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When Political Correctness Becomes Mindless Group Think

December 5, 2018 2 Like No Comments

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Political correctness (PC) is one of those practices that started out with excellent intentions and has run amok among us liberals.

The official definition is innocuous enough, according to Merriam Webster:

“Conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated”

I’m all for not offending others, for a whole host of reasons including simply being a decent human being.

But who gets to decide which languages or practices “could offend”?

Breaking and Setting New Norms Is Part Of How We Evolve

Since there’s no national PC police (despite whining to the contrary), it’s up to us to evolve our norms over time just as we have, well, forever, as humans.

Defining and refining our standards of acceptable behavior by comparing, contrasting, and adapting our perspectives is how we advance our society. Without contrast there would be no evolution.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating deliberately offensive behavior for the sake of our advancement.

Rather, I’m suggesting we will naturally question and probe societal limits as part of redefining them. This is healthy. And ironically the more we narrow the scope of what’s acceptable and what’s not, the more push back we create, then the more we clamp down, and so on in a vicious circle.

Two decades ago I was deeply involved in a regional women’s advocacy movement, in large part to support women’s participation in emerging technologies.

But I walked away after receiving multiple threats from what I called the Angry Feminists because I refused to conform to what had become the number one rule of the group: you had to hate men, and demonstrate your hatred as often as possible.

As the mother of sons, and a straight woman who likes men, there was no way I would conform. But besides the personal implications the graver societal ones were to see men as the enemy, to refuse to acknowledge our common humanity, and to reject any overture to find mutual ways to move forward in a constructive way.

In other words, no different perspectives allowed! Such enforced group think destroys or at least unnecessarily inhibits progress.

Group Think Stifles Societal Progress

In my forays through Twitter, I’m intrigued by the insistence of many of the liberals I follow that we all have to think alike in order to demonstrate our progressive credibility or seriousness. But we evolved our current norms because we challenged past ones, an irony seemingly lost on some of the self-proclaimed political correctness police. Those who question or digress are swiftly punished – but this is nothing new in human history! Banishment used to be the ultimate punishment among tribes, in the time when being outcast was a near-certain death sentence. Happily, being blocked on Twitter isn’t lethal.

So what’s a committed progressive to do?

Put Your Critical Thinking Cap On

I’ve chosen debate as one way to hone my critical thinking skills. Debate as an intellectual and political skill has been practiced for thousands of years and its benefits are significant when practiced in a serious way.

At times I challenge myself to stop and think through something I’ve just read. Who’s writing the piece? What are their biases? Who funds them or their organization? If I take their stance to its logical conclusion, what would that conclusion be? What if I took the opposite perspective of what I normally would?

This can be a delightful and liberating practice, and it can also be about as comfortable as having a root canal. The key is being honest with yourself about your own biases, and being willing to let your questioning take you in directions you didn’t anticipate.

Debating others can be significantly trickier although there’s also the potential for much richer expansion of your knowledge and evolution of your viewpoint if you’re all participating based on good will and genuine curiosity to push yourselves out of your fixed perspectives.

So, why on earth would any of us subject ourselves to this?!

Because the health and growth of our society needs us. You may feel like you don’t really have much influence, but when you’re willing to lead by example your influence expands exponentially. Let’s break out of the group think trap together.

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