On Political Correctness

Dated Dec 15, 2020; last modified on Sat, 06 Nov 2021

From my vantage point, it seems there are two camps. But reality is often a shade of grey. Interested in various arguments that frequently arise in this area. I have my opinions/biases, but nothing that I can defend rigorously.

Some (most?) of these claims are supported by anecdotal evidence, which is an avenue for belief fixation, and therefore makes it hard to come to a resolution .

I don’t know if it’s because anti-PC material is more viral, but most of the prominent publications are either anti-PC, or anti-anti-PC. Not finding enough pro-PC publications.

Definitions and Overall Ideas

Before the 80s, PC was used ironically as a critique of self-righteousness within the left. The 80s/90s PC movement sought to restrict hate speech aimed at marginalized groups, and widen canon by including more diverse perspectives. However, the current movement is largely about emotional well-being and vindictive protectiveness.

Some leftists make anti-PC arguments around it going too far. Could it be that at some point, they were for it, and now it’s grown beyond their visions?

Can the offensiveness of an idea be determined objectively, or only by recourse to the identity of the person taking offense? In 2013, the DoJ and DoE broadened verbal sexual harassment from needing to pass the ‘reasonable person’ test, to being unwelcome. Universities are over-generalizing that to race, religion, and veteran status.

Can also be framed as an intent vs. impact question. The latter is easier to quantify though.

The opposite of political correctness is not unvarnished truth-telling. It is political expression that is careless toward the beliefs and attitudes different than one’s own. Being PC is strategic, e.g. bin Laden noting difficulty recruiting because of the Obama administration not stoking anti-Muslim sentiment.

PC in American Politics

Political correctness appeals to liberals because it claims a more active opposition to systemic race and gender biases. The mere absence of overt discrimination is insufficient.

Political correctness harms the left-wing subculture by making it exhausting for the masses to partake in because of the many land mines.

Many leftists think that conservatives demonize political correctness because they resent having to suppress their own prejudices. However, most anti-PC attitudes come from an entrenched suspicion towards carefully calibrated language. To say that someone is being PC discredits them twice: they are wrong, and more damningly, they know it.

For Political Correctness

Popular anti-PC works, e.g. Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” (1987), Kimball’s “Tenured Radicals” (1990), D’Souza’s “Illiberal Education” (1998), misleadingly claim to be apolitical, despite being funded by right-wing elites.

Mixed-sex groups that had been exposed to the PC norm generated more and novel ideas about the use of an empty restaurant space on campus. The exposure reduced the uncertainty that cause men and women to over-correct in ways that inhibit creative idea expression.

Against Political Correctness

A central tenet of the p.c. movement is that people should be expected to treat even faintly unpleasant ideas/behaviors as full-scale offenses. This will predispose them to countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Furthermore, sometimes the outrage will be targeted toward well-meaning speakers trying to engage in genuine discussion.

refutes this tenet via anecdotes, e.g. not playing The Vagina Monologues because the material excludes women without vaginas.

However, these anecdotes seem cherry-picked to fit the argument. What examples would a supporter of this central tenet put forward?

There’s an assumption that the conflicts caused in the real world are too many, and therefore it’s better to let them be. Is this realism or cynicism?

Trigger warnings don’t help overcome trauma. Controlled exposure does. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) could be taught to students. CBT aims to minimize seeing the world more accurately as opposed to a version distorted by our hopes, fears and other attachments.

mentions a study by the Institute of Medicine, but doesn’t link to it. Dig deeper.

But being surprised in a lecture hall isn’t controlled exposure. The trigger warnings can be used to know when to seek help before encountering the material in class.

CBT is not a silver bullet though. examined 70 studies from 1977 to 2014 and found that modern CBT clinical trials were less effective against depressive symptoms as compared with the seminal trials.

Political correctness is used to define opposing views/speakers as bigoted/illegitimate, which makes debate irrelevant. People accused of bias are not supposed to question the call-out. Equal political rights for both the oppressor and the oppressed is deemed na├»ve because that maintains society’s unequal power relations.


  1. Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say. Jonathan Chait. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2015/01/not-a-very-pc-thing-to-say.html . Jan 27, 2015. Accessed Sep 3, 2021.
  2. Political Correctness Is An Absolute Must. Mark Hannah. https://time.com/4405217/trump-political-correctness-obama/ . Jul 19, 2019. Accessed Sep 6, 2021.
  3. Creativity from Constraint? How Political Correctness Influences Creativity in Mixed-Sex Work Groups. Jack A. Goncalo; Jennifer A. Chatman; Michell M. Duguid; Jessica A. Kennedy. Administrative Science Quarterly, 60.1, (2015): 1-30. https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/75434/Goncalo40_Creativity_from_constraint.pdf?sequence=1 . https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/01/30/382475295/what-research-says-about-the-consequences-of-p-c-culture . Aug 18, 2014.
  4. Political Correctness: How the Right Invented a Phantom Enemy. Moira Weigel. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump . Nov 30, 2016. Accessed Sep 6, 2021.
  5. The Coddling of the American Mind. Greg Lukianoff; Jonathan Haidt. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356 . Sep 1, 2015. Accessed Sep 6, 2021.
  6. The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis. Tom J. Johnsen; Oddgeir Friborg. Psychological Bulletin. https://uit.no/Content/418448/The%20effect%20of%20CBT%20is%20falling.pdf . http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015 . https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/03/why-cbt-is-falling-out-of-favour-oliver-burkeman . May 11, 2015.