When I was a teenager, my friends and I used the word “retarded” to denote something that seemed idiotic or stupid. Through different outlets that we were exposed to in our youth, we were taught how to treat disabled people and value them as human beings. Sesame Street, Life Goes On, Mask, and Mr. Rogers all taught us that people were creatures of emotions and feelings, and that we were each responsible for our own actions in how we treated them. We were also taught to own our mistakes and instead of absolving ourselves of any wrongdoing, we were to amend the wrong in the best way possible according to the offended person’s wishes. So when we were told that we could not use the word retarded any more, as we had almost generationally redefined the word from actually referring to a handicapped individual, a large portion of us were offended not because we were being told to do something, but because we were being accused of hurting that malfunctioning stereo or ridiculous idea a friend had while high on pot. The fact that anyone would think we were using the word to hurt an individual shocked us, and quite frankly, we saw the whole notion as retarded.
There are a slew of other words that my generation accumulated in our slang that would now be seen as faux pas and socially offensive. The most common being the word “gay.” Unlike retarded, gay covered a whole host of meanings and applications. Someone acting goofy could be called gay. A concept that didn’t make sense or seemed to go against the norm of common sense was gay. An object that was out of place in a given context was gay. You get the idea. But, like retarded, gay has been systematically targeted and attempts to remove it from the lexicon have almost been as successful as retarded.
Can these words, and others, be used as weapons against other people? YES, they can. But so can the words stupid and idiot. Why haven’t the culture warriors come after those? One of the problems with being politically correct is the inconsistency within the rules of the PC culture. You cannot call a woman a slut, but it is socially acceptable to call a man a slut. You cannot say fuck, but you can say f-bomb which in turn makes the person hearing the phrase f-bomb say the word fuck in their head. You cannot say Indian unless you’re talking about people from India which is a tightrope because you have to make sure that when you are talking about Indians from India, you do not use any language to denote old racial stereotypes about Indians that do not live on reservations…I mean Native Americans. Sorry.
But political correctness is more than just a confusing code of words you can and cannot say. Being PC has led to the inevitable cancel culture that we are now living through, and thanks to Twitter and Facebook, the ability to join an angry mob out for some retard’s head who called something gay is easier than ever. And this is causing horrible cultural problems.
Do not think that I am advocating for the returned use of the words retarded and gay. I am personally of the ilk that if the community deems something wrong and wants to get rid of it, and it makes sense to do so, then it should be gotten rid of. What I am advocating for is common sense, something we have abandoned.
As noted above, generationally, Gen-X was taught through all of our media outlets how to treat human beings respectfully. We were the first generation that was largely acceptant of homosexuals and their civil rights. We didn’t understand why they were being treated differently because of who they loved – that came from Mr. Rogers, who taught an entire generation how to not only allow feelings to happen, but also how to treat people as you would want to be treated. He taught us how to be respectful and kind. But Gen-x is also human, and as a generation we created a vernacular that we defined ourselves. We took words and changed how to use them in response to the world around us. Then, somewhere over the past thirty years, we were told that those words could not be used anymore, regardless of context.
As a culture, Americans are extremely self-centered. We focus far too much energy on how we as individuals feel and not on the context of the situation and what would have made the person or group who is offending us do the things that they do. It is abhorrent to hear a white supremacist attack minorities because of outdated bigoted views that we can all agree have to go away immediately. But it is also abhorrent to watch Twitter get its panties in a wad over a forty-something white male calling a bad TV show retarded or gay. In no way do the two compute as the same, no matter how much tree hugging you apply.
And understanding context first before digitally taking someone down can de-escalate most of the culture warriors issues with language. Understanding context can also create a better understanding of who we are as a culture. For the group who screams for diversity, I have always found it odd that they are the least diverse in ideas. There is a hard line that you must follow in the PC culture that cannot be questioned, mocked, or challenged or you risk being isolated and exiled culturally and socially.
I recently watched a debate on political correctness from 2018. On the “pro” side of the debate sat Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg. On the “con” side of the debate sat Stephen Frye and (GASP!) Jordan Peterson. From the outset, Dyson and Goldberg (who were representing the liberal side) went after Mr. Peterson and his reputation. The two liberal PC representatives used the attacks on Mr. Peterson to establish the real conversation in the debate which was gender and racial inequality – NOT political correctness. It was so bad that when Mr. Frye attempted (multiple times BTW) to bring the conversation to being about political correctness, he was dismissed by his two debate opponents. The worst part of the entire charade was when Mr. Frye – a self-described ‘soft’ liberal gay man – expressed one of the biggest issues of political correctness being the fact that it creates an enormous amount of anxiety over saying something wrong or not being able to legitimately express a disagreement over a point of view, the young feminist columnist from the New York Times brushed it off and diverted the conversation back to gender inequality. After reflection, I believe that most liberals who defend political correctness do this in an attempt not to bring attention to the discussion of race and gender, but to simply divert from having to face the reality that political correctness has limitations to its success.
Using political correctness to get rid of words like nigger and spick is where it shines brightest. These are epithets that do not deserve to be in the language. Using political correctness to point out flaws in social logic is another place where it works really well like understanding that we should not have a football team named the Red Skins.
Where political correctness does not work is when it is used as a weapon to strip a person or group of their influence when the power struggle is over the most mundane things like expressing through slang the displeasure of something that is irrelevant to begin with. And that, quite frankly, is retarded.