Political correctness isn't just about changing the nursery rhyme 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to 'Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep'; or changing the word 'history' to 'herstory'. It's also about “affirmative action”, revising curricula (i.e. “canon busting”), police actions and sometimes imprisonments, “no whites allowed” university meetings, censorship, numerous bannings, the “no platform” policy, professors loosing their tenure, and so on. (Now add two new kids on the block, 'safe spaces' and 'cultural appropriation'.) In other words, PC has gone way beyond simply changing the words we use.
George Bush neatly expressed both the pros and cons of political correctness when, in a 1991 speech, he said that "[t]he notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land”. Bush went on to say that “although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones”. He finished off by saying that PC “declares certain topics off-limits, certain expressions off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits”.
So Bush (above) said that the PC “movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred”. And, of course, it's laudable to want to get rid of racism, sexism, etc. Yet it all depends on how these isms are taken. It also depends, in a sense, on where they're taken. The problem with PC is that it's often too extreme, pious and pure. In other words, the things which the vast majority of people don't see as racist/sexist/etc. are seen that way by the High Priests of Political Correctness. Accusations of, say, racism or fascism are simply used as very effective political power-tools to destroy one's detractors.
Thus political correctness is a serious problem. It sustains an overwhelming and omnipresent hegemony of Leftist political/social power and it has done so for at least three decades. So much so that Paul Weyrich (the President of the Free Congress Foundation) claimed that “today, if you say the 'wrong thing', you suddenly have legal problems, political problems, you might even lose your job or be expelled from college”. What's more:
“Certain topics are forbidden. You can't approach the truth about a lot of different subjects. If you do, you are immediately branded as 'racist', 'sexist', 'homophobic', 'intensive', or 'judgemental'.”
I say 'hegemony' because political correctness, according to Anthony Browne, occurs “[i]n workplaces across the country, from companies to army bases, from hospitals to TV stations”. More particularly, “people are being subjected to 'diversity training' to re-educate them and make them more politically correct”.
Peter Coleman (a former government minister in Australia) got to the heart of the political nature of political correctness when he wrote the following:
“Its first and pre-eminent characteristic is that it calls for the politicisation – one might say the transformation – of life. It wants political direction of all departments from, say, children's fiction to judicial judgements. No profession is exempt. All must meet a political test – of correct thinking and progress. Lawyers, accountants, doctors, scientists, novelists, journalists and businessmen must all pass it.”
And the most powerful way of changing the way we think is to legislate/act on the words we use.
Controlling Words to Control Thoughts
The putative political and social consequences of politically-incorrect words (therefore politically-incorrect thoughts) are made clear by academics Jessica Pinta and Joy Yakubu. They tell us that "linguistic constructs influence our way of thinking negatively, peaceful coexistence is threatened and social stability is jeopardized”. These examples are all "the effect of politically incorrect use of language". What's more, politically-incorrect words are said to result in a "climate of repression".
So what's to be done about all this?
Firstly Jessica Pinta and Joy Yakubu believe that “the imposition of a moral agenda on a community is justified". PC also "requires less emphasis on individual rights and more on assuring 'historically oppressed' persons the means of achieving equal rights”.
Thus PC-ers don't just want to be in control of the words we use, they also want to control our thoughts. After all, if the words change, though the thoughts 'underneath' them remain the same, then the PC policy of word-control looses its purpose.
Don't take my word for any of this, take the words of Professor Edna Andrews
In the article 'Cultural Sensitivity and Political Correctness: The Linguistic Problem of Naming' (1996), Professor Edna Andrews says that "language represents thought, and may even control thought". Philosophically this is largely correct on two fronts. One, language is a determinant of thought and even of consciousness itself. Two, political correctness would serve little purpose if, after changing ours words, people still sub-vocalised (or carried out internal dialogues) with words which remained sinfully politically incorrect.
This way of thinking was originally based on, amongst other things, the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis, which argued that language - or even grammar itself - determines the way we see the world. Thus the language-to-thought (rather than thought-to-language) idea was given a political spin; if not by Sapir and Whorf themselves, then by those who accepted their hypothesis.
Edna Andrews is explicit about the language-to-thought idea being a political tool when she states that it's a "reasonable deduction ... [to accept] cultural change via linguistic change". Thus changing our words is but a means to changing both what we think and, subsequently, what we do.
Defenders of PC
The well-known British journalist Polly Toynbee said that “"the phrase [politically correct] is an empty, right-wing smear, designed only to elevate its user". It can hardly be said to be “empty”. It may well be, at times, a “disguise for racism” or intrinsically right-wing/conservative views; though having a (big) problem with political correctness is hardly an “empty” stance.
What Toynbee is doing here is tapping into view (held by political-correctors) that those who commit politically-incorrect sins are not only wrong, they are also evil/bad. The Wall Street Journal expressed (31st December, 1993) this perfectly in the following statement:
“Political correctness, for all its awfulness, is an effort to save souls through language.”
Toynbee refuses to make any distinctions between puritanical and extreme political correctness and the type of political correctness that people often make jokes about.
When Toynbee goes on to say that people who criticise the words “political correctness” are people “who still want to say Paki, spastic, or queer”. As a typical left-winger, Toynbee has a strong dislike of the majority of people who have a problem with political correctness. (Or at least with extreme and puritanical political correctness.) The thing is, even in the 1970s many people had a problem with some politically-incorrect words – long before political correctness had gained total control. Again, it's extreme and puritanical political correctness that's the problem; along with the political-correctors never-ending desire to fundamentally change all aspects of society (from head to toe).
What else would explain the following vicious tirade from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (a British Muslim journalist and anti-white racist). These words are aimed at a critic of political correctness:
“Here, in his own words, are the fearful fantasies of an anti-PC chap gone quite mad, but who is nevertheless taken as a brave prophet by other paranoids.”
She then states his positions on various subjects and, well, that's it! It's as if the very stating of negative facts or truths about political correctness is enough to render the speaker morally evil – at least according to Alibhai-Brown's Islington Set.
The economist and Labourite Will Hutton was a little more subtle (i.e., than Alibhai-Brown) when he wrote the following:
“Political correctness is one of the brilliant tools that the American Right developed in the mid–1980s, as part of its demolition of American liberalism.... What the sharpest thinkers on the American Right saw quickly was that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism – by levelling the charge of 'political correctness' against its exponents – they could discredit the whole political project.”
Will Hutton is factually incorrect on one thing. It wasn't the “American Right” that coined and “developed” the words/concept political correctness: it was originally an ironic self-description used by “American liberals” in order to stop them getting too pious or extreme about what is and what isn't, well, politically correct.
Finally, yes, it would indeed be a good thing to “discredit the whole political project” of political correctness; if not also to, as Will Hutton puts it, discredit “American liberalism” itself.