“Because I am not an asshole….” Belle Waring explains political correctness

See yeah I have to admit that when somebody huffs to me about ‘political correctness’, I get suspicious, and I have to take some time to figure out what they mean. Sometimes, what they mean is that they are being punished for taking a dissenting view, either in the discipline or in the larger society. Planners are, in general, not a group of scholars who deal with dissent very well, and their over-reaction to criticisms of the much-beloved urban model of the moment does not fool anybody in any other discipline or profession: it’s passion (good) combined with insecurity (not so good).

As somebody who is not necessarily on board with the New Urbanists, I often have to deal with ad hominem towards me because of my doubts. People can and do behave hurtfully. Nonetheless, it’s all pretty understandable; people get hurt when their assumptions about the world are challenged. I do it; most people seem to do it; and so I understand when people get upset with me. Most of that is all chaff. Life is unfortunately full of these sorts of problems.

What I don’t think you get to do is curl up and whine about the mean meanymeanpantses, even when you do have to deal with a bit of ad hominem here and there. If you believe in a point, you really do have to explore it and deal with the critiques. In the white noise of ad hominem, there may actually be a kernel of a useful critique. I think here of Donald Shoup who, when faced with relatively harsh criticism, always responded to it by thinking his way through it and bouncing back with more arguments as to why he’s right. It’s a wonderful skill to have. (Donald has a very healthy ego.)

That is, one shouldn’t get too thin-skinned if one wants to have influence, which has been one of Sarah Palin’s major problems. She has always taken criticism of her ideas as personal attacks on her. This is almost inevitable given how, as a values candidate, her values and assertions about the world are going to be very central to her identity, and it hurts when people poke around at that. I personally have no idea if she is a nice person or not, but my not sharing her values means that I am going to reject her leadership. It’s not really personal, but it is. My values are very dear to me, too, so listening to somebody rail on about ‘libtards’ hurts my feelings, too.

That is somewhere by way of muddily saying there’s one usage of ‘political correctness’ that appears mean dealing with blowback for dissenting from established paradigms.

Then there is the universe of simple whining, which covers Jonathan Chait’s incoherent “people don’t let me get away with sloppy thinking even though I am white man, and darn it, that’s a sign of bias against white guys” piece over at New York Magazine.

This is the use of ‘political correctness’ that always makes me give the side eye. It’s shorthand for frustrated entitlement, a longing for a prelapsarian moment when men were men and they could say what’s on their mind without all those mean black feminist meanies on the internet interrupting and all.

In short:

No, it’s not a sign of oppression that a white person can’t use the N-word and rappers can.

Belle Waring over at Crooked Timber has a nice take-down of Chait’s piece where she ends with this bit of wisdom:

98% of what people angrily claim is “Political Correctness” is just manners. Politeness. If something I were saying at a dinner party offended another guest and my host explained why, I would stop saying that thing, in all likelihood. I myself used to call things “retarded” all the time when I was a kid, and I carried it into adulthood, and then people on the internet made it clear that they found this hurtful and demeaning, so I stopped. I explained to my children, I have a left-over bad habit in that I will occasionally call something retarded and it’s not an appropriate thing to say; will you please correct me when I do it? Thinking about what I wanted my children to say helped me here. Likewise, although I don’t know that I said anything particularly unpleasant about it ever, I was comparatively ignorant about issues facing trans people until some years back. Does this make me angry because the word “cisgender” exists now? No, because I’m not an asshole.

At some point, all this branch of political correctness really is about toleration and not being an asshole. When people tell me what they prefer to be called, it’s really not that hard for me to call them that. I don’t have to give anything up to do that. I just have to think about other people and what they want. I have to assume that the ‘way I have always done/said things’ is probably not as important as what makes somebody else feel included and listened to.

Is that really so difficult?