Political correctness in modern democracies

Versión en español

“Political correctness” is thought to be one of the most worrying phenomena hovering over modern democracies. Not only is it considered a dialectical weapon used by populism against the credibility of political opponents, but it also constitutes a way to impoverish public debate by claiming that some opinions should be silent. As a result, the levels of criticism that help to build strong societies decrease and citizens lose the ability to make well-informed decisions and supervise the functioning of institutions.

But let’s start at the beginning. What does “political correctness” mean? It involves the avoidance of those terms that eventually may harm others’ feelings. The idea is that some groups are affected by discrimination (women, immigrants…) and that’s why we should pay more attention to protecting their integrity. Since public discourses tend to move within the limits established by the concerned communities, those citizens breaking this understanding are socially frowned upon.

In this regard, experts consider that Donald Trump’s election as the President of the US had a lot to do with PC1. First of all, journalists focused on his rudeness every time he crossed a line. But the more media reacted to him, the more people liked that man saying “all those truths” they had never heard before. Secondly, he managed to spread suspicion towards populations that other candidates, or the establishment itself, hide information and he was the only one to protecting their interests.

However, even if Trump’s strategy turned out to be a form of manipulation, it arises an occasion to self-criticism. When it comes to protecting minorities it’s worthy to instill in citizens values such as equality, respect and tolerance. Nevertheless, an excess of PC divides people into “the good ones and the bad ones”. As a result, the spaces of confrontation inherent of any civilization are narrowed and we lose comprehension of reality. Engulfed in a crisis of values, it’s easy for populism to fill this vacuum with imagined enemies.

Due to this atmosphere of distrust, President Trump and other politicians, such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, get an extraordinary power of persuasion with no resistance. What is more, they also make efforts to discredit the intermediation task of mass media by speaking directly to the public through social networks. Bearing in mind that political discourses with no filters are considered a type of propaganda, voters with a low level of education form their own thoughts on biased data.

So, what shall we do to overcome this social “illness”? According to recent articles2, PC has already arrived on university campuses, where professors avoid tackling controversial issues in order not to harm students. Definitely, paternalism is an error. Democracy is based on the idea that every citizen knows what his or her convenience is. Consequently, the best way to fight against xenophobia or sexism is giving accurate information about the injuries suffered by these groups. Then, we’ll have balanced opinions and get ready to escape from PC and populism.

1 Weigel, Moira (2016). The Guardian. “Political correctness, how the right invented a phantom enemy”. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump

2 Haidt, Jonhatan andLukianoff, Greg (2015). The Atlantic. “The coddling of the American mind”.  https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

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