“Political Correctness” is one of those weasel terms that can be used to mean whatever you want it to. Most commonly it’s “…being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have, or to have had, a disadvantage.” And, like almost everything in American politics it’s a good intention without a clear outcome, horribly executed by people naive, incurious and intellectually lazy.
Don’t get me wrong, if I had to pick between the politically correct and the equally naive, intellectually incurious and lazy Ayn Rand-ian, my-religion-first, the-other-is-evil, look out for #1 types I’d probably take the PC’ers.
But in my utopia, I’d prefer not to have to choose between lesser evils simply because all that exists is evil. My vision is a nation (dare I say it – a world) of citizens possessed of emotional intelligence, the capacity for critical thought and a healthy relationship to the inevitability of change and mortality.
Crazy talk! I know…but a guy can dream! So, what’s the path from our current wallowing in our worst instincts to a world gripped by a fervor for win/win thinking? I think the first step is honesty. Notice I didn’t say “truth”, a word implying a fixed reality – our reality is our perception, and each is individual to the person. Honesty, on the other hand, just requires that people speak what they think from their point of view – acknowledging it’s uniqueness.
I bring this up because it BLOWS MY MIND how many people will argue that things like sexism, racism, structural inequality, structural advantage, irrational hatred don’t actually exist. As a card carrying Chez Whitey, I’ve heard things out of my fellow Caucasians mouths – out of nowhere and with seemingly no reason – that make “Birth of a Nation” look like “Selma”. If you have trouble with the idea that some people get treated differently for how they look or speak, you’re just stupid, there’s nothing that can be done with you because you live in a fiction – you’re a ghost that doesn’t know it’s dead.
What I believe deeply is that the majority of people, if they;
- thought about it, and
- thought they could do something about it
would want to live in a world where an individual’s value proposition is what they were judged on. Not their country, not their community, not their race, not their sex, not their preferences – just them, and what they bring to the table.
But how, after all these millennia of top dog/underdog thinking, how do we reject what feels good (and make no mistake, it feels good to be “above” someone – the same way a spike of heroin feels good – the ability to oppress is a rush) for what is good?
1. Mandatory Adoption of Golden Rule
“One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself”, that’s it, not hard to remember. That I even have to suggest everyone adopt this horrifies me, this shit’s been around since (at least) the Code of Hammurabi – as an ethical maxim it’s both obvious and undeniable.
Maybe all those whiny “I want my country back”-types could mount a campaign to replace the pledge of allegiance with a recitation of the golden rule. At least they’d be doing something useful with their lives, and we’d have very young children thinking about this concept every morning. I don’t care how much of a knucklehead you are, this message eventually makes sense.
If we could all get to a baseline where our default response was “how would I like to be treated in this situation” when thinking about political, interpersonal, international, and inter-gender relationships we’d be well positioned to execute the next two-steps.
2. Humans – not Objects
Republicans, Democrats, Men, Women, Transgender, Gay, White, Black, Brown, Native, Inner city, Suburban, Religious adherents, Goths – whatever, all of these “groups” devolve into individual humans. And only that individual human is “real” – everything else is an intellectual construct.
Treating a person like a group or an idea isn’t just rude, it won’t accomplish anything. You can’t “fix” a community, but you can make a community a place where individuals know that if they bring value, they will be valued.
Misogyny, which includes both denigration and idealization, begins with thinking of women as women – not “Betty” or whatever that particular persons name is. Same goes for all the other great hatreds – you create the group, then hate it. To be fair, most of the groups have already been created for us when we’re born, but eventually it’s down to us to perpetuate this thinking or stop it.
The second you allow yourself the lazy luxury of “knowing” that black, whites, women, men, Mexicans, Greeks, nerds, jocks “are all (fill in stereotype here)” – you’re lost. Unless, of course, that’s the way you want to be treated – in which case you’re a tool.
3. Outcomes – not Ideals
If “Liberal White Guilt” has taught us anything, it’s that good intentions plus $3.57 will get you smug self-satisfaction and a Big Mac. Idealism is what children trade in, it’s imagining you’re a big man because you clomp around in your father’s shoes. Idealism makes YOU feel good, not anybody else.
My political bête noire is platitudes without provable outcomes. “Big government is bleeding us dry” – well, exactly how large does it need to be to stop the bleeding? Where’s all this blood anyway? The “Ideal” is the starting point, and only a starting point. If you started a marathon and quit after 100 yards did you run the marathon?
Thinking you can change things for the better isn’t idealism, it’s a fact. But all the energy we put into being serially angry at injustice each time we see the most egregious example of it, needs to be channeled into action. Our instinct needs to be “what can I do – what action can I take”. Sadly, sometimes the answer will be “nothing”, and in those cases we need to see if something else can be done and do it.
Individuals are the architects of their own pain, and individuals must be the architects of their own happiness. There isn’t a governmental deus ex machina to be fired up and set loose on these problems – thinking of social ills as things fixable from the outside, is similar to thinking you can “give” democracy to people who didn’t ask for it. You can help, you can provide guidance, you can provide solidarity of effort – but you can’t make somebody enfranchised without asking them what they want to be enfranchised in.
I haven’t solved anything here, I’ve just been frustrated by the endless talk, talk, talk that accompanies any new social nightmare in the US- and I’ve taken it out on you.
The very least we can do is treat others as we would be treated, and that means treating others like individuals. If we do that, we’ll be a hell of a lot further down the road toward the kind of civilization we can be 100% proud of.
End of screed! Be kind, be excellent!