There’s a new bogey man on the block.
It is credited with the rise of brazenly crude figures such as Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson. It is behind outrageous-sounding propositions like Safe Schools, anti-discrimination laws and gender equality. It is running around Melbourne, putting a tiny skirt on the little figure on traffic lights.
In this increasingly polarised political climate, political correctness has emerged as the new villain.
The war on political correctness seems to have sprung up spontaneously but it is tied to the broader struggle of ideas playing out in society.
While self-identified anti-social justice warriors consider themselves subversive, the truth is that they are no more fringe and outrageous than the status quo. The slurs, discriminatory remarks and crude jokes are pawns in a social tug-of-war. Anti-political correctness is the nasty tantrum of the losing side.
Mainstream media pundits and right-leaning politicians are grappling with advancing social movements and their impact on cultural norms. As oppressed groups win ground, the establishment’s media machine needs to ramp up to put them back in their place.
But how do they seed this fear in the everyday interactions of ordinary people?
They tell us that every blow minorities strike against the system is really an attack on non-minorities. Every figure on traffic lights that is dressed in a skirt is one that is not dressed in trousers. Minorities are winning, they say, at the majority’s expense.
But what does the majority really stand to lose from the liberation of oppressed groups?
Donald Trump was swept to power on a tide of political incorrectness. But more than that, his campaign was built on fear. “Make America Great Again” encapsulated his promise: a return to the US of before the civil rights movement. Trump’s endorsement by the Ku Klux Klan leaves no mystery as to who this era was “great” for.
For the bigots of the US, Trump was a last line of defence against growing Black Lives Matter protests, the LGBTQI community, emboldened by their marriage equality victories, and the young feminists rising to defend Planned Parenthood.
Trump embodies the anti-PC strategy of the ruling class. Yes, he’s a racist, sexist, homophobic pile of sludge, but he is “saying what everyone is thinking”.
When tapes were released in which Trump talks about grabbing women by the pussy, we were told that it is no different to the banter you can hear in any men’s locker room around the world. The media turned accusatorily to the aghast male population and demanded to know: “Who here has not been derogatory towards women before?”
As anti-PC poster boy of the hour, Milo Yiannopoulos said to a crowd at Dartmouth University: “If I had a hot mic on all the private bullshitting sessions with your mates, I guarantee I’d be able to leak a tape as ‘shocking’ as Trump’s.
“And there is nothing wrong with this … Behind closed doors, men don’t give a single fuck about their phony political correctness standards and language policing.”
The threat is clear. An attack on Trump is an attack on anyone who has ever said something politically incorrect. Conservatives want to file the right to espouse hatred under free speech, and they aim to convince the milder bigots that they ought to reserve the right as well.
Yiannopoulos is right — on one thing at least. Policing language will not end misogyny, racism or homophobia. Political correctness can only anesthetise the effects of systemic bigotry and it often relies on the establishment to do so.
Every time the management of a university is petitioned to block an unsavoury speaker from campus — a decision that would be upheld by security thugs — the university sets a precedence for banning groups it does not want on campus.
Today it is Yiannopoulos, but tomorrow it could be a pro-choice speaker or an Aboriginal activist. And just as our fight will not be given up if a radical speaker is banned, racism will persist even when individual racists are banned.
Tokenistic gestures of political correctness are an easy concession for the ruling class to make. Malcolm Turnbull can easily integrate progressive language into his speeches, without actually having to concede any real demands. His racism runs far deeper than his words.
One woman dies at the hands of a current or former lover every week, no matter what the little figure that signals when to cross the road is wearing.
Political correctness is not a real bogey man. In fact, its effects are mostly innocuous. But its weakness is in attempting to safeguard a world that cannot truly be made safe without systemic change.
We need to tackle bigotry at the root: capitalism and the 1%. And there’s little use in calling on the capitalist parliament, the corporations, or the profit-driven university managements to save us.
Not only has political correctness not gone far enough, it is incapable of going far enough to make real change.