Watch Out For Political (In)Correctness

Bryan Caplan points us to an insightful essay by the philosopher Roderick Long on political correctness.

There are two ways of letting political correctness control your mind.

One is to reject viewpoints, not because they’re false, but because they’re politically incorrect.

The other is to embrace viewpoints, not because they’re true, but because they’re politically incorrect.

We libertarians are seldom guilty of the first mistake. But we are often guilty of the second. Those who commit the second mistake are as much slaves of political correctness as those who commit the first.

At an academic reception I once saw a libertarian introduce himself to a female professor with the winning line: “Are you a feminist? I hate feminists.” Libertarians describe the PC crowd as hypersensitive and too easily offended. The charge is often valid. But being hyperinsensitive, and too easily offensive, is no improvement.

Bryan goes into much detail responding to the essay, I agree with him on some points, disagree with him on others, but the quote above is I think important.

As libertarians, we must frequently challenge political correctness to expose our ideas. I recently had a conversation with a female liberal friend of mine where I explained my principled objection to equal-pay laws. That was uncomfortable even though my previous experience told me that this conversation wouldn’t cause our friendship to be strained. I knew that holding this view, discussing it, and especially discussing it with a woman while myself being a man was a very serious violation of the social norm of political correctness.

As usual, I could see the easy way out: denounce the norm and take a principled stance opposing it. It would resolve the cognitive dissonance. The problem with that approach is that if you do it too much, you will develop a knee-jerk reaction to political correctness and before long, you’re arguing the most ridiculous positions because they are politically incorrect. I have been down that path and let me warn you if you are new to this: HERE BE DRAGONS.

Not only will you make a fool of yourself and alienate many perfectly good people, but you will also be betraying your own convictions in search of intellectual comfort. It’s not worth it. Take the harder path. Defend your real convictions but remember that just because something isn’t politically correct does not mean it’s right. Making other people feel uncomfortable just for the sake of it isn’t a virtue.

[UPDATE: I apparently forgot to title the post earlier. Sorry.]

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One Response to Watch Out For Political (In)Correctness

  1. Phil says:

    It should never be politically incorrect to *discuss* an issue that comes up in conversation. I can see holding the view might be politically incorrect, but discussing it should not be — no matter what the view.

    To me, it’s very rude to argue for X, but be offended when someone raises a principled objection. I may keep my mouth shut if it’s someone I know well and don’t want to offend, but I will still feel that it’s her problem and not mine.

    If you don’t want people to tell you they’re republican, don’t tell them you’re democrat. It don’t work that way.

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