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Strictly Speaking

Politically Correct?

CORRECT (politically – )

The most academically objectionable connotation of a word now in use, a distinction harder to achieve than pulling Excaliber from the stone. The niggle about political rectitude (maybe I shouldn’t have used niggle, although it’s a perfectly respectable word, despite its suspicious phonetic garb)... As I started to say, the difficulty with applying the censorship of political rectitude to common usage is that there is no arbitrating body, no high court or universal agreement of what is speakable or not.

Worse than that, as an attribute to raise hackles and rankle sensibilities, it is hard imagine a less promising way to impose guidelines to linguistic use than to bound them with the word, “politically.” Immediately come the questions of whose politics and to what end, and what measures should be exercised against whom and by whom, within what boundaries?

Forgetting the entire constitutional issue of Freedom of Speech, which constitutional lawyers will in no way let you do, you don’t have to peer very far down the dark tunnel of time to see Senator Joe McCarthy’s Congressional witch hunt, fast on the heels of one Adolf Hitler, who was very politically certain about what you could and could not say in his Third Reich, an what happened to you if you dared defy authority.

The saddest aspect of yet another attempt by one like-minded group to control all others is that, yes, there is a better way, even if you are dogmatically certain the political rectitude has a place. Practice it, or preach it (something that might be denied under somebody else’s vision of political correctness), but don’t attempt to impose it on others.

Even my nine-year-old daughter was smart enough to figure this out when, while she was young, we drove by the Avalon Theater on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC, headed home. Starting out at the gang of protestors silently circling with signs, she read the movie’s name, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and wondered out loud. “If they don’t like it, why not just no see it? Nobody else has to think like them.” Yeah, this is the kind of kid that you might except would eventually go to the University of Chicago, where she double majored with honors.

Here’s the point. Difference is inevitable. It is the grinding wheel that sharpens the cutting edge of science, indeed of all knowledge. And to hamper the process of free expression with what are admitted to be political constraints is not only anti-intellectual, it is tyrannical.

We already have enough laws about what can’t be said, and in context a lot of them even make sense. You don’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater where no fire exists. You don’t unjustifiably defame another’s reputation, unless you can prove your accusations true. You do not incite to riot, for the common good. But there is a delicate balance about freedom of expression in a country that was born in the spirit of the Enlightenment, and where freedom of assembly is precious. Strange, then, that America has no equivalent of England’s Hyde Park, where anyone can step onto a box and say anything he or she wants, even regarding the queen. Hyde Park is Freedom Central as far as expression goes.

It is almost de rigueur in Hyde Park to be blasphemous, or obscene, or traitorous, or inciting, or sexist, or bigoted, or crazy as a loon. The idea there is that in a democracy the average man or woman has enough common sense to figure out what works, or is right, at least for them. Isn’t this the basis for getting twelve of them together in a box to determine whether an accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt?
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