The use of political correctness as a busy-body boogeymen is certainly not a new thing, but it seems in the last few years outcries against political correctness as some sort of enemy of freedom have outgrown PC itself. People confuse censorship and free speech and want to blame political correctness when their free speech intersects with the free speech of a critic. TL:DR: That’s how free speech works and how PC functions.
The real problem is this idea that political correctness is somehow responsible for the loss of free speech. The real antagonists to freedom is this battle cry of “pc run amok,” and the people who resent any response to their talk and actions that isn’t adulation and validation.
If you’re not high-fiving them and telling them mommy loves them, they scream PC run amok.
If you say, hey, you’re kind of a racist asshole, they scream PC run amok. If you use any tool that they themselves would use to respond to any situation they found disagreeable, they scream PC run amok. Donald Trump gibbers about Megyn Kelly’s bleeding vagina because she dares question the wisdom of his derogatory comments regarding women and screams PC run amok.
Censorship, Free Speech, and Political Correctness
PC, Political Correctness, is simple. It is an attempt to avoid forms of expression that marginalize the marginalized. That’s all it is.
It is an attempt to avoid political partisanship, not force people to skew to political party lines.
It has no operating procedure. There is no requirement for censorship. There is no spokesperson.
Anyone who is demanding that other’s not be allowed to speak is not talking about political correctness, but censorship. PC is all about NOT marginalizing–to say that someone who wants to shut down speech is guilty of pc run amok is a fundamental misunderstanding of PC and free speech.
Free speech is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and it scholars have been writing about it extensively in the centuries since it was formalized. We’ve come to understand that freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want as long as in doing so you are not jeopardizing lives (The analogy frequently used is yelling “fire” in a movie theater when there is no fire. This isn’t allowed because it risks public safety.) or maliciously and dishonestly slander a person’s reputation through seditious libel.
Free speech means not only do you and I and Trump and confederate flag-wavers and critics get to say (almost) anything we want, but others get to respond to it in (almost) any way they want.
Censorship is the practice of erasure, removal of parts of or the entirety of some form of communication or artwork.
Censorship only happens when it happens. Megyn Kelly did not censor Trump when she asked if his crude attacks on women is becoming of a presidential contender. A critic of a book is not censoring the author when they say she should be censored. Both Kelly and the critic are exercising their free speech.
Censorship does happen, but often it’s exactly where people don’t think about it.
When media outlets agree to allow celebrities or politicians to have final say over published content, that’s censorship. The programmer is agreeing to terms of self-censorship in exchange for access. News media outlets do this all the time. Donald Trump wasn’t being censored by Megan Kelly or the ghost of PC; he was actually demanding that Fox censor itself when he said he might not talk to Kelly or Fox news anymore.
It’s common practice for movie studios to show a film to focus groups before its release. If the focus groups hate it, the studio execs or producers will demand changes, often very drastic changes. The studio is censoring itself, and they are censoring their auteurs.
Protesting a theater that shows a controversial movie is not censorship. Picketing outside of Chik-fil-e or KFC is not censorship. If the theater stops showing the film, the protest is still not censorship, no matter how much I want to watch the movie. Legal protest does not prevent movie-goers from attending a screening, and it does not compel the theater to stop showing the movie.
Some people believe that shadowy organizations are killing scientists in what would be an extreme form of censorship.
Book banning and burning is censorship. When a state government removes parts of a science text to appease a religious activist group against the wishes of the school, administration, or parents, that’s censorship. Telling someone they shouldn’t do something—not censorship. Questioning the value of art or policy—not censorship.
Anything that isn’t actually changing the content or message of a text is simply not censorship. It is the converse. It is the response to free speech—further free speech.
Diminishing the power of the word because we’re assholes.
I’m a writer, journalist, adjunct English professor , and poet. I worship the word. I know its power. I’ve had my heart broken by words. I’ve seen careers ruined by words. Political administrations have been toppled with words. Authors have changed the face of commerce with words. We shouldn’t diminish that power every time we say something people dislike.
People all over the south and the north fly confederate flags. They confuse the free speech of dissenters with censorship, and they act as if criticism against the flag or political pressure is the disease threatening the health of our nation. (You know, the nation they are implicitly proclaiming they wish the south successfully seceded from and destroyed in the Civil War. That nation. That they love so much.)
Donald Trump gets so mad when people evaluate and criticize him. He finds words inconvenient and frustrating. He impatiently waves off anyone who asks if his own words might be destructive and irresponsible or inaccurate and uninformed. He stands firm by his right to talk absolutely vile smack about anyone and everyone, to assert as truth fictions but when someone attempts to put forth the argument that this might not be appropriate behavior for a presidential hopeful, he cries foul on that. To him, questioning his actions is the vile thing.
If we see Megyn Kelly being shouted down by Donald Trump, we should engage in some inkst of our own, because you can be damned sure some MRA asshat is going to virtually high five The Donald for his bravery and authenticity. We shouldn’t dismiss it as if his words don’t matter. We shouldn’t let him get away with downplaying his missteps.
Art and Censorship
There is more nuanced debate around the idea of political correctness and free speech.
Anne Rice, a successful horror and gothic novelist who brought the goth geeks of the world Interview with the Vampire, recently took issue with reactions to a romance novel (For Such a Time by Kate Breslin.)
She had this to say, after a lengthy discussion, on her facebook page.
There are forces at work in the book world that want to control fiction writing in terms of who “has a right” to write about what. Some even advocate the out and out censorship of older works using words we now deem wholly unacceptable.….I think all this is dangerous. I think we have to stand up for the freedom of fiction writers to write what they want to write, no matter how offensive it might be to some one else. We must stand up for fiction as a place where transgressive behavior and ideas can be explored. We must stand up for freedom in the arts. I think we have to be willing to stand up for the despised. It is always a matter of personal choice whether one buys or reads a book. No one can make you do it. But internet campaigns to destroy authors accused of inappropriate subject matter or attitudes are dangerous to us all. That’s my take on it. Ignore what you find offensive. Or talk about it in a substantive way. But don’t set out to censor it, or destroy the career of the offending author.
I dig Anne Rice. I’ve liked her since she made vampires cool (even if ex-girlfriends decided I was the vampire, Louis.)
I have no problem with her sentiments, and I strongly emotionally support much of what she is saying. I wish people wouldn’t threaten, protest and criticize the act of writing, but advocating censorship isn’t censorship. Speaking out against books isn’t censorship. Saying who should not be allowed to write what is not censorship, because no one is actually being compelled to do anything. This is free speech; everyone must be allowed to whine, bitch, and demand, or it is not free speech; it’s special consideration for some and censorship for others.
However unfortunate we might feel the breadth of free speech is, we don’t actually have free speech unless everybody gets to say what they want regardless of how much we disagree with them.
Upton Sinclair devastated the meat-packing industry with the publication of The Jungle. We love the power of the word in that case, but are we to be against that same power if it’s used to “destroy the career of an offending author”?
How can we declaw the party that offends Anne Rice but still preserve that power to be used like by the next Sinclair?You have free speech, so do your detractors. She proposes a call to action against the tactics engaged in by dissenters. She basically proposes that we censor the authors of reviews, emails to authors, and comments—because censorship is bad.
So, for example, I don’t want Donald Trump to stop talking like a misogynist. I want him to stop being a misogynist, but that requires him hearing the dissenters, and I can’t wish for that but also support Anne Rice’s call to quiet dissenters. He can keep saying every asinine thing that comes to his mind, but he is a hypocrite that misunderstands political correctness if he thinks he shouldn’t have to deal with dissent.
The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a word is a good guy with a word.
I already said true free speech is messy. It’s a beautiful mess. It’s not the kind of bloody, punctuating mess we’d get if everybody supplemented their stature with firearms. It is far from perfect. People with money an power get to say things a lot louder than you do, but that is why we have political correctness. It favors the apolitical and it is a watchdog for the marginalized.
You should use your voice. Post on facebook, write a blog, and say your piece. Gratefully accept that others will do so as well, and understand that sometimes you will be the target of their wrath. Sometimes they will make good points, and, if you’re lucky, they will influence your understanding and decision-making. Sometimes, unfortunately, they will be ass-hats, and you’ll have to hold your ground. Maybe you will influence their understanding and decision-making. Maybe they will continue being asshats.
Anne Rice should not stop her protest against protesters. She should continue to speak and critics and supporters should continue to respond.
That’s the beautiful thing about true, ideologically pure political correctness. That’s the beauty of free expression.