The truth about political correctness


“We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.”

Recently I came upon this article called the truth about political correctness . It is a rebuttal to a piece published in the Atlantic titled “That’s Not Funny: Today’s College Students Can’t Take a Joke”. It appears that the Atlantic article took a position that political correctness is destroying humor, college campuses and among other things the entire civilization.

To be honest, as an idle fellow, with nothing better to do, I quite enjoy this kind of journalistic banter amongst two competing publications. One party makes a remark, on behalf of liberal people in the world, about how their liberality is being destroyed by people who can’t take a joke. This obviously causes a flutter in the opposing camp who think that indiscriminate use of freedom is unjust and leads to oppression. As it historically has.

When it comes to politics and societal issues I hardly know anything. On the whole I am quite oblivious on the subjects of such nature. I mean if I contest for an election to some high post and I am asked to make a speech to the crowd I wouldn’t know what to say. I’d probably just walk to the people, shake their hands and ask them about their day. Then I’d proceed to have lunch with them and end the day with some good country music. Needless to say if I ever contested I’d be pummelled by my opponents who know more about public speaking and “influencing people” than I do.

But nevertheless when it comes to a point that an entire civilization maybe destroyed by the inability of a person to make crude jokes I get a tad bit intrigued and try to read as many varied opinions on the subject as possible.

One such varied opinion on the matter is made by the author. Her article begins with a powerful quote that accuses people who take offence at being compelled to be politically correct all the time as the preservers of status quo. Needless to say I was quite impressed by the opening and decided to read the entire piece to understand the author’s reasoning for making statement like this and how she goes on to produce arguments that support her claim.

She starts with a bit of a back story. I like back-stories. They add a lot of mystery and intrigue to the narrative. It seems that the author was once a slam poet. Her word pieces were centered on her transgender identity. She submitted her works to some college campuses and was pleased to learn that they offered her a chance to perform on stage.

But when the other colleges came to know about the author’s transgender identity they threatened to boycott the conference. The organizers tried to make the best of a difficult situation and allowed to author to perform on stage as long as she didn’t speak about the transgender issues.

That made her sad

It’s been 11 years since that incident. Tables have turned. Now she is regularly invited on college campuses to speak about transgender issues and the people who make crass jokes are denied entry.

This makes her happy.

In her joyous state she goes on to establish a pattern between the two incidents and comes to the conclusion that over the course of years the audience has been educated and become sensitive to issues faced by the transgender people. They don’t find any amusement in words that mock or disrespect their identity and perspective.

She further concludes that these alarmist “political correctness run amok” articles are disingenuous. We must acknowledge that a society makes a judgment on what language and ideas are acceptable and what language and ideas are unacceptable. We must speak the words and voice the ideas that are acceptable and refrain from speaking the words and voicing the ideas which are unacceptable.

By the time I reached this point it occurred to me that the thoughts written had such broad scope and they carried such weight that unless I arranged them in my mind I’d loose track of what was being said. Therefore I decided to summarize the article up to that point. Here it goes:-

  1. The author was a transgender slam poet
  2. She was allowed to speak in college as long as she didn’t discuss transgender issues. This made her sad
  3. 11 years later she frequently talks about transgender topics and people who make crass jokes against them are refrained from doing so. This makes her happy.
  4. while in #2 the society deemed talking about transgender issues to be unacceptable in #3 the society does a 180 and deems mocking the transgender issues as un acceptable
  5. We must speak and opine as the society wants us to.

“But then what about free speech?”

It seems she has an answer to that as well. You see free speech is a thing. Yes it exists. No one is denying that. But then there is political correctness. Because the status quo is always evolving and “The proverbial line in the sand that determines which words or ideas are acceptable within civil discourse and which ones are deemed to be beyond the pale is constantly shifting over time.”

“It’s just that many people no longer find those jokes funny”

I am starting to get a bit confused here. Should jokes be made politically correct because the audience does not find them funny anymore? Or should they be made politically correct because it is the right thing to do?

There is quite a bit of difference between the two. For the former there is no way that the author can speak for all kinds of audiences. There may or may not be a healthy amount of people who find politically incorrect jokes funny. The only way to find out would be by doing a through research. But since no such research was cited I ask myself “did the author just put in those words to make it sound convincing?” If that is the case then I’d also like to make a statement:-

People are tired of all these lame politically correct jokes.

For the latter case, that is the politically incorrect jokes shouldn’t be made because they are wrong then one needs to ask oneself wrong in what sense? The author conveniently refers to the judgment of society. But then wasn’t it the same society that was unjust to author in the first place? And if that be the case would it be prudent to put your faith in social justice where new ideas come and go every decade? I’d have conceded if the point was being made for individual behaviour altering power of the society but for justice and as an instrument of judgment? No. Mass opinion that sometimes shifts one way and sometimes the other? Yes.

“Comedy that “punches down” is simply going out of vogue.”

While I might agree that the comics the author is talking about don’t sound funny when they “punch down” the assertion that politically incorrect jokes are going out of vogue is not true. Just watch an episode of archer and try to count all the “politically incorrect”, double meaning, sexist, racial jokes that are made in a single scene. Then research a bit on archer’s success as a comedy show and see if you can add an exception to the point made above.

And given the fact that archer is a massively successful politically incorrect TV show can we not say that the argument that society is a dictator of behaviour is only true in a public setting. I mean you can’t really stop people secretly laughing at sexist jokes while watching archer in their bedrooms. Which makes me wonder has the social movement that the author alludes to has made any lasting change at all? Have the people really changed in 11 years from 2004 to 2015 or are they just now more afraid to laugh at the crude jokes in the open? Just like the college organizers were afraid to let the author speak her mind lest they be boycotted by other colleges?

“I have written extensively about how policing language can sometimes make spaces less safe, not more”

Aha! it seems that the author has given some thought to the other side of the coin as well. But I’m afraid that it’s just classic good cop bad cop. Now that the author has run out of criticism she shows a bit of love for us “politically incorrect” goons by saying that excessive policing can actually be bad for us. She gives us a little pat on the head with a look of pity in her eyes and says there there it’s not that bad. I know how you feel. I’ve been there. According to her we most definitely need to be “politically correct” but only in the right amount.

“Hey could you tell me what quantity of ‘political correctness’ would be appropriate”?

Since the author never came round to it I’m just going to make an assumption (I hope she does not hold it against me). I think that in general for a tolerant and respectable member of society a 100 gram of crude jokes would go well with 1kg of political correctness. Though the actual quantity may vary from a person to person. You can never be sure about these things, can you?

” I would love to engage in thoughtful conversations about this phenomenon”

I’ve thought long and hard about article and I’ve come to the conclusion…. well actually no I’ve not come to a conclusion. But I’m breathing hard due to the flurry of thoughts that are racing through my mind. One of the more rebellious one among them says that this article is just as hypocritical as the one it tries to refute. I mean when you go on and say that people laughing at jokes are insensitive preservers of status quo devoid of compassion towards people whom they see in real life you can’t play the “I would love to engage in thoughtful conversations” card. I suppose rational thought is thrown out of the window the moment one adopts societal opinion as any kind of measurement for what is right or wrong. Status quo may change and the proverbial line in the sand may be constantly shifting in time but one would expect the moral ideals of right and wrong to remain constant.

One who seeks equity must do equity. One who expects tolerance must be tolerant. But I don’t know… I’m hardly an expert on the matter.

Not that there is anything wrong with it

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  • On January 26, 2020