Political correctness is having a good week. It has been discussed by Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher and ad nauseam, per usual, on Fox News. Ironically, being anti-PC has become the new PC.
Conservative pundit Cal Thomas for example, is outraged that due to some students who don't identify as either male or female, graduates from his alma mater will now all wear the same color gown for graduation services instead of one for girls and another for boys. Yes, in Thomas' mind, having a public institution force all students to wear the same uniform for graduation is an example of out of control political correctness, but forcing them to wear different gowns is the American thing to do. The truth is that both are forms of political correctness.
Thomas also believes that when Facebook updated its settings to include 58 different gender options, this somehow represents abusive political correctness; yet he fully supports a company's option to refuse service to people based on that company's religious freedom. Again, either how corporations deal with a person's sexuality is an example of political correctness or it isn't. Cal Thomas' feelings on which is right and which is wrong are completely irrelevant.
The reality is that while the media construes this as a liberal problem, both sides spend a lot of time trying to change the public narrative. For instance, every year the conservative media makes the "War on Christmas" part of their coverage, insisting that companies should greet everyone at the door with "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays".
These are also the same people who wanted to change the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries. The same people that get irritated about having to push 1 for English. The same people who are offended by jokes regarding Sarah Palin's kids. The same people who have come up with their own politically correct code words like Black on Black Crime, Urban, Socialist, Thug, Makers, Takers, Death Tax, Pro-life, and Welfare Queens. And the same people who flip out when you call them racist. Their goal of changing minds through public shaming is no different than that of the PC police they claim are ruining the country.
Of course Cal Thomas is hardly the only television personality who has been talking about political correctness lately. Jerry Seinfeld suggested that college students have become too PC which Bill Maher whole heartedly agreed with on his show. Given that these two men are now 61 and 59 years old respectively, their belief that there is something wrong with the younger generation is hardly surprising. Old men complaining about "kids these days" and "back in my day" are as American as apple pie and baseball. Their words represent opinions, not facts.
The problem for people like Thomas, Seinfeld, and Maher is that things have changed over the years. Schools today have put an increased emphasis on eliminating bullying, so students are far more cognizant of how their words impact other people. Perhaps that means public figures will have to adjust their diction, but there are no doubt millions of kids who benefit from this policy.
Kids today also have unprecedented options to publically voice their displeasure. Instead of dealing with one heckler at a show, comedians are now heckled daily on Twitter and other social media sites.
Of course even those complaining are part of the PC machine. Maher, for example, when talking about Paula Deen said "there's no excuse" for her use of the N-word, yet there was a time when no one would bat an eye over the comments she made.
More recently the terminology used to describe those in the LGBT community has changed. Does this mean that if Seinfeld and Maher refuse to use the F-word to describe gay men they have succumbed to the PC police, or does a term only become PC when the user doesn't understand why anyone would be offended by its use?
The question for most people is intent. When Rush Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a slut it is insulting because, despite what he might say, his history suggests the term was not used in jest; yet comedians across the U.S. use this word on a daily basis in their routines. Similarly, when Bill Maher makes jokes about Muslims, some people will find them offensive because Maher has made statements about the Islamic faith that suggest he is not coming from a place of love. This is no different than the double standard of insulting a sibling. When you insult your sibling it is funny, but if a stranger or someone who doesn't like your sibling makes the same joke you find it offensive.
But perhaps the most peculiar talking point to come out of these discussions comes from Daily Caller editor Scott Greer who suggests college students should "expose themselves to viewpoints that genuinely offend them" since "Colleges are supposed to be places where the marketplace of ideas can flourish and young minds can come in contact with a host of different ideas and a myriad viewpoints." Forgetting for a second that consumers of conservative media, like the Daily Caller, tend to be some of the least informed and least interested in exploring alternative viewpoints, Greer seems to have very little understanding of what these students are doing.
It's not that students haven't been privy to racist, sexist, or culturally insensitive jokes before, and it seems unlikely that simply hearing these same insults day after day is really what anyone would consider a good education. The fact is their reactions are a direct response to these "different ideas." Ironically, Greer appears just as uninterested in listening to the students' viewpoint as he believes they are.
The question Greer should really ask is why he holds students and comedians to a different standard. If it is good for students to be exposed to viewpoints they find offensive, then why is it a travesty for comedians to be exposed to students' opposing viewpoints? Why is it OK for Jerry Seinfeld to go on national TV and explain what's wrong with college kids but not OK for college kids to explain what's wrong with what a comedian says? Why is it censorship when college students ask comedians to avoid terms people find offensive but not censorship when comedians suggest the students should keep their opinions to themselves? It's all just free speech.
In the end the hand wringing over political correctness is just the politically correct way for some people to defend their unwillingness to change. After all. since when did asking the people who worship at the altar of personal responsibility to be accountable for their own words become offensive, or does the whining over being chastised by a bunch of liberal kids prove the wussification of conservatives?