PC: Properly Critical



There are a lot of connotations linked to the letters PC. As an economics major, I love this abbreviation for a perfectly-competitive market structure. As a disgruntled Dell laptop owner, recent hard drive problems have made me start to subordinate the PC to the Mac. However, perhaps the most instinctive reaction to letters PC is inspired by my political self who despises this shorthand version of “politically correct.” The growing infiltration of political correctness into American culture proves to be concerning, condescending and contradictory. Don’t get me wrong. There is a definite need to maintain decorum, toleration and respect in society. The use of crude slang, racial slurs or any sort of language reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino is, and should always be, strongly discouraged. However, applying a degree of critical analysis to political correctness is becoming essential.

Political correctness, at its core, is concerned with judgment. The use of delicate phrases like “man-caused disaster” instead of “terrorism” is intended to prevent the unfair judgment of an individual or a group. However, requiring political correctness in society is essentially an act of judgment in itself. When government officials begin mandating that such terminology be used, they are making an overarching judgment that the public is not intelligent enough to distinguish between the actions of an individual or specific group and a collective population. The aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings provides strong support for this theory. Nidal Malik Hasan’s horrific shooting rampage has generated a media and governmental squabble over whether or not his actions can be considered “terrorism.” Despite the fact that 13 innocent people lost their lives, select politicians and television personalities seem most concerned with protecting Hasan—and by extension, the Muslim population—from slander.

Yet, these concerns reflect a belief that the American public cannot distinguish the actions of one radical man from the Muslim population as a whole. While there are undoubtedly ignorant Americans incapable of making this distinction, such a complete lack of faith in our country’s citizens is an undeserved assessment.

Calling Hasan a terrorist is not a distortion of true Islamic faith, but an accurate observation of his horrifying behavior and extremist interpretation of a religious view. But calling Hasan an employer of “man-caused disaster” is a distortion in itself, softening the definition of terrorism by ignoring the element of intent central to all terrorist actions.

Further, the need to be “PC” has begun to eclipse an ability to critically analyze American policy. Former President Jimmy Carter recently made the remark that racism is fueling much of the disapproval of President Obama’s policies. Yet, characterizing those opposed to the healthcare bill or Cap and Trade as racist is a cause for concern. If the American public has to tiptoe around sensitive issues and refrain from expressing disapproval for fear of being judged as “racist,” political correctness is doing society a great disservice.

Allowing educated debate and disagreement to occur is not only central to the democratic representation of all opinions, but also to the development of a more informed populous.

If the public is to be unfairly judged for expressing an opposing opinion, there will no longer be any incentive for citizens to keep up with current affairs or to think critically about policy implications. While political correctness is intended to guard against ignorance, in this case it seems to be promoting it.

However, what I find most concerning about political correctness is that it now curbs friendly gestures as well. Having spent the past three winters working at a supermarket, I’ve often hesitated about wishing my customers a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holiday.”

Despite expressing a simply desire that others enjoy the holiday season, such comments may be considered offensive.  Now I have begun censoring my seasonal cheer—after all, what if that elderly woman buying the can of peas is a Jehovah’s Witness? Although the entire population does not celebrate a “winter holiday,” there should be no restriction on the spreading of kindness. In an age where considerate actions are sadly few and far between (just think of that poor man who was trampled at a Wal-Mart last Black Friday), if someone were to stop and wish me a “Happy Kwanzaa” I would simply be grateful to see such thoughtfulness. But the rigidity of the “politically correct playbook” does not allow for this type of sociable interaction.

Rather, political correctness seems to be fortifying the boundaries between cultural or religious groups that it claims to be breaking down—instead taking public displays of Christmas trees, menorahs and mangers with it.

I therefore encourage all Colgate students to put their $52,000-a-year education to good use. We should begin to think rationally about what benefit, if any, political correctness still offers in society. In the midst of this war of the words, it is time to be PC in a different sense—properly critical.

So, debate friends about government run healthcare or the budget deficit. Watch closely to see the effect of political correctness on the treatment of Hasan. And if you see Jimmy Carter on the street this winter break, wish him a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.