The dangers of political correctness
Earlier today, I said on a friend’s blog that Daniel Tammet, the British entrepreneur who learned to speak Icelandic in a week and holds the European record for reciting the number of digits in pi, had the traits of an idiot savant. We proceeded to discuss political correctness given my usage of the term idiot savant—and, given my work in branding, it is interesting to see how the labels we give to people work. One of my comments is below.
Is [the savant syndrome] really a disability? I view it as a gift. This is the stuff of genius.
And political correctness is pretty ridiculous. Everyone is now so scared of offending everyone else. Take the term actress. There are people who are actually offended by its usage and insist on actor. I can’t see why. As long as the user of the term is not a sexist, and has no intent at being sexist, then it should be permitted. It does what it is meant to: describe someone. The French love their term actrice, which is where actress comes from. You would never ﬁnd a French actress who wanted to be called an acteur. To her, it would be insulting toward her femininity, which she prides herself on having. And she is right: women are not men. And women are not inferior to men.
It is also ironical that if political correctness is meant to make things respectful toward others, it actually isn’t respectful to those who wish to use more traditional terms, who now fear retribution! Perhaps those people who use these terms can be the “vernacularly challenged”, their “shortcomings” treated as a disability! Pretty soon, everyone can be classed as having some shortcoming—and we get back to where we started, prior to the political correctness movement, and prior to Marxism.
The only way PC works is if people removed their judgement from various words. So, if someone viewed ‘disabled’ as being a negative term, then PC fails, because the same judgement can now be made in 2006 toward that word as in 1980 with the word handicapped. The same prejudices exist.
You bring up the disabled. I have friends who are, either physically or intellectually, judged by the standards of “the able”. Political correctness, in my view, actually highlights these issues, which is great as far as, say, accessibility design goes. But when that highlighting gets to the point of making these people “inferior”, because others are making judgements about the language used to describe them, then political correctness is not good. PC has not helped us because we have not got to the root of prejudice, and that is (mis-)education.
What education needs to do is to teach people to consider anyone who is different as an extension of themselves—and stop using labels to describe them. Gay, disabled and other terms have come to have stigmas attached, just as more insulting terms, because many people are not taught to stop (pre-)judging them as inferior. We all have some degree of disability—one person cannot swim, another cannot run fast, yet another has an aversion to doing math. Are they water-motion-disabled, movement-challenged and numerically incapacitated? These terms actually make their situations worse because now they feel “abnormal”. Stigmatic labels have been created and limit them to within a discrete box.
So if the intention of the author is good, then he should not be held to task for expressing himself honestly. After all, the author is not the one who made a judgement—it is the others who have made that judgement for him, supposedly better authorities for what went on in his mind, and stuck him with their charge.
Here, idiot savant remains the correct term. Savant, alone, is not the correct term. The word idiot was never used alone, either (and if it were, it can be offensive, sure), so the disability community has (or should have) nothing to worry about. Most people are happy with idiot savant together—at least those who don’t judge the term. You could argue for the term autistic savant, which is correct, but what of those people who have a prejudice against the term autistic as being equated to handicapped? We are back to square one.
This is different from swearing, where the words are intended to be offensive—and few other interpretations can be drawn. If a word slips out without intent, it can still be offensive, given its roots.
I realize this is a long response, Ryan. I am not dissing you, personally; more the way political correctness forces many people to be on alert when they have no need to be if all parties have a good intent.
I believe Daniel Tammet to be a superior human being because he functions in society based on its standards, while retaining his gift. He possesses the best of both worlds. Are idiot savants ‘disabled’? Not in my book.
I should also note that blogger Ryan Benson, with whom I was having this discussion, posted with the purest of motives, too, so it was a frank exchange of views. Posted by Jack Yan, 23:37
I don't think this sydrome is a disability itself. These people have larger disability, like autism. So I think it is one of the many possible hidden things with disabilities.
True. Also I do see your point about the word idiot, which admittedly has negative shades of meaning with more people. I think Mr Tammet does have autism.
Don’t mean to digress too much here. But according to a brief google search, the term “politically correct” gained new popularity in the U.S. during the 1980s, and it’s attributed primarily to political conservatives. What I find most disturbing is that today the phrase is usually used when someone is showing frustration over being potentially censored for pushing a viewpoint rooted in narrow-minded ignorance (for examples, see Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, etc.). Having open and frank discussions is one thing. And we could debate the value of “politically correct” forever. But it seems like the term would never have gained prominence in the modern vocabulary if people weren’t continuing to flaunt insensitivity based on ignorance, exclusivity and even hate.
On a side note, in the hands of today’s political conservatives like George Bush, the term actually becomes an oxymoron.
For a typical example of the thinly-veiled disgust inspired by the term “politically correct,” check out the essay below.
Thank you to HighJive and Ryan. HighJive, thank you for your words on this, as I know what you write is well researched. I totally agree with you on this point: ‘But it seems like the term would never have gained prominence in the modern vocabulary if people weren’t continuing to ﬂaunt insensitivity based on ignorance, exclusivity and even hate.’ I’ll check out your link.
Highjive, Ihave to agree totally. What is "politically correct" can be filed in with the "Does God exsist?" debate.Post a Comment
Links to this post:
NoteEntries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.
Individual JY&A and Medinge Group blogs
DonateIf you wish to help with my hosting costs, please feel free to donate.
Copyright ©200210 by Jack Yan & Associates. All rights reserved. Photograph of Jack Yan by Chelfyn Baxter.