Originally posted May 17, 2010 at 4:55 pm
“To the living we owe our respect. To the dead we owe only the truth.”
In my mind, this quote has a lot to say about political correctness. I don’t think anyone objects to the idea that everyone deserves basic human respect and, when you are close to someone, certain accomodations. If someone I am close to is disabled and they really, really prefer that I address them with people-first language, I will respect that for as long as I am with them.
On a macro level, I don’t get PC discourse at all. Why do we rip each other to pieces for using so-called inappropriate langauge? Does that change the reality of what is being said? Does language have the power to influence people’s attitudes?
No and no.
The following will hopefully be an illustrative example.
Whether you say “mentally retarded,” “intellectually disabled,” or “a little slow,” it all means the same thing. This person is mentally retarded.
There’s also a reason the rules of PC discourse change so often…because langauge doesn’t influence attitudes. Attitudes influence language. We used to think that if we stopped referring to children as being mentally retarded and called them special needs children, the stigma would disappear.
It did not. Instead we have a whole new class of slurs…sped, sped monkey, etc.
Words aren’t the only component of communication either, and that’s where the PC police fail again. Let’s say a child warns another child to stay away from a certain mentally retarded person. That child might, in a snide tone of voice, say, “Don’t mind him. He’s a retard.” Now, that same child, in the same tone of voice, might instead say, “Oh, don’t mind him. He’s special, if you know what I mean.” Hysterical laughter follows.
Is the meaning, or the impact, really any different?
Of course not.
Censorship targets not just words but ideas or even entire subjects. Fathers’ rights or criticism of single motherhood is taboo in many feminist circles. Racism by nonwhites against whites and even other nonwhites is similarly a taboo topic in many circles. The failures of welfare or the tendency of some people to abuse it is taboo amongs anti-poverty activists. I suggest most readers can name any number of other topics that are taboo somewhere.
Raising such issues guarantees that your character will be slandered and that nothing you say will be listened to. You will be labeled anit-woman, anti-welfare, a white supremacist (even when the topic is nonwhite racism against other nonwhites) even with an abundance of evidence to the contrary. No matter. It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be an effective way to discredit you.
What good does it do, though? How can we test out an idea of open debate on it is not allowed? Even if an idea is truly vile (that the Holocaust did not really happen) or just plain kooky (the idea that vaccinating your children is harmful to them and as well as unnecessary) isn’t it better to have those ideas out in the open where they can be exposed to all for what they are? Not talking about them won’t make them go away after all, nor will it stop people from acting on those ideas.
In the real world, we must face realities that we do not like. I hate facing the reality that my father, my best friend in the world, suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction because I hate watching my loved ones suffer. I hate knowing every day that the reason I’m struggling now is because he ruined me financially. I have long since forgiven him because underneath it all, he’s still my buddy, he suffered every bit as much as I did if not more, and he’s giving it his all to change. Between having a grudge and having a dad, I would rather have a dad.
But when I first had to take those steps to acknowledge what was wrong and fix it, it was pure emotional hell. I faced it anyway.
Likewise, when we have experiences or ideas that conflict with our ideologies, acknowledging them can be painful. For a conservative, it might be about facing that homosexulity is not a disease or a lifestyle choice. For a liberal, it might be about how single-payer health care might not lead to better patient outcomes.
Painful though it will be, consider what’s more important: the offensiveness of an idea or its practical implications?
Pregnancy is a high-risk endeavor for a lot of women, and even healthy women can go from being low-risk to high-risk in no time at all. Natural childbrith advocates, especially the more extreme home/unassisted childbirth advocates, find it offensive that people would suggest that women’s bodies were not capable of doing something they were meant to do, i.e. give birth. Yet for real mothers and babies all over the world, intevention is often crucial to avoiding disaster. You may not feel empowered or even in control of yourself under general anesthesia during a C-section, but you and your baby, not always, but most likely, will be better off for it.
What’s more important to you? Making a statement or preserving the well-being of mothers and their babies?
Going back to the quote, I see it as a metaphor. People are substitutes for ideologies. When people wrap themselves up in ideologies, nothing can dissaude them and they often allow their ideologies affect every aspects of their lives, such as the language they use in everyday conversation. Real-world significance and negative consequences notwithstanding.
As time goes by, however, you will find that your ideologies have consequences that you may not have anticipated. They might be positive, but it’s not uncommon for people to find that the anticipated positive effects have not materialized and that a slew of negative effects have materialized instead.
This is how ideologies die. Ideaologues become disenchanted with the consequences of their ideas. Again, people are substituted for ideas. When people die, they are not conscious of the goings-on of those still on Earth. Therefore, whatever you say about or do to the dead will not hurt them.
When ideologies die, i.e. the consequences have proved them unsustainable, who cares about the preferences and self-esteem of the remaining ideologues? Who cares about anything except the bodies, the ruins, the price that we must now pay?
No one. Nothing. Only the truth.