The PC Wars: Shutupsmanship Reaches New Heights

How the anti-political correctness movement is hypocritical nonsense on stilts

Posted May 05, 2016

This election, and by some standards, the direction of our country may pivot on the controversy over political correctness. Since 2011, polls have indicated that roughly 70% of Americans think political correctness is a serious problem. And while people can give examples of it, few could define it.

So what is political correctness and how did it become this serious problem?

It’s odd that correctness should be a problem at all. “Correct” means right, which we generally prefer to wrong, especially in politics. Polls show that at least as many of people think the US has incorrect politics these days. Paradoxically then, two of our biggest problems are incorrect politics and political correctness.

One meaning of political correctness is hypersensitivity. The politically correct are intolerant of anything that offends them. They’re high-strung, uptight and straight-laced. By this account, the remedy would be Trump-style political incorrectness. Defy the hypersensitive. Show them that they can’t control the debate.

Ask a Trump supporter who the uptight parties are and the answer is invariably leftist. That’s an odd cultural turnabout. It’s as though the right is now calling the left square.

Does the shoe fit? Well yes, on the left but at least as well the right. Trump is famously hypersensitive, howling foul in the face of any criticism. Why doesn’t conservative uptightness also count as political correctness – Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, transgender use of bathrooms, angst over the war on Christmas, or Fox News’ general prudishness?

The right wing somehow owns the anti-political correctness crusade as though the only hypersensitivity that counts is any that opposes their hypersensitivities. How did that happen?

One possible answer is strategic projection. The right has proven masterful at attacking the opposition’s comparative strength. Karl Rove demonstrated this with his swift boat attack on presidential candidate John Kerry. Rather than going after Kerry’s weaknesses, Rove attacked Kerry’s military record which was vastly more impressive than Bush’s.

Pull the firmest foundation out from under your opponents and everything else about them crumbles. If the left’s cultural appeal is chillaxing and going with the flow, just find the few uptight leftists and paint the whole left as straight-laced, like these few outliers. Or attack from both ends, the lax, insensitive Bernie bros, and the hypersensitive, uptight leftist campus rebels without a cause.

If we’re going to pivot the nation’s future on questions of political correctness, we need a value-neutral definition for it, one that doesn’t turn a hypocritical blind eye to one faction’s hypersensitivity while crying foul at another faction’s hypersensitivity. Fortunately, the term suggests a very clear alternative definition.

Politics is the struggle for power. Correctness means getting the answers right, the answers that will benefit us in the future. The future is uncertain. No one has a crystal ball, but to gain power, some pretend they do. Political correctness then is absolute self-certainty that one knows the correct way to govern, self-certainty that earns one the power to dominate debate.

The opposite of political correctness isn’t incorrectness but receptivity, the old give and take as we place bets together about how to govern correctly. People are right that political correctness is a serious problem these days. We’re just confused about what it is.