Metroblog

A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

19 November 2008

"In the Great Right of an Oppressive Wrong"

With apologies to Robert Browning.

Queen's University is empowering six students to go forth and interrupt conversations with lectures on political correctness.

I'm pretty okay with what is called political correctness. I believe calling something "gay" as a pejorative is both inaccurate and inappropriate. But if some campus stooge came up to me, even in a "non-confrontational manner" to address the misuse of the word in a conversation I was having, I'd laugh at him or her.

I have several problems with this.

Firstly, I have no idea what they're going to use for censure. Will students get a ticket? A note on their permanent record? A spanking? What if they respond with laughter and verbal abuse?

What if the verbal abuse is politically incorrect? Hell, what if it's accurate?

Secondly, according to the list at that article, one of the things for which a student may be censured (not censored--censured) is "If a student avoids a classmate's birthday party for faith-based reasons."

Look, I'm sure you all know generally where I stand on religion: With one foot on its forehead and one on its belly, swinging away with a shovel. But that's just me. I don't object if someone skips my frigging birthday party to attend services. What are the Kampus Kops going to do when that happens? Drag the offender from the baptismal service to my kegger?

And it makes me wonder. What if a religious fellow described me or my friends as "hellbound?" What if I described him and his congregation as "deluded fools?" Harsh criticisms both, but utterly and descriptively accurate from our respective points of view.

What if I use the phrase "That's so gay" to describe the sequined-thong-based Mardi Gras costume with padded codpiece to be worn by a male friend? What if I know the friend to be homo?


Political correctness is too often maligned. It's important because we think in language, and when we change the language, we may change how people think about the person behind the word. And society should show its approval for non-judgemental language.

But this sort of thing is what gets good ideas and efforts a bad name. You're never going to police teen argot out of their mouths, or out of their heads. They have to come to it gradually, as does a society.

My grandmother referred to East Asians all her life as "Pakis." It was a generic term. In one memorable instance at the provicial museum, as we passed a turbanned commissionaire, she whispered as only an 85-year-old who's stone deaf can declare: "Oo--'ave ye them 'ere?--Pakis?"

The gentleman to whom she referred smiled indulgently. He correctly identified her as one of a generation who didn't know any better, and thus could not be offended.

My parents have learned better.

No-one uses the word "negro" anymore, much less the double-g equivalent. Why? The word seems inoffensive to me, generally (the shorter one, at any rate)--it was the word I grew up using.

It's because society has moved on. As race relations have improved (and they have) over the past fifty years, we've learned that to use those words puts us in a class with baccy-chawin' inbred crackers who can't count to eighteen unless they've got one shoe off. No-one said "Hey--stop using that word," except in fairly rare circumstances (such as changes to government correspondence). And you'll still find it in use in some of the places frequented by baccy-chawin' inbred crackers who can't count to eighteen unless they've got one shoe off.

But mostly, people who used to be described by that word stood were emboldened and encouraged, and said "Well actually, we'd prefer to be called ..."

(Note: I think that politically incorrect language is sometimes also a handy spur to social change. For example, try being a raging, gay-slurring homo-hater when a six-foot-four stevedore in a cocktail dress is singing Judy Garland. You won't use that language again--not until your jaw gets un-wired anyway.)

But mainly, in the end, what's called political correctness isn't about you.

"And if students become uncomfortable when a facilitator calls out someone on an offensive slur, it shouldn't be seen as a bad thing, Mr. Laker said. It means they're forced to think about their choices."
True. And fine. But it should be because the other person you're conversing with says "Hey--that was a dumb thing to say." Not because some prodnose proctor of morals stops you and tells you not to.

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5 Comments:

At 5:24 p.m., Blogger Joshua said...

I'm not sure what they mean precisely by the birthday party thing. I suspect that something got garbled to the report to the Globe and Mail. Frankly, this sounds almost like an attempt to make the world think that all the claims about universities being evil, left-wing, anti-religious what-nots are correct. I'm really at a loss to imagine what the birthday thing was intended to be or how they think that's somehow seriously offensive. Really, these people need to be hit over the head with a massive amount of common sense.

 
At 1:24 p.m., Blogger Metro said...

I really hope it did. Most of the reports seem to be single-sourced.

And yeah, alongside the sudden profusion of health-system related tales it makes me wonder whether there's not perhaps a certain amount of media bias or exploitation in this cycle, favouring the Conservatives.

In any case though, setting conversation watchdogs around campuses? If they're going to watch for respectful language, I'd slightly rather they cut back on the swearing, honestly.

 
At 12:50 a.m., Anonymous G Eagle Esq said...

Yes ..... ummm ..... no, but ...... an interesting post

Heil, Herr Metro - sorry I have not the Russian to afford you the Russian equivalent

Isn't "Political Correctness" so often reminiscent of Nazi-ism or Stalinism .... with its concomitant arrogance and unPleasantry .... and (often) irrationality

... and have you some inconsistency

As a Blogggerizer, you relish Free Speech .... especially when you are exercising it .... but you wish to not allow legislation which reflects not your own views ... eg on Gay "Marriage"

 
At 12:09 p.m., Blogger Metro said...

@Gospodin Eagle:

I agree. There is a difference between political correctness and simple respect, though they have the same aims.

And here's how you tell: Ask some representative sample of the persuasion under discussion what they'd prefer to be called. If you do that, ninety percent of the time you'll have no problems. Simple, eh?

I do relish and respect free speech, and I intend to post soon on an interesting trial happening in this country regarding it.

However, just as my right to swing my fist ends at my neighbor's nose, so my right to free speech ends when such speech does active harm to my neighbour, or when its effect is to do that neighbour harm.

As such, the question is always "What constitutes harm?" In the case of that odious oik Mark Steyn, his Islamaparanoia did not constitute hate speech, as determined by the Human Rights Council of BC.

Since Steyn stopped just short of actually calling for Mulsims to be treated differently from any other group, his screed didn't fit the definition under the Charter. So be it.

But had he called for rising up and killing or deporting Muslims, he'd have been on the far side of that line.

Language has an effect. Particularly the terminology we use in talking about other people. It is as dangerous, in the right hands, as a weapon.

I don't follow your last point. I'm quite happy with gay marriage. In the case of proposition 8, the rights of a minority were put to the popular vote. I feel that that was a grave and unjust error. Had such been the case with black people or women, neither would be more than property by now.

(The language followed once those people actually became people, though not quickly, and not easily)

And I've said so. My statement harms no-one. I've been careful to limit myself to pointing out the irony of the sponsoring groups being, repsectively, a polygamist sect and an organization known as a haven for paedophiles and closeted homosexuals.

However, if I'd said that "All Xs should just get AIDS and die," a vile statment made in public by more than one person of more than one group, I think that would constitute hate speech, thus outside the bounds of reasonable fair comment and free speech.

Let's face it, free speech without restriction makes as much sense as gun ownership without restriction. There are no civilized places that I know of that allow either, including the US, although their limits on both might be slightly beyond reason.

 
At 1:43 p.m., Anonymous G Eagle Esq said...

".... I don't follow your last point ...."

Mon Ami, M Metro

Merci pur un post si thoughtful

I'm not too sure that I follow my last point, either

but I must ponder your contribution to our understanding of these anxious and often-times perplexing matters

Yr obedient servant etc

G E

 

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