Being Accountable for Your Words and Actions
Lots of people ask me how the idea of a cancel culture come about it. I answer that it is a offshoot of “political correctness.” Political correctness (PC) refers to language that avoids offending persons of various genders, races, sexual orientations, cultures, or social conditions. One of the most stated goals of political correctness is the elimination of verbal discrimination and negative stereotyping. Critics argue that political correctness cannot change the underlying feelings that lead to discrimination and social marginalization. Political correctness is now a common weapon in the cultural and political war between American conservatives and liberals.
The term political correctness describes written or spoken language that's intentionally phrased to avoid offending or marginalizing groups identified by certain social characteristics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. Writing in Thought Co., Robert Longley points out that beyond the obvious avoidance of overt slurs, political correctness also includes the avoidance of terms that reinforce preconceived negative stereotypes. The elimination of verbal discrimination is often considered one of the main goals of political correctness.
Today, PC culture is most associated with movements such as gender-based bias, gay rights, and ethnic minority advocacy. For example, the PC culture prefers that the terms “spokesman” or “spokeswoman,” be replaced by the gender-neutral term “spokesperson.” However, the PC culture is not limited to social or political causes.
Pros and Cons
Advocates of the process of political correctness argue that our perception of other people is greatly influenced by the language we hear used about them. Language, therefore, when used carelessly or maliciously, can reveal and promote our biases against various identity groups. In this manner, the strict use of politically correct language helps to prevent the marginalization and social exclusion of those groups.
Persons opposed to political correctness regard it as a form of censorship that quashes freedom of speech and dangerously restricts public debate on important social issues. They further accuse advocates of an extreme PC culture of creating offensive language where none had existed before. Others argue that the very term “political correctness” can be used in ways that can hinder attempts to stop hate and discriminatory speech.
The argument that being PC prevents freedom of speech is flawed. Freedom of speech gives a person the right to say what they feel, but it also gives other people the right to point out if they are being offensive. Freedom of speech does not mean your words cannot be criticized; it just means you cannot be silenced. In other words, the First Amendment needs to be applied in examining whether politically correct speech is protected.
Pew Research Results
Opponents point to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey which showed that 59 percent of Americans felt “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use.” According to Pew, while most people naturally try to avoid using language that offends others, extreme examples of politically correct terms tend to devalue the English language and lead to confusion. Fewer (39%) think “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”
Those opposed to political correctness argue that telling people that it is socially wrong for them to express their feelings and beliefs in certain ways will not make those feelings and beliefs go away. While some people might swallow their politically incorrect words, they will not abandon the feelings that motivated them. Instead, they will hold those feelings inside to fester and become even more toxic and harmful.
Political correctness spawned the idea of a “cancel culture.” The cancel culture seeks to hold people responsible for their words and actions. Using inappropriate words or gestures can lead to being canceled by the offended group. For example, years ago it was not uncommon to see people in blackface making fun of African Americans. Recent disclosures of such actions by well-known people have gotten them shunned by a segment of society.
If you make comments online that are derogatory towards another group, that qualifies as politically incorrect behavior. You may get canceled whereby a campaign of sorts starts with the end goal of getting you ostracized by mainstream America through online posts about such thoughtless behavior.
Ironically, if you do not support the prevailing view and cancel an offending party then you, too, might get canceled. In other words, it is expected that you will join the thought police and hold others accountable for their words and actions.
For me, the cancel culture can be summed up as follows: Avoid disparaging remarks or insensitive behavior towards others. We could apply The Golden Rule and treat others the way we wish to be treated. If we would not want to be canceled for our past words or deeds, then we should not hold others accountable for similar behaviors.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on May 26, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.