Appeasing opinions

Living in North America is a culturally, sexually and intellectually diverse experience. A plethora of views, values and choices contribute in many ways to our global awareness. But it also means there’s a plethora of views, values and choices one has to constantly keep in mind as a sort of obsessive-compulsive concern about being politically correct.

When I was writing about a study that measured attractiveness after alcohol—based on participants ranking others’ looks on a scale of one to seven— I found I couldn’t jokingly refer to such facts because rating looks on a numerical scale would offend some readers.

David Letterman and I found ourselves in the same sinking boat. When Letterman made a joke referring to Sarah Palin’s daughter being impregnated by New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, Palin, immediately offended by the comment, accused Letterman of referring to what happened to her daughter as rape. Forced to retract his comments, Letterman apologized for the ridiculous accusation. I wondered whether someone might mention to Palin that a woman, too, is capable of having a one-night stand. Offensive? Hardly. But it was deemed politically incorrect.

There are myriad such examples—the most obvious of which is the controversy over the Prophet Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark a few years back. The problem with political correctness isn’t at all its existence, but an irony that results in a nation with an obsession. Writing, speaking or living in fear of hurting anyone’s feelings becomes increasingly dominant with the countless number of opinions one has to consider—a task not unlike trying to dodge a thousand scattered pylons with a Hummer. Such constant neurotic political correctness results in the perpetuation of the thing its very existence is trying to protect.

The notion of freedom of speech has been driven to such an extreme that it actually jeopardizes those values we aim to uphold. When political correctness is forced to an extreme, it doesn’t stop issues like racism or sexism—it just sweeps them under the carpet.

Like Letterman, people in the media are constantly accused of being insensitive, and relentlessly forced to retract statements that offend certain groups whose opinions they neglect to factor in. Yet the unspoken truth is when people retract these statements or articles or ideas, it’s not that they have remorse. They do it according to an ultimatum of sorts. They either retract their beliefs or they will lose their jobs, their status—and must live with being labelled politically incorrect.

I’m not advocating racism, sexism or the ignorance of minority groups. I merely feel the obligation to point out the elephant in Room 101 of our Orwellian compulsion. There are blatantly offensive jokes that can’t be made because they are blatantly offensive, but there are also comments that mean no harm. Dissecting these comments on a microscopic level and inventing underlying meanings doesn’t create a politically correct opinion. Rather, it ceases to be an opinion at all and instead becomes an objective, forced and bland comment communicating absolutely nothing.

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