CONTRIBUTORS

If you need to perform linguistic gymnastics, is it really free speech?

Posted Sept. 25, 2013, at 2 p.m.
Susan Dench
Susan Dench

It seems towns, institutions and organizations across the fruited plain are engaged in a contest for the dubious distinction of “Most Politically Correct.” This week’s prize goes to the Bar Harbor Town Council, which voted to terminate a lease to Wreaths Across America to display a Christmas tree because, as the town council chair stated, they didn’t think a Christmas tree was a “universal symbol.” Disgraceful treatment of a wonderful Maine business.

Politically correct linguistic gymnastics is part of our everyday conversation. As panderers promote victimhood, multiculturalism and identity politics we’ve had to become excruciatingly careful how words trip off the tongue. It’s exhausting. After all, a little slip-up, and bam — you could find yourself on the unpleasant receiving end of a sermon, a scolding or even a lawsuit.

Bullies have discovered that this is an effective strategy to stifle freedom of speech and prevent reasoned argument, a valuable tool in striking fear in the hearts of even those on the same side. In a moment of unguarded candor, strident anti-war actor Ed Asner explained Hollywood’s silence on President Barack Obama’s call for Syrian strikes by saying, “A lot of people don’t want to feel anti-black by being opposed to Obama.”

And as if things couldn’t get more absurd, MSNBC’s PC paragon Chris Matthews suggested during the last election that it is “racist” for conservatives to use the word “Chicago.” So I guess from now on I have to say that my brother lives in a windy city on a lake in northern Illinois, the name of which I can’t say.

So we don’t get ourselves into trouble, we should be using terms such as physically, height, mentally, optically or follicularly challenged. Or self-paced cognitive ability (learning disability), second place (loser), economically marginalized (poor), least best (worst), a good boy who was getting his life back on track (gang member) and differently logical (wrong).

And as a marketer, I can see the sly branding in legislation attached to suitably cozy, warm and fuzzy-sounding names, which usually spell financial disaster: for example, the “Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act.” (Protection! Affordability! Wait, Obamacare is causing my premiums to increase, my hours to decrease and my employer will be kicking my family off my insurance?)

Then, “An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding.” (Increased access! Free money! Wait, isn’t federal funding actually the tax dollars of hardworking Mainers? Won’t this actually plunge us deeper into unsustainability?)

The late, great comedian George Carlin made a career out of satire, such as in his routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Although that skit was targeted at censorship, as he got older, he got wiser. He warned about the greater threat to free speech: “It’s left-wing paternalism. Years ago, we all got to expect that censorship would come from the right wing, but to expect it from the left wing — from the politically correct people on the campuses — that caught me by surprise.”

Universities and colleges across the country have been at this for years. Speakers with the “incorrect” point of view are shouted down or uninvited. On a petty level, every word is scrutinized for possible offense. Can we use the term “freshman” anymore? Feminists might be offended. We must use the gender-neutral “first-year student.”

People fear having their reputations demolished by being labeled “racist,” “sexist” or “homophobic” by the superior PC crowd, who tell us their thinking has “evolved,” that they and they alone have “discerned” what is right. Rather than voice an honest opinion, people clam up. The purveyors of PC are emboldened by this. The more success they have, the more they suppress free thought, the more learning is stifled and the more scholarly college discourse is choked.

So remember the three easy PC rules:

Don’t use any language that would make anyone feel bad, either in addressing a group or talking about others. It’s not about truth but about how everyone feels. Facts don’t matter, only feelings. We want to make sure everyone has healthy self-esteem.

Don’t use exclusionary language — firefighter, flight attendant, mail person and salesperson are all acceptable terms.

Don’t mention religion or God unless it is to mock it or in context of anything other than Christianity.

Pretty easy, right?

Susan Dench of Falmouth is founder and president of the Informed Women’s Network, which motivates fiscally responsible women to make an effect on the political process. Contact her at susan@susandench.com.

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