Political correctness is not just an ideology; it is an attitude. And although the ideology may be dying out, it can live on in the attitudes many of us have absorbed from our culture -- a culture that has been ravaged and dominated by political correctness for decades. We need to exorcise its spirit.
As an ideology, political correctness says that some ideas, attitudes and peaceful behavior are unacceptable and should be legally discouraged. Acceptable ones should be encouraged by law. Thus discrimination against "minorities," such as women (who are actually a majority), is prohibited in both the public and private sector. Discrimination in favor of minorities is mandated through the de facto quotas imposed by policies like affirmative action.
But political correctness is also an attitude. The politically correct arrogantly expropriate "the truth" and deny the possibility of honest disagreement. To them it is a given: anyone who dissents does so because of ill motives -- e.g. economic greed, patriarchal power-lust, racism. To the PC, society is a battleground on which classes of people representing good and evil conflict: black versus white, female versus male, Western culture versus the "emerging nations." The coin of the realm is collective victimhood, not individual responsibility.
I demand a civil society that respects the individual and acknowledges the existence of honest disagreement between human beings of good will. But getting there means rooting out not only the ideology of political correctness but also the attitudes many of us have adopted almost by osmosis from our culture.
The attitudes include:
Gender bashing. "Men versus women" permeates every corner of society. (Indeed, so many PC laws now favor women at the expense of men that there has come to be truth to the analysis.) A gender conflict mentality has set in. Women say hateful things about men under the guise of humor, things they would never say about other classes of people, like Jews or Hispanics. For their part, men trash all women because one woman treated them badly. The merits of individual women and men are entirely ignored. But individual women and men constitute our families, friends and neighbors.
The antidote to gender bashing is to get personal. Whenever you hear a remark that slanders all men or women, replace the noun with the name of someone you love. Do they deserve to be the brunt of hate speech? Don't let your husband or child be slandered.
Psychologizing disagreements. This involves ignoring the content of what is said and analyzing, instead, the psychology of the speaker. For example, a man opposes affirmative action and is immediately labeled a "racist" or "misogynist." A woman questions the wisdom of working while her children are young and is accused of trying to shove women back to '50s. The PC camp has made this approach into a staple of social discourse.
The remedy: When you hear an argument, refuse to psychologize the speaker. Show respect for ideas and ask yourself whether there is anything -- any statement, however minor -- with which you agree. Or construct a counter argument. Don't turn the intellectual realm into a research project in aberrant psychotherapy.
Making the personal political. "The personal is political": This slogan has come to mean that politics is determined by our personal lives -- which, in turn, determines the lives of others. Thus, the PC argue for laws to ensure that individuals make the "correct" personal choices so that the "correct" political consequences can sculpt society. Your choice to be a heterosexual, a stay-at-home mom or to dissent on affirmative action becomes my business. This leads to the PC attitude that everything a neighbor (or a stranger) does is your business ... and the appropriate target of legal control.
The solution: Mind your own business. Respect the private lives and choices of others.
Celebrating victimhood. An automatic hush of respect falls over a discussion whenever someone declares herself to be a victim. I know. I was severely beaten by a boyfriend and my victimization -- if announced -- makes me an incontrovertible expert on domestic violence. Only it doesn't. Being on the wrong end of a hurled fist doesn't make me an expert on anything except how much it hurts. I know no more about domestic violence -- and arguably less -- than the woman who chose to walk out at the first signs of physical abuse. Society's canonization of suffering is unhealthy and bizarre.
The cure: Show compassion for victims but not deference.
Zero tolerance. On some social issues, a declaration of "war" may make sense. But, with most social problems, human beings with human frailties are involved. Declaring war only makes every member of society into a combatant, with no prisoners taken. How about reconsidering concepts like negotiation, forgiveness, compassion, and empathy? How about making the law a last resort rather than a first option?
Sweeping up the debris of political correctness means demolishing the laws, the institutions and the tax-funded bureaucracies that are its structure. But it also means eliminating the vicious attitudes of intolerance and anger that are its spirit.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.