Analogue, Digital, Meaninglessness
Eigentlich ist ein schönes Wort.
When I first realised that the disagreements about political correctness aren't just yet another sign of political camps having opposite views about societal coexistence and interactions but rather a debate in which proponents and opponents of political correctness are situated in the same communities, I was a bit confused. When I realised that free thinkers and rationalists repeatedly spoke out against political correctness as a whole and against individual examples of it as well as recent developments in western societies that I view as positive, I was surprised. This year I have finally heard enough to get me to look into why that is. More than a few times I have heard people whose world view I share or whose opinions I value either condemn political correctness or rant about something that in their depiction went wrong or is going wrong because of political correctness. But they seemed to assume that the reader/listener/dialogue partner is on the same page and didn't go into detail or defend that view enough to make me understand it. Ultimately it was the hate in the sound Stephen Fry's voice that made me search for the cause of the clash of opinions between his and mine.
My view on the topic has always been a bit simple but nonetheless felt mature to me. It's not like I've never read or thought about political correctness and relating topics before. Simply put, I don't see a good reason to do something incorrectly on purpose. There are many reasons to be politically incorrect apart from sheer self-purpose and intentional offence. Ignorance, a lack of awareness, understanding or time to think about matters like this and other human imperfections are all very widespread and understandable causes for political incorrectness. But they aren't good reasons to be incorrect. I'm trying to write this without using any examples because I fear that it would make me go way too far down into detail. So, in short: When making a conscious decision to do something one way or the other, one should, all other things being equal, ideally, always choose the one that, to their knowledge, has the least potential to cause offence, oppress or support existing inequality. Yes, I know. But I said in short. Let's keep it at that for now.
What I found when I looked into this debate was, well, first of all a lack of a definition in almost every case, which makes debating on it a lot less efficient and more prone to misunderstandings, leading to misrepresentations and wrong assumptions of other's opinions and thus a lack of a result of the whole debate. But trying to look past that, I got the feeling that the motivations for rejecting what I perceive as positive progression through political correctness are often rooted in a fundamental dislike for change. I should be able to relate to this even more than I do as it is. But I don't see this as a rational argument against political correctness. And it isn't used as one. It's just what I assume behind many cul-de-sacs in discussions because no clear, rational reason is given. Even people with a well-deserved reputation of being rational thinkers create the impression of arguing out of personal offence (at which point the opponent often points out the irony of the one arguing for the freedom of offence being the one who is offended by rational arguments, which usually leads the discussion to leave the path that looks like it could lead to useful insight).
But there is one argument that I hadn't really taken into account before: The claim that it just doesn't work. Empirically, what did political correctness bring us directly? How much progress was caused or influenced by it? And how much hate, tribalism and radicalisation has it caused and still causes it on the right? I don't know. But that is an interesting part of this discussion. I don't think I have anything useful to contribute to this. So I'll leave these questions entirely unanswered before reading more.
Comparing apples and oranges: a randomised prospective study
There is a research paper that was published a year ago and hasn't gotton enough attention in my opinion. I wished many times that somebody attempted something line this scientifically.
There are several very basic things wrong with this paper. The results are pretty much useless apart from the overall success of the comparison itself. Ignore the details. I can finally say with confidence that comparing apples with oranges is not as outragiously impossible as it is usually made out to be.
Of all the things people do wrong in the usage of language, this is probably my pet peeve. Maybe because I believe that I can reasonably argue against it.
People use the term "real life" ("IRL" and, very similarly, "real world") as if it would mean the opposite of "online" or "over the internet" or "using some electronic medium". Hereafter I will call this the wrong usage of the term. It is done so often and regularly that it actually does mean one of these things. Before I describe what I think the problem with it is, let me try to explain what I'm talking about, exactly. Both of those words (real and life) have meanings on their own and using them together is absolutely in line with those individual meanings. I don't find it absurd to expect that the phrase means "the life that is actually true, as opposed to fictional". In fact, I consider it better to expect this meaning because not only did this meaning exist first, it also continues to be used. "The real world" is used meaning the opposite of a virtual world. I suppose the internet was considered to be a virtual world in the beginning and assume that that's where the wrong usage of "real world" stems from.
The main problem that I see is that when people regularly and naturally apply the wrong usage, the notion that the internet is not part of the real world, the real life, is reinforced, which I fear may influence the perception and the expectation that what happens on the internet does not have the same meaning or effects on life as things that happen without the internet playing a major role. In some ways they are (e.g. greater possible audience on social media than on a soapbox), but not in the way the use of "real world" as the opposite implies.
A conversation in a chat room can be much more real than a conversation offline. E-Mails, their meaning and effects on the world aren't less real than those of letter written or printed on paper. A confession over a video chat platform is not unreal compared to a confession over a telephone call, which is not unreal compared to a confession given in close physical proximity, just different. A threat posted in a Whatsapp group doesn't have less impact than a thread yelled at a schoolyard or under four eyes.
I imagine that the more this wrong usage is ignored the more its wrong implications get internalised by society and individuals. I wouldn't go so far to assume that there is a relavant relation between the wrong usage of "real life" and "real world" and the prevalence of "cyberbullying", online harassment and other extreme forms of modern trollship. But I also don't think the possibility that language influences the thinking and by that extension the actions of humans should be overlooked. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some connection to be found. But I don't know of any research on this nor would I expect to find any.