from referents”

  3. Trump isn’t nice, he’s a lout. But the nature of PC & its enforcement means that only a lout can/will speak up against it in public.

  4. @Bruce
    Thanks. Barnhardt had me in a tizzy.

  5. Michael Paterson-Seymour,

    How does the English language differ from other languages in moralized status-words?

  6. Hummmmmm asked, “How does the English language differ from other languages in moralized status-words?”

    They are rather commoner in English than in, say, French or Latin. Compare, e.g. English “gentleman,” now almost completely a moral term with its French cognate « gentilhomme » [=nobleman], which remains a pure status word.

    But the tendency exists in all languages; even in Ancient Greek one finds Ελεύθερος [=free] and its derivative, Ελεύθεριος meaning magnanimous

  7. A good reason for the disproportionate tenacity with which PC defends the exalted classes is that to honor such groups in the ways it decrees is antithetical to the Traditional, and thus natural way of viewing the world. To get the square peg into the round hole, they have to use a sledgehammer.

  8. Hummmmmm asked, “How does the English language differ from other languages in moralized status-words?”

    According to the History of English podcast. Lower status English words were more likely to have been derived from Norse words.

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