MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

What the Hell Does 'Politically Correct' Mean?: A Short History

The many meanings of 'political correctness'

Available via Amazon for three cents plus shipping.SmithmarkAmanda Taub's Vox piece denying the existence of political correctness does get one thing right: The phrase political correctness "has no actual fixed or specific meaning." What it does have, though Taub doesn't explore this, is a history of meanings: a series of ways different people have deployed the term, often for radically different purposes. Unpack that history, and you can unpack a lot of the debates going on today.

People have been putting the words "politically" and "correct" together in various contexts for ages, but for our purposes the story begins in the middle of the 20th century, as various Marxist-Leninist sects developed a distinctive cant. One of the terms they liked to use was "politically correct," as in "What is needed now is a politically correct, class-conscious and militant leadership, which will lead an armed struggle to abolish the whole system of exploitation of man by man in Indonesia and establish a workers state!" It was a phrase for the sort of radical who was deeply interested in establishing and enforcing the "correct line," to borrow another term of the day. If you were the sort of radical who was not interested in establishing and enforcing the correct line, you were bound to start mocking this way of talking, and by the end of the '60s the mockers were flinging the phrase back at the drones. In 1969, for example, when Dana Beal of the White Panther Party defended the counterculture against its critics on the straight left, he argued that freely experimenting was more important than trying "to be perfectly politically 'correct.'" A year later, in the seminal feminist anthology Sisterhood is Powerful, Robin Morgan derided male editors who had "the best intentions of being politically 'correct'" but couldn't resist butting in with their own ideas. In the new usage, which soon superceded the old Leninist lingo pretty much entirely, "politically correct" was an unkind term for leftists who acted as though good politics were simply a matter of mastering the right jargon.

Meanwhile, a similar but slightly different approach to the phrase emerged. In '80s issues of magazines like Mother Jones or Ms., "politically correct" could describe a consumer good or a lifestyle choice. The tone here was usually lightly self-mocking, as you'd expect when words once associated with a shifting Maoist party line were now being applied to an exercise book or a fake fur. But some people did use it earnestly, perhaps because they weren't in on the joke, perhaps because they just thought the term was too good to go to waste. In the early '90s, a woman told me that she and her friends had often said "politically correct" without any irony when she was an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr. She wasn't happy when she started hearing people use the expression disdainfully.

My favorite mid-'80s manifestation of the phrase has to be this ad that Mother Jones ran in 1985—mostly because I'm not entirely sure if it's being partly ironic or completely sincere. It's clearly one of the funniest things anyone wrote that year, but I'll be damned if I know whether the person who produced it knew that:

Mother JonesMother Jones

By then the term was fairly well-established on American campuses. When future Clinton speechwriter Jeff Shesol debuted his comic strip Thatch in Brown's student newspaper in 1988, he included a faux superhero called Politically Correct Person, a character forever correcting people's language and consumer choices. Jeff ShesolJeff Shesol The phrase persisted in the more radical segments of the left as well. When I was attending the University of Michigan, one of my colleagues at the student radio station edited a queer/punk zine called P.C. Casualties, which ran this righteous rant in 1991: "As if bullying prank phone calls from those young Republican shitheads weren't enough, now we have half-assed, pseudo-radical academics playing the same old power games as well. Yeah, you've got all the 'correct' answers, and even a little power in your corner of this political ghetto. But you're all fake....All you've managed to do is torture and maim those you really ought to be caring for—your own brothers and sisters. The bodies of P.C. Casualties lay strewn all over, ghosts of dreams too afraid to materialize, and whispers too fearful to make a sound."

Well? DID diplomacy do the job?NewsweekThat piece was published near the end of the 1990-91 academic year, which also happened to be the year the phrase had its national coming-out party. The December 24, 1990, Newsweek featured the words "THOUGHT POLICE" on its cover; inside, a Jerry Adler article argued that "where the PC reigns, one defies it at one's peril." A month later, John Taylor's cover story "Are You Politically Correct?" appeared in New York magazine. The Wall Street Journal ran a series of pieces attacking political correctness. And around the same time that issue of P.C. Casualties appeared, President George Herbert Walker Bush warned the graduating class at Michigan that "the notion of political correctness" was replacing "old prejudices with new ones."

"Politically correct" had now entered the mainstream lexicon—and, maybe more important, the conservative lexicon. But what did people mean when they said it? When that jeremiad in P.C. Casualties got down to specifics, it invoked "women banned from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival for practicing S&M." You weren't likely to see that mentioned in a George Will column. So what were the conservatives upset about?

To a large extent, it was the same things critics on the left had been upset about. But there were other complaints here too. While Newsweek's cover story included anecdotes about censorship and other heavy-handed attempts to impose an orthodoxy, it also veered off periodically into discussions of deconstruction, the Great Books canon, and other subjects that didn't have much to do with civil liberties. Taylor's New York story went even further in that direction, including a whole section on Afrocentrism. From 1990 onward, a bunch of longstanding conservative complaints about campus life, particularly its arguments about what was taught in the English departments, were framed as debates about political correctness.

I apologize in advance for using this image.Harcourt Children's BooksFor some on the right, "P.C." began to be a vague way to refer to anything left of center. "Un-P.C.," meanwhile, became a phrase people used to pat themselves on the back, not just on the right but in the culture at large. By proclaiming yourself politically incorrect, you were announcing that you were a brave opponent of stultifying orthodoxies, even if your actual opinions were as vanilla as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

On the left, some people embraced the term defensively (at Michigan, several student groups opened the 1991-92 school year by adopting the slogan "PC and Proud"), while others foreshadowed Taub by declaring political correctness a myth. More recently, it's become common to claim that what conservatives call political correctness is really "just politeness." (And indeed, if someone uneducated in the jargon of the week unwittingly uses the wrong language, he may receive the same reaction he'd get at a society dinner for using the wrong fork. But I don't think that's what they mean.)

So maybe Taub's right; maybe we should drop the phrase from our lexicon. Not because it doesn't describe anything, but because it describes so many things that you can't use it without worrying that people won't understand what you're talking about. But I won't scold you if you use it anyway. I wouldn't want to come across as politically correct.

Bonus links:

1. In 2006, I wrote about the rise of right-wing P.C. The article includes my own attempt to nail down a definition of political correctness: a "political posture...that treats identity politics not just as an ideology but as a trump card, that maintains a rigid orthodoxy while regarding itself as subversive, that uses a series of contrived outrages to feed a bureaucratic machine."

2. Ever wonder what Jonathan Chait had to say about political correctness when he was 19? Wonder no more.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • John||

    Jesse,

    I remember when I first heard the term in the 1980s. And yes, it was used without irony and referred to doing and saying things that were politically acceptable. The personal was the political you know. The term was invented by the left and was always a descriptive term and not an ironic one or a pejorative. Only later when it became clear to everyone outside the left just how oppressive and awful the concept was, did the left start lying and claiming that the term concept never existed and the term was just a slur made up by their opponents to silence oppressed groups.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The first time I heard the term in an American context (as opposed a Leninist context) was on the television show Thirtysomething in 1987 or 1988.

    One of the characters used "politically correct" to describe a single, male acquaintance of his to a single, female friend. It was clearly meant as a positive qualification for a prospective relationship.

  • Quixote||

    I remember the term being used around the same time as "the new honesty," another term that may at first have had an "innocent" meaning, but rapidly came to be used to describe another repugnant tendency in American society. The ultimate and predictable outcome of all of this, of course, has been the steadily increasing effort to criminalize forms of speech deemed to be inappropriate, such as writing anti-bank slogans on the sidewalk with chalk, posting fake "NYPD drone" ads around NYC (an obvious act of political satire), or sending out subversive email parodies of a well-connected academic department chairman. All of which have led to arrests and, in some instances, malicious prosecutions in the United States. See the documentation of America's leading criminal satire case at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • JPyrate||

    Hey John. Whats the Politically Corrcet name or a cannibal ?

    Answer. A "Humanitarian".

    HAR HAR HAR HAR !!! =D

  • tlapp||

    It is nothing more than a way to stifle free speech. I always enjoy lampooning it whenever possible to discredit the practice whenever possible.

  • Idle Hands||

    it's pretty simple. It's a way of zeroing in on right thinking people without coming out and asking them who they vote for.

  • Almanian!||

    cool story, bro

  • SimonJester||

    +1

  • ElDuderino||

    I can't believe the hetero-male patriarchal orthodoxy imbedded in this comment. It is truly sickening that you believe without any prior indications that Jesse Walker is a "bro". Until Jesse declares his sexual identity in an unambiguous manner, you are assuming that he is male. This assumption is made worse by the fact that it is clearly a symptom of the heater-male patriarchal orthodoxy you were born into. Shame on you you cis-gendered pig!

  • OldMexican||

    Amanda Taub's Vox piece denying the existence of political correctness does get one thing right: The phrase political correctness "has no actual fixed or specific meaning."


    It doesn't have to, because like all other fraudulent concepts invented by the little red Marxians - like racism, equality, social justice, the war on women, or "study after study" - Political Correctness can mean anything they need it to mean.

    By the way, don't be surprised by these little red Marxians issuing denials and obfuscations á la Water Duranty. I remember watching a TV report back in the early 90s where the interviewees claimed that P.C. was a conservative thing (!)

  • OldMexican||

    I am not kidding. A little red Marxian from Spain claimed in my face (ok, in Facebook) that Stalin was a capitalist and not a true Communist.

  • John||

    Hell, I have met Marxist who claimed Stalin didn't murder anyone, that the famine was a lie and to the extent it wasn't it was the result of Western Imperialist powers punishing Russia not anything Stalin did. And also, the show trials were fair and real and everything in the Gulag Archipelago was a lie.

    No kidding.

  • ||

    That's a common assertion on the Left, going back to Lenin's announcement, in 1924 I believe, that his plan for Soviet socialism was 'state capitalism', that is, a form of capitalism (private ownership and control of the means of production) where the government (state) took the place of the capitalists. In other words, the managerial hierarchy of the workplace would remain the same (top-down) and the workers would have to affect the workplace through centralized governmental means. Stalin, of course, followed Lenin in this. From an anarchist and some other leftist points of view, Stalin and the rest of the Soviet governmental and managerial apparatus were capitalist.

  • Libertarius||

    It's a "point of view" that conveniently relocates every time the failures and atrocities of collectivism need to be blamed on capitalism. Russia was capitalist? Get the fuck outta here.

  • ||

    I don't know what you mean by 'collective'. All production is either individual or social / corporate / collective, that is, carried on in groups. Some of it works as intended, a lot of it doesn't.

    The Soviet Union, although it failed to bring forth a democratic, cooperative mode of production, should be considered a great success by liberal (capitalism fans) because, after all, it produced capitalism and then dissolved itself. As liberals believe either that capitalism is the highest of all possible forms of human economic orgaization, or the only possible one, period, they should be quite happy with it. It is true there was a lot of warfare and killing on the way to 1989, but the liberal, capitalist British killed millions in places like Ireland and India on their way to perfect capitalism, and of course the US ventures into genocide, slavery, and imperialism are too well known to rehearse. Large piles of bodies seem to go with the territory of industrial progress.

  • PapayaSF||

    Well, I'd say that all of those terms have meaning, and aren't fraudulent (OK, "social justice" and "war on women" are b.s.). It's just that they are often stretched out of recognition to fit a political purpose.

  • ||

    it's become common to claim that what conservatives call political correctness is really "just politeness."

    Total and absolute bullshit. PC is specifically and purposefully intended to be a way of shutting down debate and "unapproved" opinions; at least, that's what it has become. Its origins may be more diverse (though to be honest, in my experience as someone who was growing up as the concept and term developed, that was always its primary function), but the end result has been an evolution of a methodology and "philosophy" for telling people that they are not allowed to chime in on a subject, or that if they do, their opinions are worthless and should be ignored, based almost always on some physical/sexual characteristic and not based on the content of their opinion at all.

    Bluntly, it's social thuggery designed for silencing people who voice any countermanding opinion to the wielders of the PC club. That's it. That is its true and real purpose, and it should be opposed vigorously as such.

  • John||

    That is what it always has been. It was never anything but a tool for shutting down debate.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    You should check your privilege.

  • PapayaSF||

    Yes, the "politeness" claim is a way of trying to shift the Overton Window: "My political p.o.v. is polite, yours is not."

  • JWW||

    Your quote is not quite right. The truly PC would say.

    "My p.o.v. is polite, yours is not your racist, sexist, evil vile lying scum sucking pig".

  • Sylvie1||

    Indeed - the "politeness" assertion would perhaps have an ounce or so of weight if the PC Police didn't shout down dissenters with horrible epithets.

  • VicRattlehead||

    To me, when a word or behavior is deemed to be politically correct, it has coerced the exact opposite response out of me out of instinct.
    besides Cunt, Nigger, Fag, and Tranny are just fun words to say, not because im bigoted but because its fucking fun to call your friend a Dumb faggot cunt sometimes.
    now watch as the support for free speech evaporates

  • livelikearefugee||

    You owe me a trigger warning.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    That's some extra-aromatic chum, Jesse.

    I'd love to read a 450 comment culture war flamefest, but I think I'll go skiing, instead.

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    Where are you? I'm gonna be at Beaver Creek tomorrow and Sunday.

  • AuH20||

    Oh you lucky bastard. I've skiied there a few times and it is awesome.

    God I miss Colorado.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Political correctness is simply about manners. It's a question of what is and what isn't socially acceptable, and the left has been obsessed with that question since the civil rights era, at least.

    Specifically, "political correctness" is an attempt by the left to impose new social norms, particularly as they regard issues of gender and race.

    It should be noted that the left's attempts to impose new social norms on our manners isn't simply inclusive. They also want to marginalize those of us who cling to the old manners and old social norms.

    White, heterosexual, Christian (particularly Protestant), and capitalist social norms are the norms they've been battling, generally, and political correctness is about undermining each or all of those as norms and replacing them with something more inclusive.

  • Ken Shultz||

    This can be a good thing! I'm old enough to remember when mixed race marriages and being openly gay were socially unacceptable. In my opinion, it's a much better world now that being racist or homophobic has become socially unacceptable. But why pretend that this successful transformation into a less bigoted society wasn't a function of political correctness?

    so what if people who cared transformed these social norms on purpose?

    I think the left imagines that if we notice what they're doing, that their mojo won't work on us anymore. Either that, or they're afraid that if we notice that they're imposing their social norms on the rest of society, we'll start to resist their using the government to inflict their social norms on the rest of us.

    The latter is all I care about. There's nothing wrong with being politically correct per se. Just don't use the government to inflict your views on the rest of us--like some fundamentalist Christian would.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    That's not how they use it. It's an argumentative tool for them, a logical fallacy enshrined with the power to silence opposition.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I will say this...

    Maybe the reason they're afraid we'll find out that these changes in social norms came about because people who cared spoke out about them--with the clear intention of changing social norms--is because they're afraid we'll realize that social norms can be changed without any assistance from government.

    MLK, Rosa Parks, James Brown, and Michael Jackson did more for changing social norms than the Civil Rights Act did. If Congress had never passed the Civil Rights Act, wouldn't those social norms have changed anyway?

    Elton John, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford, and Boy George did more to change social norms than anything any Gay Marriage amendment ever did.

    If they let out that social norms can be changed--quite effectively--by people who care about whatever issue, then maybe we'll all realize that the government is almost always part of the problem and almost never part of the solution.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Everybody knows the market never works Ken. Nothing is solved without the guiding hand of government.

  • PM||

    This ought to be right up your alley then:

    http://racistsgettingfired.tumblr.com/

  • Ken Shultz||

    For anybody with Goldwateresque feelings about how the Civil Rights Act is well-intentioned, but maybe it's none of the government's business who private parties don't hire, don't rent to, etc., or why?

    They should understand that river flows both ways.

    If private employers want to discriminate against hiring or renting to open racists, I don't see why the government should get in the way of that either.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It was too long, and when I make a second comment, sometimes, I get three responses after that chiding me for not saying what I said in the second part of my comment--ten comments down.

  • kinnath||

    It was too long

    maybe you should learn to edit

  • Ken Shultz||

    Or you could skip my comments.

  • datcv||

    I agree with this -- it's one of the reasons I find a lot of the Feminist 'Tumblrinas' and Social Justice Warriors so fucking frustrating, is because hidden in all the shouting and screaming and self-promoting, there are some valid arguments to be made about cultural norms and teaching people to be more polite and respectful to others.

    You can think a transexual is sick in the head all you want, but in person, you should just refer to them by the gender they want to be referred to by.

    If that was all the SJWs wanted, then they wouldn't be facing the backlash that they are now. They have built a blind tunnel where every event has to be interpreted through their very black and white social justice lens -- black guy killed by cops? RACIST CULTURE. White guy killed by cops? *silence* It doesn't even occur to them that just MAYBE the root of the problem isn't racism (not to deny that it does exist), but an overly militarized police force. It doesn't fit their dialog so they have no ability to see it.

  • JWW||

    You used Social Justice Warrior and teaching people in the same sentence.

    SJW's don't want to teach people they want to destroy the other, burn them to the ground and totally annihilate them.

    PC being a "polite" thing is a total lie.

  • Greg Gutfelt's Nutpunch||

    no, you shouldn't.

    If I want you to refer to me as m'lord or god you will rightly resist.

    terms of designation are not the sole propriety of a speaker. Sometimes we get unpleasant nicknames. Sometimes white supremecists are unpleasantly named racists, maybe they actually prefer a term like niggerlord, something that intrinsically spreads propaganda.

    Do we owe them to call them what they prefer?

    Naming is a 2-way street. This is the nature of communication and the living nature of language.

    I'm going to be an asshole and demand you label that behavior as moral. Sound good?

    As this relates specifically to transsexuals, they are fucking up established terms. On top of that they are expecting others to made an accommodation to them on their terms. This is the height of arrogance. If you want to up-end some social norms at least have the decency to come to the discussion as an equal. Entitlement to naming conventions, instead of hammering out a compromise shows their quality. Communication is a joint-venture, not a fiefdom. It's not just trans that approach sociality this way, its the entire SJW movement. They feel they're the rightful sole heirs to the social consciousness. They are nothing more than exclusionary respectors of person.

    Demanding others see you as a particular gender is demanding control over others thoughts. It's expressly progressive, and its sick.

    -signed Dear Leader

  • ||

    Ken, this is in fact correct, they are attempting to create and establish new, different social norms. However, those social norms are NOT just about race, sex, and sexuality. And they aren't JUST about socially accepting others.

    In many cases this language is deployed in defense of specific public policy goals, including increased welfare and wealth redistribution. For example, if you oppose tax increases, you must be a privileged white person who benefits unfairly from systematic racism. So you DESERVE to be disproportionately taxed. And if you object ot the idea that you are a privileged white person, well, that just proves you are privileged and subconsciously racist to boot.

    The language of 'privilege' and 'social justice' is explicitly designed to justify treating people unequally based on their race. Because you belong to some historically favored racial/sexual/ethnic group, it is okay to treat you unequally because we're making up for your historical privilege. Get it?

    This isn't just about being polite and inclusive there are real public policy issues that hinge on these debates.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "In many cases this language is deployed in defense of specific public policy goals, including increased welfare and wealth redistribution. For example, if you oppose tax increases, you must be a privileged white person."

    And this is why I threw capitalism into the mix of things they oppose--they don't like the Protestant work ethic either.

    They don't like Protestant, capitalist social norms. They don't like anything about White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

    I'm sure there are some who will dispute the following, but I don't think our ideals about capitalism would have become part of the social norm the way they did without Protestantism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....work_ethic

    Of course, contemporary atheists are subject to social norms just like the rest of us. I'm not saying that you can't have capitalism without a culture dominated by Protestants, but I am saying that this is why capitalism came to us as a social norm the way it did.

    It's just like the golden rule. Gay atheists will argue that they should be treated the same way we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes. There's a social norm that argument appeals to, and it came to us by way of a certain channel. Sure, there were other cultures and religions that taught more or less the same thing, but the way that kind of thinking came to us was by way of Christianity.

    That's how we came to capitalism, as well.

  • ace_m82||

    Resident Fundamentalist Christian here.

    Not all of us want to use government on you. Give me 30 mins with most of them and I will show them why doing so is propping up government as their "god". I usually change their minds.

  • PapayaSF||

    True. And it's interesting to note that the most aggressive and cult-like progressives are almost always the atheists and agnostics. It's as if the religious impulse will come out in politics if it doesn't come out as religious belief.

  • ||

    You sure like projecting your own "religious impulse" on others. How unbelievably tiresome.

  • PapayaSF||

    You're just projecting you tiresomeness on me.

  • PapayaSF||

    *your

  • Mickey Rat||

    It is all he has.

  • PapayaSF||

    I have read him a bit, and think he's onto something.

  • The Bad Captain Madly||

    He's certainly spawned a hell of a following.

    I don't know that I agree with everything the neoreactionaries are on to (not that they necessaily even agree with each other), but at least they offer a genuine political alternative. Something sadly absent since the libertarians became, well, politically correct.

  • John Titor||

    Eh, Nietzsche covered all this a century ago. They're just making another slave ideology by secularizing Judeo-Christian ethics.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Arguably true of libertarianism as well.

  • ||

    So Marxism, Christianity, and the many varieties of liberalism (including libertarianism) are all descended from Jewish thought? That's an interesting idea.

  • ||

    Yes. Exactly this. The Puritans lost their religion decades ago, but they never stopped being Puritans.

  • wareagle||

    Political correctness is simply about manners.

  • wareagle||

    there was actually some other stuff below this that has vanished. Did the squirrels find it unPC?

  • Raston Bot||

    Chait's anti-PC piece was pretty funny for a 19-year old.

  • PapayaSF||

    Yes.

  • SimonJester||

    I enjoyed it.

  • Sylvie1||

    It was. Sad to see what has become of that promising lad.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Political correctness has become associated with the hyphenization explosion. It's no longer correct to say "black" or "African-American." The correct term is "person-of-color."

    The problem is, I have never met a black person that wanted to be called a "person-of-color." So, it seems to be me that this is a term that a Leftist would find comfortable, and not necessarily a black guy.

  • Iamcuriousblue||

    No, you're getting your terminology mixed up. "Person of color" (variations, "women of color", etc) simply means collectively, "not white". And if you think about it, you could see why "non-White" isn't a preferred term.

    "African-American" is still the formal or "official" term for that demographic, though honestly, I've never seen anybody take any offense at the term "black" used informally.

  • ||

    "Person of Color" has been out for a while, partly because of the close resemblance to the really unacceptable "colored people" and partly because of the implication that it shares with the term "colored people" the assumption that there are only two categories of people in the world: white, and not.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't grouping a bunch of non-white people together...kinda racist?

    Do we count Irish and Italians as people of color?

  • ||

    Yes - that's what always made me laugh about "World Music." Invariably purchased by suburban white people the fundamental premise is that if you are not white, you write in block letters and portray everything with stick figures in simple colors.

    And most of your music involves drums because, you know, closer to Nature and all . . .

  • Robert||

    Huh...I never understood world music that way. I thought it was hard to categorize, though. For some reason in my mind it has a lot of wind instruments, both woodwind & brass.

    I thought of it as music that was generically foreign but not identifiable as to any particular place and not overly exotic.

  • kinnath||

  • Rhywun||

    "Person of Color" has been out for a while

    Really? I'm still seeing it everywhere. But yes I always found it extremely patronizing.

  • ||

    I feel like I haven't seen it in a long time, but I'm aging, so I could be out of touch.

  • John Titor||

    Good idea. I propose a new term for attempting to control dialogue by forcing language that has pre-determined political and ideological conclusions:

    Newspeak.

  • Rebel Scum||

    PC is for pussies. And by "pussies" I mean sissy, totalitarian proggies (i repeat myself), not your mom's sweaty vag.

    P.s.
    I recently acquired a lefty girlfriend (is there any other kind??) and I kinda wear my libertarian-ness on my sleeve. She appears ok with this and my direct use of language. Also, she hasn't seemed to be terribly devoted to any notion of PC, at least in associating with me and her/my friends. Is it possible that she is one of few lefties that are actually tolerant?

  • John Titor||

    No, there's plenty of politically left-wing people who don't like the 'language police' route. Someone posted an article on this awhile back. The left's tearing itself apart over this stuff. Chait's article this week shows how some progressives see it as a 'Marxist invasion' of their ideology. Gamergate has some good examples, gamers overwhelming identify as 'liberals' or progressives but the response to 'political correctness' hasn't been very positive.

  • John||

    No John. It is not that they don't like the language police, it is that they think the police are being sicked on the wrong people, usually them. Chait is one of the nastiest people in media. He is perfectly fine with the things that are happening to him happening to someone on the right. He is just angry its happening to him.

    You are right, the left is tearing itself apart but it is not because any of them have seen the light and gotten any less evil or smarter.

  • John Titor||

    There is still a fair percentage of people who are largely apolitical and support leftist positions because they sound nice. There's plenty of people in their twenties in my country who support the NDP not out of some belief in actual Marxism but in simplistic 'everyone should have what they need' attitudes (the 'free shit' mentality). These people do not hold the same views on 'oppression' and 'privilege' that the more ideological leftists do, and when they're actively being attacked over things they do not care their support wanes.

    The left is primarily a coalition, and not all of them are ideologues. Some of them are just simple people hustled by nice words, and when those nice words start to disappear they get antsy.

  • John||

    Yes. Most people are what I call "soft liberal". They don't think much about it and support liberalism because it is the socially acceptable way to show how smart and tolerant you are.

    And yes, at some point these people are going to find out the hard way just how horrible and evil real leftists are. The only question is will they find this out before it is too late to stop them.

  • Rebel Scum||

    there's plenty of politically left-wing people who don't like the 'language police' route.

    I have to agree. I think John's point is relevant to the one's who are more serious about their political positions and are more motivated by power and influence. I say that because:

    there is still a fair percentage of people who are largely apolitical and support leftist positions because they sound nice.

    I concur with this. At heart, many appear to want the best for everyone and are too easily swayed by emotional arguments (if you can all them arguments) espoused by the die-hard, power-mongering progs.

  • CatoTheElder||

    There is still a fair percentage of people who are largely apolitical and support leftist positions because they sound nice.

    I think it's a huge percentage based upon personal experience, various surveys of civic and historical knowledge, and various JayWalking-style interviews.

    Regardless of the percentage, this is an important fact to keep in mind.

  • GILMORE||

    "Gamergate has some good examples, gamers overwhelming identify as 'liberals' or progressives but the response to 'political correctness' hasn't been very positive."

    You're absolutely right.

    If there's anything interesting about the GG fiasco, its that it poured lemon juice on a rift between regular old 'passive liberals' (e.g. think of Moe Tucker before she started actually thinking about stuff) and the more aggressive SJWs who turn everything into an excuse to morally scold their peers.

    The regular old-liberal kids who didn't give a fuck about this fringe political bullshit finally stood up and bitchslapped them, and it was like an earthquake in their generation's political spectrum. Suddenly the hordes of generally 'liberal leaning' millenials were asking themselves, "do i really agree with these annoying cunts"? And coming up with surprising answers.

    I've been passively watching the whole GG thing from the sidelines and i think the most interesting part of it has been how otherwise-liberal people seem to be organically discovering that they have very un-leftist views that were never expressed.

    i can't think of any similar 'event' in my own life time that provoked something similar... other than the 'political correctness' tizzy of the 1990s. Which i suppose ties everything together neatly.

  • PapayaSF||

    It's possible. My girlfriend is pretty lefty, but has had bad experiences with Berkeley PC attitudes over the years, so that helps her tolerate my beliefs. It also helps that she runs her own business and has to deal with often insane bureaucracies and taxes. But when she tells me another horror story and I say: "So you'll be voting Libertarian now?" she just laughs.

  • Rebel Scum||

    that helps her tolerate my beliefs

    I think she tolerates mine because I make a point to treat her right. She also comes from parents who have run their own businesses 'n such. So she may at least understand my pov of the world. Economically, anyway. I have mentioned my beliefs on various things, as she has hers. But we don't really talk politics or debate about it. (I don't consider her politics to be material to our private relationship)

  • ||

    I have a similar experience with my boyfriend. He's sort of a lefty-leaning anarchist type. But he's had enough run-ins with the progressive orthodoxy that he makes fun of hippies and social justice types all the time. So, unlike many progressives, he doesn't have a missionary zeal to convert me, or the (inevitable) shocked moral outrage when I won't be converted. (What usually happens when I interact with leftists)

  • Timon 19||

    Missionary Zeal.

    Band name? Double entendre? You decide!

  • ||

    She's probably not a real lefty at all, just a squishy liberal who has absorbed the zeitgeist of her social milieu.

    A real leftist would never date a libertarian because a real leftist feels that every single fucking personal choice they make, right down to what kind of toilet paper they wipe their ass with, must be analyzed for it's political implications and selected to conform with an agenda of overthrowing capitalist hegemony.

  • Choadintheroad||

    Jesus Christ, you are fucking dumb. A real leftist will date a libertarian if she has big tits. End of. Stupid cunt.

  • Liberty and Order||

    I first encountered the term in 1990 on a Cosmo cover featuring a story about Alec Baldwin. The blurb said "He's gorgeous -- and politically correct." The completely unironic meaning was that Baldwin held all the political opinions the Cosmo editors believed women -and by extension men- should hold. I began using it ironically to describe the Leftist worldview that their opinions were the only legitimate ones. You're welcome.

  • kinnath||

    Political correctness has always been about how "correct-thinking" people should act and speak.

    In the 80s, "politics" was about politics. Now "politics" is about every fucking thing every fucking grievance committee cares about.

  • GILMORE||

    While I think semantic deconstruction is to be appreciated....

    ...i also think the point missing from the (excellent) summary is that the Left has a long history of using words/expressions up until they become politically disadvantaged, then dump them and grab onto newer terminology which serves the same purpose.

    Nothing is more left-wing than asserting that a decades-old and commonly-understood phrase is "meaningless".

    And I would not be surprised if these were the same people who assert that the name of a Washington D.C. Football team is so offensive to right-thinking white people as to be banned from airwaves.

    Because these are the sensible people we need to give license to Define What All Words Mean before we use them.

  • ||

    Well, I mean you literally have people like George Lakoff out there who explictly advocate that the left invent words and "frame" shit to their advantage. That is just one branch in a vast spectrum of leftist throught that advocates using language manipulation to acheive political ends. Also, some of their basic philosophy is all about how language reinforces the status quo. You know, they think language is a big consciracy by the ruling class to brainwash us into false consciousness. So it's not surprising that they want to use the same tools against the establishment, that they think
    the establishment is using against them.

    As a side note, the deep-seated paranoia of the left might have something to do with why marxist regimes always turn into oppressive police states. They were fucking paranoid and manipulative to begin with, so what obviously going to happen when they have power?

  • JWW||

    Someone should tell George that 1984 is not a how to manual.

  • Nwallins||

    Anyone remember Jon Favreau's greatest role ever, as Gutter? Also featuring Jeremy Piven and David Spade: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2Fp61jJcIs

  • GILMORE||

    I'm sorry = that clip should be banned from public view because it showed a protagonist smoking a cigarette. How dare you expose Reason to that kind of liability.

  • Dr. Fronkensteen||

    First time I recall hearing the term politically correct was on the TV show "Thirty Something" one of the characters the red-head I think was looking in the personal ads and was wondering if the guy she was interested in was politically correct.

  • John||

    God that was an awful show, though I always thought Mel Harris was hot.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The accurate title for the show would be Whining Liberal Yuppies.

  • Iron Sun 254||

    Am I to understand it's no longer politically correct to use the phrase politically correct?

  • Rhywun||

    I first heard it in college, around 1991 - a friend of a friend (male, women's studies major) used it to basically cut off what someone else was saying. I knew right there and then it was straight-up fascism.

  • MOFO.||

    "Ever wonder what Jonathan Chait had to say.."

    No.

  • TimothyLane||

    Whether we use "politically correct" or some other term, we need a word for the politically intolerant notion that certain views are not to be permitted (which seems to be a very common idea on campuses, especially the more liberal ones), usually stemming from the notion that official victims groups (such as blacks and homosexuals) are above criticism or even disagreement. Where this can lead was shown by the Rotherham gang rape scandal, in which those who reported what was happening (and especially who was doing it) were punished rather than the gang rapists themselves.

  • ||

    Political correctness is a rhetorical strategy of neo-Marxists aimed at "dismantling structures of power relationships" and replacing those with egalitarian relationships. The theory is that because social realities are constructed of our symbolic representations, any constructed reality we don't like can be reconstructed by new representations. In other words,the world we live in is the way it is because of how we talk about it. If we talked differently about the world, we would have a different world. So, to build a new (putatively better) world, we just need to talk differently about it.

    For example, terms like "policeman" and "policewoman" socially construct two different kinds of people, while also placing those two constructed identities into a relationship of unequal power (a policeman fights crime, a policewoman files reports and answers the phone). To make them equal, we first need to represent them as equals, hence "police officer" became the PC way of talking about police. It's a gender-neutral social construction that places all officers on an equal plane of existence. Presto! New reality. It has obviously worked because equality between the sexes is everywhere in police departments now that we've removed the non PC terms from our national discourse and replaced it with the PC term (that last line was a joke).

  • ||

    This is exactly right. Basically, it's exactly the kind of thing that Orwell wrote about in '1984'. An attempt to control how people think and interact with eachother by controlling the language they use.
    It's not a coincidence that Orwell was writing about these people's intellectual ancestors.
    There is a continuous intellectual tradition that runs directly from the Marxists of Orwell's day and the PC campus thought police of today.

  • ||

    Also, thank you for staing it in such a concise manner. I've struggled to articulate this exact point, but the way you have laid it out makes it crystal clear. bravo.

  • ||

    Born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s here.

    Political correctness,as far as I saw, was always a pejorative among normal folk - or at least people with a sensible mind of any political bent.

    Whether it was originally meant or constructed to be 'polite' (or whatever excuse at the time they used to mask their hostility to anything they disagreed with) is mostly irrelevant now given it's almost impossible to even trace back. That it's been traced back to the left/progressive camp (with all their gargoyles, Harpies and flames of hell and shit) is enough for me to conclude it was always meant to be a malicious attack against free speech.

  • ||

    And a weapon used in social engineering projects devised by the left.

  • buybuydandavis||

    So maybe Taub's right; maybe we should drop the phrase from our lexicon.

    No, no, a thousand times no.

    Do not grant Progressive Big Brother the right to control your use of language.

    Here's how all this works.

    Leftists come up with a name for themselves. Eventually the term gets off the reservation and people who don't like what the Left stands for starts using it to *identify* the Left, where part of that identification includes the connotation of their *disapproval* of the Left.

    Once the Left sees this, they get all huffy about being called a term that they had invented themselves, move on to a new term themselves, and try to stamp out the old term to stamp out the hard won cultural knowledge that the Left sucks, as encoded in the older term in the minds of most people.

    Like Big Brother, they're trying to make it harder to say what they don't want said by disappearing the words that encode that knowledge. Don't volunteer to help them.

  • msimmons||

    Progressives
    Liberals
    Tomatoe
    Tomahtoe

  • PapayaSF||

    Very true. It's a process of masking and re-branding, starting before World War I.

    1) Call yourselves "progressives" in part because "socialist" is a dirty word.

    2) Once Woodrow Wilson has discredited the word, steal the word "liberal" from the small-government people. (Circa FDR, but in the US only).

    3) Once "liberal" becomes a dirty word due to failure of the Great Society in the '60s and '70s, rebrand as "progressives" again.

  • AlgerHiss||

    "Politically correct" means you are in for a massive dose of leftist politics.

  • cfskyrim||

    After reading this and the linked articles, I am going to start thanking God, Buddha, Allah, Thor, Odin, and whoever else everyday for letting me be born to a lower class family in rural E. KY. It seems that only middle-class white people from the suburbs have the time and inclination to bitch about this stupid shit.

    I am also thankful for living in the South (this seems to be a more North/West Coast thing, though I could be mistaken) now as I am attending a local state university and have never heard of the terminology put on display here. No activists are on campus, no protests, none of that crap, just a bunch of young kids walking to and fro. Of course it could be that I completed a lot of basics at CC (way cheaper) and I'm a CS major so I just hang out with nerds all day, talking about bits, code, and data structures.

  • will.i.am37||

    My experience: it permeates in cosmopolitan centers like DC because you have mostly wealthy, privileged progressive people talking to each other and trying to find ways to alleviate their guilt of being wealthy and privileged

  • livelikearefugee||

    It could be a kind of micro aggression thing.

  • GILMORE||

    " I am going to start thanking God, Buddha, Allah, Thor, Odin, and whoever else everyday for letting me be born to a lower class family in rural E. KY"

    Needs more clapping

  • will.i.am37||

    Sad to see that Chait has regressed as a writer. His 1991 article was really quite excellent. He should have just reprinted it.

  • GILMORE||

    I had the same reaction.

    Not only has he regressed in terms of style, he seems to understand the nature of the PC-crowd less than he did back then.

  • PapayaSF||

    He gets invited to better parties these days. Don't want to upset that.

  • Wlinden||

    Did ANYONE besides me ever read the "Political Correctness" issue of LIVING MARXISM?

    Piece after piece gave devastating dissections of the politcorrectnik mindset, while simultaneously insisting the either a) PC doesn't exist, and any claims that it does are Establishment proganda or b) PC exists, and is an Establishment plot.

    Meanwhile, on the front page, their announcement of an upcoming conference gave a first-rate demonstration of PC by using "waged" and "unwaged" instead of "employed" and "unemployed". Or would they have charged the Duke of Bedford the discount rate because he does not draw wages?

  • patskelley||

    Loved it - am sitting in my form-fitting recliner watching TV commercials - insurance, drug, agony and lawsuit blather on about effects that "might happen" and fatal events "have happened" 'suicidal thoughts 'may occur' all set to a soft-spoken, soothing female voice-over, beautiful music and idyllic backdrops with images of happiness abounding... It gets gaggier every voting season as politicians try to appear as though they were normal human beings. Political Correctness is nothing but double talk designed to purposely obscure. Beats me. We never expect our supreme hamburger, fries and coke to look like the photo yet we hook line and sinker into political divisiveness without giving a second thought that there might be fluffers operating in the background.

  • JPyrate||

    JUDGE !!! JUDGE !!! JUST LISTEN TO MY BIT !!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umI4XCOGrmo

  • ||

    It's interesting that you all are so excited about 'Politically Correct'. Some of you seem reasonably intelligent, and yet (as a person who practices political theorizing as an amusement) I have found the term to be tremendously useful in that anyone who uses it soon reveals him- or herself to be, well, not very bright. Not up to my snuff, anyway. I don't mean just uses it seriously; I mean uses it ironically, or double-ironically, or upside-down, or to complain about it, whatever. And it's not only stupid, but it's inconsequential. Even my message is sort of stupid, but I'm giving myself a stupid break before getting back to work, and you are the beneficiaries.

    If you don't believe me, if you don't think it's all stupid, read this: http://imgur.com/a/nUX1A

  • JPyrate||

    What are you ? Some sort of Hipster ?

  • ||

    What difference does that make? Does it affect the obvious truth of what I wrote? No. Assign me to whatever pigeon-hole you like.

  • PaulW||

    Yes it does. That you don't understand what he meant makes it all the more hilarious.

    What is stupid is that you find language inconsequential. What is also stupid is that you are incapable of differentiating between people who dislike pc because it stops them from being racist, sexist or whatever in public and those who dont like it because it obscures the truth.

  • Knarf Yenrab!||

    I don't think "inconsequential" is a good description for the importance of language in a species whose use of symbolic thought and communication is its fundamental means of sustaining itself.

  • ||

    I think PC, at least the kind practiced on the Left, is fairly inconsequential. The Left, in the US anyway, doesn't really do much of anything these days (except harass one another on Twitter). It is stupid to be greatly wrought up about inconsequential things.

    The PC practiced on the Right may be a more serious matter, but I took it that we were all pretending it didn't exist.

  • Mongo||

    If you are still interested, Jesse, I first saw the term in a mid-80s Heavy Metal magazine column.

  • Mike G||

    I definitely encountered the attitude in college in the early 80s. I was on the activities committee, and for some reason we had booked Phyllis Schlafly, which I'm sure would never happen now. For me, with a mom who had published a feminist newspaper (in Kansas!), Schlafly was old news, and we half-admired her, as one might Ann Coulter, as a very savvy entertainer, because we took it for granted that the only way your arguments got stronger was in combat; I was fine with the idea that my fellow students would have a good educational time having to joust with Schlafly's ideas (and the lady in person).

    But no, many people felt it was wrong to use activities money to hear from her at all. Even bringing in somebody from "the other side" (only one?) to talk (to a much smaller audience in the end) wasn't enough. No one had thought that about Allen Ginsberg, or Julian Bond, or other leftish speakers. But it wasn't enough even to balance Schlafly, the collective money of the students was presumed to be collectively collectivist, so to speak, and thus it was wrong to spend it on The Wrong Ideas, ever.

    So the attitude, well, it's existed since the beginning of time. But it was rather a shock to me to realize at that early date that the Lenny Bruce 60s of raucous free speech were coming to an end and the PC era was fast on the rise.

  • G Blandston||

    My first exposure to the term in the late 80s was purely linguistic. Politically Correct was directly tied into the self-esteem movement. It meant a decree of sorts to forcibly replace commonplace words because they were mildly offensive. The joke was "Petroleum Transferal Engineer" was the joke for the new acceptable term for gas pumper. As if pumping gas was an honorable job and society needed to elevate the consciousness of menial laborers. In a real sense, I remember "African American" being swapped out for "black", "Physically disadvantaged" for handicapped, "Mentally challenged" for stupid. And so on. It was about forcing academic and bureaucratic-speak on common sense America. In many ways, many of these new terms are more offensive simply because they are so obviously euphemistic. Euphemisms always have negative connotations because they are used to either dance around obvious truth or to fool "mentally challenged" people.

  • ElDuderino||

    Most people who act PC are honkeys. I'm white, so I can use that word.

  • msimmons||

    Political correctness is critical theory for dummies.

    http://youtu.be/1IAkPvgLlNI

    Brought to you by:

    http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell12.htm

  • Cloudbuster||

    Chait's satirical sample letter is virtually indistinguishable from stuff I read in comments sections every day.

  • ||

    I first heard of PC back in the mid 1990s, through Robert Hughes' criticism of it in his book Culture of Complaint. It was assigned reading for an "Aesthetics of the 1980s" at Columbia College in Chicago. Good stuff.

  • lastnamefirst||

    I clearly remember that the first time I heard the term was October 1983 at Yale, used with false, joking gravitas by a friend who'd himself recently heard it. He seemed as delighted to use it and expose me to it (describing the presumed reaction of some relatively militantly lefty group to something we were discussing) as I was to hear it, as it *is* a pretty clever phrase, and he used it jokingly. In later months it became more known and even fashionable to throw around, this time more seriously by those more hostile to to the Left than my friend and I were.

  • Knarf Yenrab!||

    When identity-conscious movements began to emerge from the '60s and '70s left—black pride, brown pride, women's liberation—the animating idea was to refuse to be a victim. Over the years, they sometimes came to connote the opposite: the power of being a victim, or at least of being seen as one. The difference between the two approaches is the difference between James Brown singing "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" and Tawana Brawley deciding there might be an advantage to covering herself in dogshit and racial slurs.

    That might be my favorite JW paragraph ever.

    I think this Walker guy should get together with Doherty and start writing books. They could even let us know when they publish by announcing it in their columns.

  • alinenache||

  • Tony||

    if someone uneducated in the jargon of the week unwittingly uses the wrong language, he may receive the same reaction he'd get at a society dinner for using the wrong fork. But I don't think that's what they mean

    Which, if people are being polite, is no reaction at all. And the same should be for poorly chosen language. But people may write opinion pieces about the proper use of forks. What conservatives deride PC, they're advocating a right for them to be offensive bigots and not get called on it. Maybe it's true that conservatives have more work to do to evolve into decent human beings. But that's not anyone else's fault.

  • ||

    So conservatives co-opted a word or a phrase and so now we should shut it down?

    WTF?!?!

    Let them keep it.

    The left has stolen and fucked up so many words and phrases why not let the right have one?

    If you really want to worry about something that has lost almost all meaning work on the word "liberal".

    The very concept of it of its original meaning has been so distorted that it nearly means the exact opposite of what it use to.

  • stonefree2rant||

    A little O/T: Guess I'm a conservative libertarian, or libertarian conservative, or something. I see lots of conservatives saying libertarians are just liberals who want to smoke weed with their married gay friends. However, the fact that - as far as I can see-Tony has not a single friend( well maybe palinsbutplugg among Reason commenters is a clear sign that they are sincere anti-statist freedom lovers.

  • stonefree2rant||

    Tony says conservatives have yet to evolve into decent human beings. The implication is that only a decent human being such as Tony is fit to make such a judgement. And if you don't agree with him, not only are you not decent, but the not very well concealed deeper judgement is that you aren't human at all.

    Tony, in my view, is entirely human, and he and his ilk thus will always be with us.

    Leftists and their self congratulatory moral trumpeting are Calvinists manifesting their elected status, as I think someone with a way better background in theology than mine, said way up thread.

    Today's Moral Majority.

  • W_T_F||

    Keep trying to pile it all on "leftists", and "liberals". And keep sticking your noses into the bedrooms and vaginas of America, and the personal relationships-and keep hating people becuase of their race,or religion, or color. Have at it. Sadly, as you say, YOUR type will always be among us.

    But remember this, every slight you offer someone else, will come back to you tenfold. And every way that you people try to erase the constitution, and it's amendments, is a double-edged sword, that will end up cutting you, too.

  • WalkingHorse||

    It is moderately surprising that the Marxist roots of the politically correct claptrap is not mentioned in this piece. The inspiration for the strategy of denigrating opinions contrary to a fabricated conformity goes all the way back to Antonio Gramsci and his Long March Through The Institutions. The most direct expression of this was Herbert Marcuse's charming little essay Repressive Tolerance, published in 1965:

    http://www.marcuse.org/herbert.....erance.htm

  • ||

    'The inspiration for the strategy of denigrating opinions contrary to a fabricated conformity' goes back a long way before Mr. Gramsci and Mr. Marcuse. And Uncle Karl as well. I am trying to think of some would-be dominant ideological group that didn't make this a common practice. 'O tempora, o mores!' as Cicero would say.

  • W_T_F||

    In reading every detractors definition of political correctness, one thing becomes extremely clear. Ignorance.
    Ignorance, abrasiveness, lack of education, or manners.

    In fact, asking someone to be politically correct is just a polite way of asking them to not be so f'n rude, ugly, bigoted, racist, or misogynistic. Or misandrist, for that matter. So, instead of being offended by people asking you to have manners, try something new and different-GET SOME.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online