Political Correctness the ‘Sepulchre of Soothe-Speak’
A Frank Speech about the fallacies of Politically Correct Speech
In December 1999, former vice chancellor University of Cape Town, and former Managing Director of the World Bank, Mamphela Rampele, startled many with the words: AA culture of silence is putting SA=s democracy at risk.
White academics (no longer) speak out on issues of national concern because they (fear) they will be labelled racist. Black academics do not criticise government because of misplaced loyalty.
The reason we are startled is that there was not a shred of political correctness in her speech.
Political Correctness, the illegitimate step-child of liberalism, is cult-like in its establishment of correct speech. This is what cults do. They prohibit certain words and discussion of certain topics.
We are brainwashed into having to deliver a special ration of sensitivity to every conceivable group, (including groups which can't conceive).
We have to perform a linguistic egg-dance, afraid to call a spade a spade.
A `dead man' becomes a `person of male gender in a non-viable condition'. America's `poor' are now called the `fiscal under-achievers'.
As the brain laundry machine of political correctness gains traction, gullible people are accepting the doctrine so avidly that it matters not what nonsense we speak as long as we copy the trend. Even what little logic there is in some of the PC phraseology is occasionally jettisoned by unintelligently and naively parroting the `newspeak'.
For example in our rush to avoid referring to a female presiding officer as `Mr Chairman' we often address her somewhat inconsistently as, `madam chairperson'. `Person' is supposedly correct because it is political heresy to emphasis her gender. So if you accept that piece of brain-laundering, why pull the plug on it by using `madam' as well?.
Political Correctness and its clichés having come from the Western cultures and are born out of an illusion that the world can be rid of its problems and unpleasant realities if only we curb our terminology in a way that denies the existence of such negative things. It also claims the gentle benefit of sensitivity to those who suffer from unpleasant problems of disadvantage, handicap or other affliction.
The irony of PC is that it carefully scrutinises differences between people, places them in categories or groups and then proceeds to describe them in language which actually emphasises their quirks in the vain hope that these will go away. For example since the arrival of P.C., I discovered I was not actually deaf but audibly challenged. Makes me feel so much better!
What is politically correct speech?
The little used word par-a-di-as-to-lee of Geek origin, describes wording by which one extenuates something in order to flatter or soothe, or by which one refers to a vice as a virtue. It seems even the ancient Greeks were familiar with PC.
Supporters of P.C. will have us believe that: Being a sensitive form of communication, Political Correctness can be more, sympathetic, constructive and persuasive than the plain truth.
That might seem like a harmless even laudable sort of viewpoint. However the essential dishonesty of political correctness while often producing highly amusing statements makes truth the victim.
In its aim to avoid upsetting the underdog, the disadvantaged or the under-achiever, PC goes overboard either denying the problem or the condition or ironically even accentuating it. Language is chosen which hopes to de-emphasise the enormity or ugliness of the complaint but so often succeeds only in making a laughing stock of the victim.
Metaphors commonly used in literature and speech, have historically tried to soften the crudity of terminology without denying the truth. So death is described as passing away or, more old-fashioned, quitting this vale of tears.
In Gladstone's use of the phrase Aterminological inexactitude he was not flattering or extenuating. No he was getting a straight message across using language that in no way diminished the accusation but would get past Mr Speaker.
The trend towards PC may well stem from a number of influences including sensitivity and lack of courage. However its singular preoccupation with racial situations suggests that a conscience about slavery, the decline of the colonial erea and the winds of change in Africa have played an important role in fostering PC.
While it appears to have the same objective as pure euphemism, the latter does not aim to nor does it succeed in deceiving.
Whether an equivocating mind-set has brought about PC speak or whether PC has influenced the mind-set to utilise periphrastic talk in a phoney sensitivity, makes for interesting debate. Which came first is ultimately not important. What seems true now is that the mind-set and the associated equivocating speech, feed on each other making for a vicious circle in which cause and effect become blurred.
P.C., now a rampant trend is actually a bunch of super euphemisms that are frankly lies aimed at concealing any embarrassing reality or truth. It has begun to threaten freedom of speech itself. That freedom once the symbol of political rectitude now stands accused as politically insensitive.
I find that the only sure-fire way to enjoy freedom of speech these days is to get invited to deliver a talk like this one and enjoy your freedom to sock it to them. Of course the organisers may not invite you back for fear that P.C. may now have rendered your home truths largely unpopular. But at least you will have done your bit for posterity even if it turns its posterior on you.
2. Role of Culture and Race
The majority of PC euphemisms are directed at avoiding stereotype racial descriptions however innocently they may be intended. So many P.C. circumlocutions are designed often clumsily to save the faces of disabled, disadvantaged and other groups of people.
Comedians continue to raise a laugh by pillorying the Irish, Jews, the French and others with about the same impunity as they have always done. Not so with countrymen from lands formerly under the colonial powers and which formerly fed the slave trade.
However whatever the real reasons, it is true that a large volume of PC speakers has been directed by politicians and socially concerned people towards the problems of those countries especially Africa. It is this near- to- home context we will concentrate on today.
A The Euro-centric, sexually harassed blonde and her seven vertically challenged comrades,
Names historically used to describe the indigenous people of Africa have evolved through native, bantu to blacks. Each time a seemingly politically acceptable word emerges it soon collects the baggage of its predecessors until we get one which actually emphasises the skin pigmentation which was supposedly the feature to be avoided at all costs.
To attribute all problems associated with communication between first and third world to cultural differences is to fall into the P.C. trap. However as a Westerner born and bred in Southern and equatorial Africa respectively and who grew up speaking an African language as well as my mother tongue, I have to agree that culture plays an obstructive role in understanding or accepting tough advice that requires scientific approach or objective practices.
I recall the customary African trait of exaggerating rather than understating a problem or calamity. Thus when someone in a neighbouring village fell seriously ill the news carried by travellers was that he had died. This might be explained by the distance required by the messenger to travel on foot before reaching the audience, rendering the report probably true by the time it was heard. A statistically improbable recovery rendering the report inaccurate, was at least good news. But by the time the good news had arrived reporting a resurrection, the subject may well have had a relapse.
Perhaps my earliest experience of this was one tropical midnight at the age of ten when a villager wakened our household to present her ill baby to my missionary mother. The clay, herbal remedies and blood from a slaughtered foul applied by the witch doctor clung to the face and hair of the very weak child, who died as she was passed to my mother's arms. Immediately the child's mother started wailing Athe missionary has killed my child. This was not an accusation so much as a customary way of finding a culprit outside oneself.
In a culture prone to exaggerate for whatever reason, a form of speech which tends to understate reality is bound to have some unexpected results. Culture is however something that is constantly changing despite sentimental efforts to deny that. Therefore to explain all behaviour as culturally motivated is itself an example of PC- speak.
To maintain that culture is constant, unbending and must be pandered to, despite contrary scientific evidence and successful practice in other Acultures, is a costly, futile policy and is far from the truth.
What is today so often trumpeted as African traditional culture is so influenced by synthetic fabrics, Coca Cola, T-shirts and soap that traditional leaders of yesteryear would surely be horrified.
In the emotionally charged area of inter-racial communication the practice of P.C. has supposedly had an especial aim of sensitivity through obliqueness. We can admit in the language, to observing the advantage or disadvantage bestowed on some groups whether by environment, culture or genetics, but we dare not admit to noticing other traits which seem to be common among the group.
It is ironic that while the humans involved are supposed to be protected by such sensitive dilution of the truth, there is less concern that they might be deluded into continuing, for many more generations, the practices of poor economic policies and ethnic strife, by our playing down of the enormities and consequences of these practices.
A development of this mind-set is that where group behaviour seems to correlate with such advantageous or disadvantageous endowments, we dare not commend or query such behaviour in an effort to assist the group, without risking the accusation of racism.
In the United States for example, it was noticed by building construction firms that members of a certain tribe of native Americans were naturally endowed with an extraordinary sense of balance which gave them an ability to work comfortably on narrow ledges of high-rise constructions. It has since become politically incorrect even to refer to this economically useful talent. Denial of the truth does not make comparisons any less race-based and might even, to some extent, deprive people of the opportunity to use their rather rare natural skills.
Similarly the marked susceptibility of some races to the addictive nature of alcohol when first encountering it, is neither an excuse for racial denigration nor something to be ignored. Help is only hindered by denying the facts as every member of Alcohol Anonymous knows.
Reactions to P.C. language vary. Perhaps you will find your most likely reaction among these categories:
3.1 Those who brush it off as inconsequential misstatement
3.2 Those who are amused
3.3 Those who know its not the real truth but decide to join in the game to their advantage.
3.4 Those who acquire the skill and use it to deliberately deceive or avoid answering frankly
4. Consequences of Political Correctness
4.1 Diminishes effective communication
P.C. attitude and language has had a field day in communicating with the Third world, especially Africa. Its use by Western governments and concerned parties when prescribing or postulating solutions for Third World problems, has succeeded in complicating and diminishing communication. It has been eagerly devoured as somehow a sharing of the West's magic formula and has raised hopes of effortless solutions and even supplanted real solutions of hard work and discipline. The euphemistic terminology has been conveniently harnessed by the disadvantaged for use in demanding more aid while discounting the role of self discipline and hard work.
4.2 Obfuscation Raises False hopes of Entitlement
Makes people sorry for themselves because the world owes them.
The idea that a perfect world where everyone is equal and is attainable by any formula that ignores rule-of-law, hard work, competition and discipline, is an example of wishful thinking that characterises so much of P.C.- speak.
It ignores that we humans, who cherish these noble aspirations of Utopia, have for millions of years evolved through the harsh conditions articulated in the law known as the survival of the fittest.
Evolution is not finished yet! Life continues to be a struggle and no amount of P.C. verbalising or wishful thinking will wipe out those jungle circumstances or usher in an era in which we are all delightfully equal by decree and no longer need to get off our buts to survive.
It is an endearing idea that a constitution can confer equality or guarantee human rights. Evolution promises human responsibilities - rights we have to earn.
4.3 Perpetuates Unrealistic Notions and Faulty Solutions
P.C. has not only complicated communication of solutions and ideas in Africa. It has saturated Africa with P.C compatible ideas and solutions'. Some of this has been intentional, deliberate circumlocution, while some has been an automatic by-product of the P.C. language used.
The damaging practice has reached a degree of severity in which it is no longer an attempt to soften harsh truth or bad news through euphemism. The tendency to convey outright fallacy is now rampant. Not only are we avoiding calling a spade a spade, we have descended into denying that it is a spade or even a shovel
The mind-set that gave birth to and propagates PC and its buzz phrases unsurprisingly develops ‘sure-fire’ solutions to the problems it wants to sweep away. The solutions are naturally characterised by the same short cut,'win-win' approach as PC itself.
An example of P.C compatible solutions is the notion that handouts will solve the economic woes of Africa. The idea of supplying nutrition first so that the people have a moment to turn from burying the dead and to pay attention to what you are advocating is attractive if it means that the second and subsequent steps would be to implement the advice. Unfortunately the giving exercise is so attractive to donor and recipient alike that the process so often ends right there. The donors "have their reward" as Jesus put it in describing the Pharisees, and the recipients have found a source of food unaffected by drought, work or wars. What reason is there to move on to the next step involving self motivated solutions? Having been given the proverbial fish and lived for another day, there is no inclination to learn how to catch one and make a living.
In Africa however it is clear that consequences have been much more serious and anything but amusing.
Firstly many have been beguiled by the PC speak solutions which sound so gentle, generous and effortless that they have been espoused with alacrity. Secondly however, and as a consequence of such avid espousal the failure of the comfortable solutions has been exposed rather more dramatically. The scale of the acceptance and the level of the stakes involved have served to make the disillusionment that much more pronounced. This has in turn provided fodder for those in Africa who suspect a sinister plot in everything Euro-centric. In this way harm has been done even to realistic down-to-earth solutions which by definition call for unpopular action involving discipline, work ethic and other culturally unpopular measures.
Africa has, rather expensively and painfully, constituted a crucible in which the P.C. speak solutions have been tested to destruction, weighed in the balances and found wanting.
The tragedy is that solidly and logically based solutions are perceived to be tainted the same way.
At the risk of mixing metaphors a little, the gospel according to P.C. has made a rose-tinted spectacle of itself in Africa, largely because its comfortable solutions and unctuous promises have been taken so seriously.
By its implied suggestion that negative things will go away if we avoid acknowledging them in speech, P.C. is expressing another aim. That is to bring about a Utopian environment where nothing is wrong, odd or abnormal.
Sadly the African consumption of mealy-mouthed mollification has added to the Afro-pessimism which has tended to write off Africa as a basket case and beyond redemption.
The virus of P.C. has spread beyond the realm of people sensitivity. It has moved into the articulation of action needed to tackle poverty and backwardness.
Where the purest of objectivity is vital, it is sheer cowardice rather than sensitivity that lapses into P.C. Where not a day should be lost in correcting savage or economically non-viable behaviour, the mealy-mouthing of advice in carefully couched P.C. is surely criminal.
Where the bald truth is left to the IMF or the World Bank to utter, while politicians and well-wishing interlopers dilute or contradict the more painful aspects, the audience is only too ready to select the more comfortable messages and so side against the world's economic bullies.
Thus the same bullies are condemned for the failure of their advice to Africa.
4.4 Diverts attention from reality and encourages inaction.
The muffling of frankness and glamourisation of poverty has coincided with enormous assistance in grants, soft loans and strings-free aid that have been poured into the African continent. Some of these efforts have been fatally flawed in their formulae, though doubtless motivated by the kindest and even most unselfish of considerations. Ignoring the causes of the problems and failing to examine whether the kindness will in the longer term exacerbate the problem while giving short term alleviation, have often turned these efforts into a disaster.
Not the least of the consequences is the development of a culture of dependency. It is much easier to switch one's diet to donated Kellogg’s cornflakes than to plough sow and reap.
Arguing about whether the former colonial masters are guilty and ought to make reparations is only about more aid and greater dependency. More fruitful would be frank advice about appropriate solutions to real problems.
Reaction from people who have both feet on the ground, either to the irrationality or the entertainment value of P.C., does not seem to deter the growth of P.C. This may be because it takes the form of a religion whose adherents are not bound by a strict dogma but who are beguiled by the promise of easy entry to Utopia that is encouraged by the mealy-mouthed ramblings that are P.C.
P.C. amounts to effectively lying about the severity of situations. Statements are so edited that the message is lost under a welter of soothe talk.
Utopia is to be achieved by choosing speech which denies the existence of the unpleasant.
The use of PC- speak when describing Zimbabwe's ills is an example of the splendid inaction that this language produces.
I am reminded of the story of a wolf who found her cub caught in a trap which was chained to a tree. After fruitless efforts to dislodge the chain and free the cub, the wolf scratched a channel in the soil alongside the chain and then buried the chain in the channel, covering it with soil. Interested scientists conjectured whether the wolf's logic could be proof of animal intelligence.
4.5 Encourages search for alibis and culprits
P.C. denials encourage ostrich-like behaviour and discourage introspection.
This dream world in which facts have been wished away is surely responsible for the conspiracy theories about the cause of Aids, one that does not rely on the Euro-centric idea of an Immune-Deficiency Virus.
Denial of a virus despite the evidence of science, seems to have been assisted by the hope that politically correct statements would avoid the focus on promiscuity and might even suggest that that the disease had more to do with meddling foreigners.
To insinuate in P.C. style debate that facts which academic and practical science have accepted are irrelevant in the case of Africa, is to trifle with many lives affected by the worlds most tragic epidemic.
Such P.C. denial uttered at the highest levels was undoubted encouragement to a former Minister of Health who actually distributed to provincial medical authorities on 2nd Sept 2000, a document (written by a UFO observer), claiming Aids in Africa is a conspiracy and is transmitted by deliberately adulterated smallpox vaccine.
This denialism, now fortunately reduced to a whimper, has delayed the action so urgently needed. The quack ‘cures’ promoted have exacerbated the tragedy and have surely damaged the reputation of the country and its leaders.
Is this another example of P.C. playing a role in making anything truthful and erasing the truth when it is unpleasant or beyond the capability of a government to handle? A means of avoiding potentially awkward questions from the uneducated but not entirely dumb masses?
Denialism is encouraged by P.C. speech in spheres other than disease because it helps in the search for an alternative culprit.
Human nature has long been known to detest the successful and when it suits, to apply contorted logic enabling the successful to be blamed for everyone else's failures. The Have's are to blame for the plight of the Have-not's.
Africa has been no exception and has been able to draw on the history of slave trade, colonialism and repression as a foundation for such targeting. Encouragement for this approach has come in the form of grants and aid together with wagon loads of politically correct misinformation. Best of all, the Have not’s are thereby excused from doing anything about their plight themselves especially if it requires discipline and effort.
Then again were they to succeed by their own efforts and competence, presumably the largess would dry up.
4.6 P.C. is often Insulting
In describing a dwarf as vertically challenged, P.C. spares him the indignity of the word dwarf but makes fun of him by exacerbating the pitiful reality of his abnormality.
If there were any realistic hope that a congenitally diminutive person could gain physical stature by having his ‘challenges’ white-washed in public speech, one might support the language for its positive aim.
Continuing to describe all people of colour as disadvantaged, for more than 9 years after free and fair elections, may be well intended but runs the risk of becoming something of a racial slur by raising questions about how long it should take equal human beings to acquire advantage in appropriating the benefits of their acquired freedom and responsibility.
So P.C. does not even do a good job of the sensitivity it claims to achieve and can even be downright offensive.
PC produces mountains of wit and humour through its ridiculous efforts at covering up the truth when it is unpleasant and the comical effect the phraseology often produces.
Many books have been compiled of examples of alleged P.C. speak. Some are probably creatively concocted for the howls of laughter they raise among the unbelievers.
In South Africa the P.C. vogue has a particular slant to it, namely that everything that happened after 1994 is politically correct.
The word Areconstruction for example has to be understood as the process of rebuilding what in politically correct terms supposedly did not exist before and could not therefore have been demolished in order to be reconstructed.
The speeches of politicians and the mutterings of labour unions are full of P.C. buzz phrases some of which require definition and most of which are calculated to obfuscate or at least deter the questions of the worried and endangered species known as the taxpayer. For the P.C. wary, we provide a few examples.
A chepessen is a neutered chairman.
The 'legacy of the past' is an historical excuse for hysterical behaviour.
Redistribution is the process of robbing the have=s to make us all equally poor.
RDP was a programme that has been allowed to lapse because robbers and corrupt officials were doing it much better anyway.
Human rights the justification to avoid unpleasant things like responsibility, work ethic, taxes, morality and other people rights.
The Struggle a period in which the faithful tried to make the country ungovernable.
Government the team that made the country ungovernable during the struggle and is now battling to govern.
Struggle bookkeeping a form of accounting adopted during the struggle designed to baffle donors who have the cheek to ask what happened to the money.
Thed foss a mysterious enemy who can be blamed for anything including trying to avoid a Atwo theds maajority. AThed weld on the other hand is a politically incorrect term.
Labour movement people who don=t much like to labour and whose main movement is 'toyi-toying'. The latter is a type of dance used to intimidate at demonstrations or even rejoice at funerals.
Transformation is a process of abolishing a former system of racial discrimination in which whites claimed superior brains, for a new form of racial discrimination in which brains don't matter anyway.
Semantic entertainment produced by P.C. may be viewed as harmless fun. Certainly seeing the funny side of P.C. may encourage the unwary to re-examine its veracity.
Therefore ladies and gentlemen let's have more Aterminological exactitude. It's the right thing to do!
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