When did we as a nation become so sensitive? What happened to college campuses being a place that people debate relevant topics without the fear of stepping outside the norm? The term political correctness was coined roughly 25 years ago to describe politeness to an excess. Now, today, the PC police are out and about in force, and they may have good intentions. However, political correctness has gone too far, and it is just plain dangerous.
Far too many of us seem to be just waiting to be offended. When did we stop being taught “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Today, college students are starting movements to eliminate “micro-aggressions,” which are subtle actions or words that make minorities, or anyone feel bad. Universities are adding lists of banned words to their student hand books. The University of New Hampshire created a “Bias-Free Language Guide.” This guide went to the extreme by stating “American” must be changed to “U.S. Citizen,” “Old person” is a “person advanced in years,” and a “poor person” must be called “a person lacking the advantages of others.” Students are requesting “trigger warnings” so that they can be warned prior to exposure to any book or classroom material that may upset/offend them. Maybe all of this sounds like a good idea at the surface level. No one wants to be offended. However, what are the unintended consequences and where does it all stop? It appears that we are more interested in the security and comfort of our beliefs rather than exploring the unknown. Real learning occurs through this exploration and opening of our senses to new ideas and beliefs.
The free exchange of ideas is a vital component of the American free enterprise system. College, in particular, should be a playground of ideas where the good ones are supported and propagated, and the bad ideas are challenged or ignored. Bill Mayer, a political commentator/comedian, joked “there is less free speech at Berkley than in the White House.” This whole idea that if we differ in opinion one should be censored is detrimental to both parties. It seems we can’t even begin to approach important issues today without alarms going off and people covering their ears. In the case of censoring racist language, Keenan Mann wrote an excellent post recounting his experience as a nine-year-old boy being called a “nigger” for the first time and again later by a boy called “Bubba.” Yet, Keenan doesn’t call for people like Bubba to be silenced. He states that people “have been led to believe that they have the right to be protected from ever seeing or hearing Bubba.” We can't control everything that happens to us. However, we are absolutely in control of how we react to what happens. In this case, what Bubba said was absolutely wrong, but he still has the right to say something that we disagree with and find offensive. Now, as Keenan also points out, if Bubba threaten him physically that is a different matter.
The truth is limiting free speech or forcing people to be politically correct only muffles people. It does not change their opinion. Hopefully, by allowing people to voice their opinions, it allows other people to discuss/argue their view. Thereby, resulting in the greater education of the entire population. PC is to the point that one could even argue it was created to prevent discussions on issues concerning race, gender, morality, spirituality and various other important controversial topics.
Possibly a greater immediate threat created by this politically correct mindset is that to our physical safety in our homeland. We are fighting a “War on Terror” and our President refuses to acknowledge our enemy. Presidential Candidate Carson stated, "There is no such thing as a politically correct war." He is absolutely correct and we don't have time for it. Not all Muslims are terrorists by any means. In fact, it is the radical minority. However, nearly all terrorist are Muslims. Every effort should be made to combat another attack such as 9/11 or the Islamic attack in Paris or even San Bernardino. A simple example of foolish PC in action is the lack of profiling at airports. During my latest airport visit, I was randomly selected for a search. I do not blame the TSA agents nor was I irritated by the search. However, we can use our time and resources better than searching a Midshipman at a federal academy who has a military ID, security clearance, and other federal government identifications. We must get over the fear of offending people and start showing real discernment regarding security. It is no fun to be at the other end of this screening process. However, this is the cost of freedom in the present climate. How many attacks will it take to acknowledge the truth that Muslim extremist are out to harm us?
The freedom of expression and speech is a fundamental right essential for maintaining democracy and fighting tyranny. Repeatedly throughout history, tyrants were able to hold power by silencing any critics through fear and suppression. This approach was clearly demonstrated in the 20th century with Hitler’s Nazis Germany. One of the reasons America has been great is we are outspokenly critical of ourselves and are always seeking to improve. Politics should be about convincing people through reason to agree with you and your policies. It is not about coercion or making people afraid to disagree. There is such hypocrisy in standing up and yelling at another person “shut up.” Further, labeling people as a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc. not only hurts personally, but it hinders the exchange of ideas. We should strive to be respectful to all people and debate our ideas and views in a respectful manner rather than silencing them. Let’s toughen up and get back to the line often misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” The truth should ultimately reign supreme, even if it offends you.
The greatest danger to America is Us. The Pogo cartoon above says it best, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -Abraham Lincoln
MIDN Matthew Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Class of 2017
Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management