Treating Others with Respect

These days, most people consider the phase political correctness to have very negative connotations. The phrase evokes images of the Fascist Speech Police enforcing speech codes on college campuses and elsewhere and redefining innocent statements as the vilest hate speech, or of some officious bureaucrat insisting on the most evasive phrasings imaginable so as to avoid offending anyone by any words which might have any real meaning. You don’t have to look very far on the Internet to find examples and complaints about political correctness gone mad, such as banning the word blackboard for racism or referring to Christmas trees as Holiday trees, not to mention near parodies as differently abled instead or handicapped or disabled.

Yet the concept that it is actually possible to insist that everyone be able to go through life without offending anyone intentionally or being offended still has all too many defenders and there are even a few willing to defend the term of political correctness itself without using another, more politically correct term. Such a one is Byron Clark from New Zealand who was frustrated enough by all of the misrepresentations surrounding the words political correctness that he created an extension for Google Chrome which changes the words “political correctness” to “treating others with respect” in order to show the real reason that political correctness has become so reviled in many quarters. I found out about Mr. Clark’s efforts in an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette that a Facebook friend linked to.

The phrase “political correctness” has always grated because of the implication of the agenda that lies behind it. A newly unveiled Google Chrome extension has laid that agenda bare.

New Zealand resident Byron Clark reconfigured his Web browser so that the phrase “political correctness” automatically was replaced by the phrase “treating others with respect,” according to an article on Fusion.net. Now the extent of the agenda becomes clear.

Consider these reconfigured headlines cited in the Fusion article:

• “NC senator compares treating people with respect to Nazi book burnings”

• “Donald Trump: Treating people with respect is ‘big problem’ in US”

• “The real danger of treating people with respect”

Clark says his extension is free, but he would appreciate if those who download it contribute to a cause such as Black Lives Matter.

Well, that makes it all clear. There are just so many people out there who are opposed to treating others with respect. I suppose that the great majority of these benighted people are conservatives who are all racist, sexist, homophobic bigots who shouldn’t be allowed to state their bigoted opinions in public.

Of course this is just a rhetorical slight of hand by Byron Clark and the writer of this editorial. If political correctness were really matter of simply treating others with respect, the concept would be completely uncontroversial, at least in theory. In fact, if mutual respect were the only thing meant by the words political correctness, than the words political correctness wouldn’t be used in that context, since they imply some measure of coercion. It is the very element of coercion involved that led people to begin to refer to the efforts to impose speech codes and ban hate speech as political correctness. It is this whole idea of some self-righteous authoritarian telling everyone else what they can and cannot say and can and cannot think that is really grating and changing the words to treating others with respect does nothing to change that.

Beyond the matter of the coercion that is inevitably involved in what is called political correctness, another issue is that saying the proper, politically correct words is not the same as treating others with respect. The real core idea behind political correctness is the idea found all too often among people on the left, that virtue is shown not by virtuous acts but by saying the right words and thinking the right thoughts. Saying African-American instead of Black or developmentally disabled instead of retarded is regarded as a sign of superior virtue regardless of how one actually treats Blacks or the retarded. You can be a complete jerk to your employees, sexually harass every woman you meet, treat your Mexican gardener as subhuman, yet still be regarded as a good person provided you have the correct opinions on unions, feminism, or immigration. A murderer who makes the right sort of statements about America’s racist criminal justice statements has to be innocent, or at least his crimes can be forgiven. A terrorist and dictator is a hero, despite his crimes if he happens to be a revolutionary.

Political correctness, then, is not really any sort of real respect for others but a sort of play acting, of muttering the right words to impress others with how respectful you are, instead of really doing respectful actions from the heart. It is a sham, especially if it is something imposed from without. Political correctness is really an offense against truth and real respect and the sooner we can get over the whole thing and really start treating others with respect, and this may include telling them an unpleasant truth, the better.

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