An I For An I

One of today's value systems is called "political correctness". People have reduced this name to an acronym: "PC".

An amazing thing about political correctness is that it is only indirectly about politics. Directly, PC is a set of speech guidelines for specific and general settings.

At the surface PC's appearance shut down the common use of jokes demeaning groups of people. But a priori to these guidelines PC is a categorization of reality. Like other value systems, it dictates which entities are to be referred to by which words.

PC itself flouts PC

Generally, PC applies when the subject is gays, or people with disabilities, or people who are not caucasian. But PCs strictest mandate is that these must not be grouped together! For example, PC commands that homosexuality must not be spoken of as a disability.

This incongruity was humorously revealed recently when TV news' Cynthia Izaguirre substituted 'gay' when the teleprompter said 'blind'.

they're trying to make a better world

PC advocates share a motive with the proselytizers of classic religions. As the former demand the term 'gay' be used instead of 'homosexual', the latter demand 'the 10 Commandments' be put in every schoolroom.

Of course, these are not identical approaches. We can safely say one approach is newer & more intellectualized and the other is older & hoarier.

writing down a value system

The rules of PC are not supposed to be written down. Today people's pre-conscious pretends this is because of PC's superficial fascist nature (no PCer wants to be caught coming across like ten-commandment type). But in reality this is done because of 1) the contradiction 2) breath taboos.

New Age interpretation

The West is becoming more and more a settler culture (and less of a warrior culture. It is also merging with nomadic culture). As this happens its 'breath-death wish' is weakening.

Also weakening is what Alan Watts referred to in 1966 as 'the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are':
“It is said that humanity has evolved one-sidedly, growing in technical power without any comparable growth in moral integrity, or, as some would prefer to say, without comparable progress in education and rational thinking. Yet the problem is more basic. The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity.” [from]
The weakening of this taboo means knowledge of the contingency of the breath is reaching modern pre-conscious. The (in some ways) over-educated middle-class of the West has now sensed what Watts sensed. But they disagree with his advice
“We do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need a new experience--a new feeling of what it is to be 'I.'”
Instead these moderns invented a new value-system: Political correctness.

the current behaviour

In their relation to PC, Moderns behave one way or another
  • some never flout it
    (or feel guilty if they do by accident)
  • some flout it superficially
    (by making a joke demeaning one of the 'victim' groups, or a medical/political claim about one of the victim groups)
Each of these two groups pretends they are the free speakers, even as each of these two groups obeys different taboos. In other words: not everyone acquiesces to PC , but everyone acquiesces to its opacity.

added 2006/06/16:

The acclaimed-but-little-seen 2002 movie Far From Heaven represents a similar conflation (as PC itself does, as Cynthia Izaguirre did). In it the director -Todd Haynes- shows what it might have been like in the USA in 1957 for middle-class closeted gay men and their wives.

Haynes set the drama in Connecticut, and he has said this was partly to take advantage of the fall foliage. But for some reason Haynes included a sub-plot involving race-relations. This, even though in interviews it's clear he had done no work on what race-relations were there then (he makes it seem as if every white person in the state then was a committed racist).

Far From Heaven's twin themes do ring true. It's a good film. However, to me there is an echo in the movie not of reality but of the Western identity issues PC is partly designed to cover up. Westerners -trained to equate race prejudice with sexual-orientation prejudice (while simultaneously trained never to think about them together!) - have been largely ineffective in ending either.

If I haven't been clear: Both racism and prejudice against gays are wrong. And egregiously stupid. I just think there's a reason modern people who share with me the desire to end both have no idea why either prejudice exists. They think they know (they think these are taught behaviors) but they don't.

updated 2006/07/08