The Supreme Court recently ruled that universities could favor minority students for admission as long as no race was automatically favored.
The ambiguous decision might seem to encourage open discussion but political correctness sometimes seems determined that debate will not occur. PCspeak, like Newspeak in George Orwell's (search) classic novel 1984, forms an effective barrier.
In Orwell's dystopian world, Oceania, Newspeak (search) serves the ideological goals of Ingsoc -- English Socialism. It gradually replaces Oldspeak in defining politics and culture. Without the words necessary, complex thoughts simply cannot be expressed.
The evolution of PCspeak parallels that of Newspeak. Consider the evolution of public debate on affirmative action or, more broadly, "diversity."
First, there is the introduction of doublethink. Doublethink occurs when someone simultaneously accepts two contradictory beliefs as true. A common argument for affirmative action: It is wrong to judge people on the basis of skin color or gender; therefore, universities and employers should give preference to people based on skin color and gender.
Second, euphemistic "doublespeak" makes doublethink positions acceptable. The term "affirmative action" (search) strongly implies a positive and correct action.
Third, language is controlled to define the ensuing debate. This is accomplished by various means, including:
1. Embedding new terms. Some of the words embedded into the diversity issue are "ethnocentric," "heteronormativity" "gender-specific," and "patriarchal oppression." Their implications are not always obvious and sometimes run counter to intuition. In 1984 (search), dissidents are sent to labor camps called JoyCamps. In modern universities, students are often required to attend so-called "sensitivity training," which is a re-education process that includes public ridicule and humiliation for whites and males because of their race and sex.
2. Reducing the number of words. In 1984, six words -- arguably one word modified five times -- describe the entire span of right to wrong, good to evil. They are good, plusgood, doubleplusgood, ungood, plusungood, and doubleplusungood. Affirmative action uses two basic categories to describe who is oppressed and deserving of legal privileges versus who is oppressive and deserving of legal barriers: minorities and non-minorities.
Again, "minority" is a misleading word. Women are minorities despite being a statistical majority. Hispanics are a minority while those of Celtic (search) descent, like me, are in the "majority." These two categories obliterate such subtleties and describe the entire span of oppressed to oppressor.
3. Eliminating "wrong" words and, thus, wrong ideas. In 1984, all literature was being rewritten in Newspeak so that authors such as Shakespeare either disappeared or were re-interpreted to serve Ingsoc's purposes. Today, a school textbook review process is being conducted on a national level to eliminate non-PC words and ideas. Accuracy is a secondary consideration. Allegedly improper gender terms like "Founding Fathers" (search) are changed to proper ones like "Framers." American Indians no longer are described as wearing braids, although many tribes did. Inconvenient people become "unpersons" in Orwell's world; inconvenient history becomes "unideas" in ours.
4. Changing the remaining words. Some words are simplified out of existence. In 1984, the word "free" is used only in its simplest form -- e.g. my sweater is free of lint. Complex usage, such as "political freedom," (search) does not exist. Thus, the concept of "political freedom" does not exist. Other words are gutted and inverted. Consider the current usage of "diversity" in PCspeak. PC diversity tolerates no dissent on issues such as race but mandates its conclusions through laws like affirmative action. It imposes de facto quotas for one sex, not the other. It demonizes and academically silences "wrong" culture such as those expressing Western values (search).
Ask yourself a question similar to that Orwell posed to his readers. Using Newspeak -- or pure PCspeak -- would it be possible to write the following passage?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government ..."
Then imagine Patrick Henry (search) proclaiming, "Give Me Doubleplusgoodness or Give Me Death!"
If some voices were still able to argue effectively against PC diversity, then the final stage of controlling language could be implemented: punishing those who dissent. Dissenters could be called hate-filled and a danger to society. Their objections could become hate crimes punishable by law.
A recent tax-funded study in Canada suggested legally prosecuting men's advocacy sites, including U.S. ones, under Canadian hate speech law even though such sites are usually more innocuous than many feminist ones. In 1984, dissent is called "crimethink." We call it hate speech.
The villain of 1984 proclaims, "The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought." He concludes, "The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect."
It is time to reclaim the richness of the English language ... verb by verb, adjective by adjective. PC advocates must recognize that syllables are not vessels of evil, words should not be the focus of law and disagreement is no crime.
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.