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Semiformalishmaybe

What I talk about when I speak against Political Correctness

I think a good definition is probably helpful. Note that I use the phrase "actionable" in the sense of "actionable" facts; the action is some response to the event; an event is actionable if one should respond to it (in this case, stand against or condemn or ban the expression).

Political correctness is activist criticism or restrictions on non-normative non-as-action broad expression, done on either:

  1. The idea that offense is an actionable harm, or
  2. The perspective that there are significant other categories of actionable harm in expression (such as blasphemy or not being affirming or indirect marginalisation) that can be done without a reasonable belief that the speaker has sexism/racism/etc that is being expressed
As noted, I reject this; I feel that criticisms or restrictions on expression in general have a high bar to meet to be acceptable, it being generally desirable that people comfortably speak as they will. As noted in the definition I provided, I don't believe there should be *no* restrictions or condemnation, just that there's a high bar of justification to meet.

This definition is at least partly incomplete because it doesn't fully capture the distinction between, say, criticising a piece of art for being bad art or an idea for being ill-formed (which are not relevant to the term) and not calling some foreign head of state "sir" in a play (which likely is relevant to the term); this is lightly implied by the term "activist", but it's hard to really capture it deeply, and that term "activist" is itself problematic because it ranges from actual activists to speech codes that might come about as a result of activism to lese majeste.

As any programmer or philosopher mourns, it's hard to be precise without being very wordy, and when one is wordy it's easy for an idea to be lost among its details. Maybe we need short-definitions and framework-definitions when we propose ideas. Or something.

Comments

Just an off-the-cuff response to start: there are all kinds of speech/expression that I would criticize.

Take, as an example, the time my friend used "gay" as a put-down and I told him I didn't want to hear that used as an insult and walked away from him.

I don't think using "gay" as a put-down is problematic because it causes offense, precisely; I think it's problematic because it feeds into a general environment of homophobia. Closeted kids grow up hearing "gay" used as an insult and understanding that it isn't safe to be themselves.

In this case, I don't think the friend in question is homophobic; he supports gay marriage, he knows I'm bi, and we have a mutual friend who's gay. But his particular frame of mind is pretty much irrelevant to the question of whether pervasive pejorative usage of the word "gay" is harmful to the people who hear him say it. (Tangentially, I think it's really misleading to represent people as either having sexism/racism or not. Is anyone in the world with zero prejudice? I think it's naive to think we could ever be free of intergroup bias.)

So, I've said I criticized him for making that comment, but that's drastically different from saying that his freedom to say harmful things ought to be restricted. He obviously has the right to call things "gay." And I just as obviously have the right to walk away and tell him I don't want to hear that.

I think there's a parallel to this in the "Fighting Sioux" controversy, because nobody (that I've heard) is saying that the school can't legally call themselves the "Fighting Sioux." However, the NCAA also has the right to say "If you call yourselves that, we're not going to associate with you."
There's at least an argument as to normativity on the use of the word "gay" that's not there for the "Fighting Sioux" (actually, two loosely-coupled arguments, in that it's usually used to criticise male non-heteronormative behaviour independent of the title, and it happens to be using a preferred term for a grouping of people).

Comparing that to "lame" the way we use it in geek culture, "lame" as a synonym for disabled is a now-abandoned term that a lot of people don't even know (I wasn't aware of it until much later in life, just like "dumb" as an abandoned term for someone who is mute).

You're right that it's hard to be free of prejudice, although the way I phrased it tried to make it clear that I'm aiming for whether prejudice is being expressed or not.

The reason I am so strongly opposed to the NCAA is that the kind of argument needed to acceptably make criticism/shun along the lines that it did is not present, and it therefore sounds to me like PC. I'd be almost as bothered if it decided not to associate with some random team until they changed their name.

(Anonymous)

It's hard to know where to start.

Let's start with PC. "Making a change because you're merely worried someone might be offended."

Your definition above is long and confusing. It also hinges on what you mean by "actionable", which appears to be decided by your gut. I disapprove of gut reasoning, except when my gut is the one doing it. And sometimes it's bad then, too, because it results in weight gain.

To ask whether the Sioux nickname situation is a result of the NCAA being PC is to ask whether they had any reasons other than people being merely offended. If we can find even one (even if it's a stupid reason), then by definition they are not being PC (but they could be stupid).

In fact, we clearly have one such reason -- abuse of Native American fans at sporting games. There's no real debate that this is a problem, and while it seems like there are or ought to be better solutions than changing the nickname, it's just as clear that *changing the nickname would work*. So, the issue is not one of political correctness.

You can also ask who is forcing who's hand. The NCAA has said it won't let the Fighting Sioux nickname or logo be used on TV or in official documents, and some related stuff. This is the NCAA saying it won't let the nickname be used in NCAA-related matters. In other affairs, I don't believe the NCAA cares. This is very much a, "You can call yourself that, but you can't use it in a way that forces us to go along with it."

One might have asked about dolphins being harmed in some relation to the sports name, "Dolphins". That was a strange example, because it dealt with third parties doing things to third parties at places unrelated to the football team. In this case we're dealing with sports fans from affiliate schools doing things to each other. In the dolphin case, we might say it's out of our hands, but in this nickname case, there's no way we can say that. Of course, there might be good actions to take in the dolphin case that alleviate the problem, and the same is true here. But that's a question of what a desirable or optimal solution looks like, which is a separate issue from whether one is pursing a solution in the first place.

So in the Sioux case, there were a variety of complaints about the nickname. There are many solutions to many of them. One simple but drastic solution is using the nickname less. To after the fact look at those reasons and dismiss each of them as not actionable, and therefore the NCAA is being PC, is a tenuous position to hold, though perhaps you could do so if you were very careful in your considerations.

Another question here is who exactly the victims are. UND is a university, comprised of students and staff. The students by majority are now in favor of a nickname change, but the state legislature has voted against this. And as mentioned, some Sioux fans have been harassed, and of course there are many other racism-related issues on campus, though it may be difficult to measure how much the nickname affects these. But anyway, so looking at things now, we have some UND students definitely victims of the current name, we have a student body and coaching body who want to change the nickname, and we have a state legislature of non-students non-staff and non-coaches who want to keep the nickname. Who are the victims here? If the nickname were changed, who would be sad? Yeah...

(Anonymous)

Also, I should note that it would be erroneous to impart pure motives to the Fighting Sioux nickname selection group. We have no idea what they were thinking. Some related names, like Redskins (the former nickname of the high school nearest to UND, retired in the 90s), were chosen at similar times and later changed when it became reasonably obvious that that was a good idea.

In fact, if we want to look at current Fighting Sioux nickname supporters, the overwhelming trend is for people to support the name not out of any desire to honor the tribe, but rather a sense that "those crazy liberals are screwing with us, and they should go screw themselves". Thus, the nickname becomes a tool to make an anti-liberal political statement (based a mistaken interpretation of what they think liberals are endorsing. Not supporting the Native Americans, but rather using them as tools to make some wild political point.
Well, let me open a new comment to go back to something we've been flitting around. How do you decide what's actionable and what's not?

I think we all agree that "I feel offended" isn't actionable. Living in Qatar during the Mohammed cartoon controversy was eye-opening for me -- I can't believe people are willing to shut down freedom of expression so they don't have to feel a bad feeling.

You keep talking about "normative" vs. "non-normative," which I have been assuming means that you agree with me that insults that create an atmosphere of intolerance (like using "gay" as a slur) are (or perhaps might be?) actionable. If UND's nickname was "SDStateAreFaggots" would we agree that they should be pressured to change?

Even if we accepted that framework, that leaves the question of how much harm something has to cause to warrant censure. How do you decide if something is normative or not? How do you decide whether the use of racial stereotypes is part of a larger culture of intimidation or not?

Or is that not what you mean by "normative"?