Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The lie that was liberalism

So the State Department - yes, the State Department - has an officer, John Robinson, who is rolling out a list of phrases and words that should no longer be used.  Remember when Political Correctness began?  That was back in the day.  The term referred to that political unspeak whereby politicians would talk around an issue rather than call a spade a spade.  Eventually, it came to be used for this strange creeping societal censorship that was beginning to rush in to fill the space left by the liberal revolution.

The liberal revolution had, if you remember, promised a world without rules.  A world of total freedom.  A world of live-and-let-live, of respecting differences, of challenging authority, of diversity and tolerance and complete freedom to do, think, and say whatever you wanted.  Yes Political Correctness appeared to some to be contradicting that promise.  Suddenly a growing list of words, images, statements, phrases and other expressions were coming under fire.

To be honest, it began long before the term PC was being used.  Even in the heyday of the Great Liberal Promise, you had running alongside it the feminist movement dedicated to overturning the English language and eliminating any and all references to the male pronoun.  Even then, we should have thought, "Hey, how can you say we must change the language if the promise is a world without rules?"  But then, feminism in its purer form was never simply a liberal movement, and many non-liberals conceded some good points that existed in the women's rights platform.

By the time the 90s rolled around, and Political Correctness was being applied to outrage against the wrong term for African Americans, or a sports team's use of an Indian as a mascot, folks argued that there was no real commission doing it, so it really wasn't censorship.  You couldn't point to a Politically Correct McCarthy holding hearings and placing violators on a black list.  In fact, as often as not, you couldn't pin down a source at all.  Somewhere, somehow, someone said something was offensive and that's all it took.

By the 00s, however, things began to change.  More and more people were invoking 'that offends' to stifle speech they didn't like.  No longer hiding in corners or back alleys in Cuba, folks were willing to come into the light and boldly proclaim their disgust with a particular word or phrase and demand retribution for its usage.  A growing list of things began to be questioned.  The violence of Islam, as we are seeing this very hour, brought many newspapers to censor themselves rather than partake in a cartoon that could cause death and suffering.  Gay rights groups lobbied to have words and phrases, like 'that's so gay', stricken from public use under penalty of punishment.

But in all these cases, there was still no link to the government that anyone could see.  People in the government may have chosen to avoid certain words, and there was always the ability to use PC to hammer down those with whom we disagree.  But you just didn't see people in the government coming out and saying 'we better stop using these words.'  Until now.

Now, we have a member of the State Department not only saying there are words that have to go, but explaining that the words and phrases used and not used should be based on complex historical origins of these phrases.   If some group somewhere might be offended because of some ages old origin of a phrase, that should be enough.

I know.  I'm sure this isn't the first time this has happened at the State Department.  I'm sure the government and agencies have already been saying what should and shouldn't be said, at least in the State Department.  But two things.  First, this seems like a general statement to 'readers' of what to say and not to say.  There doesn't seem to be a limit.  There doesn't seem to be 'this is for State Department employees.'  It's for everyone.

Second, the idea that a phrase may be offensive because of some long, historical roots in a complex origin that we may not fully understand, or that may be based on partial understandings of the actual events, boggles the mind.  How much of our language might be based on such things?  How many idioms or off handed remarks might find their roots in some time in the past that could offend someone?  The fact that  people apparently are already offended by the use of these suggests the worst thing of all: it's not that PC is censorship with manners that we need to worry about, it's that PC is just what we want.  We the people want PC, as long as it applies to everyone else. The lie that was liberalism was just that.  Nobody ever wanted such a society.  They wanted, as they always have and always will, a society based on rules and restrictions centered around them and imposed on everyone else.

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