So…what is “political correctness” then? It appears to simply be a variation on some long-established patterns infecting human society and social groups:
1) In-group/out-group identification and bias.
2) Attempts to assert control, authority, and agency in contexts where such power may not be readily be available (or is being actively oppressed).
3) Self-righteous moral justification through a) framing certain interactions as variations of oppression/victimization/threat; and b) asserting protective alliances/championing on behalf of those who are oppressed/victimized/threatened.
4) Aggressive scapegoating that reenforces all-of-the-above.
And what are some groups or movements have been guilty of these patterns in recent history? Well, there are quite a few:
- WWII Red Scare/McCarthyism
- The most extreme (fundamentalist) white evangelical Christians
- Militant religious fundamentalists among other religions
- Most white supremacist groups
- The more radical 2nd Amendment activists
- Many hardcore MAGA Trump devotees
- Increasing numbers of young left-wing activists on college campuses
- The more radical/fringe LGBTQ activists
- The most extreme environmental activists
- The most extreme minority rights activists
- Many militant vegans I have known
- Supporters of nationalistic, populist fascist dictators all around the globe
And of course all of this “PC reactivity” is just amplified and propagated by far-right and far-left media outlets, the unfettered propaganda memes of social media, Russian troll farms and other disinformation efforts, and so on. Sometimes mainstream media is guilty of propagation too (coverage of Trump in 2016 is good example of this).
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. I would say the “self-policing” that liberals do (i.e. fear of being politically incorrect) isn’t much different from the similar fear that anyone in the above-mentioned groups feels as they are striving to maintain their position and social capital within those groups. Does a fundamentalist Christian tell their congregation they’ve discovered how great Buddhist meditation is? Does a Trump supporter who is beginning to doubt the wisdom of that support share such doubt with their MAGA-hat-wearing relatives? Does a leading member of a radical environmental activism movement who decides to take a job in the Oil and Gas industry worry about losing their community of friends…?
You get the idea.
These patterns of judging and ostracizing others in order to elevate ourselves within our group and secure social capital probably have been part of human society all the way back to our cave-dwelling days — and fearing that judgement and ostracism has likewise been part of nearly every human community. Think of the hysteria over “witches” in Europe and the Americas, or why Nero threw Christians to lions, or why various genocides have taken place throughout history…these very much appear to be variations on the same theme.
Eventually, we may grow out of this immature phase of fear-based tribalism and groupthink (you can read my thoughts about that evolution here: Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations). But we do appear to have a long way to go as a species….
My 2 cents.
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