Political correctness and individual freedom? In order to consider this we first need definitions of the words to be used.
The dictionary definition of offend is; to hurt the feelings, sense of dignity, to be disagreeable
The definition of offensive is; unpleasant or disgusting as to the senses, causing anger or annoyance insulting.
The definition of “politically correct” is; language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. The important word is excessively and to most people it can also be taken as the unreasonable demand that the majority have to “give way” and alter their actions, to suit selected minority.
What is offensive will vary with the social conditioning of the listener, it is not a fixed or verifiable entity. This is what making laws to prevent offensive acts, so very difficult.
In fact it is very debatable whether the law should be involved at all. Within any given social group there will be rules, unwritten and poorly defined but still rules, on behaviour. What is acceptable and what is not. These rules work well enough most of the time, within that social group they evolve and develop without the law being involved.
The problems arise when two differing social groups try to interact with each other. They have differing social rules, differing definitions of what is acceptable.
When several different social groups are forced to interact the result can be violently destructive.
These problems are made more difficult to solve, due to the accelerating nature of the speed of change. Historically, two differing cultures would be separated by distance and the relatively static nature of communities. Cultures only became intertwined over periods of several years and initially only a very few people moved from one society to the other. Now we have mass migration and measurements of months not decades.
The advent of mass media, education in language, boundary-less communication between differing social groups has also accelerated this.
Whilst many see this as a means of coalescing all of humanity into one social group, the majority fear the destruction of their own social identity. This is the same in every social group. Within all groups, the older members will fear the breakdown of their own concept of social order.
Even among those wishing to have all of humanity in one social unit, there are differing motivations and so differing methods of attempting to achieve this end. Some are convinced this is how humanity should be. Others want a single political system to rule the whole planet; others wish to see unification under one, their own; religious belief system. Then there are those who see globalisation of social cohesion as simply good for their business. One odd fact is that those seeking one world religions are usually the most violent and intolerant, yet often preach peace and goodwill.
Within social groups who wish to retain individual identities, there will be huge variations in both commitment to their group and in the degree of action they are willing to take for that group. Some will move from one social grouping to another over a period of time, as their political idealism changes, or as their religious conviction ebbs and flows and as their personal life becomes intertwined with other individuals and as their personal material wealth changes. Some will change belief system others change when responsibility for children or the well being of others is taken on.
Political correctness is so hard to define and it is also so hard to establish who actually is responsible for deciding what is “politically correct” and what is not. Considering the potential harm, and the disturbance of social order, that can come from any imposition of “Political correctness” it is not a surprise that those who seek to impose it, wish to ensure they are not held accountable for the results. Much like the failed social experiment that is multiculturalism; another attempt to force social change rather than let change evolve.
The claiming that anything is NOT politically correct and so must not occur obviously emanates from those who wish to see the imposition of one social unit for all humanity. They appear to be mostly of a group who are relatively wealthy in material terms, have liberal left political tendencies, are inclined to atheism and certainly have no great conviction about any religious belief system. It seems their motivation for creating whatever is the fashionable political correct issue of the moment, is the intention to impose their view of what is good, peaceful, and “proper” on everyone.
They themselves believe they are doing good, fostering respect and tolerance but they often fail to understand anyone from outside their social group. They often fail to realise that what they seek to impose will cause some others to loose social identity and will create genuine fear. In may ways this wealthy left of centre group will act with surprising arrogance, especially as each individual would hate to be labelled as arrogant. The whole process on “political correctness” is media driven, without mass circulation of written word, without TV , their rules for what is socially acceptable would have stayed in their own social group, while distancing this group from others it would not have able to cause disruption to those other groups. Indeed the originators of whatever is newly deemed “Political incorrect” appear to inhabit an introvert circle of self appointed guardians of everyone else's correct behaviour. They also seem disdainful of the beliefs, habits and social rules of less wealthy groups. The originators of what ever is fashionably political correct, appear to believe that their relative wealth make them better people, makes themselves more intelligent, makes them better able to comprehend the political realities. They are deluding themselves.
The problem is how to give freedom to the individual without swinging to anarchy. The ancient idea that might is right should not be allowed a return, but the suppression of free speech because a few people claim to be offended by what is said, should also not be allowed. This is the path to anarchy. For example a group of people say their religious beliefs mean they are offended by others keeping pet animals in their homes and due to this feeling of being offended; all others should stop having pets. Many others could equally form a social group claiming to be deeply offended by the inference that keeping pets is unclean and distasteful. I would guess the majority will be with those wanting to keep pets, so in a democracy pets must be allowed and those not liking this must accept it. The one thing that will divide a nation, cause conflict between differing social groups, is allowing one group to follow one set of rules and the others a different set. This breeds conflict, hatred, envy and disunity.
Freedom of speech will invite talk that will hurt the feelings, hurt the sense of dignity and be disagreeable of some. For example inferring that all old people are incapable of safely driving a car, is deeply offensive to 80 year old people who can drive well. But should this mean it becomes illegal to speak about elderly people in a way that it infers they are not capable of something? This is a very slippery slope and one that can not be controlled.
Freedom of speech must include the freedom to cause some offence but it does not include the right to tell lies, infer falsehoods or to make generalised untruthful statements as if they are factual. Modern media and governments all tend towards stating opinions as if they are verifiable facts.
Freedom to express an opinion is not the same as freedom to persuade others to a false position.
May be one way to allow freedom of speech is to insist people are far more precise when speaking. Instead of talking in vague generalisations, people have to voice exact definitions and specific instances. This has to be far too controlling, not free speech but regimented and controlled speech.
We have to accept that it is almost impossible, in a nation of several million people, from a diverse mix of social and belief systems, to avoid giving offence to someone. We also have to accept that imposing restrictions on what can be said will be disagreeable to those who may have said them. Have the minority who would have uttered the words less right than a minority who would be offended?
Is it such a terrible crime to cause offence? Promulgation of untruthfulness , distortion of facts, trying to cause violent hatred by means of lies and distortions; these are terrible and should be crimes, but is giving offence? To claim that all white people are inherently racist is probably deeply offence to the majority of white people, since I can not know what every white person thinks I have to say this is an assumed opinion but is it less valid than the person making the claim? Why can I not claim it is politically incorrect to accuse an entire race of being racist?
We also have a problem in trying to define what is a lie- an untruth. To an atheist almost all religious teaching is based on a lie; yet to the adherents to any particular religion, they are based on truth.
To a person with deep held belief that ghosts do not exist, any claim to have seen one is a lie, yet to someone convinced they saw a ghost, it is not only true but the denial they exist is a lie. So where do you “draw the line?” If you make it illegal to say God does not exist you have to, in pursuit of equality, also make it illegal to say God does exist.
Mr Winston Churchill is said to have claimed that although he disagreed with every word said by a rival, he would fight until his last breath for the rivals right to say the words.
So we are back to the basic question, how can we have freedom of speech?
In fact we have never had totally free speech. In early medieval Britain to say anything that disagreed with the Roman catholic church was a heresy and was punished with violence. There are parts of the world now where it is still a crime and a sin, to disagree with an edict from a religious leader. Even if I believe something to be true, I can not say publicly, without verifiable evidence, that such and such a politician is corrupt. I may say I believe that a publication is deliberately trying to mislead the public but I may not claim (without verifiable evidence) I know this to be a fact and a deliberate action for corrupt purpose.
We have to accept in any civilised nation; and even more so in other nations where religious and secular rules are the same thing; we do not have freedom to say anything we choose. We do not have the freedom to publicly shout obscenities, we do not have the freedom to tell lies, we do not have the freedom to incite unreasonable hatred. Definitions of obscenities, unreasonable etc. are in a dictionary.
What we need is a clear statement of what we are free to say. A national bill of “rights and duties” should include a clear, plain English, definition. We should not let the legal profession loose on this as they will charge millions while they confuse everything.
We already have laws on libel and laws against inciting racial and gender hatred, although it seems from media reports that these are not universally applied equally to all social groups.
Any defined statement on what is free speech is obviously subject to debate, since all debate has to start with a matter for discussion; how about:-
Free speech is defined as the freedom for anyone and everyone to voice opinions that are clearly stated to be opinions, and do not include gross distortions of truth or anything that is deliberately untrue.