Monday, October 24, 2011

George Carlin on political correctness and censorship

"Political correctness is America's newest form of intolerance, and it's especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people's language with strict codes and rigid rules. I'm not sure that's the way to fight discrimination. I'm not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech." —George Carlin


  1. I can see at least two good things about political correctness (leaving aside for the moment both invented and actual stupid extremes): it makes people think about what they are saying (which is not the same thing as silencing them, or if it is, maybe they ought to be quiet for a while); and it means that other people don't have to hear the same thoughtless hurtful things they've heard all their lives. Carlin sounds kind of whiny to me, frankly.


  2. Pamela, how do you feel about changing "Christmas" to "winter holidays" in a Thomas the Tank Engine story? How do you feel about censoring Huckleberry Finn? Advocates of every manifestation of PC argue that they just want to avoid a thoughtless hurtful thing.

    Also, what's whiney about his conclusion? "I'm not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech" just seems wise to me.

  3. A lot of people in the PC crowd believe that if the words change, the thinking will automatically change as well. (If you have no words for it, the thought can't exist, right? Very Orwellian. Probably not exactly how the mind really works although language does certainly shape our thinking.)

    The problem with that, of course, is that in order to change language that completely, you'd have to get everyone to go along with it and you'd have to pretty much wipe out all historical records including the literature. Because, otherwise, getting people to stop using "retarded" as an insult is just going to result in people using "special" as an insult instead. (Or whatever the current PC phrase is.) The problem isn't the words. The problem is that we aren't very accepting of differences in cognitive abilities. (Or cultural differences, or sexual differences, and so forth, blah, blah, blah.)

    The whole thing is an exercise in futility.

  4. Changing words DOES change thinking, though. The problem with political correctness and the control of language isn't that it doesn't work, it's that it does. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is manifestly true in some weak form (and equally manifestly false in any strong statement -- the question lies entirely in where it becomes false).

    Destroying racism (or whatever) by destroying the underlying social, political, and economic structures that support it is one thing. Destroying it by messing with people's minds is quite another thing (and doing so while ignoring the social, political, and economic root causes is even worse).

  5. Ah, but the PC crowd think that changing the way people think at a fundamental level will, by its nature, eradicate the social, political, and economic root causes. That is, they believe that they are focusing on the root cause by messing with people's minds.