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Friday, October 02, 2015

Politics and the English Language: The State of Play




The Emperor's New Clothes.

It is starting to look as though the long, ugly reign of political correctness may be finally coming to an inglorious end. Theoretically, it should have ended long ago, for long ago everyone started denying they were for political correctness. Yet there continued nevertheless to be a list of things you could not say, and indeed a still-growing list. Even in the last couple of weeks, there have been stories of university administrations urging the use of new sex-neutral pronouns like “ze” and “xyr.” We have been hearing more and more about “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions,” have we not? Only within the past few days, I have seen separate sources deriding the terms “niggardly” and “Eskimo” as racially pejorative, although neither is.

Yet, here are three signs that things may have just passed the tipping point:

1. Polling immediately after Ben Carson's “controversial” objection to a Muslim president showed his support rise sharply instead of falling. This was supposed to end his campaign.

2. The University of Chicago has, in cooperation with FIRE, issued a new call for the right to free speech on campus. This is a dissent from campus “speech codes,” coming from a highly respected institution.

3. A NYT report (yes, NYT, usually reliably to the left) says school boards across the US are moving away from “zero tolerance” policies.

When it happens, it should happen quickly. The whole thing has been held together by fear and repression. Nobody dared to buck these speech demands alone, because alone they risked being crushed. But let the secret get out that most folks are really secretly against them, and all heck can break loose. If one person gets away without without serious repercussions, others will be prepared to try it. There can very soon be such a large torrent that social justice warriors will have no hope of exacting a punishment for anyone.

Perhaps Donald Trump burst the bubble. He had enough money, he could afford to take the hit. He did, too—he lost a lot of business for his comments on illegal immigrants from Mexico. But he kept on regardless, refused to retract, the incident popped him into first place in the polls, and the social justice warriors haven't even tried to punish him for any comments since. They begin to understand it would only help him.

So now the jig is very nearly up. It will take a while for everyone to realize that the game has changed, but probably not all that long. Jeb Bush sure didn't get it, when he demanded Trump publicly apologize to his wife for pointing out that she was Mexican.

Being slow on the uptake on this seems currently to be hurting the NDP's poll numbers in Canada. They thought supporting the right to wear a niqab during a Canadian citizenship ceremony was an easy pander. Turns out the general electorate, not just in Quebec but across Canada, are overwhelmingly opposed, and see this as a key issue. It would seem to be purely symbolic, but that's the nature of politically correct tyrrany. It is as if Canadians are angry, not so much about the specific issue, but about PC-ism in general.

I can recall similar flips in the past: Oliver Stone's “JFK” unintentionally managed to almost instantly transform elaborate conspiracy theories from the supposedly smart and chic way to look at the world to a laughingstock.


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