It's now cool to be politically incorrect.
There are few better or easier ways these days to demonstrate a rebellious streak–to establish one's iconoclastic street cred, if you will–than bashing political correctness. Pundits, columnists, and even public officials now voice anti-PC sentiment to achieve their anti-establishment bona fides. Back in the day, Bill Maher went so far as to name his TV show Politically Incorrect (link is external). And a damn fine TV show it was.
It is the height of irony that the PC "movement," driven by the motivation to avoid making a bad impression or offending others, is now one that few will publicly embrace for fear of... making a bad impression or offending others.
"Politically correct" has become a pejorative term; opposing it has become a badge of honor.
As one example, a few days ago a fellow PT blogger devoted a brief post to the Facebook movement to make May 20 "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," a response to the recent South Park controversy. He did so, in his own words, because he loves "the fight against political correctness."
Of course, when you actually think about it, the South Park firestorm–as interesting and provocative as it is–has nothing do with political correctness. PC has always been about societal norms that frown upon behavior or language that might cause offense. How this relates, in any meaningful way, to death threats and religious ideology is beyond me. But the very suggestion that political correctness is on par with (or even a slippery slope anywhere near) such calls to violence is a fancifully amusing one that reveals just how deep-seated anti-PC animosity has become.
Don't get me wrong: political correctness is not without problems. In research in my own lab, we've found that bending over backwards to avoid offending others often backfires, creating a negative impression as a distracted and disingenuous person. We've also found that when you free individuals from their concerns about making a good impression and not saying anything offensive, they actually enjoy interracial interactions more (link is external). It turns out that it's liberating to speak your mind and be yourself.
So I'm far from a hard-core acolyte of the orthodoxy of PC. And I'm not just saying that to sound edgy or cool, I swear.
But at the same time, I must admit to having a hard time getting worked into a lather over political correctness. After all, PC comes from a good place with good intention to which most of us would subscribe: to make sure that all people feel comfortable and even valued. It doesn't seem like such a terrible thing to err on that side of caution much of the time.
Mad MenWe live in a far more open, tolerant, and equitable society today than people did 50 years ago. The flat-out rejection and demonization of political correctness strikes me as a repudiation of much of this progress. When you watch an episode of Mad Men and see the poor treatment of women in the workplace or blatant racism expressed as acceptable conversation in ordinary social settings, is your reaction, "ah, now those were the days"? For most of us, I think not. Indeed, many of us are actually more pro-PC than we think (or admit) we are.
So, yes, we need the Bill Mahers and Larry Davids and South Parks of the world around to say the things we feel like we can't. To remind us that many social conventions are downright silly. A bit of mockery of political correctness is refreshing, not to mention pretty funny in many cases.
But political correctness as a symbol of all that's wrong with today's society? PC as a great evil to "fight against"? I just don't see it. If I were going to make an exception to some personal prohibition against political activism, perhaps it'd be to combat violence, hatred, poverty, or another one of society's true ills. It certainly wouldn't be to rail against something as innocuous as political correctness. There are bigger fish to fry, as well as a compelling argument to be made that political correctness has done far more good than bad on balance.
Not to mention that when everybody's denouncing the same idea, how anti-establishment can the protest really be? I fear that anti-PC backlash may not be quite as cool or rebellious as some think it is. And not all of us pull it off as well as the professionals on cable TV do.