Are you a causehead? For those of you have not seen the cult classic 90s college film P.C.U. (stop reading this NOW and go see it), causeheads are people who “find a world-threatening issue and stick with it… for about a week”. This was probably the precursor to the internet-era’s social justice warrior; people who act like progressives purely for self-gratification and do so with the minimum possible effort. Admittedly, a causehead had to a bit more work than simply barraging their Facebook profile with anti-austerity or pro-LGBT (I am probably missing a few letters in this ever-expanding acronym) internet memes; they actually had to make signs with catchy slogans that had to be written by hand and do a modicum of research on the political issue du jour rather copying stuff from someone else’s wall. And yet, as annoying as causeheads and SJWs are one has to reluctantly admit that their hearts are in the right place even if their brains are stuck a few feet up their ass. And if their biggest sin is being too politically correct for their own good, well, one has to weigh their damage to society besides that of their polar opposite, the anti-political correctness asshole.
I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not particularly a fan of political correctness for political correctness’ sake (that bit should have been pretty damn obvious for anyone who knows me personally); if there is no apparent benefit deriving from an act of political correctness, or the harm avoided is disproportionately low compared to the inconvenience or disruption caused by it, then what’s the point? Sometimes, the PC terminology is even more questionable than the non-PC, for example the recent attempts to use of the term “people with different abilities” to replace “disabled” people. Yeah, I can see how disabled can be taken the wrong way. Just because someone lost some abilities doesn’t mean they’ve lost them all which is what the dis- suffix could potentially imply. But “people with different abilities” describes every single human being that exists. Last time I checked, not everyone who still had their two legs could run like Usain Bolt, who in turn cannot play the guitar as good as Slash, the latter who can’t write as good a horror novel as Stephen King. And if “people with different abilities” isn’t bad enough, let’s not forget the even more patronizing “handi-capable”. Whenever I hear the word “handi-capable” I imagine some cheerfully smug American middle aged idiot saying it with a high-pitched voice and an ear-to-ear smile, the same kind of idiot for whom the phrase the road to hell is paved with good intentions was coined for.
All too often, the people pushing the the PC envelope aren’t even the ones that are affected by them, and are typically white middle-class idiots who feel some lingering guilt about being white and middle class (sadly no guilt for the idiot bit). Ironically, it seems to be those countries that are least socially-minded (i.e. the US) that political correctness takes a turn for the worst. In the UK, for example, the term disabled is very much accepted as it is seen in the context of a broader social model; someone is not disabled if they use a wheelchair, but rather, if public transport and urban design among other things are not adapted to ensure accessibility for people who can’t walk. But when political correctness is used as a weapon against a preexisting prejudice, it can actually be a force for good. We have gone quite a long way in the process of eradicating some (sadly not all) forms of racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive behavior simply by making it socially unacceptable rather than taking the more extreme method of making it illegal, which in some cases could be at odds with certain fundamental liberal democratic rights such as freedom of speech. Remember, not too long ago we used to call disabled people “cripples”. Derogatory terms against women or minorities could be dispensed at will, even in the context of supposedly enlightened discussion, and even in the presence of those it mocked. Nowadays, you’ll lose friends, and if you’re stupid enough to do it at work, deservedly fired.
Assholery for smarties
Some people have a problem with this. The anti-PC assholes seems to have convinced themselves that political correctness is the root of all evil in society today and that a return to the Mad Men-like world of never having to filter their own bullshit is somehow preferable. The saddest part is that although anti-PC assholery overlaps strongly with a lot of other types of assholery, it has an uncanny appeal to certain opinionated, above-average intelligence men rather than those who are dumb as a log. I call this the Dennis Miller effect. Dennis Miller was once one of the funniest and smartest comedians in the English-speaking world. His cynical jibes against the American political establishment (neither Republicans nor Democrats were spared) laced with obscure historical and pop culture references were the stuff of comedic legend, as were his legendary stream-of-consciousness-like rants that were the highlight of his Emmy-award HBO show that I was a huge fan of back in the late 90s. But then came 9/11 From that point on, he became a paranoid neo-conservative, one who viewed liberals – now the sole subjects of his mockery – as outright traitors. “You know, as a liberal, I found myself using the word ‘but’ more frequently than a proctologist filling out his day planner.” Real funny Dennis, but if you prefer a world of black and white and good versus evil, no wonder you jumped ship. He has since defended his transformation to conservative radical by saying that he’s a libertarian first and foremost, and certainly there were signs that he was far from a bleeding heart leftie early on in his career. One in particular would be quite telling, a rant on political correctness during the height of his fame as a “liberal” comedian:
“Come on, who actually moans at a joke? Who is responsible for that? Well, quite frankly I’m pinning it all on the gays, ok? Now, I know there’s some reflexively irate homosexual in the crowd thinking ‘how dare you, Miss Thing’ and what I’m saying to you is this: I think so little of the variations in human sexuality that I refuse to treat you like a Fabergé Egg. You are part of the human collective, come, join in our reindeer games, you too can be poked fun at. And you know something? That goes for the whole spectrum of special interest groups out there wandering the freakazoid Serengeti plain.”
Perhaps because Miller was an equal-opportunity offender at the time, such a rant appeared ultimately harmless. After seeing Miller turn into a foaming at the mouth neo-con one can see it as an early sign of what I call Anti-Political Correctness Syndrome (APCS), a sort of gateway drug for smart people to turn into right-wing assholes.
APCS usually takes the following disease process. Like I mentioned above, the sufferer is typically a very opinionated and intelligent man (women aren’t immune to APCS but it appears to be less common), with misanthropic and anti-establishment tendencies but with an initial left-wing orientation. Eventually, however, a more vicious and vitriolic side to his personality emerges. Perhaps it is repeated relationship failures that inflates a gradual hatred towards the opposite sex: why can’t a smart guy like me get crazy laid or have a stable girlfriend like so many idiots around me? It has to be women’s fault. Perhaps it is some life event that made them change his views on a certain group of people: why did my (insert racial/ethnic minority of choice) colleague get promoted and not me? If it wasn’t for this affirmative action mentality bullshit, I would not have been passed up. And perhaps it is some political event (like in Miller’s case, 9/11) that triggers such a strong gut reaction that it becomes a point of no return. Fear tends to do that and it’s not surprising that a paranoia over terrorism caused Miller to throw reason out the window and side unconditionally with the president who he had once mocked: just after the 2000 election he boasted that “as a comedian, with George W. Bush coming into office, I feel like the owner of a hardware store before a hurricane. I hate to see it coming, but I have to admit it’s good for business.” But in his short-lived 2004 revival show, Miller began by saying that he was never going to mock the most mock-able president in US history, which is not political correctness but outright self-censorship.
It is at this point where cognitive dissonance, one of the great (mis)behaviors of humanity, comes into play like a raging bull on the streets of Pamplona. To reconcile the “fact” that women are to blame for the fact that these modern day Tinder Casanovas can’t get laid, it follows that feminism is the cause and that all women who basically don’t drop their pants after the first drink are feminists (ehem, feminazis) who don’t just want equality, they want to control men by denying the existence of their wonderful but underused cocks. To reconcile that a person of different skin color got ahead of them in the career ladder, the APCS sufferer starts longing for the good old days when black people toiled the plantations south of the Mason-Dixon line and Mexicans stayed in Mexico, because those were fairer times. The end result is that APCS makes the sufferer delude himself into believing that the people promoting political correctness are more to blame than the people promoting the awful things the political correctness crowd is standing against. It’s like the Wikileaks being more of a threat to global security than all the human rights abuses it uncovered, or the cheating boyfriend who thinks the bigger sin is his girlfriend going through his e-mails rather than him humping someone else behind her back.
It’s all downhill from there, because once this idea becomes emblazoned in this person’s brain, the next step is to find commonality with the people who share it. And let’s not forget that the people who cling to one awful worldview, probably have many other awful ones too. Sexism becomes best friends with homophobia. Homophobia becomes paramour to racism. Racism opens the door to hating the poor, the disenfranchised, and basically everyone who is a beneficiary of political correctness at the perceived expense of you. Since the sufferer of APCS already thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, there is little chance that he’ll admit he went too far because nobody that smart gets it wrong twice in a row – this person already has to live with the humiliation of having once been perceived as a leftist or progressive, woe be this ideological mark of shame! As MacBeth said when he reached his own point of no return, “I am in blood stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”. Replace blood with bullshit and you have your dyed in the wool anti-political correctness asshole.
How to tell who gets APCS and who doesn’t? When I described the pre-conditions of the average APCS sufferer, I was practically describing myself. Another legendary comedian, George Carlin, was also a well-known enemy of political correctness:
“I’d like to make a brief visit to that playground of guilty white liberals: political correctness. Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance. And it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness yet attempts to control and restrict people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to describe discrimination. I’m not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go deeper than speech.”
If you find this quote homologous with Miller’s above, then I hate to say it but you entirely missed the point. Carlin was never ranting about gays and “freaks” needing a thicker skin as Miller implied, but that the language of political correctness (which he called “soft language”) was doing a disservice to those it was intended to help, and that it was promoted by white liberal elite who did it for the sake of feeling good about themselves. Who can disagree with that? Carlin never suffered from APCS – he never twisted his priorities. If political correctness deserved criticism, it was because it was counterproductive, not because it was unfairly protecting certain groups of people from mockery. It is telling that Carlin and Miller went on completely different warpaths after 9/11. Carlin turned even more anti-establishment while Miller closed ranks with the government that used to be the target for his verbal tirades. Was this just random? I don’t think so. Miller – a narcissist even in his early years – seemed primed for it in a way that Carlin – the perennial counter-culture beatnik – just didn’t. For all his misanthropy and nihilism, Carlin never managed to hide his empathy for those that were being fucked over by the system. For Miller, it was simply fodder for his alpha smartass persona. So next time you see someone going on an anti-political correctness rant, think of why he’s doing it. Because he genuinely feels it’s harming the people it’s supposed to help? Or for amusement, out of spite, or to look smart? If it’s the latter, you’re looking at a textbook case of APCS and trust me, it’ll only get worse. And if this person was already an asshole, then he’s probably using anti political-correctness to legitimize it (behold, the average Trump supporter).
Is being PC really that bad?
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct”
– Donald Trump
“Political correctness is what right-wing bigots call what everyone else calls being polite”
– Iain Banks
Ultimately, it’s really hard to see what the actual damage of excessive political correctness really is in the grander scheme of things, or whether it’s even as widespread as we’re being led to believe. Back in 2011, news went viral about a Seattle school allegedly renaming Easter eggs “Spring Spheres” so as to not offend non-Christian sensibilities. Of course, it was the conservative media who squeezed as much juice as it could, using it as a convenient example of how political correctness is running amok and destroying the country’s (Christian) values. And yet, there is no evidence that this story was even true. It was a story told by a 16-year old school volunteer to a local radio station and who neither gave her name nor gave the name of the school. Surely if the story was true, more concrete evidence would have immediately come out after the story had gone viral but there was never any more proof than her word. Time and time again, many of these supposed cases of PC extremism have come from unreliable sources, taken entirely out of context, or even outright debunked. Since most people never bother to verify the facts behind the news that they consume (as stated before, if a story is too outrageous to be true, it probably is), and that confirmation bias means anything that neatly fits into existing prejudices must be true, it’s not a surprise that these stories always find willing ears. Sexists will see the attempts to rename “manholes” as yet another attack on manhood by the feminazis. Anti-Muslim racists will see any effort to “de-Christianize” something as ceding ground to Muslims by the terrorist-loving Left. The worst part is that when the anti-PC crowd get a taste of their own hypocrisy, well, they get uncomfortable. Like when Bromani Jones wore a “Caucasian” t-shirt on ESPN to make a point about Native-American sports team mascots, he was told to “cover up”.
Finally, in 2014 (how the fuck did it take this long?) a group of academics settled the matter on whether political correctness is good or bad for society. A study led by Cornell University professor Jack Goncalo demonstrated that when mixed-sex groups of people were told to be “politically correct” and “polite” while brainstorming business ideas, they were more creative than the ones which were not given any moralistic instructions: “These results highlight a paradoxical consequence of the PC norm: A term that has been used to undermine expectations to censor offensive language as a threat to free speech actually provides a normative foundation upon which demographically heterogeneous work groups can freely exchange creative ideas”.
In conclusion, it pays not to be an anti-political correctness asshole. Who would have thought.