The cry rings out across the internet, "political correctness has gone too far!", “it is too politically correct!”, but how can anything be too correct?
When stated so simply it seems illogical but then words and turns of phrase often change in meaning from one person to another. Should we understand this cry as a protest against overzealous application of ideology, or do some people feel offended after being, themselves, corrected?
The term behind the phrase
The term ‘political correctness’, as a term by itself, is not as complex as its new use seen in phrases like “PC gone too far”.
For example, when we say someone said something that was politically incorrect we understand it in relation to the accepted ideologies of the time. We may or may not agree with the concept but we understand it in terms of the time and place.
However when we turn to the more contemporary ‘political correctness has gone too far’ usage, it demands a response and we are often drawn well away from any objective perspective on the subject. Generally we receive this as the cry of a victim.
Now we may or may not agree with the sentiment but it moves the dialogue to a challenge, are you for me? Or are you against me?
We are all moved by the injustices we see, this is why it can be very challenging to remain objective when we encounter the cry of a victim. This lack of objectivity makes for a very divisive discussion. All of these properties turn the use of ‘political correctness going too far’ into a very divisive turn of phrase. No longer is the phrase about common values of a time and place but instead it is now presenting a point of difference.
Divide or connect
Gathering people together is historically achieved in one of two ways; through tearing down boundaries or through creating them. For example much progress has been made in human rights through removing distinctions, seeing people in the light of their commonality.
Dividing people, into an ‘us and them’, turns the focus to the differences between one group of people and another. Unfortunately we do appear to lean more naturally to dividing people up. It is this predisposition to the negative division which makes the use of ‘political correctness going too far’ so concerning.
As part of a democracy
Discussions around ideology are critically important to our society. We need to have them, but we need to have them in a positive manner, we need to be inclusive, not divisive.
You and I are not so different, that even when we disagree on a topic, there are many more on which we agree, so it is foolish to discount someone completely for disagreeing with you on one topic. We live in a democratic society and although democracy has never lived up to its idealised form, multiple points of view are still an important part of our society.
My take away
The lesson I’m taking away from this is that how I say things is important. I can just as easily sabotage any chance of a discussion by taking sides, as seen with phrases like “Political correctness gone too far!”, as I can by inviting conversation through asking what someone's views are on a topic or offering a defence for the views I hold.
Clearly this takes cooperation but I’m happy to do my part and be open and inclusive. I hope we can all reinforce inclusive discussion as the correct form of discourse in our society.
As Christians, we could also emulate the attitude of Jesus, for whom political correctness did not play a role in his relationships!
Sam Gillespie is a composer, programmer and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html