In the political correctness debate, both sides have it wrong

By Joe Carnovale


With the discussion of political correctness (PC) taking center stage in the national dialogue, it’s easy to get swept up by the emotional pitches coming from both sides. There are those who argue that “PC culture” has become too dominant to the point that it is detrimental to free speech. And there are those who disagree, asserting that political correctness is an important defense against discrimination.

While both sides have legitimate arguments, the ways in which people are approaching this debate demonstrate ignorance towards the opposing side’s viewpoint. Instead of arguing the case for their points, members of both sides tend to antagonize those with whom they have the disagreement. Neither side is willing to compromise nor concede that a solution likely lies somewhere in the middle.

I’m aware that the nature of this debate is particularly polarizing and not conducive for a middle-ground stance, but there ought to be a third choice for almost all issues. Especially in today’s politically divided environment, in which the two-party system has fostered a two-ideology population, the need for diversity in options has dramatically increased.

The anti-PC faction views political correctness as an affront to free speech and a threat to society. This may be extreme, but the group has a point that the other side often refuses to acknowledge: political correctness at times goes so far as to stifle a diverse exchange of ideas, particularly on college campuses, which have historically been hotbeds of free-thinking. Even President Obama has voiced his concerns about colleges and universities prohibiting certain individuals from speaking, simply because they hold divisive opinions that may offend some.

For the same reason, there have been countless controversies regarding comedians telling offensive jokes. Those who are anti-PC have another point here. It’s often a comedian’s responsibility to walk and even cross the line of what is offensive. So is it too outrageous to suggest that someone offended by an edgy comedic performance should leave quietly or not bother attending the event? I want to be clear that I am not asserting that people should be less sensitive—an argument that some in the anti-PC population make—as it is simply irrational behavior to tell another that they shouldn’t be offended by something.

Those who argue in favor of the increased use of political correctness point out that there is also a societal threat if the anti-PC side gets its way. They have a legitimate concern that the pushback against PC culture will go too far, resulting in a much cruder, more disrespectful manner of speech becoming the norm.

We may be seeing evidence of this already with Donald Trump being an outspoken supporter and icon for the fight against PC culture due to media coverage of his presidential campaign. But, for as much adoration Trump has received for speaking his mind and pushing back against PC culture, he has received equal criticism for his un-presidential behavior. Trump supporters may take that notion as a source of pride, seeing as a large part of the candidate’s appeal is that he speaks his mind, differentiating himself from the political establishment.

It’s important to remember, though, that one can speak one’s mind more freely than the typical politician while also maintaining a respectful, civilized tone necessary for intelligent and constructive discourse. Trump, thus far, has failed to engage in the latter. The candidate himself has asserted that he has the same temperament that he had as a first-grader, priding himself in the consistency, but failing to see how that attribute is not exactly ideal for the job of handling the nation’s nuclear codes.

I won’t pretend that I alone know the solution, or solutions, to this problem. Still, there’s got to be some middle ground in this debate. It doesn’t seem that way though. Ask anyone what they think of political correctness and I’m willing to bet that they’re going to give you an unequivocal response. But, as with all disagreements, there ought to be opportunities for compromise. Of course, we shouldn’t expect a solution overnight.

Opportunities may be few and hard to find in this particular discord, due to the fact that this is a social, rather than legal, dispute and that the subject matter deals with speech itself. That should not be a deterrent for society today, but instead a challenge to be conquered. How can people discuss the nature of speech itself and its limitations while also adhering to its existing limitations? In the meantime, we should consider ourselves fortunate to live in a country that celebrates free speech and maybe try doing a little more listening.

Joe Carnovale is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]