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Uses and Misuses of Political (In)Correctness

I believe there is a noble idea in the root of political correctness: to treat each other in political arena with courtesy, to express ourselves kindly and with mutual respect, not to insult each other and call for hatred.

The Fact of Pluralism

Political correctness was created because of pluralism. After the reformation, discovery of the New World, and development of natural scientific method, at the beginning of Modernity, the unified and unique view of the world within Western civilization was lost. We found ourselves in situation where we disagree about fundamental social values, and that it is very difficult, maybe even impossible, for us to agree.

This would be merely an interesting footnote in history textbooks, hadn’t religious wars in 16th and 17th century shown us that because of insurmountable differences in opinions, instead of coexistence, we end up in the bloodshed. One of the objectives of political community, however, is to ensure peace and security of its citizens.

Pluralism, of course, is not connected only with modern Western society. From the early centuries of Christianity, we can observe different understandings and interpretations of dogmas which led to the situations that popes and anti-popes convene opposing synods, that bishops excommunicate each other, and that theological discussions often take a very unpleasant character. Saint Basil in his book De Spiritu Sancto refers to the discussions after Council of Nicea as: “The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church…”

Odium theologicum or theological hatred is term created with these debates inside the Church. Of course, the Church is not a parliament, and inside her the Holy Spirit is a special principle of unity, which leads diversities towards deeper unity through Magisterium, sense of faithful (sensus fidei) and unity with the Pope. But, even so the Holy Spirit unites in diversity, not in sameness.

Tolerance and Political Correctness

Given that we need to live together despite our disagreements, civilizational achievement has been represented through two values: first tolerance, and later political correctness.

Tolerance has essentially said to us: “Feel free to disagree, feel free to hate, but you mustn’t kill each other.” It is clear to us that tolerance is not an ideal of the civilization of love. However, it was a minimum necessity to achieve coexistence – we may disagree, but we must not kill each other. Recognizing that tolerance is only enduring of the other person, and not true love, some Christians are willing to rule it out completely. But this is wrong, because although tolerance is not a supreme value whose fulfilment solves all the problems of man and the society, it is still necessary as a first step towards love. Tolerance refers to those whom we do not easily endure (and not to those who we like), and the first step towards love is that we start to endure them – to tolerate them. This of course doesn’t mean that we agree and approve everything they say.

But, having accepted the first step, we realized that we cannot stay on it. If tolerance remains mere enduring of the other, soon it will transform into latent accumulation of hatred in society. We stopped killing each other with guns, but we hate and kill each other with words.

So, when we realized that pluralism is still a fact and that it is very hard to build a community where different groups spread hatred towards each other, political correctness was an attempt to provide certain rules of civility in public discussions. The goal was to create an atmosphere in which we can live together, and not just survive. Hence, this was a civilizational accomplishment: if we can’t agree, at least we can treat each other in a decent way, without insulting.

Misuse of Real Values

The first misuse was made by the liberal side when political correctness became negation of its original idea. Instead of enabling coexistence of different political conceptions, on its own behalf it started to exclude many of the participants from permitted public discussion. “You are not politically correct according to standards which we ourselves have set? Well, then you can’t participate in the political arena, we will censor you.”

I would say that the root of this misuse lies in the fact that political correctness has been absolutized and hasn’t been placed in context of other values necessary for a mature political conversation – truthfulness and (self)criticism. While we respect each other in discussions, we can’t give up pursuit of the common truth. Political debates are also debates about common goals, common good and common truths. In politics, we can’t escape debates about truths which concern all of us, and we can’t be satisfied that in the end everyone will just go on with his own truth.

Even if we take some relativistic of sceptic position that no one has the right to lay claim to the truth, even then we will insist that at least one truth is valid for everyone – namely that truth can’t be known or that it doesn’t exist. So, it is necessary that everyone strives for at least one universal truth, and therefore we have duty to foster virtue of truthfulness. It is necessary, therefore, that political correctness shouldn’t erase pursuit of truth, which by definition, includes criticism (from Greek krino – distinguish, separate, judge).

Unfortunately, oppressing of opponents in the name of political correctness started to take place in a literal sense. At American universities, it became common to prohibit speeches of conservative speakers or religious persons. This is probably because organized implementation of political correctness came from the American left, and many of those who have implemented those ideas didn’t want to enable recognition and coexistence of their sworn enemies – conservatives. Finally, although at the root of political correctness we can find noble tendency, what many of its preachers really wanted is to use it to defeat their opponents.

Second Misuse – Political Incorrectness

Recognizing the failures of political correctness, many have decided to react with its opposite – political incorrectness. In it we should also recognize a good intention – people simply wanted freedom to express unpopular opinions without fear of being censored for insulting someone. And that is good – freedom to express our opinion even when it is unpopular is based in human dignity. It was necessary to reintroduce in the political speech the striving for common truth, as well as the values of truthfulness and criticism.

But, this sound tendency is also misused today. This second misuse came from the political right. Many have used failures of political correctness “not as an opportunity for objectivity, but only as a cover for insulting their opponents. For indulging their lowest passions.”
This insight perfectly describes the situation. Political incorrectness has under the halo of criticism and fight for truth in fact rejected civilizational achievement that we don’t insult each other in political debates and that we don’t spread hatred. Instead of will for truth, in organized implementation of political incorrectness there is will for defeating the opponent.

Politically incorrect answers often lack almost any kind of argumentation. Instead of critical questioning, they are often reduced to “shut-the-f**k-up” style of response. By rejecting civility in communication, they have contributed to the reduction of critical argumentation in discussions, while lack of truthfulness and intellectual honesty is reflected in conscious trivialization and sneering at their opponents. This, of course, prevents any reasonable discussion.

All this could remain a secondary analysis on a Christian portal, if we wouldn’t witness how more and more Christians in this or that way incline towards political incorrectness. For example, I have recently received invite from one Catholic friend to join a Facebook page, one of many similar which put in the same pot the Catholic inspiration and political incorrectness. I also saw that several other Catholic friends of mine are already in that group, including one priest. One of the statuses which Catholic brethren published on a mentioned page says:

“Roses are red

Love in our hearts is lit

In every time of the season

Leftists are degeneric piece of sh*t”

In the same Facebook group one of the statuses criticizes feminism, and it is accompanied by a painting The Aryan Family by Wolfgang Willrich, Nazi painter. If I am allowed to speculate, I would say that the author assumed that an average reader will not know the origin of the painting, and at the same time its symbolism will send out a strong, politically incorrect message.

Examples are numerous and there is no time to list them all. But due to this fascination of part of the Christian community with political incorrectness, I wish to further analyze this phenomenon.


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