Punish the Jester: A Note on Political Correctness

Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:


Justin is telling me a joke. I think.
Photo by Margit Oberrauch

I consider myself politically progressive, but there are a few major sticking points that keep me perpetually at odds with my would-be allies. I hold in utter contempt anyone who would attempt to dictate to me a list of things I am forbidden to say, and it is generally more from the left than from other quarters that such dictation comes. I am part of that minority that continues to consider political correctness a real threat, and not a momentary excess of the early 1990s, when we heard all that reactionary huffing about how soon enough they'll be making us say 'vertically challenged' instead of 'short' and so on. I speak not with Rush Limbaugh but with Vladimir Nabokov when I say that I am horrified by the limitation of free expression, by which I don't mean the usual 'expression of unpopular ideas' beloved of 'card-carrying members of the ACLU', but rather the creative use of language where a Schillerian free play of the imagination is the only source of regulation. I believe the desire to regulate externally stems not just from a misunderstanding of how political progress is made, but also of how language functions.

When I write about this stuff, I know in advance I'm going to get a positive response from free-spirited avuncular types who to be perfectly honest are rather embarrassing to me, those 60-something men in Hawaiian shirts who remember when women liked to be complimented on their 'gams' and who are wary of that stuff they're teaching the kids in the colleges these days; and I know in advance I'm going to get silence from my peers. But what can I do? The principle of parrhesia cannot be grounded on prior calculations about who one would like to hang out with.

More here.