​ADAMES: Political correctness and the culture war

Conservative backlash against political correctness reflects a shift in the nation’s cultural values

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “political correctness?” Do you think of it as “things that are okay to say” or as a way of infringing on your freedom of speech? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, political correctness is “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” The term was popularized by conservative political pundits and is used against American liberals. Sometimes, as we saw in last semester’s article by Zeke Reed, liberals also use it to castigate what Reed calls “self-cannibalization.” This immediate association of political correctness with modern-day liberalism is misleading.

Many conservatives bash liberals for their attempt to ‘infringe on one’s freedom of speech,’ yet they often neglect their own political sensitivities. For example, let us look at the topic of reproductive rights. Liberals perceive themselves as being “pro-choice” and “pro-women’s rights,” but some conservatives view the liberal stance as “anti-Christian” or “pro-murder,” which liberals would likely refute. Through their own lens, conservatives understand their positions as being “pro-life.” Liberals, however, interpret the stance as an infraction on a woman’s right to full bodily autonomy and, accordingly, may describe pro-life conservatives as “anti-women’s rights” or “anti-women.” Upon being labeled as “anti-women,” conservatives would be offended and prefer that liberals not make such a claim because conservatives do not see themselves in that light. That is, despite excoriating liberals for political correctness, conservatives are “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend [their own] political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”

Another example of conservative correctness can be observed in reactionary responses to the subject of same-sex marriage. Christian conservatives claim to be “offended” by same-sex marriage by way of viewing it as an assault on Christianity. Because same-sex marriage offends their political sensibilities, many Christian conservatives believe no legal joining between people of the same sex should be deemed “marriage.” Instead, some believe same-sex couples should refer to their wedding by another name (e.g., “union,” “domestic partnership”). Ironically, notwithstanding their censuring liberals as being the “PC police,” many conservatives fail to reflect on and acknowledge their own conservative correctness.

Now, some of you may be thinking the prevalence of conservative correctness is infinitesimal relative to liberal correctness, citing that liberals have successfully imposed their standards across the country. However, I would disagree on account of the fact that conservative correctness is much more deeply entrenched in our society than its left-wing counterpart. Liberal correctness seems to be much more prevalent because the ideas it brings to the table are relatively new or nascent (e.g., using appropriate gender pronouns for trans* people). On the other hand, conservative correctness was already the socially appropriate standard and, thereby, has gone mostly unnoticed. A liberal’s usage of PC attempts to transform and coordinate the existent standard of what is socially acceptable. For instance, “marriage” was previously a word strictly reserved for the union between a man and a woman. Today, homosexuality and same-sex marriage are socially acceptable to the majority of Americans, and “marriage” has simply become a union between two people . A recent Gallup poll attests to the fact that liberalism’s cultural values are either winning or gaining more support amongst Americans. Beyond an increasingly agreeable view of LGBT relationships, Gallup found Americans have shifted to the left on leading moral issues, including abortion, stem cell research and the death penalty. Another Gallup poll revealed most Americans would support the legalization of marijuana. That being said, one could contend it was conservatives who had been winning this culture war. Of course, now, it appears the tables have turned.

While you can certainly label liberals as “politically correct,” it would be disingenuous to cast them as the sole enforcers of a form of political correctness. Conservatives are equal enforcers of their own socially acceptable rhetoric. The difference between the forms of correctness is the cultural values that drive them. The attempt to portray liberals as the ‘PC police’ is simply a reaction to the fact that conservatives are now losing the culture war within America. In essence, conservative backlash against political correctness is a countermove rooted in a belief that liberals are expunging the “traditional” (read: “socially conservative”) culture of America and, consequently, fostering an American culture that is analogous with modern-day American liberalism.

Alexander Adames is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at a.adames@cavalierdaily.com.

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