The Politics of Politically Correct Speech
“The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudices with new ones….What began as a crusade for civility has soured into a cause of conflict and even censorship.” George Herbert Walker Bush – 41
“I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking.” Woodrow Wilson, 28th US President, Democrat
“Free speech does not live many hours after free industry and free commerce die.” Herbert Clark Hoover, 31st US President, Republican
In 1949 George Orwell’s social criticism, utopian literature on language, the suppression of writers and thought control “1984” was published. In the book, Orwell creates Newspeak, a form of English that the book’s totalitarian government utilizes to discourage free thinking. Orwell believed that, without a word or words to express an idea, the idea itself was impossible to conceive and retain. Thus Newspeak has eliminated the word “bad,” replacing it with the less-harsh “ungood.” The author’s point was that government can control us through the words. 1
Orwell was sure that the decline of a language had political and economic causes. Although he had no solid proof, he presumed that the languages of countries under dictatorships, such as the Soviet Union or Germany, had deteriorated under their respective regimes. “When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer,” Orwell writes in his essay, “Politics and the English Language.” “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought,” he continues. Here is the very concept behind the invention of Newspeak.
To illustrate this idea that language can corrupt thought and that totalitarian systems use language to restrict, rather than broaden, ideas, Orwell created Newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Without a word for freedom, for example, the concept of freedom cannot exist.
In his Appendix, Orwell explains the syntactical arrangement and the etymology of the Newspeak. A living language, such as English, one that has the capability of diverse expression, has the tendency to gain words and therefore broaden the awareness and knowledge of its speakers. Newspeak, on the other hand, loses words, by removing words that represent opposing concepts. Therefore, for example, because the word “good” presumes the opposite of “bad,” the word “bad” is unnecessary. Similarly, all degrees of “goodness” can be expressed simply by adding standard prefixes and suffixes to this one root word: ungood (bad) and plusgood (very good) and doubleplusgood (wonderful). In so doing, Newspeak not only eliminates “unnecessary” words, but it also promotes a narrowing of thought and, therefore, awareness. The idea behind Newspeak is that, as language must become less expressive, the mind is more easily controlled. Through his creation and explanation of Newspeak, Orwell warns the reader that a government that creates the language and mandates how it is used can control the minds of its citizens.2
Therefore in my opinion, “1984”’s Newspeak equates to censorship!
How is the current “Politically Correct” concept any different from Orwell’s Newspeak?
Why is it not a form of censorship?
If continued, can’t it lead to thought control and ultimately mind control?
Limit language – limit thought!
While the concept of being “Politically Correct” isn’t quite the same as Newspeak, the idea – to control language – certainly is. In “Politically Correct” speak, specific words aren’t eliminated, but whole thought concepts and phrases are! It tells our society what is acceptable speech and what is not, thereby impeding free speech, if not eliminating and/or controlling free speech. If you can eliminate, phrases and thought concepts, because they are socially or politically offensive or unacceptable to some – haven’t you controlled or eliminated free speech and ultimately free thought for all?
In the matter of Separation of Church and State – “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” – G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography, 1937
While written in 1937, is this not an accurate reflection of our current state of affairs, regarding the subject?
“If you fear making anyone mad, then you ultimately probe for the lowest common denominator of human achievement.” James Earl Carter
Mostly, “Politically Correct” speak is an attempt to eliminate comments, phrases and expressed thoughts that might be deemed offensive to some individual or group. Who makes this determination and, by what authority?
Of all the “Rights” guaranteed and protected by the Constitution of the United States, ….. the right not to be offended is not one of them.
Yes, there are lots of offensive people. Yes, there are people who make offensive statements.
But in a society that allows and protects free speech, they have a right to make comments that may be deemed offensive by select individuals and groups. Even though they may intend to make comments and statements that are offensive to select individuals and groups…….don’t they still have a right to make them!
And I’m not sure society has the right or the responsibility to punish them for it. But currently, our society certainly does.
If a public figure makes, even in private, a comment that the “Politically Correct” police deems offensive/unacceptable, it gets reported in the media and played and replayed repeatedly ad nauseam until the offending individual is properly chastised and forced into publically admitting the offense, showing proper contrition and shame and perhaps even hounded from his job or current pursuits. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it is never forgotten by the media and forever used to define him in his future endeavors, all the way to his obituary.
Think not? Look up “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder, Al Campanis (clearly baited by Ted Koppel on Nightline), Anita Bryant, Paula Deen, Steve Lyons, Fuzzy Zoeller, Don Imus and Dan Issel just to name a few.
Most recently Kurt Schilling was suspended from ESPN for the remainder of the year because of a tweet he recently posted, equating Muslim extremists with Nazi Germany, a belief a majority of Americans already hold. Apparently his comment was not “consistent with his contractual obligation with ESPN.” While that is understood, the fact remains, stifling a large segment of the media (were the vast majority of the public receive information and opinions) and by extension their employees, even apparently in their personal comments and opinions, are we not brushing uncomfortably close to Newspeak and its intended purpose?
Yes, with any right there is responsibility and I’m certainly not advocating nor defending the hurtful intent of offensive speech, but…….If there is a price to pay for your speech……….IS IT FREE?
“Those who won our independence believe that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion offers ordinary adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people, that public discussion is a political duty and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.” Justice Louis Brandeis
This topic is expanded and expounded upon at great length on MEDIA@LSE Electronic MSc Dissertation Series: “Free Speech & Political Correctness in the talk radio world: Can a public sphere be achieved? By Michele Margolis
1 = Cliffsnotes
2 = Cliffsnotes