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Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of 'Political Correctness' (1994) [pdf] (brown.edu)
75 points by gwern on Feb 22, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments

"Political correctness" is one of those high-signal low-content phrases. People on opposite sides of the debate can't even agree on what it means.

I wrestled with it by trying to come up with a 2x2 matrix (https://medium.com/@tunesmith/the-competing-definitions-of-p...) - I generally believe it's possible to exchange ideas completely, honestly, and respectfully without compromising meaning or passion.

I still get stuck on the subject of trolling, though. It's distributed and weaponized in a way that wasn't possible in Aristotle's days. Difficult to find a principled way to shut it down that is consistent with the principles of free exchange of ideas.

The biggest problem with political correctness is the friction between politically correct ideas and actual empirical reality. If there weren't that friction, political correctness wouldn't even be necessary. It would just be called telling the truth. That friction is always there though and constantly generating painful cognitive dissonance that require constant positive pressure in the form of censorship and downvotes to maintain the fiction that reality is being accurately described.

For example, try posting FBI murder rate statistics by race of perpetrator and victim to any forum where political correctness is highly active. Instant downvotes and censorship to maintain ideological hygiene. This is the constant positive pressure that is needed to alleviate the friction between reality and political correctness.

There is a belief that pretending that reality is a way that it is not will make it the way that it is pretended to be. We all experience a very small segment of actual reality, so this actually works for people who are insulated from certain realities that might be ideologically unhygienic.

> The biggest problem with political correctness is the friction between politically correct ideas and actual empirical reality.

Maybe. Nobody has enough grey matter to comprehend actual empirical reality even if they had it all laid out for them, and in practice most social maneuvering other people do is unobservable. There is a very strong layer of realpolitik in reality where actors must ensure that their in-group has power, facts be damned.

The real issue is when in-groups don't believe in the growing-the-pie mentality that benefits everyone. A belief that the resources we have are fixed and that only by taking from one group and giving it to another is the single biggest problem. We've seen that belief play out in horrific ways on the left, right, intellectual and populist spectrums and any other axis of thought you care to name. I see danger in the PC crowd, whoever they happen to be, if they believe that one persons wellbeing comes at the expense of another persons speech. That isn't tied to any particular issue; cultures have survived being wrong before.

Isn't it reasonably likely that the people citing, e.g., the FBI's murder statistics by race of perpetrator and victim, are asserting their own sort "ideological hygiene", and hence the down-modding?

That is: aren't some proportion, if not a preponderance of the people citing that operating from a narrative that people of that race are "bad" — ignoring the centuries of social and economic context around the statistic as if it has no bearing on why the statistic is what it is, little details like the disconnect between correlation and causation, &c — and that it's their operating from that narrative, and neither the citation nor the fact, itself, that's being down-modded?

Aren't those people just as — if not more — insulated from "actual reality" than the ones using the forum's moderation mechanisms to "punish" their holding that narrative?

Yes, it's still toxic to discourse, but do you really think discourse is very likely in the first place, when you're dealing with someone who's probably only citing the statistic because it confirms their biases?

EDIT: phrasing

> For example, try posting FBI murder rate statistics by race of perpetrator and victim to any forum where political correctness is highly active. Instant downvotes and censorship to maintain ideological hygiene. This is the constant positive pressure that is needed to alleviate the friction between reality and political correctness.

I find it hard to believe that no one has mentioned the factors that make murder rate statistics misleading to you. At the very least, that it's being put out there with the implication that correlation is causation, and ignores other factors that have much more basis for a differing murder rate, like socioeconomic status.

It's probably the set of information that's put out there the most often in order to muddy the waters, often by people have racist motivations.

And you instantly went to assume the intentions of the author and their lack of knowledge, etc?

The author said "posting the data" is enough for backlash, they didn't say anything about judging the data, let alone that they'd judge the data like you say they would.

And even if they would draw "misleading" conclusions from the data, it is not helpful to rant at them and punish them, but rather assume their good faith (until proven otherwise) and explain to them why they were mislead by the data. Even if it's a bad white supremacist who'd never change their mind, you might still positively influence other people reading the same exchange instead of making other people root for the "underdog" (in that conversation) who was viciously and personally attacked just for posting data.

Yes, because that would be a reasonable explanation for the downvotes.

Most of the time people talk about “black on black crime” they’re not trying to make a sound statistical argument, they’re using it in service of some larger racist point. So yeah, when you start talking about “what about Chicago” or the shape of people’s heads, people tend to put you in the same bucket at everyone else who seems to be really interested in certain facts...

When the last hundred people you've seen post that data do so in order to apply a racist judgement, bayesian reasoning says that this person is likely doing the same and engaging seriously isn't going to go well.

This is a poor example for making that point, in the sense that it lacks a moment of realization or revelation. All this example carries is a technicality of yet-to-be-inidentified faith, but not even a hint of justification for considering the contrary. An open mind is something to test and critique but not merely punish or condemn, as this example attempts. A human should be expected to act on probability and defend against risk to the best of their ability and awareness, and it is the point’s failure to sympathize with that which makes it moot.

Well how about the friction that occurs when a crackdown on crime is viewed as racist because more people who commit murders are arrested which statistically includes more minorities? The flip side of this is fewer minorities, who are much more likely to be murdered by other minorities, are murdered by those minorities. So the people who benefit the most from these crackdowns are minorities who are victims of crime perpetrated by other minorities. Thus, this policy is actually beneficial to law abiding minorities, though it is viewed as against their interest by politically correct advocates who refuse to acknowledge the actual statistics of crime. They are ideologically obliged to ignore the FBI statistics and to state that a policy that arrests more minorities is thus racist because the arrest rate of all races are not equal. This exact thing actually happened in New York City with the Giuliani administration when they had the big crime crackdown in the 90s.

That's the big problem with censorship. If op would post the true statistics that black crime rate is higher than other races then op would be downvoted. op would then go on to think that they are right, and that the political opponents are afraid of having their political bias exposed. If however op was not downvoted for making an innocent observation, but rather was told that the statistic could be used to show a higher correlation between poverty and crime, maybe op, and other readers, would change their mind about the situation.

The problem with this approach is that if op was trolling then they could spit out a huge list of seemingly correct correlations that nobody would have time to debunk all of them. That would allow some of op's bad correlation to be left not debunked and appear that it is right.

In online forms you have to figure out if someone is trolling and then behave in one of two opposite ways based on it they are out aren't.

> I find it hard to believe that no one has mentioned the factors that make murder rate statistics misleading to you. At the very least, that it's being put out there with the implication that correlation is causation, and ignores other factors that have much more basis for a differing murder rate, like socioeconomic status.

Absolutely socioeconomic and cultural factors affect the statistics. But they also affect statistics like representation in the tech industry.

If someone objects to bringing up one then the same person should object equally strenuously to bringing up the other. Which is not what happens in practice.

>It's probably the set of information that's put out there the most often in order to muddy the waters, often by people have racist motivations.

Lower cognitive ability is related with racism[0]. So it might not be malice, but simple that they cannot grasp the social underpinnings of such statistics.

[0] http://www.fraw.org.uk/library/anarchism/hodson_busseri_2012...

I do think there is a consistent split between the two populations when interactions like that occur.

But I don't think it is as simple as an individual advancing a "reality" that a community is not able to accept.

I think it is easy for the individual to look at it that way, though.

But this is because there's a hidden syllogism lurking about. I could better describe this with a graph, but...

Let's look at the example of mass shootings. Someone could very well bring up historical murder rates (even leaving race out of it), and show that things really are better than they have been in the past, in terms of general trend.

Brought up to people that are alarmed about the prevalence of mass shootings, they'll probably get down-voted or ostracized or whatever.

The individual feels frustrated, because they feel they have disproved some syllogism the community has. The assumed syllogism being, this mass shooting happened, mass shootings mean more death, therefore death rates are increasing. Individual has pointed out that death rates aren't increasing.

But the actual syllogism is the concern about the qualitative nature of the death. That it is saying something about us culturally that is qualitatively different than it used to be. Or simply that someone should be able to go to school without having to worry about that sort of thing culturally.

And the counterpoint that death rates are decreasing over time does nothing to disprove those implied syllogisms. At best the individual's point comes across as irrelevant, at worst it comes across as insensitive, disrespectful, or even pointing towards a worse implied syllogism of the individual's - like that the victims deserved to be killed for not being able to defend themselves with firearms or whatever.

So, next time you post FBI murder rate statistics by race of perpetrator and victim, it's probably best to ask yourself if those stats actually are relevant to the argument that your counterpart is actually stating. It might not be material at all. And it's also good to be explicit about what your point's conclusion is, and what conclusion it disproves.

I think the question in that situation is, why did you post those stats in the first place? Are they relevant to a discussion? Or did you just want to rile people up?

This entire discussion is about political correctness and self-censorship. (Maybe reluctantly) Saying things you know are true, despite being against some current political climate, in some way.

But it sounds like you already made your own answer.

But again, what was the intent behind posting those stats? What relevance did they have to the discussion the person was referring to? Cause if, for instance, you're posting them in a discussion about police treatment and responses to black people, then you're just doing it to be an asshole.

To respond to the same question twice:

You clearly imagine he/she gave that example in an effort to "rile people up", or are at least alluding to that as a strong possibility that others should consider. How you can come to that conclusion (out of an infinitude of hypotheticals) from the given information, I do not know.

But to me, it may be a sign that you're looking for things that aren't there. I urge you to consider how in touch with reality you are.

Sigh. You didn't add anything to the conversation. And this is the internet. Of course people will post things to rile others up. If you don't think that's a possibility, then I'd have to suggest you're the one out of touch with reality.

It is productive to see political correctness as a religion.

It describes / prescribes some idealized, "correct" reality, and does not allow empirical reality contradict it. It also frowns upon any discussion of its postulates, unless the discussion is sure to confirm them, to the shame and chagrin of opponents. That is, it is dogmatic.

It also tries to extend itself wherever possible, without reservations about its applicability. It has largely captured universities (which were initially high clerical schools anyway). So, it is proselytic.

It promises a bright future where everybody is much happier, and nobody is hurt, because the pitiful nature of contemporary humans is overcome, and everyone is politically correct and can finally have safe, civilized, fruitful interactions.

But the most important is that the proponents are apparently not encouraged to think outside the box, but tend to use the creativity to apply templates that may not be discussed or doubted, else anger erupts.

I think "respect" is the wrong angle. It might more accurately be called "lack of justifiable offense."

Put frankly: You don't have to be respectful with negative claims about white males to be politically correct, but you do for other groups. The amount of respect is irrelevant. The relevant factor is whether or not someone might perceive what you say as offensive, even if it is entirely respectful.

> even if it is entirely respectful.

Or accurate. Or backed up by science.

The thing about trolling is, it’s like trying to have a conversation with a screaming baby in the room.

You’re going to have to deal with the baby first, and that issue has nothing to do with free speech.

It has to do with the real, sad, abused people who do this behavior. Their society and families have failed them and now we are paying the price.

Somewhow these people are going to need to be taken care of in the real world otherwise this problem will never go away.

The problem with that matrix is that it seemingly just conflates being PC? with being respectful.

Instead, PC language is a tool that can be used to show respect. However, just using PC language isn't enough if you ideas or not PC.

I don't really have a problem with PC language as I think asking for respectful language when communicating is entirely reasonable.

What bothers me is censoring non-PC ideas. When we prevent ourselves from asking certain questions or challenging certain ideas we risk missing important insights or solutions.

When certain progressives are scolded for being nasty and irrational toward people, they sometimes claim it is their “praxis” and you shouldn’t criticize it. I don’t see why the same wouldn’t apply to trolls. Do I really need to scrutinize whether they are a thoughtful satirist, a Russian operative, or a wayward teenager?

>Quadrant 4: Absence of Both: For purpose of discussion, we’ll disregard this quadrant.

When your grid is missing the "not A and not B" quadrant, it might be better drawn as a Venn diagram.

You're absolutely right. I don't know why that didn't occur to me. :-)

"Good faith" seems to be a decent minimum bar for participation in any such argument.

Judging good faith is very difficult, since it depends on assessing someone else's interior experience of the discussion.

In a proper discussion you assume good faith. End of story.

In such a discussion you would also have to enter with the willingness to acknowledge that you were incorrect.

Those things are basic requirements for any civilized discussion.

Importantly, also [1994].

This is not the first time the PC wars have raged.

I like David Foster Wallace's essay, "Authority and American Usage" (2005) as another take on things -- he was around for the PC wars in the early 90s too.

Its been going so long, the talk show named after it has flipped script and is uncomfortably PC now. Oddly, back then, 'PC' was associated mostly with the conservative crowd.

Ah thanks. Year added above.

Interesting, and written at the same time as the book "Private Truth, Public Lies" by Timur Kuran. I found the book to be highly useful in understanding how preference falsification shapes "absurd" societies. Looks like this article analyzes the mechanisms that lead to "public lies" in more detail.

Without having read the article I'd like to point out that societies can be organized along many different and mutually exclusive beliefs. Neither of the beliefs is wrong in the absolute, but a society depends on its members to accept one belief for people to work together as a group. The development of pluralism is a rather new form of organization that is alien to most cultures.

It is a triumph of humanism to have reached this point. We're in constant negotiation over which beliefs are acceptable, and which ones would destroy our society. It is a good thing that the field is wide, but it must be understood that the field of public discourse will have off-sides. If the enemies of humanism find themselves shunned this is in accordance with my beliefs of how a society should be organized.

There is PC, and there is the accusation of PC. One is held to be self-censorship. The other is a tool to disarm your opposition by accusing them of behaviours which disfavour their intellectual honesty, or claim your own views are being excluded.

Speaking in code is normal. "we dont like your sort" is a phrase which can crop up in a western, bad guys talking to good guys, or in a realtors office "white realtor to black purchasor" or in a cake shop "christian cake maker, to gay couple" -There is no visible pejorative quality to your or your sort but contextually its understood.

The PC moment, is denying the existence of the power relationships in the topic. I have an intense dislike of a six letter word used in the times of Mark Twain and others to discuss african-americans. I cannot abide the word, I walk out of conversations where it comes up, and I avoid its use. I am appalled by the ?ironic? re-adoption of this word by the rap community, it is a huge thorn in the side of millions of people worldwide. Is this being PC? its what I feel. If somebody cannot rationally discuss race relations in the USA without use of this word, what have we come to? is english as a language so bancrupt, we have no alternatives?

The odd thing for me, is that the five letter alternative also starting with N, Negro, is now also a pejorative, when for so many years it wasn't. Truly, this is a minefield to negotiate. Then African-American, now people of colour. I like "people of colour" a lot. But I also know, in some time to come, it too will fall from grace. Yet, my residual hate for the six letter word remains. Nothing said here about PC will rid me of a sense the word is wrong, its use is wrong, and the intentionality using it, strongly disposes me to characterise somebody as belligerent in a power relationship.

Even used ironically.

I have an intense dislike of a six letter word used in the times of Mark Twain and others to discuss african-americans. I cannot abide the word, I walk out of conversations where it comes up, and I avoid its use.

The mother of my ex-girlfriend of 7 years had the same attitude about that word.

Is this being PC? its what I feel.

It matters how those feelings are used. If feelings, like offense, are used as emotional/moral bludgeons and accusations, primarily to silence opponents, then it's dishonest and counterproductive. Likewise, if words are primarily used as emotional sandpaper, to wear away at an opponent, then it's equally dishonest and counterproductive.

Nothing said here about PC will rid me of a sense the word is wrong, its use is wrong, and the intentionality using it, strongly disposes me to characterise somebody as belligerent in a power relationship.

The solution is rational discussion. I don't think there are productive uses of that word. I also don't think that the majority of accusations of racism and sexism are meaningful, used as they have been as bludgeons in a cultural war of feelings and ideas. What's more the shame, is that I think there is very good reason for discussion. There is racism. However accusations at this point will generally make things worse. The cure for it, which I have seen work in the real world, is interchange. Discussion, watching things together, sharing food, just getting to know people -- this is how toxic -isms are defeated. Acrimony isn't that. Acrimony is the fuel to the in-group/out-group mentality of the mob. Acrimony is the fuel of toxic "-isms."


A key question is whether or not a person can enter into a public forum, such as a discussion on town policy, use a slur, and continue to be heard and engaged intellectually. If they can, then the process of self-governing can continue. If they can't -- and to the degree they can't -- we are shutting people down and making them lesser citizens because of our desire to be "language police". That's PC.

In small groups, of course, there are completely different rules, set by each community. That's how it should be. If combat soldiers are worried over one person's use of bigoted language, they've got their heads in the wrong place. (That language might need to be corrected. It's a decision for each group to make.) If academic or religious groups talk about language, it might be a completely different discussion. Or not.

What Political Correctness seeks to do is create a universal language standard for all types of communication, then punish or silence those who fail to abide by it. It's the type of thing that might be spot-on for the local model railroad club or bowling league -- but is completely anathema to the foundations of our way of life if applied universally. Modern communication systems continue to exacerbate rather than mitigate the problem.

Many people do not see the big deal, wondering "what's wrong with requiring all of us to be nicer to one another?"

These people do not understand the problem and are just making things worse for society overall in their desire to be "nice". Quite ironic.

If combat soldiers are worried over one person's use of bigoted language, they've got their heads in the wrong place.

I was listening to a veteran speak about this. Basically, the squad leader told everyone, okay, you're from all over, and your fellow soldiers are from all over. You're going to encounter racists spouting all sorts of crap. Don't worry. They'll get over it when there's real work to do.

USA was country of immigrants, and still is. Should newcomers carry same baggage of language? Should they be shamed for using these words?

How do newcomers acquire the use of these words? If we shift to one side slightly, how do lebanese arrivals learn to laugh at Polack jokes? What moment says its ok to laugh at those crazy poles, call them polacks, and have to sit by while the other guy tells jokes about rag-heads from the middle east?

its a perpetuating hell. the only path out (I feel, but possibly wrongly) is to break the cycle.

In ex-USSR at least, and, I bet, in many spanish speaking countries, word "negr" or "negros" refers to any dark-skinned person without any baggage of slavery, diminishing mental capabilities or anything like that. (Word "nigger" is not really used in ex-USSR except may be some teen groups who listen too much to rap music, and still does not carry same baggage)

Why these immigrants should be shamed for use of these words, why some should be offended by words?

Intent should matter. And if bad intent is not there - there should be no judgement. That how empathy works both ways.

I get strange looks sometimes, when I say that I like the Norwegian deathpunk group Turbonegro. And then there are those Texan punk groups with names that I self-censor.

I don't think we'll be able to break the cycle until we encounter aliens and there's a whole new spectrum to use as a measuring stick to label outsiders. The cycle persists because of how different the outsiders are compared to "us" insiders. The human animal is like many animals, matching patterns in past experience and applying labels to those patterns in order to survive. Religion and superstition are fine examples of this behavior. As is racism and classism and politics, etc. I don't think this will change unless the pattern-matching, label-applying biology/behavior is eliminated, e.g. the human animal is changed into something that isn't human, or through semantics, e.g. unless the human animal is presented with something so extraordinary and counter to the status quo that the definitions are changed.

Every country is made up of immigrants. Stating this brings nothing to the table. Language is an enormous part of culture and social interaction. It is incumbent upon the people that relocate to a region, country, or community to adapt to those that are already there, particularly if there is a thriving and productive community in place. It would be completely unfair if a bunch of Liberal Americans who are fed up with Trump moved to a small East Asian country and expected them to put English on all the signs just because they were fleeing a political faction they abhorred. This is not a right v. wrong situation; there is a logical process to the civil redistribution of population. If it is not civil (be it desperation ((Syria)), enforced ((German speakers after WWII)), or appropriative ((Europeans in North America))) then this point is moot, but in the 21st century we cannot act like people just accidentally end up in more economically beneficial areas.

It would be completely unfair if a bunch of Liberal Americans who are fed up with Trump moved to a small East Asian country and expected them to put English on all the signs just because they were fleeing a political faction they abhorred.

Somehow, various Chinatowns in the US seem to do alright, even though many of them have signs in Chinese. There is an amazing amount of wealth generated there, though there's also often a greater degree of squalor. (One exception is Houston's Bellaire, though there may be seedier parts of that I'm not familiar with.)

I think USA is much more `immigrantish` than many other countries. Compare USA to Japan for example.

Of course it is expected that most immigrants adopt most of cultural aspects of the new life, but not all of it. And each immigrant brings part of his cultural heritage too. So culture will change over time.

Accordingly to this - https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/imm... - immigrants are close to 15% of total population. This chart also does not mention number of children of these immigrants.

These are people who do not have this inherited and ingrained guilt for enslavement simply because they did not live here when that was happening, nor their ancestors to tell them stories.

To compare the USA and Japan is a pretty huge leap. Better to compare the USA to more similar regions, though i admit this is tough to do. Do you compare them to South Africa or Brazil (they were all three colonies, they were all sources or recipients of slaves, immigrants, and refugees) or do you compare them to Australia and Canada (because White People seems to be both a self identifier and an accepted universal descriptor)?

Either way, both yours as well as the other response (which i cannot reply to for some reason...) are missing the point. In his case it is neither the available opportunity for economic advancement nor is it the community posted signs that are relevant; it is the idea of state sponsored dynamic linguistic delivery of statutory information. In your case, you are picking two very disparate points on a continuum as if it were a balanced and logical comparison. More to the granular point, if you delve into Japan's history you will see that immigration and displacement are a relevant and undeniable factor just as they are in literally every recognized country on earth in terms of state formation and identity, be it racial, ethnic, cultural, or regional. The "nation of immigrants" argument is at its core a tautology. Establishing which nation is the most "immigrantish" would be akin to establishing a wetness scale to individual drops of rain.

Edit: spelling

My beef is with people who are heroic fighters against past injustices, while the company the work for walks over the rights of the same people today.

Who cares for a politicly loaded word used- when somebody perfectly nice and gentile - can manage a hedge-fund that deprives a whole african country of basic infrastructure for profit or a chance to boot-strap some basic industry with market protection laws.

I dont care, if my anger ruins anyones "we-can-have-nice-things" party on a mountain of bodys.

If somebody uses the N-Word as a battering ram to get to the rotten Core behind these PC- Disney Castles - here have a megaphone.

Strange coming out of Brown, although this is from 1994, because it is now consistently ranked in the top 10 furthest left among universities...which is saying something considering that American universities have an average distribution of 12:1 in left:right representation among educators.

When he wrote it, he was at BU, for what it's worth.

He (Glenn Loury) is at Brown now. As for his political views, he hosts a podcast for Bloggingheads TV where he delves into a range of topics.


I see PC as a means by which some members of a ruling group try to secure their status within that group by self-righteously condemning other members of the group and the group itself. The PC beliefs themselves are adapted to cowing the spirits of the ruling group and to controlling thought. Only the most virtuous and the most wicked of the group are unaffected by the onslaught.

'Controlling thought' because in order to win the PC contest it isn't enough to memorise what to say, you have to give up control at a deeper level which includes the self-censoring of forbidden thoughts.

Another aspect of political correctness is that each speech act is seen to either 'perpetuate' or not this or that negative dynamic, and is incorrect or correct accordingly. So a weight is given, even to exchanges between private individuals, based on a simplistic and unverifiable model of how communications interact to shape society.

Every time this comes up, I always have to wonder, why is it so hard to not be a jerk to other people? That's really the essence of "being PC". Treat others with respect.

> why is it so hard to not be a jerk to other people? That's really the essence of "being PC". Treat others with respect.

Not really. "Political correctness" encompasses a set of values that aren't the only good values. There are other positive values that are incompatible with it in one way or another. Saying "it's just about not being an asshole" is just a way of claiming everyone with different values than you is an asshole.

In fact, as far as I can tell, "being a jerk" and "being politically incorrect" are actually completely orthogonal. I've interacted with lots of jerks (and shared freeways with them too) who weren't being in any way politically incorrect - and I've observed people who have been fired from jobs for being politically incorrect even though they were actually incredibly polite about it.

Which positive values are incompatible with political correctness?

An obvious one drops out if you take apart the term "politically correct" itself and think about it: the value that people should independently make their own judgements, potentially against pressure to conform. That's incompatible because political correctness requires conformity; either to a political authority or a zeitgeist, from which an individual is not allowed to stray far.

Undocumented immigrants increase the supply of labor, and therefore applies downward price pressure. If you are someone who trims/removes trees, reducing this foreign labor arbitrage is a positive. (While undocumented immigration may be a positive for efficiency/economy as a whole, it certainly is not if you are facing increasing competition as a supplier of a service)

That's not really a value, but more of an economic analysis [1].

Translated into a values, I'd say it'd be something like "focus on helping your long-term community members," meaning you'd try to preserve your local tree-trimmer's standard of living.

The conflicting PC value is something like "focus on helping newcomers, regardless of any negative effects on your community's existing members," meaning you'd support the immigrants and immigration, even if it pushes your local tree-trimmer into poverty.

[1] I'm starting to get annoyed with how economics seems to be used as a substitute for so many ways of thinking that it's totally unsuited to replace. Not just here, but all kinds of discussions. It has too firm a hold on people's minds.

I've been called a racist for suggesting everyone be treated equally regardless of race. You know, because that indirectly supports a racist society because it doesn't result in equal outcomes.

If you really think that "being PC" just means not being a jerk to other people, you should consider talking to people with differing views more often.

and in what context did you make that suggestion?

You were sitting around with your friends at the dinner table and suddenly you said I think everyone should be treated equally regardless of race? Or maybe you were in a discussion regarding reparations or the equal opportunity act and you suggested everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, meaning that you didn't think abuses of the past should be fixed (on edit: fixed in that particular way at least)?

I mean it just seems a weird statement for you to make and censured for without some context.

It can happen any time you are discussing college admissions decisions or hiring policy in tech.

It is, in fact, quite politically correct to make a case for giving minorities perceived as disadvantaged a "leg up" in getting in the door, whether through admissions quotas or advantageous interviewing policies. Regardless of context, even. You can walk into work tomorrow, say that, and there will be no repercussions.

Responding that you think the best candidate should be chosen regardless of race (even in context) can be called racist. I think you know this, though.

The way that any time political correctness is brought up, there's a case being made that, "Well, maybe that's a dog-whistle and you're actually just a racist," contributes to the problem, too. One side gets the benefit of the doubt regardless of context. The other is presumed to be racist until proven otherwise.

Discussions of "PC" fill me with existential dread, but here's my anecdata: I've seen a good share of rude and disrespectful people who chalk it to being "un-PC", and I've seen a good share of people who talk a great deal about empathy, inclusiveness and cultural sensitivity and are thorough jerks.

As the former pride themselves in being rude, the latter excuse (or justify) their behavior on the need to go against the status quo/not perpetuate inequalities, etc.

It's much like how the "feminism = equality" slogan is inaccurate; not being accurate does not mean it's the opposite, but that it's an oversimplifying definition for the masses that actually ignores all the theory, politics, history and movements of it.

The problem, at least for some, is giving up the discretion to decide what "being a jerk" is. Once you've let others decide the list of things that are jerkish, you've also given them the power to put their idea of political dissent on that list. You don't need political correctness to realize when you've been a jerk to someone.

You don't need political correctness to realize when you've been a jerk to someone.

Some people seem like they need it, or maybe even a carer to let them know. They’re not as bad as people who think that being abrasive and lacking social skills is some secret sauce on their “brilliance,” which you get too much in medicine, tech, and STEM in general.

It isn’t the secret sauce, it’s what some people are willing to tolerate during your productive years, sometimes.

I believe we can come up with at least some pretty standard definitions of "being a jerk". Telling a racist joke where the point is to dehumanize the targeted race? That's pretty clearly being a jerk. Purposefully misgendering a trans person? Again, very clearly being a jerk (this doesn't count the situation where you don't actually know what gender, and accidentally use the wrong one, but it would count if you then stuck to your mistake, and obstinately refused to correct it).

> Purposefully misgendering a trans person? Again, very clearly being a jerk

Your statement is more an attempt to establish a new norm and less an articulation of a well-established one. It's not unlikely that you'll encounter someone for which it's unknown as such.

And there's a complicate split between just telling a race-base joke and "dehumanizing". As well as just going by what you perceive as other person's gender vs v doing that on purpose.

The problem is that nowadays stating one's views, convictions and principles that those "other people" disagree with is considered an offense. It's either agree with me or you're a Nazi.

No, it really isn't. You might be able to find one or two extreme cases, but you're not going to find that as being the general case.

You will on reddit

And Facebook.

I think a lot of "PC" people are disrespectful jerks themselves. There is a value in PC but nowadays it seems mainly used to shut up dissenting voices and marking them as evil.

> why is it so hard to not be a jerk to other people? That's really the essence of "being PC". Treat others with respect.

Other replies have already hit the main points of why this position doesn't really make sense. Mostly it comes down to "jerk" being a subjective term.

However, I'd take thing a step further even. Why is it a problem if someone is a jerk? As adults shouldn't we be trivially able to disregard the aspects of someones communication we deem "jerky"? Why do we consider it reasonable to escalate hostility when someone is being (what we perceive as) a jerk? "Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me", is an objectively true statement. Any harm done by words is self inflicted. If we use the basic, nearly automatic, capacity we have to filter communication, "jerks" aren't really a problem.

"Why is it a problem if someone is a jerk?"

Why is it a problem for that jerk to simply not be a jerk?

""Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me", is an objectively true statement."

It's not.

"Any harm done by words is self inflicted."

It's not, and this "blame the victim" mentality you're displaying is, well, quite frankly, rather jerk-ish.

People use the "Don't be a jerk" definition of PC when they are trying to argue for its importance, and a very different definition when it comes to actually branding people as anti-PC. Well, it doesn't work like that. You have to be consistent.

The "jerk" framing is useful, but probably not in the way you mean it.

There will always be in this world obnoxious, boorish, impolite people. We should all try not to be such. But their existence doesn't mean the world is in a state of crisis, nor should we compromise time-tested principle of freedom to deal with the (non) crisis.

Ah yes, a perfect microcosm example of what's wrong with people who think "PC" types are being "too sensitive". They, and you, seem to think that everything in the world is hunky dory, and the only problems that exist in the world are a tiny subset of "jerks" who are intentionally so. And can't we call just get along and keep the jerks on the sidelines?

This view is very popular but it is completely counterfactual and ahistorical. Firstly, it completely ignores the issue that it is possible to hurt other people without intending to do so. This is something that is basically impossible to not do as an ordinary flawed human being. You will hurt other people, period. You will do it, I will do it, everyone will do it. The question is how do you respond. If your response to being called out on hurting other people is to say "no, that didn't happen, you weren't hurt, your hurts are imaginary, because I didn't intend any hurt, I will not change my behavior and you can go fuck yourself for hurting my feelings" well, you had a moment of opportunity to not hurt someone intentionally and you lost it. You can no longer claim the mantle of "not intentionally hurting other people" after that point. On the other hand if you take the time to engage with being called out, educate yourself, and understand why someone has been hurt by what you said then maybe you have a chance of not being seen as a jerk.

Secondly, we do not live in a utopia. We live in a civilization where the most apt metaphor is a city built on top of a hill of skulls. There are a lot of skeletons in our civilizational closet, and we have not yet expunged the taint of all those crimes and misdeeds from our society. There are still long lasting impacts and there are still enormous instances of institutionalized sexism, racism, nativism, and so forth in our society, culture, and systems of government. Pretending those don't exist, pretending that simply adopting a stance of neutrality is tantamount to "being a good guy" is giving those institutionalized forms of injustice legitimacy.

Not everyone can simply go around day to day pretending glibly that these problems don't exist. For some the actions of even a small minority dramatically impact their lives (how safe they are day to day, for example), for many more the institutionalized injustices that still exist in society affect every day of their entire lives in profound ways. And when they see people like you who try to tell them that it's not a big problem, they are going to speak up and they're going to be right to do so.

These things might not be a crisis to you but you should consider yourself fortunate you have that advantage.

I think it is because we are entitled. Anything we give we must get something in return. What is the ROI of respect in this dog-eat-dog zero sum game?

Or, to rephrase that slightly: why is it so hard for other people not to agree with my view of the world? That's the essence of being PC. Recognise that I know best.

This breaks the HN guideline which asks: "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize."

That's particularly important in a thread that's likely to flare up at any moment. Flames have a lot of energy but intellectually interesting they are not.


That's not even close to what I said or implied.

You are not necessarily the master of your own truth

OP said simply this:

> Treat others with respect.

I guess you're implying that you disagree and that you should be a dick to everyone else?

> OP said simply this:

>> Treat others with respect.

No, the OP's comment was much longer than four words, and part of it implied that if you're not PC then you're a jerk.

It's a lot easier to see the problem with the OPs comment if you think about what it means to be good, and how the definition of "being good" can vary so much between people.

If you want to talk with people about what being PC really is, you have to use fewer vague, high-level abstractions like "jerk" and "respect" and more concrete examples.

Wrong. I simply said that a large part of "being PC" is not being a jerk to others.

No, I'm saying that, in relation to any given topic, there are many acceptable viewpoints, and that you can't just shut down the discussion and outlaw the expression of opinions which differ from your own.

And that's what PC is: we're the nice guys; anyone who disagrees with us is engaging in hate speech; so let's just gag them and send them to Antarctica.

PC is essentially totalitarian. One point of view, no arguments.

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