Who needs Political Correctness (when you can be a jerk)?

There is nothing that is reviled as much these days as the concept of Political correctness. You would think that there are enough things to hate in the world such a greed, ignorance, the fact that not everyone gets access to medicine, or that people use the term ‘Soccer’ to describe football (while calling a game where they use their hands football!!!). Okay, I need to stop now. As you can see, for people who want to get upset about things, there is no dearth of choices. But people have decided to get upset about Political Correctness.

The seed for this blog past actually came from a vlogbrothers video I watched (yes, don’t you just love them). It is called ‘how to apologize like a fartbag’ and here is the link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc_XWlqURTg

The point of this video was to show us how when we make mistakes, the thing we ought to do is simple. Reflect on what we did wrong, and then apologize. Instead what we do is apologize like a ‘fartbag’. I am trying to extend this to the concept of how we respond to statements we make in public.

Ask someone not to use the term handicapped,  or to not use terms like ‘rape’ in the context of a football match, and you will get a rant about how people are becoming so politically correct these days, that it is impossible to speak anymore. The funniest are the people who use racial slurs and then try to justify them by saying that people of ‘so and so’ community use it to describe themselves, so it can not be wrong.

There was a very interesting exchange I saw on a Facebook friend’s wall. She put up a status update talking about how unfortunate it was that people used the term ‘rape’ to describe Germany’s victory over Brazil in the recent football world cup. To this, the response of a large number of people was ‘pray-how-is-it-different-from-using-the term murder?’. The conversation, of course, derailed into a discussion of whether the using the term ‘murder’ in that context is any different from using the term ‘rape’.

Well the fact is that rape (unlike murder) is still a taboo issue in many societies. Many cases still go unreported and many genuine cases result in acquittals due to the culture of shame surrounding rape. Given that there is no culture of silence and SHAME surrounding ‘murder’ (even though its a terrible thing to happen), the two phrases really cannot be equated. So when you take the lived reality of men and women (yes, rape happens to both) and use it to describe a football match outcome, you are being particularly hurtful. And then when your attention is called to that, and you respond my asking how it is different from using the term X or Y, you are being a ‘fartbag’.

Just in case I have not been clear enough, let me give you another example. Suppose you were to call the German victory a massacre, it would just reveal a lack of articulation, that can understandably be brought on by a post-football match excitement. However, if you refer to chapters of Germany’s past, which are quite painful, to describe what just happened, people can be forgiven for thinking of it as an act of calculated malice. While both choices of words are unfortunate, there is a line that we can (and need) to draw between the two.

It is not like I have been the picture of consideration myself. For the longest time, perhaps due to callousness, or perhaps due to ignorance, I thought it was okay to use the term ‘retard’ to describe willfully ignorant people. Perhaps it took me longer than it should have, but at some point I realized it was wrong, and stopped using it in public. Even now if I slip up and say it in private conversations, I make it a point to correct myself right there.

Of course there are people who take political correctness too far and try to describe persons with disability as ‘special’ or ‘handy-capable’, These terms a inaccurate, and condescending and WE DO NOT NEED TO USE THEM. With a little effort people can learn what the correct term to describe a condition, an ethnicity or a group is. It does not take too much effort. TRUST ME.

Of course it would be easy for me, instead of admitting my mistake in using the term ‘retard’, to say that people with disability should just ‘stop being sensitive’. Or come up with gems like ‘the world doesn’t owe you anything, you gotta toughen up’. This is the language the haters of political correctness often use.

But I feel we have a choice. We can leave a trail of hurt in our wake and congratulate ourselves on a world we have made tougher, or we can decide to apologize. We can see the world from the eyes of another human being, and decide that we don’t need that punchline on our Facebook wall.

Maybe it took me too much time to realize this, and my language and behavior are still work in progress. But it is never too late to stop being a fartbag, eh?

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2 thoughts on “Who needs Political Correctness (when you can be a jerk)?”

  1. Fartbag(‘s) response: Like I’ve already said before in those posts, I’m not the biggest fan of political correctness because many times, it achieves just that and nothing more but I’m a huge fan of democratic/sensitive speech because that requires deeper thinking and co-option than just remembering to not use a word in public. For example, I wouldn’t mind if somebody used the word rape as a metaphor in general speech but I would mind very much if someone implied something derogatory about any person/community for reasons of birth etc. If you were to say something about women that implicates their biological/natural disposition or question their aptitude for something, I would find that a better reason to take offence.

    Coming to the issue of the stigma that surrounds rape, there is nothing more that interests me about the crime of rape than my absolute certainty that this stigma around it has to go so I agree that it’s something we all need to address. How do we do that by objecting to its use as a metaphor? Shouldn’t we focus on contextual use of language inasmuch as it reveals our understanding of gender than on the usage of the word itself. I agree that as a general rule, any image/language that evokes dreaded memories in persons/communities can be avoided but I think it’s more important for the surviving person/community in question to exorcise that ghost of their past, of what they wrongfully suffered and for which they needn’t suffer anymore by an act of reclamation. “Toughening up” isn’t as trivial a thing as you seem to suggest. I’m not saying it’s one or the other. As the ‘other’ in any situation, I think it’s more important to help the person heal, take stock of what has happened to them or address what could happen to them rather than superficial deference through, again, political correctness. You can be a jerk in language as well but I just think we need to have a context to that utterance before we firmly conclude that it was undeniably jerky. (And farting being a natural function etc, doesn’t really stink too much as an insult, you should think of something else 🙂 ).

    1. Hey Asha,
      Am glad you have given this so much thought.

      Firstly, fartbag was just gentle ribbing. Did not want it to ‘stink’ too much.

      Secondly, my post just asks those with an open mind to think about and reflect on their statements in public, rather than asking people to toughen up. It does not mean that people can comfortably stop at that. Should they go ahead and help those in a difficult situation? Yes. But if they are not going to do that, the least they can do is not spew hate. And I am not just talking rape metaphors (though I don’t like them), there is a lot of vile stuff out there.

      But you are employing what is called ‘the straw man technique’. The point of my article is not that people should just stop at words. The point is, that is where they need to start.

      Also political correctness need not stop at words. It includes attitudes, non-stereotyping and a host of other things.
      Personally I am not comfortable with this toughen up attitude to life where people feel they have a right to suggest to people how to feel in the face of suffering. I would not do it, but if you want to, that is your choice, and i respect that.
      If this article makes a few people reflect of the stuff they say, be more aware and considerate, my job is done. 🙂

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