Purge the prudes and talk plainly

Political correctness is a growing cancer, writes Zachary Thompson.

You can't say that! You can't say that!
You can’t say that!

Nothing irks me more than a killjoy, especially the kind that halts the happy times with a moan about political correctness. Gawking, gasping, eye rolling, and creating drama out of what would probably have been an inspired punch line or witticism seems to be the modus operandi of the PC-prude. From a casual dinner party to the House of Reps, there is always someone who ‘crosses the line’ and unwittingly causes offence. In most cases, this just kills the conversation and makes it awkward for everyone, but in grander circles it can result in constant cries of shame, calls for resignations, and demands for an apology.

Of course, some comments are barking mad, indefensible, and totally inexcusable but these are obvious. When someone intentionally hurts another person or community with their words, our natural reaction is to think “what a tool” and walk away. This sense of acceptability is reinforced by our system of manners, which has developed over the centuries and guides most conversations. Being rude and offensive is bad manners, anti-social, and will naturally leave the offender without friends. Yet PC-prudes still feel the urge to correct people, becoming an irritating, neurotic, and self-styled arbiter of appropriateness.

Political correctness is a cancerous phenomenon, hindering the most light-hearted conversations to the very substance of national debate. It is an intolerant system of thought that dilutes the clarity and meaning that solid communication requires. It is hypocritical, arrogant, damaging and it crops up too often, in all kinds of dialogues.

The hypocrisy of political correctness is glaring. It is sad and ironic that the PC-prudes don’t tolerate candid parlance on sensitive issues, believing that their narky interjections do more to spread awareness and build tolerance than the actual exchange of ideas. For instance, I have unintentionally caused offence when referring to Australia’s original inhabitants. I was corrected when I thought ‘Indigenous’ was the preferred term, and I was corrected again after I switched to ‘Aboriginal’. The same thing has happened when discussing sexuality and religion: I care deeply about all these topics, yet there is always someone waiting to veto the well-intentioned debate for the sake of political correctness.

There is an air of arrogance surrounding political correctness too: it is just rude to correct people who are genuinely engaged in a conversation. It assumes firstly, that what the talker has said is so unpalatable that an interjection is warranted, and secondly that the corrector has a better sense of appropriateness than the person talking. It arrogantly assumes that the talker is incapable of basic self-censorship, and thus needs ‘correcting’ when all they may really want to do is discuss a sensitive issue openly. Of course, on certain issues, some will inevitably be more knowledgeable than others: but surely a well-intentioned point deserves to be heard even if it is ‘officially’ not PC and may cause offence.

The increasing emphasis on political correctness is not good news. In principle, political correctness saves a handful of people from being offended, but this comes at the cost of clear communication. I notice each year that ‘Xmas’ is gradually replacing Christmas, presumably because the allusion to Jesus Christ marginalises non-Christians. An elementary school in Seattle renamed Easter Eggs ‘Spring Spheres’ for the same reason – they’re not even spherical! The Arnott’s ‘Golliwog’ biscuits had to be renamed ‘scallywags’ because the latter has less racial connotations and is therefore more PC. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the PC-prudes find someone who is offended by ‘Golden Gaytimes.’

In practice, the pitfalls of political correctness run deeper. It derails discussions where openness and maturity are vital, and it is frequently exploited as a political tool. Last December, the City of Sydney spent a ton of money festooning its streets with banners that wished a ‘happy’ rather than ‘merry’ Christmas. I was concerned to discover that ‘merry’ was intentionally replaced on the basis that it subtly encouraged drinking. The arrogant, holier-than-thou PC-prudes had struck again, and I was ‘offended’ that they disregarded my ability to interpret the word ‘merry’ maturely – in hindsight, I should have corrected them for being so insensitive!

On a federal level, klaxon-like cries of racism or xenophobia railroad nationally important discussions over multiculturalism or border control. I fear that after the Prime Minister’s impassioned speech last week, immensely significant discussions about gender equality have been stunted because words like ‘misogynist’ and ‘sexist’ have been used for pillorying political opponents.

Common sense, maturity, and plain old good manners do away with political correctness. It is hypocritical, it is arrogant, and it is damaging how we exchange ideas and communicate even at the most elementary levels – this neurotic fad has to go.

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

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