“Political Correctness” as a Concept is Either Clearly Good, Hypocritical, or Nonsensical
Most instances of “political correctness” used as a derogatory term do not define the term. The problem with leaving it undefined is that “political correctness” when defined is either a) nearly always good, b) hypocritical, or c) nonsensical.
Let’s start with Google’s definition of “political correctness”:
the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
In the definition we have “often considered as taken to extremes.” Considered by whom? How often? What extremes exactly?
If we exclude that weasel phrase, the rest of the definition sounds like a very good thing: avoid expressions or actions that exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of oppressed people.
Ice cream is pretty great. Eating a gallon of it at one sitting is disgusting and horrible. Therefore ice cream is horrible. No wait, that doesn’t follow — eating anything good in massive quantities is horrible. Even drinking too much water can kill you.
Avoiding expressions or actions that exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of disadvantaged people? That’s a good thing. One shouldn’t go around purposely doing things that exclude, marginalize, or insult oppressed people, once you know that this is what you are doing. There’s not much more to say about it.
Except for this weasel phrase: “often considered as taken to extremes.”
Who considers that? Mostly conservatives. But also liberals who are in fact racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc. who want to be able to express their opinions without anyone disagreeing with them.
This is why alt-right white supremacists are always talking about the problem with “PC Culture.” The only problem is that they are expressing their racist, sexist views to a culture which no longer tolerates expressions that exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of oppressed people. Again, that intolerance of such expressions is an obviously good thing. It is a straw man argument to reject a good thing because in an extreme form it is bad, since this is true of every good thing.
There’s a different definition we could give to “politically correct,” which is “when progressives/liberals react to me expressing my political views.”
When conservatives express their views, no matter how extreme, it is called “free speech.” But when liberals express their views, no matter how carefully and compassionately, it is derogatorily called “politically correct” speech.
This definition is hypocritical by definition, and it also misunderstands “free speech.” Free speech by definition is the legal permission to speak one’s point of view without being thrown in jail. So you can say, “The president is a dummy!” in the United States, and the First Amendment guarantees your right to do so without being jailed.
There are notable limitations on free speech, such as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater (when there is no fire, just to cause a panic), or talking about assassinating the President which can lead to immediate arrest, or purposely libeling someone to destroy their reputation.
This legal right guaranteed by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution is not the same as a right to silence others who disagree with you. In fact, the First Amendment protects their right to respond angrily, even by insulting you!
But wait, isn’t political correctness the idea that you’re not allowed to insult me? No, this is not the definition at all. The definition again is to avoid excluding, marginalizing, or insulting oppressed groups, not individual people on the internet.
So saying “you’re a piece of shit,” while very rude, is perfectly acceptable both in terms of free speech and in terms of political correctness, whereas saying “you’re a piece of shit wh*re n****r” [censored for the children] is legally-protected free speech but completely unacceptable in terms of political correctness, due to using terms that insult the person based on their identity as a black woman.
The point being that virtually all expressions are protected free speech (with a few exceptions mentioned previously), but some things you are legally allowed to say are not politically correct to say because they exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are discriminated against. This is why you can raise a confederate flag in your front yard — a symbol that implies one’s support for slavery — without being jailed, but not without receiving feedback or even insults from anti-racists.
The most charitable definition of “politically correct” that I can come up with as a derogatory term that is non-hypocritical is “people who get upset when I express my political opinions.”
That is very neutral-sounding. But there are problems with this:
- This happens for everybody when they express any opinion that dissents from the group they are speaking to, on any issue, regardless of political persuasion. (This is the non-hypocritical part.)
- Maybe they have good reason to be upset with your view, for instance if you are expressing racist arguments or factual errors. Or maybe they don’t have good reason because they are the racists or the ones in error. Either way this reactivity can occur.
- If 1 and 2, then Donald Trump is PC, alt-right groups are PC, and even the people who rail against “PC culture” are themselves “too PC” in doing so, because they get upset when other people express their political opinions.
- Thus the term has no meaning whatsoever and we should replace it with something like “reactivity to dissenting opinion” which is a feature of every human group: rational, irrational, evidence-based, liberal, conservative, etc.
So there you have it: either “political correctness” is generally good and therefore a non-derogatory term, or it is a derogatory term that is hypocritical or meaningless.