Why Men and Women Fight, Part 10.0: Political Correctness

Popular Philosophy App

We’ve been discussing various influences that impact our worldview simply by our being part of Western culture, and then noting how these influences impact intimate relationships. The philosophies of popular culture are some of the influences that affect us outside of our conscious awareness, like an app running in the background…unless we use critical thinking to rationally consider the inputs of the cultural air we breathe.

Popular philosophies are hard to detect, because we are simply born into them. The concept of political correctness, for example, which didn’t come into wide cultural use until late in the 20th Century, is simply part of the formula that nurtured today’s young adults.

Political Correctness of the 20th Century

Earlier in the 20th Century, the term referred to the dogmatic application of Stalinist doctrine in opposition to American socialism. Back then, politically correct disparagingly referred to someone whose loyalty to the Communist party line overrode compassion. To the Socialist, politically correct was morally incorrect.

In the 1970s, the New Left (reformers who sought change in civil rights, gay rights, abortion, gender roles and drugs) adopted the term to moralize their political and philosophical ideologies, but the term remained relatively obscure. In the 1990s, however, the term came into wide use among academics, in the battle between conservatives and liberals regarding what should be taught in universities.

When President George H.W. Bush addressed the graduating class of the University of Michigan in 1991, he said, “The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits.”

P0litical Correctness of the 21st Century

These days, in contrast to 100 years ago, political correctness refers to a philosophy of mercy and compassion, as opposed to one of justice and merit. Due to the Feminist Revolution, 21st Century Western popular philosophy is starting to trend more toward a (typically) female way of thinking (See my post, “Why Men and Women Fight, Part 2), and this shift is having significant impacts on our legal, social, political and economic structures, which are now trending toward the more matriarchal value of connection over the more patriarchal value of protection.

Patriarchy, a conservative socio-political system in which males hold primary power, implies to liberals that such power will be exploitive of those who do not hold it. With patriarchy in question, the (typically) male tendency toward protection has come into disrepute by those who value political correctness, as it is defined in the 21st Century. To conservatives, political correctness uses shame to make the free expression of dissent difficult; to liberals, political correctness represents the moral high road, requiring conformity of all to their ideals.

I hope that working out the kinks of this issue on our culture will leave us with the ability to choose whatever philosophical position will favor the good of our society in particular situations. When we need justice, protection and merit, I hope that we’ll be able to choose it without judgment from those who tend to favor mercy, connection and compassion. And when we need to exercise mercy, connection and compassion, I hope that we’ll be able to do so with the support of those who find these values to be less conducive to the long-term survival of the species. More often than not, I suspect that these opposing values need to work in tandem, rather than in opposition, if we want our society to both survive and thrive.

Moral Superiority of Popular Philosophy

How does this apply to men and women fighting on the home front? The current cultural implication that compassion is the moral high-ground favors one party of a couple who are divided on this principle, leaving the more justice-oriented party in a one-down position, having to either fight for a legitimate say or to acquiesce in order to be considered morally acceptable.

Critical Thinking to the Rescue

Those who don’t realize that they can decide whether or not the popular cultural morality resonates with their own nature can find themselves in personal squabbles because they assume the dominant cultural value is the morally correct one. Because the 21st Century battle of political correctness represents our differing operating systems as men and women (see post mentioned above), it takes great effort and intentionality to be honest with ourselves about the influences in our culture that we unconsciously adopt as morally superior.

And moral superiority just doesn’t work effectively as arbiter between couples. Rational consideration—a conscious effort on the part of both partners to override automatic impulses—is more useful in reaching common ground, and recognizing that we really do need each other and the opposition that the other brings. Balance is key.

Connection without protection is naïve. Protection without connection is animal. Thinking critically through each situation to determine what’s best for this moment and that particular situation is hard work, but it’s what (the evolutionary gift and curse of) our frontal lobe is able to do, if we use it wisely.

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