It’s an interesting question whether political correctness has undermined free speech in the USA. For one thing, the question implies there used to be real free speech in this country. Censorship is a bad habit the USA has indulged in repeatedly in waves since its founding, and political correctness itself is a phrase that migrated into popular culture out of Mao, of all things. I first ran into the term when I met a small group of Marxist lesbians in San Francisco who were all trying to be politically correct to unify the feminist separatist movement. Even though some of them were friends, clearly as a white male I couldn’t understand political correctness or remotely appreciate what they were striving for.
When does freedom of speech turn into verbal assault? That’s the real question being asked here. The line has to be drawn somewhere. It’s interesting because terms like “cripple” will be dropped as derogatory, but the euphemism that replaced it also becomes derogatory in its turn because the underlying prejudice is still there. People still reach for a term to describe an abled person as a screwup that compares the target to a disabled person.
Legislation tries to change popular culture. Sometimes it may succeed. At this point in my life, it’s amusing to see that the “N” word, which really was derogatory when I was a child, has become more obscene than the “F” word George Carlin used so effectively in some of his comedy routines. That is a cool thing. But just because the content of the censorship may be changing does not alter the simple fact that censorship itself is a national disgrace, a supreme embarrassment to a country that’s loudly proclaimed it stands for free speech since its founding.
Free speech may be the first issue that demonstrates American hypocrisy to school kids.
Ironically, countries that don’t claim to have free speech often have more of a free press and better access to the news. Setting aside the problems of specific derogatory terms, what happens in the USA is often that news itself is suppressed to an amazing degree. It’s not necessarily official. It’s not necessarily legal harassment. It happens though, pressure comes down on the news companies and whole stories that are top headlines in the BBC World News don’t even appear on American televised news or get mentioned in the papers.
Certain political ideas get treated as if they’re religious heresy. I am not actually socialist, Communist or Marxist. I actually knew too many Marxists personally and have too many philosophical objections to a philosophy that puts society ahead of the individual – society exists for the benefit of the people in it, or there’s no point to having it and they might as well go find a better culture. That would include everyone in it, including the ugly, the unpopular, the minority, the poor and of course those historically discriminated against. But you can’t debate or disprove a political idea without actually looking at that idea and its premises, you can’t understand it well enough to refute it if you’re not exposed to it in the first place.
When I was born, the House Unamerican Activities Committee that blackballed so many people for even the suspicion of Communism let alone actually joining a political party and voting for an unpopular candidate was dissolved. That year the USA stepped back from one of its deepest waves of censorship. HUAC had teeth. Many famous entertainers and other people had to leave the country because they could no longer find work and were harassed constantly as suspected foreign terrorists – oh, they didn’t call them terrorists then. That’s today’s buzzword, my bad. Infiltrators, it was a conspiracy theory that Communist countries were trying to infiltrate democratic ones and spread unwholesome ideas and get their system of government voted in.
I’m not a Muslim, but today it looks as if Islamic dress and thought and religion is what’s getting censored and attacked. It’s wrong however you slice it. So political correctness is not just that there are some laws intended to remedy discrimination. It’s a buzzword borrowed from Communism for forcing people to hold a particular set of ideas and beliefs, conform even in their minds and slightest personal speech to a rigid level of mind control. The USA has propaganda as thick and unrealistic as any other country ever spewed out – and it’s done this for a long time, it’s not just today’s problem.
Free speech, free thought, freedom of religion and assembly would be wonderful ideas if they ever got put into practice. Belief in free speech is an important principle, one that many Americans would love to stand up for. It’s hardest to stand up for free speech when it’s your philosophical opponents who are using it, when someone can put your basic civil liberties up to debate on grounds you find specious or irrelevant. Say, if the rules of their religion made you a criminal and you’re not a member and what you do isn’t wrong in your eyes or in your faith. Heck, I can’t buy beer on a Sunday and there’s an enormous weight of legislation that makes everyone practice some specific Christian practices that many Christians don’t even care about or practice any more – the blue laws are a good chunk of what clogs the justice system, but they still get enforced.
Let’s actually call for free speech. Let’s open the doors for it – and treat verbal assault as that, because free speech does stop short of directly insulting people to their face. Common sense here. If you insult someone, that is harassment. Deal with that as such and stop trying to embarrass the country with an abysmal level of hypocrisy – we have these principles, let’s actually separate church and state and have free speech. I would rather let the idiots who hate me admit it and congregate and say so, than to find half the world news gone from my access in favor of some celebrity’s personal life.