In the debate between Chris Seaton and Mario Machado on the question of political correctness versus progress, there is a tacit tension that goes unmentioned. Well, until now, anyway. Contrary to the assumptions of the unduly passionate, not everyone who rejects the accouterments of an ideology is in disagreement with certain of its goals or even methods.
As Mario argues, the imposition of authoritarian language and tone demands is not merely phony pretense, but dangerous in the ways Orwell warned us about long ago. But as Chris argues, greater civility would go a long way toward getting along.
As an old guy, I hold open doors for people, men and women. I perform random acts of kindness, for no better reason than I believe it to be a good thing to do. I help a great many people who need it, asking nothing in return. I do these things not because I fear some scold watching my every move, who might chastise me, or call me mean names if I fail to adhere to whatever orthodoxy prevails at the moment. I do these things because that’s how I choose to conduct my life. I behave like a gentleman.
Here, not so much, you say? Perhaps, but just as I choose to be a gentleman otherwise, I choose not to suffer fools gladly. To some extent, the two are incompatible, although I pointedly note that no one forces anyone to read SJ or leave a comment, so as the Oracle of Lincoln says, volenti non fit injuria.
There are occasions that I intentionally tweak the forces of political correctness. I will type out the word “girl,” even “gal” at times, which I realize will infuriate the scolds who roam the internets in search of things to find offensive. Some might see this as trolling on my part, being deliberately offensive to evoke an outraged response from the unduly passionate. I do not.
At no time do I take a stick and beat the insipid scolds. I merely use words, relatively ordinary words at that, which they have decided are never to be uttered upon pain of shrieking. I refuse to allow them to dictate the words I’m permitted to use. Sure, I can afford to do so, as I have no need of their approval and no fear of their condemnation. They’re silly little pimples in my world, waiting to popped.
The “words are violence” mantra is a lie, a pretense that the outraged use to rationalize their condemnation of lingual heretics. Some, like preferred pronouns, are too ridiculous to be taken seriously. No one is entitled to invent their own language and expect others to “respect” it. And no one is entitled to ram it down other’s throats.
The problem that arises is the conflation of refusing to accept the premise of eliminating words that someone, somewhere, finds somehow offensive with some underlying bias against people of another gender, race or sexual orientation. A white woman wearing hoop earrings does not inherently hate black women. A black guy wearing a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo doesn’t necessarily hate Latinos (or if I was being up-to-date, Latinx). And a man using the word girl is no more doing violence against females than the responsive woman smacking him down by calling him “fragile little boy” to show how fierce and brave she can be on Twitter.
Civility, like so many other conclusory words these days, means whatever someone tells you it means. If you fail to adhere to some sensitive soul’s demands, you are uncivil. There’s no argument about it. They decide whether you’ve met their standards, and because they are more marginalized than you depending on the victim hierarchy of the moment, the demand that you be civil has no applicability to them. It’s their job to correct you. It’s their job to attack your lack of civility. To do otherwise would be complicit.
Should we be civil? Of course we should. It’s a far kinder and gentler way to conduct one’s life. But can you be sufficiently civil to not outrage someone hunting for reasons to be outraged? Only if you accept the premise that large swathes of language are now forbidden. And when in doubt, moderate your language, even if it means you’re incapable of expressing clear thoughts and rely on trendy euphemisms or conclusory vagaries just to be certain not to offend anyone.
Be civil, but it won’t help. You can never be civil enough to appease the phonies claiming offense because they turn over every rock in search of it. Be civil for yourself, not for them. They will never be satisfied. And because of that, their shrieks have no relevance in a gentleman’s world.