By Paul Hammond
The proclamation, ‘you can’t say that anymore’, continues to locate itself at the forefront of my generation’s consciousness, becoming as much a fixture in contemporary linguistics as junkyard phraseology such as OMG, or the plethoric use of the word ‘like’. More unnerving, however, is the realisation that the source of this statement is mysterious, as if our reduction to diplomatic selfhood has occurred in some sense independent of our say so. This piece is written out of significant frustration with the oppressive nature of such pronouncements. I regard them as both futile and ironically circular, entangled with the unfortunate habits of sentiments to which they would call themselves the antithesis. The stratospheric rise of ‘political correctness’ within the First-World can also be charged with assisting the tumultuous political year we encountered in 2016, but more on that later.
As much as my essence shrivels at labelling myself a ‘student’, that is indeed what I am. By extension, much of what I will vomit at your feet in this piece has my on-campus orientation to thank. The experience of being criticised for saying something ‘un-PC’ by a Trinity toddler just a few weeks ago sparked a realisation in me, a quasi-epiphany that I wish to verbalise now.
The ‘political correctness’ toward which I take umbrage is of a verbal origin. It is a deep distrust in a growing expectation that our expressions be filtered, censured to a harmonic equity of gender-neutrality and inoffensiveness. A proposition’s ‘he’ must never discount its ‘she’, any reference to race, religion or class is subject to the sociological equivalent of a murder trial. Such interrogations are in fact inconsequential, often targeting statements with intentions of a humorous nature, with little or no aspiration of causing offence. If this is the case, why do we seem programmed to seek an underlying provocation when there is none? Mass hypersensitivity is blowing open a fissure in the causal chain of thought and speech, a chain that should never be touched. Should my mental faculties be so kind as to provide me with a thought, a thought of a decidedly whimsical desideratum, I must be allowed to say it. I am quite categorical on this point. I must be allowed to say it. Offence should be a consequence of a proposition if and only if offence is a direct ambition of that proposition. If this process is ignored, our linguistic orientation suffers, we are left drowning in a metaphorical pool of uncertainty, our freedom of speech suffocated in the clutches of a misguided sensitivity. My words are my expression, and must never obey anyone but me. Should I wish to think xyz, it is my decision whether to say xyz, and no one else’s.
‘Political correctness’ is reactive, it is a response to something; an historical abrogation or contemporary oppression, or perhaps both. The plight of victims of colonization, the rights of women, the circumstances of slavery, are all grave issues. The importance of which I do not question in this piece. My position is simply that we should not seek a fight when there isn’t one to be had, that verbal censorship will do little but aggravate. The issues of colonization, women’s rights and slavery (among countless others) tend to possess a common source. That source is that they are products of oppression, of forced traditions and strangled free will. It thus resonates with me as distinctly ironic that we are being bullied into a form of verbal and linguistic repression, in fear of saying
something ‘out of line’ regarding issues that materialised from a mere exaggeration of such authoritarian tendencies! The maddening circularity of this impulse is gradually creeping into consciousness, and can have troubling circumstances, the likes of which we have already experienced.
Britain’s exit from the European Union, as well as Donald Trump’s unpredicted rise to Presidency in the United States are also reactions. They are reactions to stagnant political behaviour, to politicians adept in the fine art of saying nothing in a thousand words. The emergence of antitheses to such practices, in the above cases, unquestionably nationalistic movements and unadulterated morons, are escape clauses from the clutches of the censured ‘political correctness’ to which we are all accustomed. The contemporary First-World citizen is comfortable, critical and often quite underwhelmed by the “PC regulations” about which I am concerned. 2016 was simply a catastrophic manifestation of this.
My intention in this article was simply to bring attention to why we must not over-concern ourselves with censuring our language. We have a basic freedom of speech in this way. The pain caused by words amounts to very little in comparison the wreckage of violence. Ingrained hypersensitivity of the kind I speak might deny this article a welcome reception, but its right of composition cannot be questioned. This is precisely the point I was trying to make.
Originally published 1.12.17 in Vol. 1 No. 1.