Thursday, September 07, 2017

How political correctness kills language freedoms

The push for politically correct language may be well intentioned enough, but its consequences are often appalling. It can rob us of one of the most important of all human freedoms: the right to use words to mean what we want them to mean.

The first problem in prohibiting certain word usage is that there is an assumption that the intention of the speaker or writer is known. In literary criticism this is called the intentional fallacy; the invalid notion that the author’s intention can readily be derived from the words.

To give an example, this writer was a weekly satirical columnist for BRW, a business magazine. I wrote a joke about Asian drivers, which was deemed to be politically incorrect, even racist. I tried to explain that the joke was actually directed at people who held such views, not at Asian drivers—something I thought was obvious enough and well enough flagged—but it was deemed inadmissible. It was assumed that there could be only one possible intention, no matter how much it was explained that this was not my intention.

A similar dynamic could be seen in a reader response to a headline on this web site. The headline, 'Do we ban the nun's veil next?' was sarcastic. But one reader interpreted it as potentially nun-bashing (and presumably politically incorrect). This kind of confusion is actually quite common; readers can interpret intent in very different ways.

And here lies the problem. Analysis of politcial correctness necessarily relies on making assumptions about intent. The language is targeted in a very legalistic way, and more complex aspects such as intention, context, or potential multiple layers of meaning, are ruiled out.

There is no doubt that a great deal of Shakespeare’s language, especially the swearing, does not meet the PC strictures, for example. It is a good thing that many of the Bard’s words are unfamiliar to modern ears, otherwise we might lose our greatest writer. Although at least it is widely acknowledged that his intentions were always subtle and complex.

Just how absurd political correctness can become was reinforced for me during a teaching exercise I was involved with in primary school. The teacher told the class that they would be learning about how to deal with dogs.

‘A lady will be showing you a big black dog,’ the teacher said. ‘You can’t say that, Miss—it's racist,’ an eight year old protested, horrified. To him, just using the word ‘black’ was unacceptable in itself. Out of the mouth of babes.

The second problem with political correctness is that assumptions have to be made about meaning. Again, this is because the PC approach is legalistic. In law, words tend to have strictly defined semantics; in the English common law system underpinned by precedent. There tends to be, deliberately, a very limited range of reference and, as much as possible, a one-to-one correspondence between the word and the thing being denoted.

To say the least, there is more to words than this. Read any decent work of literature and you will observe language that produces a range of meanings, including enacting meanings from the way the writer uses the words themselves.

One does not have to agree with the absurd exaggerations of French deconstructionist literary critics such as Jacques Derrida—that the ‘author is dead’ and there are as many possible meanings as there are readers: a principle they did not apply to their own writings of course—to see that language can mean many things to those who receive it. Read William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity and the point becomes clear enough.

Yet in the PC approach, it is assumed that those who derive one meaning, who have been offended, have the sole right to define what the words signify.

Viewed this way, political correctness represents an extraordinary attack on basic human freedoms that are almost as fundamental as the freedom to think what we want. It is even reaching the point in the public environment where what is not said is being deemed ‘incorrect’. Witness the furore over Donald Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville violence. What Trump said was broadly factually correct; that both sides were violent. He was pilloried because of what he did not say, or at least didn’t say at the right time: that neo-Nazis are unacceptable.

Political correctness is increasingly being applied to absence, as well as presence, which means not just making assumptions about what the words denote, but also what silences connote. As any philosopher will tell you, deducing from absence is a dangerous course. And once again it involves making assumptions about intention; purporting to be inside the speaker's mind.

Language that is intended to be hurtful should be deplored. But there is a high cost associated with outlawing any language use, because such initiatives can only be applied, crudely, to the words themselves. They cannot apply to the person’s intentions—that would require further evidence—and they rule out the possibility of multiple meanings.

The PC approach easily descends into authoritarianism and aggression. When such aggression is associated with those purportedly being protected, it ultimately does them no favours.

The way to a more tolerant society is to take a mature approach to language, to see it in all its complexity and polyvalence. And perhaps develop a little looseness: remember what used to be said in the schoolyard, that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Sadly, many are going in the opposite direction.


Please, for Everyone's Sake, Teach Your Sons to Be Chivalrous

A couple weeks ago some guy tried to steal my diaper bag at the playground. I just happened to look up and there he was, nonchalantly walking out of the park with my bag on his shoulder. I was already running after him yelling, “Hey! That’s my bag!” before it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t be threatening an unknown man who’s clearly a criminal. Especially while holding my son on my hip.

I didn’t think, though, and I confronted him and, actually, I got the bag back. But as I turned around and met the startled faces of the other moms and dads at the playground who’d watched the whole thing go down, it occurred to me that not a single man had come to my aid. There were plenty of dads at the playground that day. Some who even spoke to me afterward, wondering how I’d gotten the guy to give my bag back. But no one had seen a woman in peril and stepped in.

Sure, it wasn’t like the guy was beating me to a pulp, or groping me, or anything. But he was menacing, and strong, and he was stealing my bag! I’m not your typical damsel in distress, I suppose. With my frizzy hair pulled up under my baseball cap, my feet firmly planted, my eyes glaring defiantly into the robber’s face, and my teacher voice (honed over ten years working in elementary schools) firmly stating, “That’s my bag. Give it back now.” But none of that erases the fact that I am, in fact, most definitely a damsel. And, in that moment (regardless of how I was handling it) the situation was objectively one that put me in distress.

In the era of radical feminism, in which women and men are, supposedly, exactly the same, a man coming to a woman’s aid is a pointless exercise. Or worse, it’s offensive. Had I been any other woman in that playground, in fact (I live in Brooklyn, N.Y.), I might very well have been offended had a man stepped in, feeling that I would have stood just as much chance of taking the robber on in a fight as any man. But I’m not any other woman in that playground. I live in reality. Had that man tried to hurt me, I’d have been overpowered. Might have been nice to have a little muscle to back me up.

In an article for Scary Mommy, Rita Templeton perfectly explains the problem with teaching chivalry to our sons in the age of radical feminism. “How can I preach to my sons that women are equals in every way, yet still tell them that they’re most likely the ones who are expected to pay on a date…and open doors…and adopt a general attitude of 'ladies first' when interacting with the opposite sex?” It’s an excellent question (if you, like Templeton, believe the lie that women and men are equals in every way).

Templeton goes on to say, revealingly, that “If I were dating, I’d far rather date a man who makes me feel special with those little gestures than one who treats our quality time the same way he would an outing with his best bud.” Of course she would! But her dilemma (which I give her props for exposing) is exactly the reason why men no longer feel they can protect a lady. Even if they might want to. Even if it’s right.

But, the things is, those “little gestures” aren’t just to make us “feel special.” They’re to let us know we’re safe. They’re the things a man does to tell us that, even though he’s twice our size, and twice as strong (because biology made him that way), he won’t hurt us. He pulls out our chair, or pays for our meal, or opens the door for us, not because we don’t know how to pull out chairs, open doors, or pay for things, but because it shows us that he’ll be using his superior strength to care for us, not kill us. And that if someone comes along who seems like he does want to kill us (or steal our bag), he’ll use his superior strength to make sure that other guy takes a hike.

Like Templeton, I’m also raising a son. But I have no qualms about teaching him to be chivalrous. Because I know that, even though a woman and a man are equally capable of becoming, say, brain surgeons, they aren’t equally capable of punching some guy in the head. And I also know that, because men and women are different, the kind of interplay that comes from a man taking care of a woman by protecting her physically, and a woman taking care of a man by protecting him emotionally is desirable to both.

So, though it strikes fear into a mother’s heart to say it, when my son is grown, if he sees a man threatening a woman (no matter how frizzy her hair, and defiant her gaze) I hope he’ll come to her aid. And when he goes on those first, awkward dates he’ll know (because I taught him) to pull out that chair, open that door, and pick up the tab. And if any girl tells him he’s being offensive and insists on going dutch? Well, she’s just not the right girl for him.


Foundation attacks Sen. Marco Rubio's Bible verse tweets as unconstitutional

For Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a devout Christian, tweeting out Bible verses to his three million followers has become a routine. Though these tweets regularly receive thousands of likes, one disgruntled nonprofit is claiming they amount to an unconstitutional breach of the separation between church and state.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent Rubio a letter this month informing him of this alleged violation, requesting the senator either stop tweeting from the Bible or remove "all traces of the public office" from his account.

The letter, signed by FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel, argues that Rubio's tweets constitute "government speech" and should not, therefore, "promote one religious book over others or to promote religion over nonreligion."

"By tying your government title to a social media page," Seidel wrote the Florida Republican, "you have intimately entwined your official position with the messages you send on that platform, creating the appearance of official endorsement."

Not according to legal expert Rick Esenberg.

Esenberg, president and general counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a free market public interest law and policy center also based in the Badger State, told the Washington Examiner, "There is no legal authority for the Freedom From Religion Foundation's bizarre suggestion that elected officials cannot invoke religious concepts in expressing themselves.

"In fact, there is a long tradition, from Washington to Lincoln to the present day, of them doing precisely that," he continued.

Esenberg believes any attempts to target Rubio with legal action would not succeed. "There is little chance that any court would have any sympathy for FFRF's position," he noted.

The Foundation's letter to Rubio concludes with the smug invocation of a Gospel verse practically dripping with disdain for the faithful senator. "If the law and your oath to uphold the Constitution are not sufficient to convince you to stop, perhaps you might consider reading Matthew 6:5-6, in which Jesus condemns public prayer as hypocrisy in his Sermon on the Mount," it says. "None of Jesus's supposed words mentions Twitter — perhaps he wasn't that prescient—but the condemnation of public piety is reasonably clear."

To the contrary, it seems the country could use more lawmakers like Rubio, eager to seek, share, and hold to moral guidances, including those based in religious faiths, at a time when their constituents' collective trust in institutions like Congress is decaying.


Black civil Rights Activist Argues To Keep Confederate Monuments

In cities across the U.S., calls to take down monuments to Confederate leaders are growing louder since the deadly events in Charlottesville, Va.

One of the most dramatic monuments to the Confederacy is called Stone Mountain, in northern Georgia. It's sort of a Confederate Mount Rushmore, with Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis carved into a mountainside.

Andrew Young, a former mayor of Atlanta and lifelong African-American civil rights activist, says the memorial should stay. Young served as a congressman from Georgia and ambassador to the United Nations. He was with Martin Luther King Jr. the day he was assassinated.

"That is a tremendous carving. And I don't want to see that destroyed. I don't care who it is," he says.

Young is not alone. An NPR/PBS NewsHour poll released this month found that 44 percent of African-Americans believe Confederate memorials should stay, compared with 40 percent who say they should be removed. Nationwide, 6 in 10 Americans say the monuments should remain. Still, Young's comments come as prominent Democratic and African-American activists call for the monuments to be removed or "contextualized," to avoid celebrating the leaders who supported slavery.

I'm saying these are kids who grew up free, and they don't realize what still enslaves them — and it's not those monuments.

What worries me is that this country will turn to the right so that it'll — be taking down Martin Luther King's statue next when the racist majority takes over. And I'm saying that a minority can't be provoking a racist majority that is still underemployed, undereducated and dying faster than we are — that the issue is life and death – not some stupid monument.

I would only consider adding to it a freedom bell because Martin Luther King said in his speech, "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain [of] Georgia." He named that specifically.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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