“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice.”*

Has political correctness broken the world?

Where there is progress, so there must be backlash. A premise rooted in physics- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In philosophical terms, this gives us balance. In terms of political correctness (which will usually auto-complete to ‘gone mad’) the reaction beast that has been spawned is truly something terrible to behold. In an attempt to encourage kindness and tolerance, political correctness has created something terrifying: Katie Hopkins. A nightmarish thaumogenesis indeed.

Political correctness has its roots in linguistic determinism- that words determine thought, and redirecting language has the power to redirect thought. So to break unpleasant patterns of thought, words themselves are altered and some even become taboo. There is definitely some Orwellian potential in this, but the original aims of PC language were rooted firmly in kindness, respect and tolerance. So far, so good, yes?

Objections to this usually take the form of resistance to being told what one is or is not allowed to say, and a reluctance to recognise any problems with language previously used and its ability to cause harm or perpetuate intolerance and inequality. I can see some of the arguments here: harm is not always intended, and sometimes what is referred to as ‘bad language’ is only language inappropriate for the context. Some words and phrases have a more fluid status; some are reclaimed over time.

But we have gone further into Backlash City now, beyond the outer suburbs of sympathetic debate.

Because linguistic determinism has limits. The thoughts never went away. They went underground instead.

And deep underground, these thoughts grew. Somehow, they became perceived as heroic outlaws, rebellious and naughty. They became the secret language of an unhappy people. They became badges of honour for those who sneer at “safe space liberals”. And then, those who wished to become powerful realised the words could be used for personal gain. Those ‘courageous’ enough to wield them suddenly became Truth Warriors, rather than just people with unkind ideas. You know the types: Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, Donald Trump…. And the people who felt resistant to political correctness suddenly weren’t being told off any more. Permission was granted to ‘speak freely’ again. They approved of this, on social media and at the ballot boxes.

And the rest of us looked on in horror.

What happens next? Answers on a postcard….

Here’s what I hope for. I hope that the desire to be kind wins in the end. Seeing the young people I work with every day boosts this hope. This is a generation far more tolerant and accepting than any the world has seen before. They barely bat an eyelid at things that would make their grandparents spit out their tea. Being tolerant is natural for them.

So maybe the future lies with linguistic reflectionism instead. Maybe the language of the future will reflect the next generation’s ideas, with words that are chosen freely, rather than provided or taken away.

The kind folk might have lost ground, we might have lost a battle, but the war is far from over…

Yep, those oft-maligned millennials might be the ones to save us all from Katie Hopkins.

A few additional notes before I end this post:

  • isn’t it interesting that The Trump made use of this weapon but can’t stand it being used against him? “Say what you like, as long as it isn’t about me!”
  • can we please stop legitimising hate with the suffix -phobia? Let’s be totally clear: xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia are not phobias.
  • *thanks to T. S Eliot’s Four Quartets for the title

Today’s rant = done.

Peace and love x


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