Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Brief Tortured History of Political Correctness

When you control the language of the debate, you control the debate.

I have mentioned before how different political factions like to use specific words to label themselves or their ideas.  The abortion debate is typical.   No one wants to be "anti-" anything, so the anti-abortion side re-branded themselves as "Pro-Life" which sounds positive, and also implicitly brands the opposition as being anti-life or pro-death.   The pro-abortion side, having a horrible moniker to begin with, decided to use "Pro-Choice" as their weapon, but it pales compared to "Pro-Life" as it makes it appear that a mere whim is an alternative to a gruesome, ugly death, which is exactly what the anti-abortion groups wanted.   They won that round.

Language controls what we see, think, and believe.  How you interpret events and ideas often depends on language and how it is used.   As an Engineer, we see this all the time - new concepts and ideas boiled down to a word or two as a useful tool in describing whole concepts, so that time can be saved when two Engineers communicate with each other.   As a result, when you hear two Engineers deep in conversation, they often sound like they are talking in code (pardon the pun) which in effect, they are.  As an Engineer and Lawyer, and I have to straddle both worlds, and in a Patent Application, we cannot use these shorthand terms without defining them first and that's where it gets fun - two Engineers might have disparate ideas of what some shorthand term means.   For example, "cloud" as applied to the Internet - how would you define it?  Odds are, another Engineer has a slightly different meaning.

The classic example of this is the Urban Legend that Eskimos have twenty different words for "snow" while Pacific Islanders have none - or something along those lines.  It probably isn't true, but it was designed to demonstrate that language is affected by your environment and language affects how you interpret your environment.    When you have no word for "snow" it is pretty baffling the first time you see it (unless someone explains it to you ahead of time).

Democrats have been flummoxed by President Trump because he has a knack for using shorthand communication to express ideas.   And what flummoxes them is that he is not a very bright guy, but manages to turn a phrase or two, particularly on Twitter, that resonates with the news media, his supporters, and like an earworm - even with his opponents.  Who remembers the nicknames he gave all his opponents during the primaries?   You may remember "Little Marco" Rubio (which may have been a slightly racist spin on "Little Ricky" Ricardo), but odds are, you don't remember the platform Senator Rubio stood for.   Trump's use of labels has been remarkably effective, which is infuriating.

But the Left has had the field to themselves for so long, in terms of labeling things, that maybe the payback is what stings the most.  Political Correctness, or PC, has a number of forms, in both terms of policies, but also in language and labeling - the latter being really all PC adds up to.   And Political Correctness has a long history - overseas - but really only took off in America in the 1980's during the Reagan Administration, perhaps as a reaction to that Presidency.

In Communist countries, back in the day, Political Correctness was actually a thing.  Nearly every school, factory, military unit, ship, commune, or other institution or grouping of people would have a "political officer" whose job it was to insure that no one strayed too far from the party line.  Ry Cooder, when he went to Cuba to record the Buena Vista Social Club album, was followed around by a political officer, as part of his entourage, as illustrated in the documentary of the same name.

And of course, Communist countries used certain PC terms, such as calling everyone "Comrade" which implied a level of egalitarianism that really never existed.   But it is a telling use of words - if everyone is equal, Comrade, then you have nothing to bitch about, right?

Of course the Nazis and other fascists used similar PC words and techniques.  In pre-war Nazi Germany, people had to be careful of what they said in public. As in Communist countries, a neighbor could denounce you to the authorities and you'd be hauled away and that neighbor given some of your possessions as payment.   PC has an awful history and it really isn't getting much better.

I first caught wind of modern PC when I was President of the Gay Student Association at Syracuse University.   We had a house on fraternity row, and I put in a draft beer system and every Thursday night, we had a party.   It was not unlike other frat houses, and we really weren't too political or deadly serious about things.  Two decades later, I returned to find the building now houses the LBGTQ studies program, and there were a lot of deadly serious people in there discussing deadly serious issues and apparently majoring in LBGTQ studies.  No beer.  And I felt something was wrong about that, besides the lack of something to drink.

The first inkling of this was, back in 1985, when the Lesbians demanded we change the name of the group.  "We aren't Gay!" they said, "We're Lesbians!"   And so someone proposed changing the name of the group to the "Gay and Lesbian Student Association" to appease them.   "You men!  Always having to go first!" they replied, so the name became the "Lesbian Gay Student Alliance" which was ironic as the Lesbians never showed up at our events, but instead had a smaller group of their own.  But changing the name seemed like no big deal, so everyone let it slide.

One day, our Secretary, who was a nice fellow from Costa Rica, charged into the Office, and told me about this "new thing" called "political correctness" - we would all use non-offensive words and terms to describe one another in this new era of touchy-feeling friendliness.    I sensed then that something was wrong.  The name change thing one one deal, but this was, well, something wasn't right.

And since then, it has gone downhill - or uphill, depending on your perspective.  The biggie, of course was the movement to change "Black" to "African-American" as if we white folks called each other Irish-American, or French-America, or even Euro-America.   No, no, we were White, but Blacks were no longer Black but African-Americans.   And everyone went along with it, at least for a while.  It seems, decades later, to be a tempest in a teapot, and like most PC it accomplished nothing other than to create a false victory for a short period of time.  Today, it seems that Black is now back in vogue, although the two terms are used pretty interchangeably.

Then, someone decided that Midgets and Dwarfs should be called "little people" and this was bootstrapped by some television programs where a midget or dwarf character would feign to take offense at the terms midget or dwarf and proclaim, "We like to be called little people!" in response to which, the main character would hang his head in shame (cue canned laughter).   I never understood this one, as I never thought of Midget or Dwarf as derogatory names but just, names, just as "Black" is a name or the name of a color.   And both names describe two different things - what makes a person a midget is different than dwarfism.   I am not so sure that all the midget and dwarfs out there were clamoring for this change, or what indeed, it accomplished, if anything, other than to make them out to be PC asses - which I am sure they are not.

Meanwhile, back at the GLSA, they were adding more letters.   So today, we have LGBTQ whatever those stand for, and of course, like the GLSA or LGSA (the latter of which is some sort of ladies' golf tournament, I think) they really don't represent a homogeneous group, but rather a series of very small minorities who really have nothing in common and don't really interact or congregate together in a "Community" - which brings us to the next point.

The term "Community" really took off at about the same time as PC did.  Some call it "identity politics" and label it as divisive.   We are all pigeon-holed into different "groups" and then marketed to, respectively.   If you are in Group A, you are expected to hold a certain set of beliefs and values, and if you disagree with this, you will be schooled in short order.  It is nothing short of the oppression that people have been trying to fight for generations - but many willingly embrace it, and even worse, others idiotically follow it, thinking that "I am part of this group, ergo, these should be my beliefs!"

So instead of pandering to the beliefs of different groups, politicians and self-appointed "Community Leaders" (when did we have the election?  I never got to vote!) decide what is the group-think and everyone is expected to fall into line.

Take the case of Bradly Manning - who some describe as a "Transgender Hero" - a term so laughable, I have to wonder if someone at Bretibart didn't cook this up as a means of discrediting the Left.   I'm really sorry, but a soldier who betrays their country and gives secrets to our enemies is never a "hero" and it is shameful what he did.  But blindly, Democrats go along with this narrative than he/she is some sort of folk hero deserving of our praise, but in reality has accomplished nothing in life, other than to screw up the one thing he was charged with doing.   And now he is running for Senate.   Makes sense to me!  The world has gone crazy.

And you notice I am not going along with this pronoun nonsense.  Until Mr. Manning pulls off the neat trick of changing his chromosome makeup and growing a uterus, he is a man.   Now he might be transsexual, transvestite, a drag queen, or whatever, but he will never be a woman - that is physically and medically impossible.   And no, I don't buy this "I am trapped in the body of the wrong gender!" nonsense either.   If you want to mutilate your genitals, go right ahead (unless you live in sub-Saharan Africa, then it is an outrage).   But don't expect publicly-funded health insurance to pay for it, as it is elective surgery.

Now there has been a lot of heat and little light spread lately about men wearing dresses and so forth.   And again, these are not a homogenous group of people, but rather different sorts of folks who put on the clothing of the opposite gender for different reasons.   Drag Queens (and Kings) dress up as part of an act - often being paid to do so, or as part of a competition.    I have met and spoken with several drag queens, and surprisingly (to most folks) they have no desire to be women or to take on a submissive or passive role.  Once shed of their undergarments, they are men and while most are homosexual, many play an assertive role.

Transvestites, on the other hand, wear women's clothing for a sexual thrill.   And oddly enough, most transvestite men are in fact, heterosexual.   There are a LOT of "straight" men who get a thrill from wearing their wife's panties, either as part of some sexual act, or just on a daily basis.   I remember reading about this in "Dear Abby" in the 1970's, and in fact, I think it was a plot device on some television shows (a man admitted to the Emergency room is found to be wearing women's underwear) back around the same time.   The act of cross-dressing is more widespread than folks would like to admit.  It's not my thing, but I am not one to judge.

Transvestites are a different thing from Drag Queens, although there is some overlap.   But your neighbor next door might be wearing women's panties right now, sitting on the couch next to you, as you watch the game and as his wife makes snacks. You would never know.

Now trans-sexuals, that is a different thing.   There are some folks who claim they want to be the opposite gender, or claim they are "trapped" in the wrong body, or that they always identified as the opposite gender.  These are folks who dress in opposite clothing not for some sexual thrill, but because they identify as that gender.   This last group has raised the ire of many people on the Right, and like I said, the Bradley Manning thing certainly didn't help matters any.   And I am sure there are some transgender people out there who are outraged that Manning was chosen as a poster-boy for the "movement" when his actions were disgraceful.

Folks on the Right raise all sorts of idiotic issues with regard to transgender people.   "They are going to go in the opposite bathroom and rape people!" they say, which is a very odd argument.   Despite Bradly Manning's many faults, I don't think rapist is one of them.   And a transgender person is not going to be that easily detectable - in fact, you may have seen or met some and not even known it.

In response to this cooked-up "controversy" some righteous self-appointed bathroom monitors have actually dragged women out of restrooms, claiming they were transgender men.   Turns out they were just butch Lesbians looking to go pee.   And in another manufactured "controversy" some guy on the "alt-right" went into a woman's changing room at the local pool, claiming he had a "right" to change clothes there as he "identified as a woman" (when clearly he did not).  It is a tempest in a teapot, with both sides trying to make the other look more and more ridiculous.

And in that regard, I have to wonder if trolls are not behind some of this - even the Internet Research Agency in Russia.   After all, dividing Americans against each other acts in Russia's favor.   A weak America is their goal.   So when I read things online about parents whose five-year-old son is "deciding" his gender, I have to wonder if it isn't a put-up job designed to get us all outraged, like these stories about Kindergarten teachers who are men-in-a-dress, complete with hairy legs.

But apparently it is true - and if so, it is disturbing.   Kids do weird things - that's why they are kids.  And often kids do things for attention or just to be creepy.   But kids also "grow out of" phases in their lives.   You may have been a "goth" in Junior High School, but that doesn't define you for life.  At the very least, I think you should wait until you are of legal age before attempting any sort of medical treatment than can affect you for the rest of your life.   After all, what happens if you change your mind later on?  And again, I have no trouble with adults doing whatever they want to do, provided it doesn't harm someone else (directly or indirectly) and I don't have to pay for it.   And elective surgery doesn't become "reassignment surgery" just because some doctor needs a new Porsche.

The problem with popularizing this sort of thing is that some parents - particularly on the Left - start looking for it.   How trendy, after all, to announce at the cocktail party that your son has decided to change genders?   Now you are the topic du jour and a trendy one at that.    It is what I have said all along - most gay people just want to be left the hell alone, but instead, an entire industry has arisen to sell sexuality like soap.   I mean, it's bad enough that some Mothers secretly want their sons to be gay.  And apparently, in Japan and Korea, this is a thing.

I mentioned before how in Pompano, we somehow were put on a subscription list for Out! magazine or some such periodical.  I was horrified by it.   On the cover of the first issue we received was an article, "Methamphetamine, the new gay drug?" as if this life-destroying deadly drug was some kicky new hobby.   And inside the pages, corporate America was vying for the spending dollars of gay Americans - to buy new Jeeps, or Coors beer or Levis jeans, whatever.   Spend all your money!  You'll look fabulous!

The problem with this, is that if you make gay trendy there are some who will jump on the bandwagon just for the hell of it.  Doubt me?  Check out these "Tide Pod Challenge" videos on YouTube.    People will do things just because you suggest it to them.   And I am sure there are more than one or two people who decided to "come out" as gay in high school or college, only to later on decide that it wasn't something that fit them, but was a trendy thing to do at the time.

And when you stoop down to a five-year-old boy or girl and ask them, "what gender do you want to be?" they will not realize that it was up for discussion or a matter of choice.   But what the heck, let the kid make a life-changing choice at an age before he can even read or write.  It's the new thing today - like saddling some 18-year-old with a hundred grand in student loans.

We didn't get a lot of choices at age five when I was a kid.  You did what you were told or got the back of a hand.   And it really wasn't so bad, because quite frankly, at that age, we were spastic little monsters, running around screaming at the top of our lungs - like most kids do.   Indeed, "maturity" in America, begins at age 30, if even then.  We don't expect people to get a job, a career, or married until then, or have children until age 40.  But hey, age eight - good time to choose your gender, before you've even had a chance to test-drive the standard equipment!

But I digress - but not by much.   I guess the problem I have with all of this is that none of it is up for discussion.   And what little discussion there is, just is knee-jerk hate-filled religious bullshit from the far-right - things like these "bathroom wars" which are really irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.  The right wants to create hot-button issues (much as they have done with immigration) rather than try to solve problems.  And on the Left - how dare you question any of this?

And sadly, both sides of the political spectrum act this way.   Neither Democrats or Republicans want to see the abortion issue decided one way or another, as this festering wound gets out the vote for the political base on both sides.   So rather than solve problems, come to a compromise, and hash things out, they want to have an issue that will never be resolved, as it keeps them in power.   In a way, it is like the Palestinian thing.  If a peace plan were figured out tomorrow, it would be hijacked by the radicals on both sides of the issue, as this festering wound is essential for them to keep their jobs.

And the last is another example of the use of language in debate.   Some Israelis claim that there are no such thing as Palestinians but rather the people living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are just a collection of various Arabs, and not a nationality or indeed, even a country.   This is an interesting argument, although it seems like a non-starter.   No one seems to have taken up this banner, and indeed, when a group of people decide to call themselves something, it is kind of hard to stop them from doing so.   After all, before May 14, 1948, there was "no such thing" as an Israeli, right?

We also saw this word game being played in the 1980's, when the words "handicapped" or "disabled" were deemed offensive rather than merely descriptive.   Cheerful folks, who were not handicapped in most cases, decided that "differently-abled" was a better moniker, although not necessarily descriptive.  If you can't walk, for whatever reason, you don't have "different" abilities, just one less than most people and there is no shame in that - it just describes reality.  Changing names around doesn't accomplish much - a handicapped parking place and a wheelchair cutout ramp are far more concrete changes to society that allow the handicapped to live and work among the rest of us - something that was almost unheard of, back in the 1960's when I was a kid, Ironside notwithstanding.

Of course, like anything else, people take a good thing too far.   People who want to bring their pets on the plane or to the store are now buying harnesses and vests online and claiming they are "service animals" even though you can see from 1,000 yards away they are just unruly, untrained pets.   We once joked with our blind friend in college that we should get a harness for my brother's dog, so we could take it into restaurants and whatnot.  And my blind friend told us that back then, they made it hard to get those harnesses simply because they were worried people would do just that.  Today, well, we have the Internet.   And your "service chicken" keeps you calm on that scary airplane flight, even as it shits in my box lunch.

There are signs that this is starting to swing the other way. Good intentions - helping the handicapped - have backfired in a big way.   People have abused the "service animal" thing for far too long.  And allowing lawyers to play "litigation lottery" with handicapped access hasn't resulted in improved lives for the handicapped, just increased costs of doing business for everyone.  And don't get me started on people who put handicapped placards on their cars even though they aren't handicapped - just to get a better parking space.   Do people really do that?   YOU BETCHA!  My own Dad did it, when my Mother was dying, using her handicapped placard to get a better parking space at the hardware store when mother wasn't in the car.   I made him move the car.

But you can't even say these things in America, lest you be accuse of being "mean" to handicapped people, even if you are pointing out that non-handicapped people are abusing the rules.  In Crystal City, Arlington Virginia, they allowed anyone with a handicapped placard to park at a meter all day long, without having to pay.   Within a year, every parking space in Crystal City had a car with a handicapped placard parked at it.  Parking revenue went down to zero.   They changed the law - that handicapped people had to pay for parking like everyone else - and overnight, the handicapped placards disappeared and parking spaces opened up.  It was a poorly-kept secret that a friendly doctor would sign the forms you needed to get a placard or a handicap tag.  Hell, the same "friendly doctor" will sign a 'script for some oxycontin while you're at it!

The name game, of course, is also in the news lately as some folks on the Left have taken this gender pronoun thing to extremes.  Again, I have to wonder who is behind this, as it seems odd that it would spontaneously erupt.  Are we being trolled yet again?  It is like the "Little People" thing - who decided, when and where, that what midgets and dwarfs wanted to be called was "Little People"?  Was there a convention of some sort?  Was it put to a vote?   It seems to me that these things come from the top-down and not from the bottom-up.   Someone puts the idea out there and others take it up. "Yea, the word "midget" is an insult!  I want to be called a little person!" and so MG has to rename their car the "MG Little Person" in order to sell in the States.

The fact is, I doubt there was ever such a vote, but in fact, these things spread virally.  And today, with social media, even the smallest "movement" can gain a lot of attention, in a very short period of time.   And so today, there is this mythology that a huge number of people are demanding we invent new pronouns for them, or that all of us use gender-neutral pronouns - such as "they" - lest we offend someone's sensibilities.   Because as we all know, having our sensibilities offended is worse that having third-degree burns over 90% of your body.  Those lucky burn victims - they don't feel a thing!  But we cry every time our feelings are hurt.    You don't know how hard I have it!

Most of these "movements" however are limited to college campuses.

So what is the solution to all of this?   I am not sure, but blind hatred, prejudice, and racism are not the answer.   And so far, that seems to be the only answer the far-right has to offer.   This in turn bootstraps the Left, and nothing changes.

Changing the names of things has been proven to accomplish nothing.  The whole "African-American" thing turned out to do absolutely nothing.   And in fact, the "BLM" movement explicitly rejected that moniker in favor of "Black".   And I for one am glad that Black is back, because, baby, Black is beautiful and it is not an insult or a slur, but merely a color of the rainbow - a color we should embrace and not be ashamed of.

We need to stop re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic with these name games.  They accomplish nothing while at the same time appearing to accomplish things while at the same time, blocking real accomplishment.   Because when you shame people for not being "PC" all you do is drive them into a corner.  And cornered animals are always dangerous.

But then again, our friends at the Russian Internet Research Agency are well aware of this - and are playing us like a cheap violin.

UPDATE:  The big problem with PC and identity politics is that the groups we are lumped into are not homogeneous.   For example, we tend to lump all Spanish-speaking people into groups like "Latin" or "Hispanic" when in fact they are a collection of discrete individuals.   Folks from Cuba and Puerto Rico are more Caribbean than Latin American, and even among Latin American countries, there are contested rivalries.   And within countries, well skin color raises its ugly head as I have noted before.   If asked, everyone from Panama to Mexico is of 100% Spanish heritage, because discrimination based on skin color is still a thing there.  Ask you lawn guy why he wears a white scarf over his face when mowing your lawn on a sunny day - it isn't skin cancer concerns, but skin color.

And so on down the line.   We can't be pigeon-holed based on color, race, sexual orientation, or whatever, because we all have different opinions on things.   Democrats are courting the "Hispanic Vote" but are also pro-choice.   But many Hispanics are devout Catholics - you can't just assume they will all vote the same way.  This entire DACA thing is, of course, an attempt to pander to what they perceive as a voting block.

Both parties are guilty of this, of course - viewing us as blocks of voters rather than individuals with opinions.   So they toss each block they think they can snag, some sort of political bone, often at odds with what they promised another group.   Republicans, for example, promise "Free Trade" in the boardroom, but "Fair Trade" on the factory floor.

Maybe the parties should  actually stand for something other than strategies to get elected?