(image by krytyka.org)
Is there a modern cultural phenomenon more widely reviled than political correctness? In the forty years it's been with us, I can't recall a single person claiming to like it.
So why hasn't it gone away? Why, unlike big hair, fat ties, and Qiana shirts, does political correctness never go out of style?
Because political correctness plays a vital role in our increasingly-diverse society, a role vacated by our long-gone cultural core: It protects and defends the honor of groups in that society.
That's right, political correctness is not about preventing offense, it's about defending honor.
Let's be honest with ourselves. When some ignorant jackass makes a politically incorrect comment about Blacks, or gays, or Jews or Muslims, are we really offended? I think most of us, the vast majority of us, consider the source and are amused. Inside we're amused. Outside we're outraged, because if we're not, if we don't make an ostentatious display of our wounded morality, then we're letting down the team.
I doubt if a single homosexual had his day ruined by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson's biblical bile spewed on the pages of GQ. If anyone was offended it was likely his own family, having their good name besmirched like that. What must poor Mother Duck Dynasty think?
But no group can take an insult like Phil's and let the perpetrator get away with it Scot free (apologies to William Wallace.) No one was offended, but the honor of the group was.
And, when you've been through what the gays have, historically, or African-Americans or Jews, you need to be sensitive to insults. You have good reason to be zealous about your honor. You can't let an a-hole take a dump on your people and not respond, no matter how insignificant the dumpster.
We call that process political correctness and everybody hates it. But it's all pretend. We don't hate political correctness, we demand it.
Conservatives complain, with dreary frequency, that they are the chosen targets of political correctness. But when Alex Baldwin and Melissa Harris Perry, two dyed-in-the-wool liberals, said some stupid things on MSNBC and got themselves in trouble with the political correctness police, what did those anti PC conservatives do? They blew out their elbows hurling PC darts at those liberals.
The point is, when your group is dissed in public and you have the opportunity to assuage its honor by pillorying the offender with a torrent of political correctness, you take it. Liberal or conservative, black or white, gay or straight, we never miss our chance.
Political correctness, tedious as it may be, is a small price to pay for keeping the peace between large groups of outraged people. We hate it but we need it, and if our consistent resort to it over the last half century is any evidence, we want to keep it.
Can political correctness be exploited and abused, making victims of innocent civilians? Of course it can. You show me any authority in the history of mankind, from cops to kings, and I'll show you abuses of power and innocent victims.
But we don't abolish the cops because of police brutality and we don't outlaw religion because of the Inquisition. Nobody wants to live in a society without enforced standards of civility, for a very good reason.
Disrespect is a killer. It's bad enough on the street, where half the murders are incited by some knucklehead disrespecting some other knucklehead. Now take that concept and multiply it by several million and you begin to get an idea of how dangerous an unanswered group insult can be.
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